Skipper vs. ump arguments not always as they seem
Managers sometimes voice frustrations in unexpected ways for humorous exchanges
Bob Davidson thought he had made the correct call. In his mind, it wasn't even debatable.
Nevertheless, after the umpire declared a runner safe on a swipe of second base during a contest at Dodger Stadium in 1984, Los Angeles skipper Tommy Lasorda stormed out of the dugout.
Davidson, then in just his third big league season, prepared for the worst. He got something different.
"All he talked about was an Italian restaurant he ate at and how the wine was bad," Davidson said. "He said, 'Hey, you have to throw me out, because I have 48,000 people in the ballpark.' I remember the 'argument' was heated."
A shouting match between a manager and umpire doesn't always contain the dialogue fans envision. Umpires must wear an assortment of hats. Aside from delivering the proper calls, they often moonlight as therapists when a skipper voices his frustration about his team's play or, in Lasorda's case, vents about lousy Italian fare. The masked men must also perfect the art of acting, because the slightest hint of a grin or laughter can reveal the true immaterial content of the supposedly tempestuous talk.
"There have been times when I thought it was quite hysterical the way a manager was going about it and what he was doing," said umpire Tom Hallion, who has 22 years of big league experience. "Obviously, being a professional, you can't show those emotions out on the field. You have to stand there and argue back at them, or take it like it's a serious matter."
As Lasorda spouted off about tortellini and vermicelli, crew chief John Kibler joined the huddle to listen to the skipper's gripe.
"Kibler had to put his hand over his mouth, because he started laughing and that would give it away," Davidson said.
The Dodgers struggled that season, finishing below .500 for just the third time in 16 years. Lasorda felt he needed a ploy to invigorate his team. He riled up the crowd and appeared to be sticking up for his club as he barked at the umpire. Of course, only Davidson and Kibler knew his actual sentiment.
"I remember a manager yelling and screaming and coming out and saying, 'I have to get run,'" said umpire Ted Barrett, who has governed big league games for 19 years. "So I tossed him, and he starts ranting and raving about how bad his team is. 'My pitcher is terrible. My bullpen can't get anybody out. My hitters haven't hit a ball out of the infield in three days. My clubhouse guys serve crappy food.' And on and on.
"I started chuckling at him, and the guy gets up in my face and says, 'Don't you laugh. If you laugh, then they know this is all an act.' So I did everything I could just to bite my tongue."
Longtime Twins manager Tom Kelly once called for a sacrifice bunt when his club placed runners on first and second with no outs. The batter laid down a textbook bunt, but umpire Dale Scott called interference, ruling that he veered out of his running lane en route to first. The baserunners were required to retreat to their original posts.
"Here comes Tom Kelly," Scott said, "and I'm expecting the worst. And he comes out screaming, 'I can't believe this. I have a guy that puts down a perfect sacrifice bunt and then he can't run in the [stupid] running lane.' He was pointing his finger at me. I started to almost smile, but you can't laugh.
"The whole time, it looked like he was [reaming me], but he was just ranting about how his runner was out of the running lane. Sometimes you're going to be the prop for their little stage show."
Barrett recalled an occasion in which an umpire bolted out of his lair after two close plays at the plate. The skipper told Barrett he agreed with his calls, but needed to evoke some energy from his club.
"He went to kick the line, and sent some chalk up and stubbed his toe," Barrett said. "The next day, he said, 'That's what I get for trying to put on a show.'"
An encounter between a manager and umpire often hinges on the pairing's relationship. Barrett said he has sorted out which managers he can reason with and which ones he should "tune out." Scott often lets the skipper air his grievance until he must determine whether the manager is looking to be tossed.
"If they just keep going, I'll say, 'Do you need to get run over this?'" Scott said. "And if they say yes, then he's requesting to get run; I see what he's doing, he's not degrading me or my partners and so he feels the need to get ejected, so I'll eject him. If it's one of those ones where I'm not sure what he's doing, then he's going to have to do something or I'm just not going to run him."
One such circumstance arose when Terry Collins was leading the Angels in the late 1990s. After a questionable call, Collins sought out Scott and told the umpire, "You know what, Dale? I know that was the right call. But we [stink]. You have to run me."
Scott told Collins he needed him to display more emotion and conviction to warrant his dismissal, so the manager flung his hat and Scott pointed him to the exit.
"Afterwards, people who saw the game said, 'Aw man, he was all over you. What was he saying?'" Scott said. "They thought it was one hell of a beatdown on me, but it was something completely different."
Rays manager Joe Maddon typically employs a more caring approach to his rendezvous with umpires. After Maddon disputed a call in 2007, Barrett told him that one more word would trigger his ejection, so the skipper simply replied, "I love you." Sticking to his guns, Barrett tossed him.
"I ejected him and then realized, 'What do I put in my report, that I ejected him because he told me he loved me?' That just stumped me," Barrett said. "I had never had a manager tell me he loved me before."
Maddon also bonded with Davidson during what appeared to be a heated discussion.
"We had what looked like a nasty argument in Tampa," Davidson said, "and he was telling me how much he liked me and I was saying, 'I like you also.' We were nose and nose doing this, and then when he left, he got a standing ovation."
Barrett once listened to former Yankees manager Joe Torre deliver a lengthy tirade after the umpire called a runner out at first base on what would have been an infield hit. At first, Torre took issue with Barrett's call, but his focus quickly shifted to his own playing career and how he once went 17 years without logging an infield hit.
"I'm just standing there thinking, 'OK, can we get back to the argument?'" Barrett said. "Those types of things happen that leave you scratching your head. I don't really know where he's going with it. I don't know whether to tell him to stop it, knock it off, eject him, or let him blow off a little steam. It's like being a therapist, like we're going to dig through the past now."
Such is sometimes the role of an umpire: to play the part of the helpless punching bag, the source upon which a manager's suppressed frustrations are overwhelmingly thrust. Whether that means the umpire must serve as a psychologist or therapist, it all comes with the territory.
"Maybe," Barrett suggested, "we should put a couch back there behind the plate, and the umpire can sit down and take some notes."