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Replaying Volcanic Eruptions from Legendary Managers

By Bill Lucey, January 18, 2015

With the onset of instant replay in 2014, you would think the number of managers ejected from games would have reduced considerably. After all, with cutting-edge video technology, managers wouldn’t have to kick dirt in the umpire’s direction, rip up first base, or spit tobacco juice anymore; replay officials from the home office in New York would finally be able to answer their prayers.

Surprisingly, the cold hard data doesn’t bear that out. There were 91 managerial ejections in 2014, an increase from 2013 (85) and 2012 (82).

While replays, for the most part, have leveled the playing field by eliminating egregious oversights by umpires, there is still plenty of room for managers to verbally argue their case with the men in blue. The strike zone, obstruction, interference, the infield fly rule, and check swings, after all, are not reviewable.

Even before instant replay went into effect, a majority of umpires were confident more often than not that the calls they made on the field were the correct ones.

In John C. Skipper’s book Umpires: Classic Baseball Stories from the Men Who Made the Calls, former American League umpire Terry Cooney (1974–1992) observed that “instant replay [for the television viewing audience] was created to discredit umpires. What it has done is proven that we are right 95 percent of the time.”

According to Retrosheet, whose website includes scores from every Major League Baseball game played since the 1871 season, there were 2,430 games played in the Majors in 2014. In those games, there were 1,275 uses of replay, equivalent to about one every two games during the season. According to baseball historian David Vincent from Retrosheet, “That means that a far higher percentage of calls were correct and did not need a replay because most calls are not challenged.”

Retrosheet’s analysis additionally shows that of the 1,275 replays during the 2014 season 603 were reversed, which is 47.3 percent. Managers challenged 1,054 times and umpire crew chiefs requested 221 reviews. Of the 1,054 manager challenges, 558 were reversed (53 percent).

Vincent concludes that “all of these numbers look like validation of how good the umpires are. It has become fashionable to doubt, curse at and even physically attack officials such as umpires. . . Major League umpires are very, very good at their jobs and have to deal with a lot of abuse from players, managers, fans and the media.”

Though both fans and teams have embraced the new replay system as an improvement to the game, it sparks nostalgic trips down memory lane about the days of old when umpire and manager face-to-face combat was a prominent fixture of the game.

Volcanic eruptions from managers are now just distant memories, like Doc Edwards of the Cleveland Indians ripping up first base in 1989; Frank Robinson in 1988 mimicking an umpire by putting his hands on his hips; Atlanta Braves skipper Bobby Cox spitting tobacco juice into an umpire’s face in 1980; or Chicago Cubs Manager Lou Piniella in 2007, kicking dirt at an umpire, firing his cap to the ground, and kicking it all around the infield to the rousing delight of the Wrigley fans.

John McGraw of the New York Giants is one of the most frequently cited managers who waged war with the men in blue. From 1899 to 1932, “Little Napoleon” was ejected by umpires 116 times over 4,769 games, making him second on the list of managers ejected from Major League games. The most ejections belongs to the Bobby Cox, with 161 ejections over 4,508 games from 1978 to 2010.

During his reign of terror (which included 10 National League pennants and three World Series wins), McGraw once flung a cup of water at umpire Bill Klem’s face during the pregame while exchanging lineup cards. On another occasion, after jawing the whole game about the calls of home plate umpire Bill Byron, the Giants skipper continued his argument with him after the game in the runway leading into the clubhouses, which ended with McGraw getting downright pugilistic with Byron, splitting his lip with a sharp uppercut.

Umpires Billy Evans, Silk O’Loughlin, Bill Klem, and Jim Johnstone in 1909.

One of McGraw’s most villainous episodes occurred on August 7, 1906, when he prevented umpire James Johnstone from entering the Polo Grounds. The game ended in a forfeit.

The ugly event was triggered the previous day, when Art Devlin of the Giants, planted on third base in the fifth inning, darted for home when Billy Gilbert attempted to steal second. Cubs shortstop Joe Tinker fired a bullet to cut down Gilbert on a razor-close play at the plate. Practically the whole Giants team, convinced that Devlin beat the throw, was furious and soon surrounded Johnstone like a pack of wolves, including McGraw, who was leading the charge. Even the fans at the Polo Grounds got so worked up over the disputed call that the New York Times reported that a few bottles and glasses were thrown in the umpire’s direction. Johnstone eventually needed a police escort to escape safely.

Johnstone ejected McGraw when his verbal lashes became too excessive and profane. Cubs third baseman Harry Steinfeldt later testified that he heard McGraw calling the umpire “a damn dirty #*!@ eating bastard, and a low-lived son of a bitch of a yellow cur hound.” McGraw added that if he had anything to do with it, he [Johnstone] would never come into the Polo Grounds again.

McGraw stayed true to his word.

When Johnstone arrived at the Polo Grounds 30 minutes before the game on August 7, he was informed that Police Inspector James Sweeney was prohibiting him from entering the stadium because he felt the previous day’s ruckus might incite a riot. The inspector flatly denied ever giving such an order.

The 11,000 fans who showed up for the game were furious at McGraw for pulling such a foolish stunt and for having wasted their time and effort for making the long trip to the Polo Grounds, only to be told that the game was forfeited and rain checks would be issued.

The next day, when Johnstone was allowed into the Polo Grounds, he was given a thunderous standing ovation by the Giants fans, possibly the only time in Major League Baseball history when an umpire was met with such a rousing reception.

In the Washington Post, J. T. Kelly wrote: “McGraw can’t fail but read the finger marks on the wall. Too long has McGraw abused the patience of the hoi polloi. . . . The trick was irretrievably rotten, and all the perfumes of Arabia will not nullify the stench. . . . McGraw has a host of admirers who glorified in his aggressive and successful tactics. A scrappy, fighting leader is always admired, but when a manager stoops to a contemptible trick, such as Tuesday’s black eye to the national sport, it his high time to call a halt.”

National League President Harry Pulliam suspended McGraw for three games.

Far from damaging the thuggish manager’s reputation, according to Frank Deford, author of The Old Ball Game, Muggsy’s reputation “only seemed to grow in stature, and in the eyes of his players, with each explosive episode.”

*****

Sometimes even when managers refrain from verbal abuse and use humor instead the men in blue will still give them the heave ho.

Such was the case on August 18, 1941, when the Pittsburgh Pirates were playing a doubleheader at Ebbets Field against the Brooklyn Dodgers. It was drizzling all afternoon through both games, making playing conditions uncomfortable, but not enough to suspend play.

In the third inning of the second game, with the Dodgers holding a 1–0 lead with a cold drizzle continuing to empty on the playing field, Pirates Manager Frankie Frisch yelled from the dugout to Jocko Conlan, the umpire-in-chief: “If you had any guts you’d call the game.” Conlan shot back: “And if you had any guts, you’d try to play it and win it.”

Before you knew it, Frisch strolled onto the field holding an umbrella. Conlan took this gesture as ridicule and promptly gave the Pirates manager the thumb. All the press photographers thought the umbrella stunt was hilarious; the only person who didn’t see the humor was Conlan.

After a brief stint as an outfielder with the Chicago White Sox in the mid 1930s, Jocko Conlan made the jump to umpiring. In 1941, he debuted as a National League umpire and, over a 25-year career, became one of the most popular and respected officials of the game. 

*****

Manager Leo “the Lip” Durocher was another first-class entertainer who was booted from his fair share of games. From 1939 to 1973, in fact, Durocher was ejected 94 times over 3,739 games.

One of his most famous ejections arguably occurred on April 16, 1961, at the Coliseum in Los Angeles when the Dodgers hosted the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The fireworks began in the fourth frame, when Dodgers first baseman Norm Larker hit a pop up that landed in fair territory, halfway between home and first base, before bouncing foul. Before it went foul, Pirates catcher Hal Smith lunged for the ball, while Larker made it as far as second base before home plate umpire Jocko Conlan called the ball foul. The Dodgers were fuming, arguing the ball had been touched before it went foul. Durocher popped out of the dugout to plead his case with the home plate umpire, but unable to convince him to reverse his call, he returned to the dugout. While in the dugout, Durocher flung his towel in disgust. Conlan shouted: “You’re out of the game!”

“You’re ejecting me for throwing a towel in the dugout—our own dugout?” Lippy Leo asked in disbelief? “You can’t throw towels,” Conlan shouted back.

“Oh, yeah? I can’t do this, huh?” Durocher roared, and then flung a towel and a helmet onto the field and started charging at Conlan, incensed at being tossed for such a minor gesture.

The two went eyeball-to-eyeball. The Lip then started kicking dirt on Conlan, but he missed and hit the umpire’s shin instead.

Conlan’s time bomb went off.

He kicked Durocher back in his shin, threw his face mask on the ground, removed his chest protector, and began clenching his fists as if he and the Dodgers manager were about to go a few rounds. The other umpires intervened before punches were exchanged, and pitcher Don Drysdale was able to restore order by grabbing his manager by the collar as 27,716 fans looked on from their ringside seats with sheer amusement.

LA Times writer Frank Finch described the fracas: “They began dancing the Russian ‘Kazotski,’ standing up, their feet flying faster than did Bojangles Bill Robinson’s educated puppies at the Palace.”

The screaming headline in the LA Times the next morning read: “‘Leo the Toe’ Loses Kicking Duel.”

Umpire Jocko Conlan banishes Dodgers manager Leo Durocher from a game against the Chicago Cubs in 1946.

*****

Baseball fans can only marvel at the fierce competitiveness and infinite wisdom Earl Weaver brought to the game as manager of the Baltimore Orioles. His career winning percentage of .583 ranks ninth all-time among managers, and his average of 94.3 wins per season is the highest all-time. In 1996, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame. On the road to Cooperstown, the 5-foot-7 Pall Mall–smoking Weaver had a heart of gold off the field but roared like a lion on the field. While he was managing the Elmira Pioneers, a AA minor league club in Elmira, New York, Weaver once became so enraged with a call that he carried third base off the field, then locked himself and the bag in the clubhouse. It reportedly took 10 minutes before a member of the grounds crew could retrieve it.

Former umpire Jim Evans called Earl Weaver, “the Son of Sam of baseball,” while Larry Barnett considered him a “circus clown.”

He was both.

Earl Weaver’s fiery personality got him ejected from more than 90 games.

During three decades of managing (1968–1982, 1985–1986), Weaver was ejected 94 times over 2,541 games, the fourth most in history.

An entertaining confrontation occurred at Cleveland Municipal Stadium on June 18, 1979. In the seventh inning with the game tied at seven, Cleveland Indians infielder Dave Rosello was at the plate and tried to lay down a bunt; in the process he got tangled up with Orioles catcher Rick Dempsey. Home plate umpire Larry Barnett charged Dempsey with interference and awarded first base to Rosello.

Weaver flew out of the dugout and went face-to-face with the umpire; he was so close to Barnett’s face that he turned around his cap so the beak wouldn’t touch the umpire. During his emotional tirade, the Orioles manager was kicking dirt in all directions with his hands stretched high above his head as if he was asking the gods how such a terrible call could have been made. He then made his way back to the dugout, only to return moments later with the baseball rulebook and began ripping it to shreds and yelling at the umpires that they never read it anyway. He then finished ripping up the rulebook on the pitcher’s mound as pieces of confetti rained down like a violent hailstorm.

After a five-minute tirade, Barnett threw Weaver out of the game. As the Orioles skipper headed back to the visitor’s dugout, he doffed his cap to the 34,333 amused fans in attendance.

The Birds won the game, 8–7.

That’s entertainment!

*****

It’s difficult to discuss the most celebrated managerial histrionics without at least a brief mention of Billy Martin, who managed five different American League clubs, including the New York Yankees, a team he managed on five different occasions.

Described as a “gladiator in combat,” Martin was ejected 46 times over 2,267 games from 1969 to 1988.

Known for going jaw to jaw with a number of umpires, the scrappy manager is remembered most by causing a dust storm in front of the umpire he was arguing with. If kicking dirt with his spikes didn’t do the trick, Martin would often resort to picking up the dirt and throwing it at the umpire’s trousers, ensuring that it was headed straight to the cleaners after the game.

When the Yankees hosted the California Angels on June 9, 1976, at Yankee Stadium, in the bottom of the third inning with two outs, Mickey Rivers hit a slow roller to second base. In a bang-bang play at first, umpire Larry McCoy called the blazing Rivers out. A safe call would have allowed a runner from third to score. Enraged, Martin leaped out of the dugout, flung his cap to the ground, and starting kicking dirt in front of the first-base umpire. According to McCoy, the out-of-control Yankees manager kicked more than dirt; his spikes got a good piece of shin.

Martin vehemently denied kicking McCoy’s shin. “I don’t think I kicked him,” he told reporters after the game. “I hope I didn’t. But where he should’ve been kicked wasn’t in the front but in the other end.”

A typical “Billy Ball” jewel for the reporters’ notebooks.

“The day I become a good loser, I’m quitting baseball. I always had a temper. I think it’s nothing to be ashamed of. If you know how to use it, it can help. Temper is something the good Lord gave me and I can't just throw it out the window.”
~ Billy Martin, The Sporting News, October 1968

Photo credit: http://bleedingyankeeblue.blogspot.com/2012/06/joe-girardi-billy-martin-...

*****

Now that technology has finally caught up with Major League Baseball in the twenty-first century, a vast majority of fans have come to accept that the introduction of instant replay was sorely needed. Though there may be some kinks to work out over the offseason, overall, it appears to have been met with a receptive audience.

Still, whenever names like Martin, Weaver, Durocher, and McGraw are invoked, we can’t help but have fond memories of the riotous antics, explosive tempers, and dazzling theatrics that they brought to millions of baseball fans for over two centuries in the grand old game.

Photo credit: AP

 

 

 

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