Friday, March 17, 2006

It's Always A Laugh Riot When Players And Managers Go Batty

Years ago, I asked the old cowboy -- the late umpire Durwood Merrill -- what it took for him to toss a manager or player out of a game.

"Greg, you can swear at me up and down," Merrill told me, "but as soon as it gets personal, you're gone."

I asked him to be more specific.

"Don't use the word 'you'," Merrill said. "You can say, 'We're getting screwed out here.' But if you say, 'YOU'RE screwing us,' then that's the magic word."

Merrill: "Don't make it personal"

Merrill -- for you trivia fans -- was Lions running back Billy Sims' high school football coach in Texas. When I conversed with him, he was in town umpiring the 1987 ALCS between the Tigers and the Minnesota Twins. That was the year the Twinkies came out of nowhere and swiped the AL flag and World Series, mainly because they lucked into home field advantage in both playoff series. They went undefeated in the God-awful Metrodome that postseason.

Anyhow, I was interested in the ejection thing because I wanted to know if most umpires were consistent in that area. And Merrill told me that there was a general consensus about the "you" or "you're" thing. Although, he admitted, some umps had quicker trigger fingers than others.

One of the funniest pieces of video I ever saw was a "discussion" between Orioles manager Earl Weaver and umpire Tom Haller, who happened to be miked up for a feature. Weaver, as was his wont, was directly in Haller's face. But Haller, about six inches taller than Weaver, stood his ground. They called each other liars, before Haller finally tossed Weaver, who promptly turned his baseball cap around so he could get his face as close to Haller's as possible. The exchange itself was priceless, but unfortunately I don't remember enough of it to share it with you here. I just remember the calling each other liars, but the rest is fuzzy. But I do know it was hilarious.

Weaver, in typical repose

Manager-umpire flare-ups entertain me greatly. A really good, animated argument -- arms flailing, dirt being kicked, the two combatants going jaw-to-jaw -- is a riot, and I am always eager to see what the manager or player will do once he's actually ejected: kick a water cooler; toss bats onto the field; or literally steal a base from the infield -- like current Tigers coach Lloyd McClendon did as a Pirates manager -- and carry it off the field with him.

Players and managers are comical when they lose sense of their maturity and act like spoiled brats in front of tens of thousands of fans and hundreds of thousands (or millions) of TV viewers. But if it's the home team's guy, few things get a crowd fired up more than watching their skipper or player lose it in a very physically demonstrative manner.

Sometimes managers will get themselves ejected to light a fire under their team. I tried it once in slow-pitch softball, and it didn't work.

I was managing a co-ed team, and one of our male players made what I thought was a circus catch in the outfield in the final inning. The umpire ruled it a hit. From the bench, I chided him and was very verbal in my protest of his call.

"You better keep quiet," he warned me.
"Oh yeah? And what are you gonna do about it?" I asked cockily.

"You're gone," he said.

He had kicked me out -- of a freaking co-ed slow-pitch softball game.

So I trudged off, hoping my ejection might wake up my team and that we might rally to win. I looked over my shoulder at the proceedings occasionally. By the time I got to my car, we had already lost. So much for my tactic.

So the next time you see a manager or a player giving it to an umpire, you can be sure that once you see the umpire's right hand pointing skyward in a violent manner, indicating an ejection, it probably got personal somehow.

Rest in peace, Durwood.

10. Ed Brinkman (Detroit). Set a shortstop record for consecutive games without an error. Steady Eddie couldn't hit a lick, but he wasn't in the lineup for his bat. Came to Detroit in the famous Denny McLain trade.
9. Mark Belanger (Baltimore). Quintessential good field, little hit guy -- typical shortstop of his day. Belanger was durable if not a good hitter. Despite his meager bat, doubtless the O's would have had a much harder time winning all those pennants and World Series without Mark Belanger's play at shortstop. I always thought he'd make a good manager. Unfortunately, he died young.
8. Shawon Dunston (Chicago Cubs). Maybe not a popular pick, but I'm including him because early in his career, Dunston was not a very good fielder at all, but by the time his career was in full swing, he had made himself a ton better. Had nearly 1,600 base hits, and struck out exactly 1,000 times. Funny.
7. Rick Burleson (Bos/Calif). Burleson was unheralded but got the job done. Played on a lot of winning teams, but never got a lot of notoriety. Until now!
6. Tony Fernandez (Toronto). Wonderful bat handler and a marvelous shortstop in the field. Amazingly strong wrists enabled him to flick the ball to first base from long distances with deadly accuracy.
5. Manny Trillo (Cleveland). Sleeper pick, because he played on so many bad teams, but Trillo was a very competent ballplayer who wouldn't hurt you in the field or at the plate.
4. Ozzie Guillen (Chicago Whote Sox). Guillen was scrappy and tough - pugnacious. He still is. A brilliant fielder and a great contact hitter.
3. Dave Concepcion (Cincinnati). So many great players on the Big Red Machine! Concepcion was one of them. He caught everything, and rarely struck out at the plate. Formed a great double-play combination with Joe Morgan.
2. Ozzie Smith (St. Louis). The Wizard could dazzle you in the field, of course, and even though he had little or no power, he was still a pain in the keister to opposing pitchers. A great arm to go with his defensive acrobatics.
1. Alan Trammell (Detroit). So sue me - I went for the Detroit guy. But Tram was, to me, the perfect shortstop: adept in the field, a good handler of the bat who could hit for power, and a fine teammate. He wuz robbed, in my mind, of the 1987 AL MVP Award, losing out to George Bell of Toronto, whose team blew the division to the Tigers in the final week of the season. One of the reasons the Jays folded was because Bell went into the tank. However, Trammell was the MVP of the 1984 World Series.

Sunday: corner outfielders.


Blogger Ian C. said...

I had a similar experience in college during an intermural softball game. I was catching, and was furious at the umpire for calling every pitch a ball. (In truth, the pitcher was terrible and throwing everything at the ankles.)

Finally, after he called a strike, I said something like, "It's about time - it's 10 to nothing." He responded with "the score doesn't change the rule book," and for some reason that just set me off. Bull$#!+ this, "those guys are your buddies" that, "we'd have a game if you made those #@$%ers swing," and I was ejected. If there had been water coolers, I'd have thrown one across the field.

In reality, however, I think I was mad because our "manager" had me batting ninth that day. THAT was bull$#!+.

Greg, do you really have a Top 10 list of shortstops without Cal Ripken on it? I'm not a huge fan of the guy, and I like the guys you already have on your list, but you could argue he changed the way that position was played - or at least which types of guys played it.

11:57 AM  
Blogger Greg Eno said...

Ripken's exclusion is inexcusable. How he got omitted, I have no idea. I will address that in Sunday's post.

12:09 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

I would have tossed Alex Rodriguez, Miguel Tejada, Nomar Garciaparra, Robin Yount and Derek Jeter on the list, too.

2:13 PM  
Blogger Greg Eno said...

I try not to include active players on these lists, to keep them uniform. Whether that makes sense or not...I don't frankly care!


Thanks for the visit and the comments, guys!

2:30 PM  
Blogger Greg Eno said...

And Yount, you will find on my centerfielders list.

2:31 PM  
Blogger Big Al said...

Ooooh, you hit on one of my pet peeves in your comment about Ripkin. I always thought he was overrated somewhat. He was a 3rd baseman in SS clothing. He undeservedly overshadowed Alan Trammell, in my opinion. Hell , Tram was always getting ingnored, especially in regard to the that horrendous 87 MVP vote. He wins that award, and he just might be in the HOF now.

Do not get me going on the HOF vote in regard to Trammell and Ozzie Smith. That still sticks in my craw...

6:27 PM  
Blogger Greg Eno said...

I think the Whitaker/Trammell "Should they be in the Hall of Fame?" question is one of the all-time greatest debates in all of Detroit sports.

Sadly, they should not be in.


6:31 PM  

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