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August 18, 2011

The Lineup Card

11 Memorable Breakdowns, Antics, and Tirades

by Baseball Prospectus

1) Phil Wellman

Managerial meltdowns simply don't get any better than that of Phil Wellman's June 1, 2007 tour de force. Wellman was in his first year managing the Mississippi Braves of the Southern League in a game against the Chattanooga Lookouts when he went ballistic over pitcher Kelvin Villa's ejection for using a foreign substance. Wellman stormed out of the third base dugout and spiked his cap just as he reached the home plate umpire. After giving him an earful, he proceeded to cover the plate with dirt, first kicking it with his feet, then getting down onto his hands and knees to finish the job. He then proceeded to draw an oversized plate around the covered-up area, stormed back to the home plate ump, then wandered down to third base to share his disapproval with that umpire. Not satisfied that his complaints had been addressed, he uprooted third base and threw it into shallow center field.

To that point, Wellman's work had been tremendously Piniella-esque, but just as surely, he was standing in the shadows of bygone tirades. It was his next move that qualified him for the a spot in history. Halfway between second base and the mound, he dropped to his belly and began an infantryman's crawl. As an umpire and one of his own players (Villa?) looked on, he picked up the rosin bag, climbed to his knees, and made as though he were pulling a pin out of a grenade with his teeth before lobbing the bag right to the feet of the home plate ump. Wellman then stood up, shouted a few choice words, signaled as though he were ejecting the ump, and went to uproot second base. He carried that and the displaced third base with him for several steps before dropping them both in right field en route to a bullpen door exit, with a pause to blow kisses to the crowd and pump his fist. No, really, the honor was all ours.

Wellman drew a three-game suspension from the Braves organization, not to mention the admiration of Braves manager and all-time ejection leader Bobby Cox, who said he'd seen the clip—which survives on YouTube—no less than 50 times. —Jay Jaffe
 

2) Jimmy Piersall
Jimmy Piersall, a center fielder in the major leagues from 1950-67 with five different clubs, was so notorious for his meltdowns that a movie was made about him called "Fear Strikes Out." The most memorable scene in the film depicts Piersall, played by Anthony Perkins, climbing the backstop at Fenway Park in an attempt to reach taunting fans. Major League Baseball didn't have mental health professionals during Piersall's era, and he was hospitalized on multiple occasions with what was termed "nervous exhaustion." It wasn't until after his playing career that he was diagnosed as having bipolar disorder.

Piersall had many incidents during his career. While with the Red Sox, he got into a fight with Yankees second baseman Billy Martin before a game. He also spanked the 4-year-old son of teammate Vern Stephens in the clubhouse. During his time with the Indians, he fired a ball off the scoreboard at Comiskey Park after catching the final out of a game, wore a Little League helmet to home plate for an at-bat, and raced back and back and forth in the outfield in an attempt to distract Ted Williams while The Splendid Splinter was at the plate. Piersall calmed down later in his career, but he had two memorable moments with the Mets in 1963, wearing a Beatles wig and playing an air guitar as he stepped into the batter's box and celebrating his 100th career home run by facing backwards as he trotted around the bases.—John Perrotto
 

3) Hal McRae
Google “Hal McRae,” and the third result, right below his Baseball-Reference pages as a player and manager, is a link to a YouTube video called “Coach Hal McRae Goes Nuts.” Everyone’s favorite search engine has the courtesy to provide a thumbnail image of the normally mild-mannered McRae in the process of losing his cool following a 5-3 loss to the Tigers in 1993; I’ll do Google one better and embed the clip below:

The moment of reckoning arrives when a hapless scribe dares to ask McRae if he’d considered pinch-hitting the left-handed George Brett for the right-handed Keith Miller with righty Dave Haas on the mound and the bases loaded in the bottom of the seventh (Brett would later pinch-hit for Jose Lind and double with a runner on first in the ninth). Most managerial meltdowns involve umpires and take place on the field, but McRae’s gives us a rare look at baseball tantrum technique in a confined space.

McRae begins by barking, “Don’t ask me all these stupid-ass-[inaudible-but-easily-guessable expletive] questions,” then methodically clears his desk of all its contents, flinging his phone discus-style for added emphasis, as the gaggle of reporters (one of whom, Alan Eskew of the Topeka Capital-Journal, is clearly bleeding from a run-in with an airborne tape recorder) dissolves and streams out the door. McRae concludes the festivities with a satisfying, “Now, put that in your [inaudible-but-easily-guessable expletive] pipe and smoke it.”

Managing the Royals in 1993—when the team won 84 games (despite allowing 19 more runs than it scored) and memories of 1985 were still fairly fresh—couldn’t have been quite as frustrating as managing the Royals has been in most of the seasons since then. What’s more, the eruption came on April 26, so McRae couldn’t claim the stress of a long losing season as an excuse. If McRae was “sick and tired of all this bullshit” by late April, one wonders how he felt by September, let alone the following season (perhaps not surprisingly, his last as KC skipper).

Modern managing is as much about maintaining cordial relations with media members as it is ordering lineups and making calls to the bullpen. In that sense, McRae’s office outburst is at least as spectacular a failure as batting Corey Patterson leadoff or letting a rested closer collect dust in the ninth inning of a tie game on the road, even though he was likely speaking for all managers when he expressed his impatience at being second-guessed by the athletically challenged. Even an isolated case of berating beat writers makes McRae look bad, but the internet is in his debt.—Ben Lindbergh
 

4) Billy Martin
By July of 1983, the Bronx had stopped burning, but Yankees Manager Billy Martin was just as unpredictable as ever. As a result, everyone—and nobody at all—was caught by surprise in the 9th inning of the July 24, 1983 game between the Royals and Yankees … except, of course, for Future Hall of Famer George Brett. The score stood 4-3 with the home team Yankees in the lead with 2 outs in the 9th as Brett stepped in and launched a 2-run shot into the stands to give the Royals a 5-4 lead. Nobody at the time could’ve known that both the pitcher, Goose Gossage, and the batter, George Brett, would both end-up as Hall of Famers, but what transpired next was a story for the ages surrounding these two Legends in the making.

Yankees Manager Billy Martin emerged from the 1st base dugout to protest the “no-doubt” homerun on the grounds that, pursuant to Rule 1.10(c), Brett’s bat was illegal, and therefore he was out.

“(c) The bat handle, for not more than 18 inches from its end, may be covered or treated with any material or substance to improve the grip. Any such material or substance, which extends past the 18 inch limitation, shall cause the bat to be removed from the game.”

Brett remained in the dugout as the Umpires “humored” Martin and the Yankees—that is, until he was called out. What transpired next was one of the greatest meltdowns in sports history. It was at that point that future Hall of Famer George Brett came unglued and charged the plate as he realized he was being called out.

The Yankees would win the game as Brett was now the 3rd out of the 9th inning. Fortunately, MLB would right their wrong, the Royals had filed protest which was upheld, and they would win the completed game when it was resumed. Brett’s meltdown would result in a changing of the rules of the game. Rule 1.10(c) was amended to include, “NOTE: If the umpire discovers that the bat does not conform to (c) above until a time during or after which the bat has been used in play, it shall not be grounds for declaring the batter out, or ejected from the game.” —Adam Tower
 

5) Frank Francisco
In the fall of 2004, Texas Rangers rookie reliever Frankie Francisco tossed a chair into the stands at the Oakland Coliseum, hitting the face and breaking the nose of a woman named Jennifer Bueno. Before the assault, the two American League West foes were locked in a close game, made even closer with two outs in the top of the ninth inning when Rangers’ second baseman Alfonso Soriano tied the game with his second home run of the day. Before the game could move forward, emotions erupted between the fans in the seats and personnel housed in the Rangers’ pen, as vocal jabs gave way to angry threats, which soon escalated to felony battery in a matter of seconds. This wasn’t a battle of professional passion. This was personal.

Prior to the actual physical eruption, Craig Bueno, husband to Jennifer Bueno, was using his mouth the way Francisco would later use the chair—throwing vitriol in the air, using his proximity to the Rangers’ pen to his upmost advantage. I’ve never understood why some people feel that their purchase of a ticket puts their first-amendment privileges on a platform, allowing them to rain insults down upon the opponents, whether they be in the stands or on the field. In this particular situation, it was reported that Mr. Bueno (I’m going to be sad when this article is over because I love typing “Mr. Bueno;” I’m pretty sure it’s a porn name) had targeted Rangers’ reliever Doug Brocail as the recipient of his hateful attention. Athletes are familiar with negative response, as they spend half of their lives on enemy soil with ears open to the audible scorn that is often fired in their direction. But every individual has a line that they protect from foreign intrusion, and once it gets crossed, the particular affiliations or associations involved become insignificant, as do the consequences of any forward action. According to reports, Mr. Bueno was heckling Doug Brocail about his stillborn child. The line was crossed.

What prompted Mr. Bueno to reach such an unpleasant level of fan participation is unclear, but the rebuttal was quite clear, as first Brocail exploded with affect, followed by several of his teammates and coaches, followed by Frankie Francisco, escalating the situation ten-fold by heaving a chair towards Mr. Bueno. The chair missed its desired target (which we assume was Mr. Bueno), eventually striking Mrs. Bueno in the face and forever labeling Frank Squared as the player who hit a female fan in the face with a folding chair.

It’s not my intent to suggest Francisco’s actions were appropriate; they weren’t. I do feel that his reaction (and the reaction of all player personnel involved) was triggered in defense of a teammate, but however, detestable, the words said were just words, and a more appropriate measure could have been found to remedy the situation. It’s also not my intent to paint Mr. Bueno as the sole antagonist, although witnesses to the event basically suggested as much. The outcome was unfortunate for all parties involved as three Rangers relievers and a coach were suspended (Francisco for the duration of the season), Mrs. Bueno received a broken nose, Mr. Bueno looked like a fool, and the Oakland fan base as a whole were judged by the actions of a few (one?). It was a bad day for baseball. It was a bad day to be a Bueno. —Jason Parks
 

6) Lloyd McClendon
Nothing says reasoned, thoughtful baseball analysis like a fit of pique. Just three months into his first season as Pirates manager, Lloyd McClendon delivered one of the more memorable performances by a fed-up skipper. With his club tied with the Brewers in the seventh inning, Pirates catcher Jason Kendall was called out on a close play at first—the second close call to go Milwaukee’s way in the game.

McClendon sprinted from the dugout, argued for a moment with first-base umpire Rick Reed, angrily fired his hat toward second base, then drove home his point by pulling first base from the infield dirt, tucking it under his arm and carrying it with him back to the Pirates dugout as 24,000 fans at PNC Park roared with approval.

It was a unique performance, touched by art. McClendon had lodged his protest and made history by literally stealing first base. How will the McClendon Era be remembered? This is how. —Jeff Euston
 

7) Babe Ruth
If you look in the annual Yankees media guide under “Team Captains,” you will see the curious note, “Babe Ruth, 5/20/22-5/25/22.” This is why: in 1922, Babe Ruth had a very rough year. After playing in the 1921 World Series, Ruth and some teammates decided to go on an exhibition tour. The owners, having decided that such tours detracted from the Series, had made them illegal for postseason participants. Ruth went anyway, resulting in Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis suspending him for the first 40 days of the 1922 season. The Babe, newly named team captain upon his return, struggled at first, going 3-for-22 in six games at Yankee Stadium. For the first time, the big man was hearing boos from the hometown crowds.

Early in the game against the Senators on May 25, Ruth was called out at second trying to stretch a single. Ruth’s response was to throw a handful of dirt into umpire George Hildebrand’s face. As Ruth stalked off the field after the inevitable ejection, a heckler shouted, “You goddamned big bum, why don’t you play ball?” Ruth leapt into the stands, the heckler fleeing before him. Furious and frustrated, Ruth stood on the dugout roof and dared anyone in the crowd to take a shot at him before finally climbing down and heading into the clubhouse.

Afterwards, Ruth remained angry. “I didn’t mean to hit the umpire with the dirt, but I did mean to hit that bastard in the stands. If I make a home run every time I bat, they’d think I’m all right. If I don’t, they think they can call me anything they like... I’ll probably be fined or suspended, but I don’t see why I should get any punishment at all.” American League President Ban Johnson suspended Ruth for one game, fined him $200, and stripped him of his captaincy, commenting that he lacked “mental strength and stability.” Ruth remained unrepentant: “The New York fans,” he said, “haven’t given me a square deal since I returned to the field.” He would ultimately total five suspensions in 1922 before rededicating himself to sanity during the offseason. —Steven Goldman
 

8) Jim Thome
On April 12, 2008, Jim Thome was ejected from a baseball game for arguing—one of only three ejections in his career. He went out with a tantrum, throwing a cup onto the field in protest. I love three things about this event: 

1. "It's kind of like seeing your father get upset," said Paul Konerko afterward. This is the perfect way to describe Jim Thome. He is a dad. He is literally a dad to children that his wife birthed, but what I mean is that he is the dad archetype. When a shower is leaking in the clubhouse, it wouldn't shock me to learn that Jim Thome pulls out a toolbox from his locker and fixes it. He probably mows the outfield grass.

2. Jim Thome said that, afterward, his family called him to tell him he had gone over the line with that umpire. This is Jim Thome's family. Jim Thome's family is a family of Jim Thomes.

3. This is the pitch that Jim Thome was ejected for arguing.

It was right down the middle. Jim Thome has one of the best eyes in history, but he's fallible, and sometimes he doesn't even know he's wrong, so his family has to call him and tell him. —Sam Miller
 

9) Lou Piniella
When the words “baseball meltdown” come to mind, I can only think of one man: Sweet Lou Piniella. On June 2, 2007, Angel Pagan was thrown out at third when the ball bounced away from the catcher. That's when Piniella, who was the Cubs manager at the time, lost it in classic fashion. Charging out of the dugout with veins already popping out of his head and neck, he immediately went brim-to-brim with third base umpire Mark Wegner. The cap stayed on for less than a second before tossing it to the ground—while getting ejected—and kicking it towards second base. Not one to be content with just kicking his cap, Piniella felt that Wegner's shoes were too shiny and started to kick dirt on them several times before going back to take his anger out on his cap. Once Piniella gets going, though, it doesn't shut off like a light switch, and it took two other umps over a minute before he started to make his way back to the dugout. I don't think the veins ever went down that night, and I will never forget it. —Corey Dawkins
 

10) Milton Bradley
In a career that showed ample early promise, Milton Bradley is perhaps the baseball player most often associated with the word "meltdown" in the past decade. After making eight stops and being traded for Andre Ethier (whoops), Carlos Silva, and Andrew Brown twice, amongst others, Bradley was released by the Mariners earlier this year and seems to be at the end of a colorful road. What seemed to be well-rounded talent that featured offensive value and defensive competency in the outfield ended up a secondary story to Bradley's histrionics, antics, and on-field confrontations.

Bradley fought, acted, and was traded around, playing for the Expos, Indians, Dodgers, Athletics, Padres, Rangers, Cubs, and Mariners. His reputation seemed largely earned and deserved as Bradley may have come close to setting records for player ejections if such things were tracked—best that I can tell, they are not tracked anywhere, but it seems that Bradley had the most in the last 10 years and at least 17—and perhaps if his career had lasted a bit longer.

Perhaps the signature Bradley meltdown came during his stay in Los Angeles with the Dodgers. After being upset with something that was said, the home plate umpire ejected Bradley, sending him into a tizzy. Although he started by calmly removing his batting gear and leaving it on the ground, when he walked back to the dugout, he found a bag of baseballs. He exploded from there, and the incident concluded with him throwing the majority of the contents of a bag of baseballs and the bag itself onto the field.

As his career wore on, he seemed to become a victim at times, perhaps targeted by umpires on occasion, hoping to set him off. Increasing media coverage of his incidents revealed people wondering—some more seriously than others—if there was more causing his outbreaks than the frustration visible on the field. In the end, we are left wondering what he could have been able to accomplish on the field and what may have been going on inside him as he seemed to grapple with as many internal demons as external. —Ben Murphy
 

11) Pascual Perez and the Padres
What could possibly cause a shirtless Ed Whitson to wield a bat at fans? Pascual Perez, of course. The talented but erratic Braves starter had a reputation as a headhunter so, when Perez plugged Alan Wiggins, to start this one, Padres Manager Dick Williams took it upon himself to fight back. Whitson, the Padres starter threw at Perez, causing the Braves pitcher to wield his bat like a weapon. Benches cleared, but no one was ejected...yet.

Whitson did it again in the 4th. Then Greg Booker did it. By the time Craig Lefferts finally drilled him in the 8th inning, both teams were in a full lather. Champ Summers went after Perez. Gerald Perry threw punches. Rick Mahler got involved. Basically every name from mid-80s National League Baseball that makes you smile had a role in this game, and when Donnie Moore hit Graig Nettles in the 9th, Kurt Bevacqua, doing his best Tazmanian Devil impersonation, started firing haymakers at everyone. In all, 11 players and both managers were tossed. Heck, 5 fans were arrested. Joe Torre had some harsh words for Williams, and after a shirtless Whitson tried to climb the dugout roof with a bat, umpire John McSherry ordered the benches to be empty to finish the 9th. 

Maybe the most incredible part is that Perez, the notorious hot head and accused headhunter, kept his cool and fired eight innings of five hit ball meaning he started and won the greatest fight in baseball history. —Mike Ferrin

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