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January 25, 2013
Understanding the Umpire-Manager Arguments of 2012
"People always want to know whether there’s a magic word. Is it ‘cocksucker’? Is it ‘asshole’? No. The magic word is 'you.'"—Umpire Gary Cederstrom
Maybe it’s because we can dissect so many things that happen in baseball games that the few things we can’t assume an added air of mystery. Maybe it’s because we’re social, inquisitive creatures who want to know what everyone else is up to. Or maybe it’s because we’re so sick of the clichés players use as a crutch when the microphones are in front of their faces that we’re extra eager for any hint of how they talk when they’re off the record and in their element. Regardless of the reason, the things players, coaches, managers and umpires say on the field have long been the subject of stories and speculation.
What are all the infielders saying when they gather on the mound between at-bats? Are they talking tactics, or are they really discussing their dinner plans? What does a hitter say when he turns around to question a call? And what about managers, who have the most animated and extended on-field exchanges? Are they genuinely angry, or are they really—as has been reported at times—complaining about their own players or expressing their admiration for the men they’re believed to be berating?
None of us is entirely immune to trying to figure out people on the field are saying—not even Vin Scully, who’s seen more managerial arguments than most of us ever will. Sometimes an announcer will say, “You can read his lips,” but except for the occasional F-bomb, you usually can’t, at least not well enough to piece together an entire exchange. So except for the occasional glimpse behind the curtain that quickly becomes a classic, we're left to look and wonder whether we're missing out on anything good.
You have probably looked at, and laughed at, videos by Bad Lip Reading. This article is an attempt at Good Lip Reading. I am an awful lip reader, so I couldn’t have made the attempt on my own. Fortunately, I had the help of longtime baseball blogger Evan Brunell, founder of the former Most Valuable Network, proprietor of Fire Brand of the American League, and President of the Massachusetts chapter of the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. (If you want to know whether he'll come to a party to help you spy on your ex-girlfriend, you can ask him @evanbrunell.) Together we combed the mlb.com video archives for managerial ejections from 2012 and picked out the ones that seemed easiest to decipher. Then Evan got to transcribing, with occasional assists or second opinions from friends.
First he’ll explain how he did it, and then we’ll see what some angry umps and managers said. Then I’ll sum up what we learned.
One final note from me before we get to the good stuff: As Sam Miller catalogued last year, baseball players sometimes say bad words. The same goes for baseball managers, most of whom are former players who now have wider waists. If strong language offends you or you’d prefer to think of your team’s manager as the peaceful, platitude-spouting man who appears at most post-game press conferences, stop reading now. —Ben Lindbergh
I’ve been deaf since before I can remember and grew up using hearing aids, which made me adept at lip reading, an ability I still rely on heavily. It's difficult for me to explain how exactly I lip read (How exactly do you hear?), but I've been known to be skilled at it, even among my peers.
Although it comes naturally for me given my hearing impairment, lip reading isn’t easy, and it doesn’t result in complete comprehension: only about 35 percent of actual speech is visible on the lips. Lip reading can be done only when paired with context. What is the general subject matter? How does this person usually talk? What is their body language? If someone is angry, you can make adjustments for that. Having a strong grasp on the language is crucial as well, so your brain can automatically fill in gaps with sentences that fit the situation. The ability to think ahead to what is likely to be said also plays a major part.
(Note: rather than write “because the camera cut” or “because the third-base coach’s butt was in the way,” we added “[Obscured]” to the transcript whenever something interfered with the view. The headings link to full videos, and lines that led to ejections are in bold.)
“I Can’t Say ‘Wake Up’?”
Don Mattingly: I’m saying wake up, let's go! Wake the fuck up!
DM: No, I did not!
TH: Well, you said it to me!
DM: [Obscured] —don’t get it.
Consider the Ramifications
Jim Tracy: (comes in at the end of a sentence) —Okay? I didn't say any of that shit.
JT: You got to be shitting me
ME: I don't know what you want me to say.
“He Tagged Him on His Ball Sack”
Joe Maddon: Bob, what you got?
JM: Bob, of course he was.
JM: Well, that is fucking so selfish, un-fucking-believable. Bob. BOB! You're not talking to me, the problem right there.
JM: Bob, you’re not right!
BD: I [Obscured]
BD: I did not miss it!
BD: I understand that.
Right vs. Wrong
Gary Darling: [Comes in at end of sentence]
Clint Hurdle: Oh, he did not! He didn’t [Obscured]
CH: Yes, he is! He's out. Look now, you make the right call here. Make the right call, here. He's OUT.
CH: He's OUT, Gary! He's OUT! Just make the right call.
CH: [Obscured] I understand that, but I mean, I’m watching the play and the man is out. Call him out!
CH: Now you're going to take me [Obscured]
GD: (Tosses him)
CH: Make the right call. That’s all. MAKE the right call.
Over the Line
John Farrell: You know what, he’s gonna say to me—He's on, he’s on the goddamn baseline! He's—
Ron Gardenhire: That is not even fucking close. How can you make shit up like that?
RG: Where is that fucking pitch? WHERE’S THAT FUCKING PITCH?
Greg Gibson: (Tosses him)
On his way out, Gardenhire gets the last word:
RG: It is 1-1! Fucking important! You fucked it up! You did!
Joe Girardi: You don’t have to get into his face! You don't have to get into his face! [Obscured] You made a mistake!
Bob Davidson: (Tosses him)
Don Mattingly: Let’s go!
D.J. Reyburn: (Tosses him)
DM: That’s fucking horseshit.
Kerwin Danley: Mike, you’re warned. Let it go.
Mike Matheny: I can’t let it go!
KD: (Tosses him)
Ron Roenicke: You got to be kidding me. He [Obscured]. YOU have no clue what you’re doing!
Sam Holbrook: (Tosses him)
Bobby Valentine: What the fuck?! He had a big mark on his fucking wrist!
Brian O’Nora: (Tosses him)
Joe Girardi: Bullshit! I’m protesting the game! I’m protesting the game! You call the foul ball! You call the foul ball!
Tim Welke: It’s not protestable.
JG: You screwed up! You screwed—fucking throw me out, I don’t give a shit!
TW: (Tosses him)
RV: You missed it!
RV: Oh come on, do it!
LB: (Tosses him)
Jim Tracy: He didn’t fucking touch him. HE DIDN’T FUCKING TOUCH HIM!
JT: Okay, okay…you fucking missed that fucking call!
Angel Campos: I got him, I did.
JT: So why are you lying to me? What you got?
JT: You got fucking shit, all right?
AC: (Tosses him)
Jim Leyland: What the fuck are you looking at? You got to be shitting me. Two of them in a row!
Brian Knight: That’s enough, Jim.
BK: All right. (Tosses him)
Tim Timmons: I missed the call.
Clint Hurdle: YOU MISSED THE CALL FOR SURE!
TT: (Tosses him)
CH: YOU MISSED THAT ONE! YOU REALLY MISSED THAT ONE! All you gotta do after the game is go look at it and you’ll see you missed the right call. That’s all you have to do!
CH: Absolutely! I do check!
Jeff Nelson: You’re going to get run.
Joe Girardi: I understand. I don’t give a shit. How do you miss it? You’re right there! How do you miss it?
JN: (Tosses him)
After being ejected by Joe West for arguing balls and strikes from the dugout, Girardi speaks for all major-league managers when he says:
Joe Girardi: It's embarrassing, Joe. Horseshit! Hey, Joe, don't laugh! You're not better than this stuff. You think you are, but you're not! You're a bastard!
Bob Davidson immediately making good on his threat to eject Charlie Manuel before what might have been the most expletive-packed umpire-manager argument of the year:
Bob Davidson: Charlie, not now, I’ll fucking get ya!
After ejecting Valentine, Darling swears with such force that his gum becomes a projectile:
Gary Darling: BULLSHIT!
Bobby Valentine: [looks at gum, points finger]
GD: It fell out of my mouth!
So what conclusion can we draw? Well, Cederstrom and Weaver were right (which shouldn't come as a shock, given that one is an umpire and the other spent much of his career combating them). Most of the ejections above involved some sort of personal attach or verbal assault on an umpire's abilities. Saying "bullshit" (or the variant beloved by baseball men, "horseshit") rarely got a guy ejected, unless it was preceded by something worse. But saying "You screwed up," "you missed it," or "you have no clue what you're doing" was grounds for almost automatic ejection.
Consider this exchange from a June 16 game in which Matheny was ejected for disputing the umpires’ decision to overturn a triple play:
Matheny insisted he hadn’t said anything personal, but saying “you missed the call” seems like something—maybe the rookie manager, with only one career ejection under his belt, wasn’t yet attuned to what he could and couldn’t get away with. Still, even he had the expectation that shouting and swear words, which might be sufficient to start a fight somewhere else, weren’t a serious infraction on a baseball field.
After decades of on-field fights, both parties have come to an understanding of what can and can't be said. The heated arguments we see from afar?—even when they do arise out of actual frustration—are really a kind of choreographed Kabuki in which both managers and umpires adhere to a script perfected by their predecessors. And each side gets something out of it: the umpire upholds his authority, while the manager rallies the fans or supports his players.
Really, it's the original reality TV. And even if it's mostly scripted, it's still a lot of fun. —Ben Lindbergh