"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
—As They See ’Em: A Fan’s Travels in the Land of Umpires, by Bruce Weber
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.
There are some words that sound alike when you say them out loud, forcing you to rely on context to differentiate between them. The same goes double for lip reading, which involves countless homophenes, words that look the same on the lips but have completely different sounds. Not to mention that the slightest differentiation in how a word is pronounced—caused by stifling a cough, a yawn, a twitch, or a jerk of the head—can change its appearance entirely. It takes a lot of brain activity and physical attention to lip read, even in a very casual environment, which is why I used to come home from school absolutely wiped out after having to lip read for hours at a time.
Lip reading is easier to do in person, with a 3D environment. Even at today’s high resolutions (which do help significantly), a TV broadcast it is still 3D converted to a 2D plane, which makes it harder to decipher what is being said. There is also an incredible diversity in the ways people talk, and some simply cannot be lip read. Some people talk very fast (looking at you, Fredi Gonzalez), while others barely make any lip shapes or movements that can help an observer figure out what is being said (like you, Charlie Manuel). Mustaches and beards also complicate matters, as they can hide lips. In addition, when managers argue with umpires, they tend to be upset. In that case, they exaggerate words or speak louder, which actually impairs lip reading.
Trying to decipher the arguments between umpires and managers in the videos below was a difficult task—more difficult than I thought it would be. The 2D layer and the added complexity of cameras cutting, mouths being blocked by other figures on the field, and animated managers jumping around (Don Mattingly loves to flap his arms) didn’t help matters. But I have transcribed with confidence what has been said in this piece. —Evan Brunell
(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 vs. Tom Hallion, May 18
Don Mattingly: I’m saying wake up, let's go! Wake the fuck up!
Tom Hallion: (Tosses him)
TH: GET OUT OF HERE!
TH: That's some bullshit. You told me to wake the fuck up!
DM: No, I did not!
TH: Yes you did!
DM: [Obscured, seems to be saying he was telling someone else to wake up]
TH: Well, you said it to me!
TH: It doesn't matter!
TH: Okay, Don, so what… what… [making "What do you want me to do?" gesture]
DM: [Obscured] —don’t get it.
TH: Well, what the fuck do you want, do you want to get run over that?
DM: No, it’s only to wake up, wake the fuck up!
TH: You can’t say that, Don!
DM: I can't say ‘wake up’?
TH: You didn’t say that.
DM: [Obscured] What’s the difference in ‘wake the fuck up’ and ‘wake up’?
Consider the Ramifications
Jim Tracy vs. Mike Everitt, August 6
Jim Tracy: (comes in at the end of a sentence) —Okay? I didn't say any of that shit.
Mike Everitt: Okay, okay. I understand.
JT: I'm just saying, he caught the fucking ball. He caught the ball. I just want you to know, I didn't fucking [Obscured] fucking ball.
[Obstructed, ejection not show]
ME: Tracy, if you're going to let me talk, let me—
ME: I let you go. We got together. We determined it was not a—
JT: You got to be shitting me
ME: I don't know what you want me to say.
JT: —SHITTING ME! It's fucking unbelievable! It's unbelievable! And when it's over with, I can't wait to see the ramifications of what fucking happened! There's no fucking way! That's a fucking out! He caught the—How are you going to feel if he fucking caught the ball, which we know he did?
JT: Yeah, okay, fine, [Obstructed] I wasn't [Obstructed] It was the right fucking call!
ME: [Obstructed] That's what we're doing!
JT: Bullshit! That is fucking bullshit!
ME: I know! I admit it! I do! Yes, I do!
“He Tagged Him on His Ball Sack”
Joe Maddon vs.
Joe Maddon: Bob, what you got?
JM: He tagged him on his ball sack! His fucking ass is on the bag!
JM: Bob, he tagged him on his backside of his leg.
JM: Bob, of course he was.
Bob Davidson: He got him on his ass, first of all—
JM: Well, that is fucking so selfish, un-fucking-believable. Bob. BOB! You're not talking to me, the problem right there.
JM: —tag him on his fucking leg, you would have looked at his fucking head! Bob, you weren't looking at his— [Obscured]. Bob—I know, but you missed, missed the most important part, Bob! [Obscured] Bob, you're not fucking—you're not fucking right, Bob!
JM: Bob, you’re not right!
BD: So I understand that's [Obscured] not that great.
JM: —Bob! It's fucking important to us!
BD: I [Obscured]
JM: Well, what the fuck, you can’t miss that call right there!
BD: No, I didn’t miss it!
JM: You fucking blew the shit out of it, Bob!
BD: I did not miss it!
JM: You fucking blew it!
BD: I did not—
JM: You fucking blew it!
BD: That's enough, Joe.
JM: You fucking blew the call, Bob!
BD: (Tosses him)
JM: You fucking blew the call! That's a real important part of the game!
BD: I understand that.
JM: We're trying to fucking win the division!
BD: I got it. I got it. I hope you do.
BD: No, I saw the whole thing.
Right vs. Wrong
Clint Hurdle vs. Gary Darling, September 7
Gary Darling: [Comes in at end of sentence]
Clint Hurdle: Oh, he did not! He didn’t [Obscured]
GD: Yes he did.
CH: There's no way. There's no way! [Obscured] The ball— [Obscured] He put down the tag, he's out.
GD: The guy was on the bag.
CH: He's out, Gary. He's out.
GD: No, he wasn't.
CH: Yes, he is! He's out. Look now, you make the right call here. Make the right call, here. He's OUT.
GD: I did make the right call.
CH: He's OUT, Gary! He's OUT! Just make the right call.
GD: I did!
CH: You DIDN'T make the right call.
CH: You made the wrong call. On a thing like that.
GD: Yeah, well, that, thank you, thank you for that, yeah.
CH: Yeah, all right. … Make the right call! Make the right call!
GD: I did, though, Clint. This is going nowhere.
CH: [Obscured] I understand that, but I mean, I’m watching the play and the man is out. Call him out!
GD: If I were any better, I would have.
CH: Now you're going to take me [Obscured]
GD: I know.
CH: Get him out, call him out on that play. That play's right there in front of you, the perfect spot.
CH: No, he didn't! Make the call, Gary! [Obscured]
CH: [Obscured] —keep going. Yeah, I'm going to keep going.
GD: (Tosses him)
CH: Make the right call. That’s all. MAKE the right call.
CH: No you didn’t! Make the right call. That’s all you gotta do. That’s all you gotta do, is MAKE THE RIGHT CALL!
Over the Line
John Farrell vs. Marvin Hudson, October 1
John Farrell: You know what, he’s gonna say to me—He's on, he’s on the goddamn baseline! He's—
Marvin Hudson: John, he was inside the baseline.
JF: He's on the fucking baseline!
MH: He's gotta have both feet in there on the line.
JF: I’m sitting right back here, and I saw fucking out— [Obscured] —fucking next you. He was on the fucking line!
MH: No, he was not!
JF: You're goddamn right he was! There's no fucking way!
MH: (Tosses him)
JF: He's right there on the fucking line!
JF: —fucking line! You know goddamn well one foot after the fucking one has to replace the other foot, right on the fucking line! You fucking fucked this all up!
JF: —damn call. Pay attention! [Obscured] He was on the fucking line right there!
MH: [Obscured] (But possibly, “John, I’m going to run it up the chain”)
JF: He was on the goddamn line!
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!
DM: I’m coming out here ’cause I’m tired of this shit! You know what, my fucking catcher just got it—
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)
Robin Ventura: You know you missed it!
Lance Barrett: Three chances! [He gave A.J. Pierzynski three chances before ejecting him]
RV: You missed it!
LB: Do not come out here talking about me!
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:
MM: Hey, you’re going to throw me out here for swearing at you? I didn’t say anything about you. I just said you guys, you both missed the call! And you’re going to throw me out for that? Is that what you’re throwing me out for?
MM: I didn’t say ANYTHING about you! You know that!
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