For a sport with so many supposed "unwritten rules," baseball sure has a lot of written ones. But the official rulebook is much like the U.S. Constitution: remarkably broad, and designed to allow arbiters to interpret what's in there. One instance that allows for wide latitude is what constitutes an ejectable offense. An umpire may run anyone "for objecting to decisions or for unsportsmanlike conduct or language." That's deliberately vague, and has led to the impression that healthy argument is acceptable, but there are some "magic words" which will get a manager tossed.
So what, specifically, did Rays skipper Joe Maddon tell an umpire that got him ejected during a game in 2007?
"I love you."
Zack Meisel at MLB.com had a fun little piece this weekend on what's actually being said by managers during their arguments with umpires, and as we always kind of suspected, it can be a lot less contentious than the red faces and straining neck veins would lead you to believe. Managers have always used ejections as motivation for their scuffling team—after a close call, even if they think the ump got it right, they'll put on a show. Argument as spectacle, and as strategy.
Maddon's Rays were 7-8 in June, and had lost four in a row when he decided to get tossed after a Rockies checked swing was ruled ball four in that 2007 game. It loaded the bases and put the go-ahead run at home plate in the seventh, as the Rays were trying to avoid a sweep. Umpire Ted Barrett faced down a seemingly agitated Maddon:
Barrett told him that one more word would trigger his ejection, so the skipper simply replied, "I love you." Sticking to his guns, Barrett tossed him.
"I ejected him and then realized, 'What do I put in my report, that I ejected him because he told me he loved me?' That just stumped me," Barrett said. "I had never had a manager tell me he loved me before."
Maddon's comments after the game—"Great umpiring crew, Ted and I go way back, it was just one of those moments"—hint at the theater. The most mild-mannered manager in the sport seems to prefer friendly banter masked as heated discussion.
"We had what looked like a nasty argument in Tampa," [Bob] Davidson said, "and he was telling me how much he liked me and I was saying, 'I like you also.' We were nose and nose doing this, and then when he left, he got a standing ovation."
The MLB.com article is full of great anecdotes of managers who were looking to get ejected, but wanted to do it as respectfully as possible.
"I remember a manager yelling and screaming and coming out and saying, 'I have to get run,'" said umpire Ted Barrett, who has governed big league games for 19 years. "So I tossed him, and he starts ranting and raving about how bad his team is. 'My pitcher is terrible. My bullpen can't get anybody out. My hitters haven't hit a ball out of the infield in three days. My clubhouse guys serve crappy food.' And on and on.
"I started chuckling at him, and the guy gets up in my face and says, 'Don't you laugh. If you laugh, then they know this is all an act.' So I did everything I could just to bite my tongue."
Longtime Twins manager Tom Kelly once called for a sacrifice bunt when his club placed runners on first and second with no outs. The batter laid down a textbook bunt, but umpire Dale Scott called interference, ruling that he veered out of his running lane en route to first. The baserunners were required to retreat to their original posts.
"Here comes Tom Kelly," Scott said, "and I'm expecting the worst. And he comes out screaming, 'I can't believe this. I have a guy that puts down a perfect sacrifice bunt and then he can't run in the [stupid] running lane.' He was pointing his finger at me. I started to almost smile, but you can't laugh.
"The whole time, it looked like he was [reaming me], but he was just ranting about how his runner was out of the running lane. Sometimes you're going to be the prop for their little stage show."
One such circumstance arose when Terry Collins was leading the Angels in the late 1990s. After a questionable call, Collins sought out Scott and told the umpire, "You know what, Dale? I know that was the right call. But we [stink]. You have to run me."
Scott told Collins he needed him to display more emotion and conviction to warrant his dismissal, so the manager flung his hat and Scott pointed him to the exit.
But sometimes, when a team is truly terrible, a manager hoping to get ejected can't bring himself to complain about his players, or even talk baseball at all.
[A]fter the umpire declared a runner safe on a swipe of second base during a contest at Dodger Stadium in 1984, Los Angeles skipper Tommy Lasorda stormed out of the dugout.
Davidson, then in just his third big league season, prepared for the worst. He got something different.
"All he talked about was an Italian restaurant he ate at and how the wine was bad," Davidson said. "He said, 'Hey, you have to throw me out, because I have 48,000 people in the ballpark.' I remember the 'argument' was heated."
As Lasorda spouted off about tortellini and vermicelli, crew chief John Kibler joined the huddle to listen to the skipper's gripe.
"Kibler had to put his hand over his mouth, because he started laughing and that would give it away," Davidson said.
Next time you see your team's skipper melting down, pay close attention to his lips. "Go fuck yourself in the ass" might actually be "golf is fun for all," while "your mother sucks cocks in hell" could very well be "your manly scent is intoxicating."