Friday, April 11, 2014
OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona calmly exited the dugout on opening night and approached home plate umpire Mike Winters with a rather polite request that he review a collision at the plate.
Winters obliged, then confirmed his call 59 seconds later via replay, hardly a harsh word exchanged in a moment emotions used to run high. With baseball's expanded replay rules, those colorful, saliva-trading tirades that often punctuated games could very well be replaced by far more civilized behavior around big league ballparks this year.
Fewer four-letter words? Manners in baseball? Maybe so.
"The umpires are instructed that if you come out and say something wrong they won't jump down your throat. They're instructed to maybe walk you through it," said Francona, never among the most fiery managers, but one with lower stress levels since leaving Boston. "Everybody is learning."
There might even be healthier shoulders for umpires, too, as they make fewer emphatic, wind-up ejection signals to send a manager to the showers.
Through Wednesday's games, in a count by MLB and STATS, there had been 64 replays with 21 of those overturned — 19 of 48 on manager challenges, and two among 16 umpire-initiated reviews such as the one requested by Francona.
"I think some of the longer heated arguments are gone," San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "You'll just challenge now."
There were 85 total managerial ejections in 2013, and 82 players thrown out.
The new rules could dramatically change the tone of watching a game. After all, the rants that Bobby Cox, Lou Piniella and Earl Weaver became known for are part of baseball history offering plenty of entertainment value.
Weaver, who managed the Orioles for 17 years, would certainly protest. Never one to shy away from an animated altercation, the late Hall of Fame manager used to kick dirt at umpires or onto home plate. Piniella, who managed the Yankees, Mariners, Cubs and two other teams, had a penchant for tossing a base or punting his cap during a tantrum. Newly elected Hall of Famer Cox retired from the Braves in 2010 with most managerial ejections in major league history at 158.
Angels pitcher Jered Weaver figures plenty of fans will miss that in-your-face interaction between manager and umpire.
"There are a lot of fans that come for that reason — the aggressive coach, or the taking out of bases," he said. "But at the same time, we're in an era where we want to get everything right."
In some managers' offices, reminder cards hang from bulletin boards with lists of what plays a manager can challenge under the new expanded replay and which ones are up to umpire discretion and can be requested by the manager.
The art of the tirade has long been about more than letting tempers flare. There's a psychological component: Those classic, highlight-reel encounters with umpires often are a manager's way of backing up a player or defending his team.
"I think a part of the game is that interaction between the manager and the umpire, because sometimes managers use that for the motivation of the team to let them know, 'I'm in this with you,'" former Mets and White Sox manager Jerry Manuel said. "Bobby Cox was the best at that, the best at protecting his players at all cost: 'We are against that team and we are against these umpires.'"
On opening day in Milwaukee, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez became the first skipper to issue a challenge when first base umpire Greg Gibson ruled Ryan Braun safe at first in the sixth inning. Gibson's call was overturned, and Gonzalez shrugged with a slight smile as if to say, "I told you so."
There's some strategy involved for first-year Tigers manager Brad Ausmus when making a challenge. It's a different approach now that arguments are likely to be less common.
"Normally the manager would go out there to scream and yell but it doesn't make sense to go out there and scream and yell if they know you have a challenge," Ausmus said. "In essence, I'm really just taking my time getting out there so we can get a determination from our video room as to whether we should use the challenge. It's a little awkward because I really don't have much to say."
For many veteran managers, keeping relatively quiet is a strange concept that forces an adjustment. In April 2013, 11 managers were ejected. A season-long decline is certainly expected under the new rules, though a manager can still be tossed for griping about balls and strikes.
"I don't think it eliminates them. I think it cuts down on them, because once they go look at replay, then you're basically told not to come back out," Oakland manager Bob Melvin said. "If you do, then you'll probably get thrown out of the game pretty quickly."
Pittsburgh's Clint Hurdle figures managers might leave the ballpark at night with some pent-up frustration on occasion when they haven't had a chance to blow off steam at an umpire.
"They will still happen," he said of tantrums, "if not at the game, when they get home."
The typically animated and emotional Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon even plans to stay calm. During his early days as Pirates skipper, he was fined $1,000 for stealing first base in a 2001 game in which he became enraged with the first base umpire and uprooted the base after an ejection. He's hoping to avoid that now.
"We'll go home with a lot more money in our pocket," McClendon said, smiling. "It will save me a lot of money."
AP Baseball Writer Noah Trister and Sports Writers Josh Dubow, Antonio Gonzalez and Charles Odum contributed to this story.