Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Managers Ready to Rumble

Lou Piniella on a rampage.
I thought it was only fair to follow up yesterday's post about Joe West, baseball's worst umpire, with a look at some of the managers who have caused the men in blue to reach for the Rolaids.

In recent seasons, Bobby Cox, who retired after last season as manager of the Atlanta Braves, was king of the tirades. In fact, he's the career leader in ejections. For my money, Ozzie Guillen is the king now. He's bombastic on the field and seems to have no filter between his brain and mouth off the field. Lou Piniella's tirades were scary, if only because you feared for his health as the veins popped out of his head.

There have been a lot of managers who enjoyed kicking dirt, throwing bases and caps and generally making a spectacle of themselves. Leo Durocher is the first I remember who was celebrated (or castigated) for his fiery temper. Leo the Lip had a somewhat checkered career that included stops as a shortstop with teams including the St. Louis Cardinals' colorful Gashouse Gang and the Brooklyn Dodgers.

As a manager he was set to lead the Dodgers during Jackie Robinson's inaugural season. But the commissioner suspended him for "the accumulation of unpleasant incident" deemed "detrimental to baseball" just before the regular season started. Some see the suspension as the result of a feud Durocher had with Larry MacPhail, a New York Yankees' executive. Either way Durocher will be remembered for his temper and "nice guys finish last" mentality.

In the 1960s and 1970s, managerial tirades brought to mind two men: Billy Martin and Earl Weaver. Both were winning managers and both were famous for arguing their cases vociferously. Weaver is a YouTube hit. Martin was bombastic back in his days managing the Minnesota Twins and Detroit Tigers. He could be caustic off the field. When he was fired and rehired by George Steinbrenner during their long-running soap opera, it was like watching a train wreck. You wanted to look away but just had to keep watching.

Weaver was a strategist who wrote a touchstone book, "Weaver on Strategy: The Classic Work on the Art of Managing a Baseball Team," on the subject. But he also was known to toss bases, get in the face of an umpire and get the crowd roaring with his antics.

Of course, when a manager goes bonkers, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. If he's upholding the honor of your team his actions are merited. If he's wearing the uniform of the enemy, he's just a jerk.

Either way, it's great theater to see a grown man throw a fit. On reflection it seems a bit silly. But then, baseball needs to have a bit of silliness to break of the sanctimony that sometimes to seem envelop the game.

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