July 26, 2008. It's the ninth inning. The Chicago Cubs sit grim-faced in the dugout, the fans are booing wildly, and the Florida Marlins players are standing awkwardly on the field, unsure of what exactly they should be doing.
The only person who isn’t frying in the hot July sun is the third base umpire, who is staying cool from the saliva spewing from Cubs Manager Lou Piniella's mouth. Piniella is just inches from the umpire’s face, and due to his extreme anger has taken to hurling a string of incoherent invectives toward the unlucky black-suited man standing meekly below him.
Let's rewind for a moment. Cubs batter Mark DeRosa hits a weak ground ball and furiously races toward first base. He executes an acrobatic head-first slide into the bag, creating a brilliant display of dust, confusion, and flying limbs.
The first base umpire does not hesitate to call DeRosa out at first. Channeling his boss, the Cubs' first base coach is on the ump like a lion. But before he can say a word, the first base umpire has waved his hand, signaling for an ejection.
Piniella is already marching briskly out of the dugout towards the umpire, looking oddly like the cartoon dog from Tom and Jerry. Piniella gets in his face, and is inevitably given the ejection signal.
At this Piniella loses his tenuous composure. The third base and home plate umps enter the fray; Piniella is forced to oscillate between the three umpires so that each can fully experience the ferociousness of his rage.
At this point the first base umpire begins to walk away. Piniella does not approve; he decides to mobilize his lecture like an Aaron Sorkin character.
Pitying his peer, the third base umpire steps between Piniella and the first base ump. Piniella attempts a sidestep, but the third base ump is too quick. Piniella jostles for position, but the umpire holds his ground. The two wander awkwardly around the infield, Piniella still screaming at the first-base umpire.
Finally, the home plate umpire escorts Piniella from the field. His exit amidst a sea of boo's is noticeably less swift and direct than his entrance, and he holds his head down in a dejected manner. Being ejected is nothing new to Piniella, who by now probably has a traditional viewing area set up in the locker room. The game will continue despite Piniella’s absence, and although he didn’t get around to kicking dirt or throwing bases, odds are nobody in the stands will be wanting their money back.
So what lesson have we learned from Piniella’s “embarrassing” departure? There are two that come to mind.
The first is that Piniella's theatrics have not affected the box score. No calls have been changed and the Cubs are still losing.
The second is that the fans have witnessed a very entertaining show.
It is not easy to speculate as to whether a manager arguing with the umpire helps the team much, if at all. Rarely are calls changed in favor of the irate manager, and it is hard to see how team morale can be boosted by the absence of the team leader for the rest of the game.
But as a fan, it is hard to leave a baseball game feeling disappointed after seeing a manager throw a helmet onto the field or kick some dirt on an umpire’s shoes.