Sports psychology commentary in Forbes.com – Monte Burke – June 22, 2009 – Sure, home runs and stolen bases are cool, but the ejection of a manager is baseball’s greatest performance art. Two actors (manager and umpire) meet on center stage in front of thousands to kick dirt, toss bases and hats and spit tobacco juice and obscenities into each other’s faces. The fact that we already know exactly how the spectacle will end–with the outstretched arm of an ump–diminishes it not one bit.
Earl Weaver, the fiery, longtime manager of the Baltimore Orioles, was perhaps the art’s most flashy practitioner. While he argued, he furiously pecked the brim of his hat on an umpire like a bird. He once tore up a rulebook and scattered the pages all over the field. In an infamous incident, Weaver was tossed for smoking a cigarette in the dugout. The next day he delivered the lineup card to the ump with a candy cig dangling from his lip. He was tossed again.
In Depth: Baseball‘s Most-Ejected Managers
Legendary as he was, however, Weaver has nothing on Atlanta Braves skipper Bobby Cox, who is the all-time leader in manager ejections, with 143 (which doesn’t even count his two ejections in World Series games). The most recent one? Yesterday, when he was tossed in a game against the Boston Red Sox for arguing balls and strikes, giving him 34 ejections since 2004. “I don’t know why umpires miss strikes,” Cox grumbled after the game.
Behind the Numbers
To determine our list of most-ejected managers, we looked only at who’s been tossed the most since the 2004 season. Our statistics come courtesy of David Vincent, a contributor to the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) and the author of Home Runs Most Wanted. Cox tops our list by just a hair, over Ron Gardenhire of the Minnesota Twins. But his all-time ejection record may prove unbreakable.
St. Louis Cardinal’s manager Tony LaRussa has the second-highest total of active managers with 78. That’s roughly half of Cox’s all-time total. And LaRussa is only ninth in ejections since 2004, with 11 dismissals. He’ll have to work very hard to catch Cox.
Cox is the Cal Ripken Jr. to Weaver’s Mickey Mantle. The Braves manager lacks flash, but he’s consistent, averaging a little more than five ejections a year in a 27-year career (Weaver, who is No. 4 on the all-time list with 98, averaged almost six a year for 17 seasons). What sets Cox apart is his seemingly shorter fuse: He’s been tossed mostly for arguing balls and strikes, but last August a dismissal came for something as simple as arguing with ump Joe West about turning on the stadium lights.
A fiery manager can be an asset more than a liability at times. Last August, with his team down 4-3 to the Chicago White Sox, The Twins’ Gardenhire was booted for arguing about a hit batsman. As he steamed off the field, he punted his hat 15 feet into the air. The Twins then rallied to win game.
“I hope [Vikings head coach Brad Childress] saw that,” Gardenhire said later. “If he ever needs a kicker, I got good height on it.”
No. 3 on the list is Charlie Manuel from the world champion Philadelphia Phillies, with 21 ejections. A late-season ejection last year was followed by the Phillies winning the National League East, then going on to win the World Series.
Does getting ejected have a material effect on the team’s play? Perhaps. Including Cox and Manuel, seven of the 11 men on our list have won the World Series: the Red Sox’s Terry Francona, the Chicago White Sox’s Ozzie Guillen, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim’s Mike Scioscia (all tied for sixth place), the Cardinals LaRussa (ninth) and the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Joe Torre (tied for 10th).
Two others, the San Francisco Giants Bruce Bochy (fifth) and the Tampa Bay Rays’ Joe Maddon (tied with Torre) have taken teams to the World Series. On our list, only Gardenhire and the Cleveland Indians’ Eric Wedge (tied for third) have not taken a team to the World Series.
Ejections have had short-term positive effects, too: Lou Piniella, who surprisingly didn’t make this list (he only has six ejections since 2004), had a famous blowup and ejection on June 2, 2007 against the Braves, when his Chicago Cubs were a disappointing 22-30. He kicked dirt on the third-base umpire’s shoes and kicked his hat across the diamond as the crowd bellowed “Loooooooo!” The Cubs went 63-47 the rest of the way and made the playoffs.
Then again, ejections can have no impact whatsoever. At the time of Cox’s ejection last August, the Braves were 55-63 and on the verge of being eliminated from playoff contention. After his tossing, they went 17-27 the rest of the season and missed the postseason.
Says John F. Murray, a sports performance psychologist: “The managerial ejection is a way to change the tempo of a game, a very tactical way of delaying and distracting.”
It’s certainly been a useful tool in the careers of most of the managers on our list. But frequent ejections can also be a sign of serious trouble. Former Milwaukee Brewers manager Ned Yost would have been on our list of active managers, with 18 ejections since 2004, but he was fired in September 2008. Former Colorado Rockies skipper Clint Hurdle and former Houston Astros manager Phil Garner also would have made the list, with 14 and 13 ejections, respectively, but they, too, were canned. These guys lost their cool–then lost their jobs.
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