Billy Martin dashed from the Oakland dugout in a temper Friday night in Toronto. He was highly dissatisfied with the calls of plate umpire Terry Cooney and went belly to belly with the umpire. Pretty soon he bumped Cooney, hard. The films showed it.
He was called for charging, a personal foul that baseball equates with felonious assault. For the record, Martin also did some other things, like kicking and throwing dirt all over the umpire's blue suit, front and back, and also scuffing more dirt over innocent little home plate, a bystander. All the while, screaming and ranting.
That part was sandbox behavior. It was his previous bellicosity that fetched Martin a $1,000 fine and a one-week suspension from American League President Lee MacPhail, who made his judgment after viewing the films.
Did the punishment fit the crime? The judgment here is a thunderous "no." MacPhail, in effect, had said to Martin, "Take that -- and that," applying a second slap on the writs and telling every other AL manager: It's okay, boys, to rough up an umpire occasionally; the fine will be only a measly $1,000 ($49,000 less then Harry Dalton, Milwaukee general manager, was hit with recently for making a few statements about the labor situation). And Dalton, unlike Martin, did get a week off.
The guaranteed safety of baseball's umpires from physical abuse from the players is a foundations of the game, necessary because there are bullies in some of those baseball uniforms. And fans being what they are, the American psyche does not offer protection for the umpires. It must come from the top. From the league presidents.
Almost from the start the umpires were baseball's second-class citizens. The National League decided in 1883 that $5 a game was decent pay for an umpire. But rowdyism was rampant, and umpires were complaining that they were being intimidated by certain players, and it was not until 1901 when Ban Johnson founded the new American League that umpires were clothed with full authority to expel players, and see them fined.
MacPhail's penalty for Martin can be measured against the more emphatic action taken by National League President Ford Frick in 1941 against Brooklyn pitcher Johnny Allen, who also roughed up an umpire, George Barr. Allen got no mere $1,000 fine and a one-week sentence. He drew a $5,000 fine and a 30-day suspension in an era when the better players were making $10,000 a year, not a million. On that basis, MacPhail could have rapped $200,000-a-year may Martin with a $20,000 fine, not the mere thousand that comes out of his small-change purse. Martin is appealing the fine, mostly to save face. He should pay it eagerly, and say grace.
He voilated, albeit in reverse order, two of baseball's most explicit commandments: "Thou Shall Not Make Physical Contact With an Umpire," and "Thou Shalt Not Go on the Field to Dispute a Ball or Strike Call.""
The warning not to go on the field to dispute a call at the plate is the decree of Cal Hubbard, an old umpire himself, who as the AL's supervisor of umpires wrote it into the rules in the early 1960s.
Joe Cronin, the retired Al president now summering on Cape Cod, said yesterday, "Cal showed us how all those visits by the managers from the dugouts were not only a nuisance, but they were delaying the games, making them too long. Hubbard was right, because I used to be one of those kinds of managers myself.
"But I wasn't the worst offender. Jimmy Dykes was. Dykes was off the bench screaming about balls and strikes dozens of times a game. I only squawked on third strikes. Paul Richards would slow up a game badly by that leisurely saunter to the plate from the dugout to complain about a call, all the while giving his relief man time to warm up.
"Bucky Harris never made a show of screaming at an umpire," Cronin said, "but the fans in the stands never suspected that Bucky was saying all those nasty things as he was walking by the ump talking softly."
Certain select words used by managers and players are offensive enough to get them thrown out of a game on utterance. One umpire said, "Take two words out of the English language and all those ballplayers are mutes."
There is some evidence, too, that among managers those of smaller physical stature and mayhap smitten of a Napoleonic -- the Leo Durochers and Earl Weavers and Billy Martins -- are the foremost umpire baiters. Martin actually has not been ejected many times, but he vies with Weaver for the spot of No. 1 screamer. Next time Weaver gets thrown out of a game will be the 80th, a record.
It is Weaver who puts on the best show in the ejection process. He works up to getting the heave-ho as if by plan, first getting the ump's attention through cupped hands in his dugout comments, then easing toward the top of the steps to make the umpire better aware. Then it comes, the rush onto the field, and then the direct nose-to-nose confrontation, featuring insults.
This, of course, often gets him thrown out, which he could anticipate, and then the second act: he grabs his cap, flails his arms in a war dance around the ump. Nothing matters, now that he has been given the heave. Scrape some dirt on the ump's shoes, muck up the plate with more dirt, don't let the ump turn his back; wheel around and get into a new position. Fling cap, and spit in the direction of any umpire except this one. Finally start back to the dugout and hear the fans' cheers, which is perhaps, the whole idea in the first place.
Also a count of those 79 ejections probably will show that Weaver picks his spots. Takes the heat off himself by getting thrown out of losing games only; well, almost always they're losing games.
Ossie Bluege, manager of the erstwhile Senators, was thrown out only once, in Boston. Asked if he had cussed out Ed Rommel, Bluege said, "I didn't cuss him. All I told Rommel was, 'What Bucky Harris called you last week goes for me, too.'" Like most managers, Bluege didn't question an umpire's integrity, only his eyesight. On one memorable occasion, it was an umpire who got slapped down by a league president. This was the late Bill McGowan, who was fined and suspended for eight days by Al President Will Harridge, "for using obscene language toward the press box."
McGowan, who at the time was the finest of all umpires, also was famous for his language. Joe Cronin remembers, "I'm at bat in Washington when the fans are on McGowan something fierce and he is muttering, 'All right, you government clerk SOBs. Wait until I call the next one.' The next day in Boston, when I'm at bat again, he's telling those fans, 'All right, you Boston Catholic SOBs, wait 'til you hear my next call.'"
It was McGowan who once offered the classic putdown to a base runner who argued violently that he was safe at first. "If you don't think you're out," said McGowan, "read the morning paper."
Actually, when Billy Martin got the thumb from the umpire in full view of everybody in Toronto, it was something of a replay. Earlier, Cooney had tired of Billy's running comments from the bench and waved him out of the game while Martin was still in the dugout.
One musing baseball writer could rationalize the double ejection of Martin.
The first time Billy was thrown out, it was as the A's manager. The second time, it was as the A's general manager, another position he holds.