Managers must pick, choose when to challenge calls
Clint Hurdle jogged from the dugout and headed straight for home-plate umpire Brian Gorman. Moments later, the Pirates manager was ejected from a key NL Central game against the first-place Reds at Great American Ball Park, and a purple-faced tirade ensued.
“Anytime we've done anything this year that he's needed to run out, he has,” shortstop Clint Barmes said. “I think that says a lot for him.”
Managers must choose their spots when leaving the dugout to argue with an umpire — or to take the heat for one of their players. Umpires have heard many times, “I know you were right, but I need to do this to back up my guy.”
Barmes, who also played for Hurdle in Colorado, wants a manager who supports his players, even if he knows the umpire was right.
“I think it says a lot for a manager to come out, whether the player is wrong or not, just to show that he's got our backs and we are all in this together,” he said. “Being a player, when you are caught in the moment, things are going to happen, and you're not always going to be right. To have a guy come out and kind of take the heat off you at that point is huge.”
Managers use different tactics when arguing for their players' sake. Some are laid back, such as Orioles bench coach and former Pirate manager John Russell, who often was criticized for his reluctance to leave the dugout. Some, such as Billy Martin, Earl Weaver and Lou Piniella, had legendary meltdowns.
Hurdle falls into the latter category. He was ejected for the third time this season — and the eighth time since taking over the Pirates in 2011 — during the 5-4 loss last Saturday at Cincinnati. Hurdle argued with Gorman after both benches were warned when Mike Leake hit Josh Harrison with a second-inning pitch.
Hurdle also got the thumb June 24 vs. the Tigers for arguing a check-swing call on Casey McGehee and May 2 in a 12-3 loss to the Cardinals — the game A.J. Burnett allowed 12 earned runs — after catcher Rod Barajas was tossed for arguing umpire Angel Campos' strike zone.
Through Friday, only two managers, Don Mattingly (five) and Jim Leyland (four), have been ejected more times than Hurdle this year. Hurdle also has left the dugout many other times without getting heaved.
“He's knows those type of situations, and he jumps on them pretty quick,” Barmes said.
Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson is less likely to get into an umpire's face. The former NL MVP is one of three managers who hasn't been ejected this season, joining the Reds' Dusty Baker and the Nationals' Davey Johnson.
“The reality is that, as a player, you have to take care of things yourself to an extent,” Gibson said. “On a play or ball-strike call, it depends on how it develops. There are times when it's very important.”
John Grupp is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-320-7930.