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Ejection no reason for dejection

Someday soon he'll bolt out of the dugout, get in the face of an umpire, carry on to excess and receive the heave-ho. And when it happens, Atlanta Braves manager Bobby Cox will have tied the ancient record held by John McGraw for most times banished from a major league game.

You'd have to think, if baseball started from scratch, the rules would be different. Managers would be prohibited from entering the field to confront an umpire. They'd be restricted to voicing their beefs from a confined area, kind of like a hockey coach restrained by the dasher boards. The fines would be steep if they had the audacity to enter the field to question a decision and make a show out of undressing the game's ultimate on-field authority figures.

But baseball can't rewind the clock. The heated exchange of opinions between manager and umpire has become a thread in the game's fabric, a part of its charm. Certain skippers, such as Earl Weaver, Billy Martin, Tommy Lasorda and Lou Piniella, are known as much for the demonstrative zeal with which they've challenged the decisions of umpires as for their managerial abilities.

Fans eat up a classic exchange between pilot and umpire, which explains how Phillip Wellman, manager of the Class AA Mississippi Braves, attained cult status on YouTube for a base-throwing, grenade-launching, belly-crawling tirade that unfolded earlier this month. The parent Braves suspended him three games, which shows some lines shouldn't be crossed.

A couple of weeks ago at Dunn Tire Park, Orchard Park's Dave Hollins, the former big leaguer who now scouts for the Baltimore Orioles, was asked if players are truly appreciative when a manager storms from the dugout to argue on their behalf. He said there's no doubt about it. A player likes to know that his skipper is willing to fight for his troops.

Most managers, especially those on the minor league level, tend to pick their spots when it comes to confronting an umpire. Torey Lovullo, the UCLA grad who runs the Buffalo Bisons, is disinclined to argue over balls and strikes, a challenge forbidden by unwritten rule yet nonetheless the crux of many beefs. Usually Lovullo vacates the dugout to show support for a player already ejected. But there are times, he concedes, when challenging the men in blue just seems like the right thing to do.

"I absolutely think there's a place and a time for a manager to get ejected," Lovullo said. "After an ejection that I had a couple years ago in Reading when I was managing the Akron Aeros we went on a streak and won 14 of 16 games. It was a team-building moment. We were getting thrown at and I objected to it and got ejected from the game because we were flagrantly being thrown at by the opposition. I didn't do it because I wanted to build up the team chemistry. I just did it because I was sticking up for the team."

Dave Miley, manager of the Yankees' Triple-A club in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, also is one to pick his spots. Miley recalled earlier this month a long-past occasion when he warned the umps pre-game that he might be angling for an ejection. His team was in a slump. The time to stir emotions was close at hand. Miley found out which umpire had issued the fewest ejections, because the men in blue, like most managers, like to keep their record relatively clean. He'd go after that one.

For Cox, the next ejection will be the 131st of his 26 years managing in the majors. He says he's embarrassed by the attention he's receiving, although one wonders why that's the case. As Miley points out, McGraw's record is 74 years old. It's not as if Cox is going where no one's gone before.


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