The Art of Umpire Bumping

In professional sports, managers/head coaches have a variety of responsibilities, depending on the sport and expected success of the team. Most of these responsibilities have in common that we all as armchair quarterbacks think we could do them better. After all, how tough can it be for Joe Girardi to decide to bat Mark Texeira clean-up, or for Sir Alex Ferguson to start Wayne Rooney along side Big Dimi for Manchester United? Well, it is the opinion of this smear artist (my new job title for The Stain) that there is one thing coaches/managers, those who do it well anyway, do not get enough credit for; the thing that us mere sports commoners couldn’t handle properly or effectively. That is, the practice of lambasting a referee or umpire for a (perceived) officiating injustice. There’s a science to it. An art. Doing it well can have the positive effects of rallying the players and preventing or minimizing future calls against your team. It’s not as simple as just throwing a tantrum. You need a strategy, and it varies by sport. The Stain strongly encourages all managers/coaches of professional teams to use the following as a guide to ripping into the guy who just blew a call that might cost you the game.

Baseball: Why not start with the last bastion of professional sports that kind of embraces a good argument between a manager and an umpire… kind of like hockey still embraces fighting. A good umpire (i.e. Jim Joyce, Alfonso Marquez, Chris Guccione) is in touch with the fact that he’s not perfect and will let a pissed off player or manager vent their frustrations at a perceived blown call… as long as the venting doesn’t become to demonstrative or personal. Other “not-so-good” umpires (Angel Hernandez comes to mind) have a chip on their shoulder and will toss someone with little to no provocation.

The Manager’s Job: This can be delicate. There are a lot of things to balance. You don’t want to belly ache at every close call that goes against you, you’ll just be considered a whiner. You also don’t want to never speak up because umpires are human, don’t like being shown up, and will gladly make every close call against the guy who is known for not arguing. It’s just easier that way. So a manager has to delicately balance the ability to calmly stroll out to the offending ump and say, “Come on, Blue, that’s four close ones in a row against us, how about evening them up a little,” with charging out of the dugout and delivering a purposeful chest bump. Yup, I said it. Bump the umpire. Not a Pete Rose forearm shiver, but a bump. Sure, it will land you a suspension of 4 or 5 games, but who cares. You can make the lineup from the hotel room and communicate with your bench coach via text message to make all other important decisions. Your players will love you, and the ump won’t hold a grudge provided you send him a bottle of wine after the game with a note briefly apologizing and explaining you just needed to “fire your team up.”

The Role Model: Detroit Tigers manager, Jim Leyland. Leyland is in his late 70s, so he’s part of the generation that doesn’t hesitate to speak their minds anyway. Jimmy doesn’t mind making a scene in front of 50,000 fans and waving his arms wildly around, and he can keep it mellow too. One thing he NEVER does is call an umpire out in the media after the game, and that’s why he still has a universal respect from MLB umps despite decades of getting tossed. The wrong way to do it? Just ask Don Mattingly, helmsman for the Dodgers. Mattingly does little to nothing well as a manager, and that includes arguing with an ump. He’ll accept the weakest of explanations on an egregiously wrong call, and vehemently argue a call that appears from all angles to be correct. Maybe he’ll learn. Probably he won’t.

Hockey: Apart from having to skate for 60 minutes at 30 miles per hour among man mountains who are also on skates and could kill you if you got in an unfortunate collision with them, not to mention dodging 100mph slapshots featuring frozen, brain-destroying pucks, hockey refs have it easy. Generally the worst they get is a dismissive, frustrated wave of the hand from a coach and the bang of a stick on the ice from a frustrated player. And indications would be that hockey refs can carry vendettas against teams with impunity, much like Dan Marouelli and the LA Kings, so an outburst will just lead to another penalty against your team. A hockey coach who is good at this will do most of the arguing behind the scenes, or with carefully monitored language after the game in the media. Something along the lines of, “It’s tough when you spend half the game on the penalty kill. I don’t agree with many of the calls but we’ll take a look at the tape and if necessary, see what the league thinks.” Since the first amendment doesn’t apply to sports, you have to use evasive language like that, even though everybody with a brain knows you’re saying, “There’s no @#$%ing way we end up with 11 penalties against us and two against the other guys. That cheating piece of @#$% zebra shouldn’t be allowed to ref little league, much less in the pros, but we got stuck with them again. You’d think our coward @$$ office in Toronto would put an end to this blatant bull@#$% at some point but I’m not holding my breath.” All coaches in the NHL have got this down to a certain point, and a great example is..

The Role Model: Claude Julien, the coach of the Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins. Julien is articulate and unassuming on the outside, but fiercely defends his players using the proper channels, and they perform for him as a result. If you had to pick a guy who didn’t do it well, Mike Keenan would be it. Too many bench minors against him, and every ref hated him so that didn’t work in his favor either.

Football: You really have to go off the reservation to get an additional 15 yard penalty assessed for “Unsportsmanlike Conduct” on the sideline, but it does happen. Usually when a coach yells something like, “I’m gonna take that flag and shove it up your @$$, ref!!!” Inexplicably, most football refs appear to be senior citizens, ill suited to adjudicate the proceedings of a game as violent and reflex-oriented as football. Football also has the added complication that you can call certain penalties, like offensive holding, on nearly every snap. Usually, only the most blatant of infractions is flagged there, but occasionally the officials’ myopia takes over and invents a phantom foul that confuses even the most attentive of analysts. The coaches have a unique opportunity to voice their opinions because each sideline has an official dedicated to it. So does pretty much each sector of the field. While grandparents don’t often admit any wrong doing for anything ever, a coach can sidle up to the side judge and, calling the ref by his first name, say something like, “Andy, their free safety is raping my receiver with a sandpaper condom and no lube, how come Phil over there ain’t flagging it?” Odds are, Andy will mention to Phil during a break, “Number 41 is getting a little grabby with the receiver… didn’t wanna flag it and step on your toes, but just letting you know.” Whether it works or not, it’s still better than the, “Hey! Moron! Mommy drop you on your head as a baby!!??” approach featured by Tom Coughlin.

The Role Model: The New England Patriots’ coach, Bill Belichik is an unapologetic cheater, willing to break any rule, written or otherwise, to gain an edge. He embraces the “if you ain’t cheatin’, you ain’t tryin,” philosophy and wears his reputation of underhandedness like a badge of courage. That said, his players revere him. He’s a tactical genius, master motivator, and a winner. And he’s a master as smooth-talking officials, painting a canvas of atrocity in front of ref’s mind’s eye that may or may not loosely resemble what actually happened, and probably get’s his team 10-20 yards a game through penalties, a veritable mile in a game frequently decided by mere inches. Few people are as reviled by his peers, but his brilliance is undeniable.

Basketball: All you really have to say is, “Donaghy,” right? Ok, not exactly. It bears repeating, on the list of things I hate, basketball ranks high up, right between Hitler and driving a car with an automatic transmission. Now that we’ve got that established, year after year, the NBA ambiguously encourages its officials to more freely hand out technical fouls for excessive whining and arguing, yet try as hard as possible to keep games from being decided at the free throw line. Then you have a bunch of emotionally underdeveloped man-children who’ve been coddled and told they’re the best their whole lives with limited to no emphasis on things like emotional development and education running roughshod down what amounts to a slightly oversized tennis court without a net in the middle. My point? NBA refs have it tough, they have tempers, and technical fouls to assess as a deterrent to dissent. Doesn’t stop some guys like Kobe Bryant (who is actually good at working refs for the most part) and Rasheed Wallace. So how does a coach do it?

The Role Model: Ask Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni. He’s not afraid to let loose a few choice words if an official repeatedly calls ‘em against him. He doesn’t, however, moan on every…single…call… like so many players do. And again, not blatantly accusing the refs of nincompoopery in the media after a tough loss goes a long way towards getting a fair shake in the long run. On the flip side, you have basketball’s all time greatest charlatan, Phil Jackson. How can I call a guy who needs his thumbs so he can wear all his championship rings a charlatan, you ask? I ask in return, what would you call a man who rode the coattails of four of the game’s greatest players of all time to 9 of his championships, on the strength of an offensive scheme he didn’t design, and owners who were willing to write a blank check to recruit the best talent available. They say he’s a master motivator, but if that’s the case, how did he never motivate Shaquille O’Neal to report to training camp less than 50lbs overweight and make more than half of his foul shots. He’s also an unmitigated ((orifice)) to referees, both from the sidelines and in front of the television camera, who stares blankly and helplessly whenever his players are in a situation when actually coaching and support are needed. But that’s neither here nor there.

Soccer: Saving the best for last, you ask? Yes. Yes I am. One guy (three if you count the effectively impotent sideline judges) is ostensibly in charge of policing 22 grown men who will drop as if felled by a shotgun blast at the slightest of glances from an opponent, and determining who is a thespian and who has been legitimately impeded outside of what the game’s rules allow. It’s a job I wouldn’t want. Even when they get the call right, which is more often than not, they hear it. From the players, the coaches, the fans, the media. It’s nuts. It must be impossible for a coach to get in a soccer referee’s good graces, right? Well, yeah. Absolutely right. But you can make them not hate you. And the refs can take it upon themselves by throwing out a few more yellow cards, as they’ve been encouraged to do by most every governing body in soccer, for things like dissent and simulation.

The Role Model: Everton’s David Moyes. I’m gonna get some disagreements here because Moyes has a temper, true enough. However, he saves his outbursts for when they’re deserved, and lets one rip just often enough so his players know he has their backs. If you watch MLS, which, judging by the ratings, you don’t, you can say the same thing about Schellas Hyndman, whose demeanor is similar to Moyes’. You can’t, however, say anything of the sort about Sir Alex Ferguson. Perhaps soccer’s most brilliant coach from a tactical standpoint, he may be equally unparalleled (is that one of those jumbo shrimp things?) in terms of how big of an (donkey aperture) he is, having gone so far as to directly accuse a referee (I think it was Mark Clattenburg, but in lieu of actual research, I will once again go with gut feeling) of letting a personal vendetta against Ferguson and Manchester United team dictate his officiating in a live interview. Not good form, Alex. Not good form.

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