by: Alex Langer
On June 3rd, the Seattle Mariners’ manager Lloyd McClendon, no stranger to ejections, was upset at the home plate umpire for two consecutive missed calls on checked swings. He announced his objections in the usual way, barking from the dugout. He was quickly ejected. What came next was a performance worthy of Billy Martin and legendarily hot-headed Lou Pinella. McClendon made
sure to yell at three of the four umpires on the field. McClendon, who is justly famous for having stolen first base during a previous rant, committed no thievery this time but watched the rest of the game from the clubhouse.
I am an unabashed lover of baseball ejections. Growing up in Seattle in the 90s, I still remember Lou Pinella taking first base and throwing it halfway to the bullpen in right field over an argument on balls and strikes. I remember him getting so red in the face the fans were worried he would have an aneurism in the KingDome. Ejections in baseball, for player and manager, are as much a beloved part of the sport as fighting is to hockey. Yet baseball tends to be the only “big four” sport in which ejections, and the entertainment that surrounds them, are a major factor. No head coach has ever been ejected from an NFL game (1). The NBA does not keep record of head coach ejections, but they are rare. In Major League Baseball, however, there have been around 5,000 manager ejections since the modern game began in 1900 (2). Between 1 and 2 percent of all baseball games have featured an ejected manager, meaning every manager in baseball should expect to be ejected at least once a season. Why is baseball so different? Baseball, compared to football and basketball, actually has fewer moments where a referee or umpire injects themselves directly into the game (barring balls and strikes, a unique feature of baseball). Yet baseball is the sport which makes a sport out of insane ejections.
Balls and strikes are not now, nor will they likely ever be, up for interpretation or judgement. For all the calls to automate the strike zone, (which have mostly convinced me), I just do not see Major League Baseball eliminating the human factor behind the plate (3). So, fully half of manager ejections will not change. Umpires will still miss calls, managers will complain, umpires will toss them, and managers will get their money’s worth on their way to the clubhouse. The more interesting ejections are the other half, those ejections that come from calls on base. Umpires almost never changed calls before instant replay. On occasion you would see an overturned home run call, but plays at the bases never changed. You only have to look back to 2007, when Jim Joyce missed an obvious call that ended the Detroit Tigers’ Armando Galarraga’s perfect game, to see evidence of this. I’m certain the three other umpires in that game knew that Jason Donald was out, but there was no conference, and there was no overturning that play.
Beginning in 2011, umpires could look to instant replay themselves, to stop situations like that from happening again. In 2014, managers were given two challenges a game. Unfortunately, I do not have the statistics for ejections from last year, broken down by causality. But I do know that in 2010, percentages of games in which a manager was ejected sat at above 2%. It dropped to almost exactly 2% in 2011, the first year of replay, then dropped in 2012 and 2013 to end up at 1.75%. With 2430 games played in a season, that is the difference between 48 and 42 games that saw ejected managers. Unfortunately, it is too soon to tell what the effect instant replay will have on ejections. The numbers show that ejections have steadily risen through the century, from well below 0.5% during the heyday of Ruth and Gehrig to where it is today. Given that half of all ejections are not going anywhere, this steady rise also points to another factor: the umpires themselves. Umpires are participants in the ejection process. Not every argument is an ejection, although lately it tends to feel that way. Perhaps umpires have a quicker hook now. Perhaps, with instant replay and manager’s challenges, umpires will view any disagreement that is not accompanied by a challenge as a confrontational act and throw managers out for things that only warranted patience five years ago.
Baseball ejects its players and managers far more frequently than any other major sport. Ejections, and the legendary tantrums they inspire, are as much a part of the game as peanuts and cold beer. Ejections aren’t going anywhere. Its nigh-impossible to believe that ejection rates will ever plummet to the historic lows baseball saw in the 1920s. Given that human error will always be part of the game, and calls of “clean your glasses, blue!” will always reverberate through stadiums, ejections will always be there. Ejections have steadily risen in the game, and it will be a long time before we can tell whether the decrease of the last four years signals a new normal in baseball.
 For the arguments for automating the strike zone, these two articles should do the trick. http://www.sportsonearth.com/article/118714854/automated-strike-zone-robot-umps-changes-to-baseball