Let’s Go: A Theory About Aaron Boone’s Phantom Ejection

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

In the first at-bat of Monday’s game between the Yankees and the A’s, Carlos Rodón fooled Esteury Ruiz with a back foot slider. Ruiz tried to check his swing, and the ball actually hit him in the back foot. It was very much a borderline call, and first base umpire John Tumpane ruled that Ruiz held up and should therefore be awarded first base. Naturally, umpire antagonist extraordinaire Aaron Boone started complaining about the call and quickly earned a warning. Enjoyably for everyone involved, the television broadcast picked up the warning perfectly. “Hey, guess what,” shouted home plate umpire Hunter Wendelstedt. “You’re not yelling at me. I did what I was supposed to do and checked. I’m looking for him to get hit by the pitch. You got anything else to say, you’re gone. OK?” A chastened Boone raised his hand to signal that he understood. Moments later, he became the first manager in the history of the game to be ejected while examining his fingernails.

What happened, of course, is that a fan seated in the front row directly behind Boone yelled at Wendelstedt, who mistook the voice for Boone’s. Wendelstedt’s refusal to listen to either Boone or the many other people who tried to explain that the voice hadn’t come from the Yankee dugout at all is its own issue. So too is his farfetched post-game contention that he was reacting to a different voice entirely: “I heard something come from the far end of the dugout, had nothing to do with his area but he’s the manager of the Yankees. So he’s the one that had to go.” One of the last things Boone said before leaving the field was, “You guys are in trouble for this.” I suspect that he’s wrong, and for the same reason that Wendelstedt felt comfortable telling reporters a tale that could so easily be proven wrong: Umpires are rarely held accountable for these kinds of mistakes (at least not publicly). However, none of that is our topic for today. Our topic is something much more specific. I have a suspicion as to why Wendelstedt was instantly certain that Boone was the one who shouted. It’s not just that the fan shouted; it’s what he shouted.

Over seven years of watching Aaron Boone yelling at umpires, two things have always stood out to me. The first is that Aaron Boone loves to address the umpires by name. On Monday, the kerfuffle started when Boone yelled to Tumpane, “Hey! It’s a full swing, John!” Toward the end of the ordeal, he told Wendelstedt, “I’m not leaving, Hunter.” Here’s the thing about humans: Unless we’re either greeting someone, trying to get someone’s attention, or specifying which person we’re speaking to, we don’t actually say each other’s names very often. If you’re simply using someone’s name to get their attention, you put it at the front of the sentence, in order to make sure they hear the rest of what you say. Boone doesn’t do that nearly as often. He puts the umpire’s name at the end of the sentence, which is something you do in order to add more emphasis. If you watch footage of his ejections, you’ll hear him shout, “Bear down, Brennan,” at Brennan Miller, “Where’s that pitch, Sean?” to Sean Barber, “Jeez Lance,” to Lance Barrett, and plenty more. Maybe it comes from the fact that Boone has spent his entire life around the game and knows absolutely everyone. Or maybe at some point he took a Dale Carnegie class and learned that the sweetest thing a person can hear is the sound of their own name. Maybe this is just how he thinks schmoozing works. I removed curse words from some of these quotes, but the point remains. Boone loves to remind the umpires of their own names.

The second thing I’ve noticed is more important to my theory. Like any true coach, Boone is a teacher. He doesn’t just complain about the umpire’s calls. He couches his complaints as constructive criticism. He implores them to get better and he tells them that it’s not too late to improve. Not two weeks ago he told umpire John Bacon, “Come on, John. You’re better than that.” Boone employs classic coach-speak, telling them to get it together, to clean it up, to bear down; all of those vague, unhelpful bromides your high school coach used to hurl at you rather than offering actionable advice. “I need you to get better,” he’ll yell.

This is an innovative approach, especially when the target for all of this encouragement is an umpire. By berating the umpires under the guise of offering friendly advice, Boone has somehow found a way to be passive aggressive while shouting at the top of his lungs. It’s borderline gaslighting and it honestly might be a scientific breakthrough: caring so loudly that the object of your affection has you removed from the premises. Boone has literally gotten ejected for telling an umpire, “I’m just trying to help you.” He then got suspended for screaming at the same umpire from such close range that he ended up spitting on him, an action that is not traditionally considered helpful. I can’t tell if Boone saves this coach-speak specifically for umpires, or whether he’s been around the game so long that this is just how he speaks to everyone all day long. I can absolutely see him growing more and more exasperated as he waits for his coffee during the morning rush at Dunkin’ Donuts, then finally striding over and telling the poor kid behind the counter, “I need you to bear down, Derek. Right now.”

Like many motivators, Boone has a go-to rallying cry, a phrase intended to fire up his charges. That phrase is Let’s go, and as you might have noticed, he’s not alone in that. Let’s go is having a moment. Although it has been around for centuries, its status as a catch-all exclamation has grown explosively over the last few years. Luke Winkie documented the phenomenon for Slate back in June:

Clearly Let’s go has become a hinge point for the male vocabulary, a shortcut for all intragender communication. The term is utilitarian, flexible, and fundamentally meaningless; it’s another way to say, “Yes, a thing exists.” I first started noticing its encroachment about three years ago, when suddenly every sentence that came out of my mouth seemed to be punctuated in the exact same way. Did I engineer a deft maneuver in a board game? Let’s go. Did my girlfriend and I settle on a takeout order? Let’s go. Does the bloodwork look good? Let’s go.

As in the examples above, Let’s go is usually reserved for happy moments. That’s even more true in the realm of baseball. It’s the kind of thing you’re likely to see Sarah Langs, a beacon of baseball joy if there ever was one, tweeting to mark the occasion of the first game of the season.

But in keeping with the cynicism of his attempts to help the umpires become the best versions of themselves both on and off the field, Boone charges up this positive colloquialism with all the negative energy he can muster. He’s not the only coach to say this phrase, but he says it way more than anybody else. At this point, Let’s go (with or without the adornment of an f-bomb) is basically Aaron Boone’s catchphrase, especially when it comes to umpires. It didn’t take me long to assemble the clips below.

Knowing all this, take a moment to put yourself in the Hunter Wendelstedt’s extremely inflexible shoes. It’s Monday afternoon. You’re approximately eight seconds into the game and Aaron Boone is already chirping, because apparently the wood sage and sea salt aromatherapy candles in the Yankees clubhouse have not succeeded in calming him down even a little bit. Mere seconds after administering a warning, you hear a shout coming from the exact same spot. The fan’s voice wasn’t picked up by television microphones, but according to the lipreading of Jomboy, what he shouted was, “Let’s go, home plate!” (I’m not 100% convinced that’s what he said; he might have just shouted Go or, Yo, but both of those options are close enough that they could easily be confused for Let’s go.) As for the second part, addressing the home plate umpire as Home Plate is hilariously dumb. It reminds me of one of my favorite lines from Brooklyn Nine-Nine, spoken by the character Debbie Fogle. “I’ve never even had a nickname,” she says. Then she reconsiders, “I mean, I guess people do call me ‘Hey Lady.’”

So the fan shouted two things: One of them was absolutely something Boone would say, and the other was something Boone would never say. On the one hand, if there’s one thing Wendelstedt knows, it’s that Aaron Boone knows his name. Boone is more likely to address an umpire by their first, middle, and last names like a parent grounding their kid for cursing — “Harry Hunter Wendelstedt, I am very disappointed in you.” — than he is to address the home plate umpire as Home Plate. If he’d stopped to think about it, Wendelstedt would’ve realized that no one in the ballpark was less likely than Boone to address him by his position rather than his first name.

On the other hand, before he heard, “Home plate,” he heard Boone’s catchphrase. No wonder he thought it was him. And Wendelstedt isn’t exactly a stop-and-think-about-it kind of guy. He started winding up to toss Boone before the butthead in the front row got to the T in Plate, and he refused to let anything he learned over the next few hours change his mind. Besides, over his decades as an umpire, I’m sure Wendelstedt has been called Home Plate enough times that it’s basically his version of Hey Lady.

So that’s my theory. Boone got ejected because the fan yelled exactly the right thing to make the umpire think it was the manager. By having a catchphrase, Boone has made himself very easy to impersonate. Even if you call the umpire something the real manager would never call them — Home Plate; or Blue; or Hey Umpire Guy; or Excuse me, Mister Moustache Man — as long as you throw in a Let’s go (and maybe some profanity for good measure), you’re basically Aaron Boone.

Davy Andrews is a Brooklyn-based musician and a contributing writer for FanGraphs. He can be found on Twitter @davyandrewsdavy.

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25 days ago

I badly need to see that fan interviewed. What’s his take on this whole thing

24 days ago
Reply to  Michael

I’m surprised it hasn’t as of yet, but he may not want to be. Keep in mind, that guy is sitting in very expensive seats. He likely has no interest in the added publicity.

24 days ago
Reply to  Michael

Pretty sure we’d find out he is Enrico Pallazzo.

24 days ago
Reply to  Michael

He probably called out sick that day and there was an important board meeting to discuss the big deal and that no good Peterson botched the presentation they’d both been working on and his boss is big mad.