Bob Melvin has plenty of experience interacting with umpires. The Oakland A’s skipper was a big-league catcher from 1985 to 1994, and he’s since gone on to manage 2,127 games over 15 MLB seasons. He knows what makes the men in blue tick, including what buttons can and can’t be pushed when arguing a call — an event which happens far less frequently since the introduction of replay review.
In the second installment of this series — we’re hearing from a different manager each week, generally focusing on a specific subject — Melvin talks about his relationship with umpires and the ways in which that dynamic has changed in recent years.
Bob Melvin: “I feel I have a good relationship with umpires. I was a catcher and you kind of build good relationships with umpires. Of course, since I’ve been managing, there has been some turnover — there are some younger guys I wasn’t with as a player — and you’re constantly trying to build relationships. You also have to hold them accountable and stick up for your team at times.
“You have to look at things from their shoes, too. They have a tough job, and there are certain days where you’re not as good as you can possibly be — I’m no different — so there is definitely a balance to strike. You have to hold them accountable but not go too far. I wouldn’t say there are any guys that I don’t get along with, to where you’d maybe see that in ejections.
“I think fans enjoy a good tussle between an umpire and the manager. You look back at the Lou Piniella days, throwing the base around, kicking his hat around. You don’t see that anymore. As a whole, I think we’re seeing managers not get [ejected] nearly as much as they used to, and it has a lot to do with replay. I was averaging four a year for a while, before replay. Now, really the only time you get thrown out of a game is arguing balls and strikes. MLB makes that difficult to do.
“Per the rule book, it’s supposed to be an automatic ejection if you argue balls and strikes, although umpires do give you some leeway. You have to know how far you can go. You have to know the umpire — the personality of the umpire — and how far you can push before you get pushed back. You might be saying something like, ‘You’re missing it on that corner,’ or ‘You’re missing down.’ Sometimes they can’t even hear you — they just see that you’re shouting a little bit — but they usually know what you’re referring to.
“They’ll hear you in the dugout and maybe give you a look. Then you’ll get a stern look and know that’s probably as far as you can go. And once you go out there to argue balls and strikes, then you are going to get ejected.
“I have been [thrown out of a game on purpose], although not in a few years. There were a few instances. One time, in Texas, I was out arguing a play and I was almost spent, because I’d been arguing for so long and he wasn’t going to throw me out. Finally, I told him, ‘I am not leaving here until you throw me out.’ That’s when he finally did. Basically, I felt like the team needed a little bit of a boost. Whether or not that actually happened is hard to say.
“There are certain times you feel like you need to stand up for your players. If you feel that one of your guys is getting the short end of the stick, and it happens more than once — and maybe it’s a prominent player who is arguing — you have to go out there. At the same time, it’s also your job to stay in the game and manage. You have to do the prudent thing based on what’s going on.
“If a guy gets thrown out, you may go out there and get thrown out in defense of him. But you also have to recognize if an individual is arguing about something he isn’t right about. You have to be objective. If you’re not, if you’re arguing about things where you’re wrong… in today’s game, we have the ability to go in the video room and look.
“There used to be a little bit more banter, especially with the older guys. You could say a little more, but now it’s become so much more objective with replay. They know if they’re right or wrong, and you know if they were right or wrong, so there’s not the same give and take. There’s not any advantage you might be able to gain thanks to the relationship you have with umpires.”
David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.