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Brouhaha City

The best of the worst

George Brett Arguing with Umpires

If you’ve been watching the playoffs this season, and I’m sure you have, you’ve heard about the brouhaha that erupted after Game Two of the Braves-Phillies series, triggered by a somewhat innocuous bit of trash talking by the Braves Orlando Arcia after the game. First off, I just wanted to use the word “brouhaha” in a story. Brouhaha seems to be a word that belongs to baseball and baseball only. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard it used in any other context outside of baseball.

This entire brouhaha emerged from a series of absolutely stunning plays, the types of which make playoff baseball great. With one out in the bottom of the ninth and Bryce Harper on first, the Phillies Nick Castellanos hit a long drive to right-center. The Braves Michael Harris II made a fantastic catch up against the wall. Harper, being an aggressive player, ran on the hit, and who can blame him. He represented the tying run and the chances of Harris making that catch were slim.

But Harris is no ordinary outfielder. He covered the distance and made a wonderful leaping grab against the fence. Harper, halfway between second and third, hit the brakes and started sprinting back to first. Harris overthrew the cutoff man but was saved by third baseman Austin Riley, who channeled his inner Derek Jeter and scooped up the loose ball and cut down Harper for the game ending double play. In the Braves raucous locker room, Orlando Arcia was heard by several members of the media shouting, “ha ha, atta boy Harper, ha ha, atta boy Harper.” Hardly fighting words, but they did get back to Harper. Arcia and the Braves complained about locker room talk being off the record, which is a weak argument.

They were still whining about that as Harper torched them for two home runs in Game Three, which was made even more delicious by Harper giving Arcia the stink eye on his way around the bases. As far as baseball brouhaha’s go, this one was lower on the Brouhaha scale than some we’ve seen over the years.

What follows are not the greatest or best brouhahas in baseball history, just a few of my favorites, including some that have ties to the Royals.

1. Harper calls them out

This wasn’t so much a brouhaha as it was a stern lecture. In 2012, Bryce Harper was just 19 and playing for the Washington Nationals, hit a long home run against Toronto. After the game a Toronto TV reporter asked Harper if he was going to take advantage of Canada’s lower age limit and celebrate the homer by having a beer. The reporter was obviously unaware that Harper was a Mormon, a religion that prohibits alcohol. Harper handled himself well by responding with a line that became an instant classic: “I’m not answering that. That’s a clown question, Bro”. Literally the next day there were hats and T-shirts emblazoned with the quote for sale. You gotta love capitalism. Harper eventually copyrighted the phrase. Dustin Pedroia of the Red Sox came to Harper’s defense, saying, and I quote, “Poor kid. He handled it well. I would have said {bleep} you, I’m 19”.

Brouhaha Scale: 5

2. Kurt Bevacqua sets off Lasorda

Back in the summer of 1982, the Dodgers and Padres were developing a heated west coast rivalry. It wasn’t exactly the Yankees-Red Sox, or even the 1970s Royals-Yankees, but it was still a good rivalry. The Padres were starting to put together a decent team and challenging the Dodgers west coast superiority. In a June 30 game, the Padres Broderick Perkins led off the top of the ninth with a solo home run off the Dodgers Tom Niedenfuer. Niedenfuer didn’t take it well and drilled the next batter, Joe Lefebvre, with a pitch to the head. Bevacqua, one of my two all-time favorite players, charged the field and was ejected. Padres’ manager, Dick Williams, seethed after the game, suggesting that Niedenfuer hit Lefebvre on purpose and that the Padres had “long memories”. Major League Baseball fined Niedenfuer a paltry $500 and hoped the controversy would go away. It didn’t. Dirty Kurt ramped it up a notch the next day, telling reporters that Lasorda should also be fined. In Kurt’s words “they should fine the fat little Italian $500, too. He ordered it.”

Oh yeah, now we’re cooking with gas. When Bevacqua’s words made it to Lasorda, he responded with this classic rant:

“I’ll tell you what I think about it. I think that is very, very bad for that man to make an accusation like that. That is terrible. I have never, ever, since I managed, ever told a pitcher to throw at anybody, nor will I ever. And if I ever did, I certainly wouldn’t make him throw at a (expletive) .130 hitter like Lefebvre or (expletive) Bevacqua, who couldn’t hit water if he fell out of a (expletive) boat. And I guaran-(expletive)-tee you this, when I pitched and I was going to pitch against a (expletive) team that had guys on it like Bevacqua, I sent a (expletive) limousine to get the (expletive) to make sure he was in the (expletive) lineup because I kicked that (expletive’s) (expletive) any day of the week. He’s an (expletive) (expletive) big mouth, I’ll tell you that.”

You can, and should, watch the video on YouTube, but remember it’s NSFW.

When I spoke with Bevacqua about the incident several years ago, he said, with a laugh, that it was just one of those baseball things and he stands by his words.

Brouhaha Scale: 8

3. Mac loses it

This remains one of my favorite baseball brouhaha’s, not only because it involved the Royals, but also for the sheer absurdity of it, which we’ll break down piece by piece. The video of this incident is also found online, and it is solid gold. The date was April 26, 1993, and the Royals had gotten off to a slow start, which frustrated manager Hal McRae to his wits end. The Royals had just lost a home game to the Detroit Tigers, which dropped them to 7-12 in the young season. In 1993, the Royals, and by that, I mean the owner, the brass, manager, players and fans, were still used to winning, so this was unacceptable. Especially to someone who played, and managed, like Hal McRae.

After the game, reporters set their tape recorders down and crowded around McRae’s desk. McRae, clad in just a long sleeve shirt and long john’s, looked tense as reporters started to fire questions. John Doolittle, a radio host, asked “Did you consider Brett for Miller in the seventh”? It was a valid question. At the time, the Tigers led 5-1, but with two outs the Royals had the bases loaded. George was sitting on the bench that night (he came up as a pinch hitter in the ninth and stroked a double). Instead, McRae stayed with Miller (who went 0-4 in this game, dropping his average to .143). Yes, it was a very valid question.

Like most fires, this one started slowly, then blew up. “No, no,” McRae said, sitting at his desk. “Don’t ask me all these stupid-ass {bleeping} questions. No.”

Mac was just getting warmed up. “I’m tired of all these stupid-ass questions every {bleeping} night,” Why in the {bleep} would I hit Brett for {bleeping} Miller? Miller started the {bleeping} game. He’s playing against left-handed {bleeping} pitchers. Brett is not playing against left-handed pitchers. Why in the {bleep} would I bat for Miller? Do you think I’m a goddamn fool?”

Now the pace is picking up. McRae starts clearing stuff off his desk. A drink goes flying. Some papers go airborne. Next, McRae yanks his telephone free from its moorings and like an Olympic shot putter, spins and throws the device against the wall. He swings his arm and sends an ashtray airborne which connects with the cheek of Royals beat writer Alan (Scoop) Eskew. Mac pauses for a moment and apologizes to the bloodied Eskew as writers sheepishly file out the door. Moments later, McRae reemerges, this time with an open vodka bottle and resumes his rant. “I’m sick and tired — I’m fed up with every {bleeping} thing! No {bleep} from you guys, no {bleep} from you players. And they can do any mother {bleeping} thing they wanna do. I’m sick and tired of all this bull {bleep}! Now put that in your {bleeping} pipe and smoke it.”

Where to begin? The incident made the national news cycle for a couple of days then faded away. McRae kept his job, not an uncommon thing in those days. Had this happened in 2023, the manager would have been gone by the next morning. The Royals, a fire properly lit under their asses, went 25 and 13 in the next 38 games, on their way to an 84 and 78 season. The profanity laden rant, the flying objects, the open vodka bottle, all caught on grainy 1993 video. I’m thankful to have lived in a day and age where people could blow up like this and everyone would just move on, no therapy sessions needed. That is a lot of bleeping though.

Brouhaha Scale: 9

4. July 24, 1983

My father and I were sitting on our couch watching this game. It was a hot and muggy afternoon and the Royals had slogged through this one. It was a boring game and I almost skipped out on the ending, except George Brett was coming to bat in the top of the ninth, and well, older Royals fans knew better than to miss a Brett at bat. The Royals trailed 4-to-3 and with two outs and fireballer Goose Gossage on the mound, it didn’t look promising. Anything can happen in baseball, and it did. UL Washington stoked a clutch single bringing Brett to the plate. Gossage threw a high fastball, probably out of the strike zone. Didn’t matter. Brett got around on it and deposited it into the right field seats of Yankee Stadium, giving the Royals a 5-4 lead. Brett took his sweet time rounding the bases, just to let Goose know who his daddy was.

Yankee manager Billy Martin made his way to home plate and confiscated the bat from the Royals bat boy. He showed the lumber to home plate umpire Tim McClelland, joined by most of the Yankee infield. Love him or hate him, Martin was a bit of a mad genius (and no stranger to brouhahas) and he had been waiting all summer for this moment. You see, baseball had an arcane rule still in its books that prohibited substances higher than 18 inches on the bat. The rules’ intent was not about preventing an unfair advantage, say like steroids. No, it was there because cheapskate owners like Charles Comisky, didn’t want balls to get dirtied up. A dirty ball has to be discarded and replaced by a clean ball. Balls cost money.

Brett, sitting in the dugout between Pat Sheridan and Daryl Motley said, “if they call me out, I’m going to bleeping kill someone”. Fair enough.

McClelland, a rookie ump and Iowa native, knew the rule. He also knew that home plate was 17 inches across. McClelland and the umpire crew laid the bat against home plate. It was a good 4 to 5 inches past 17. Technically, the bat was illegal. McClelland made the call, stepping towards the Royals dugout, pointing the bat in Brett’s direction and calling him out. Brett exploded out of the dugout like a PBR bull with the strap on too tight. McClelland, standing 6’6’’ and armed with a bat, stood his ground. Umpire Joe Brinkman intercepted Brett and put him into a chokehold. Chaos ensued.

I’ve seen a lot of mad people in my lifetime, but rarely, if ever, anyone as mad as Brett was at that moment. Teammate Joe Simpson and coach Jose Martinez freed Brett from Brinkman, and kept him away from McClelland, while manager Dick Howser took the offensive. I’m a bit of a lip reader and I will tell you that most of Brett’s sentences were two-word jousts. “That’s bullbleep”. Gaylord Perry grabbed the bat and sprinted for the Royals dugout. Umpires and security people chased after him. The Yankee crowd hooted and hollered as the Royals left the field. I halfway expected Brett and some teammates to climb into the stands and deal with the hecklers. The entire episode was bananas.

Of course, you know how it ended up. The Royals protested the game and with a tremendous effort from Dean Vogelaar got the call overturned. The two teams met later in the summer and played off the final inning, while Brett, who had been ejected, sat in a bar near the Newark airport, drinking a beer and watching the final inning play itself out, a 5-4 win for the Royals. If you really want a blow-by-blow account of the game, I recommend reading Filip Bondy’s entertaining book, “The Pine Tar Game”. McClelland was on the crew in 1992 when Brett collected his 3,000th hit and was the first to congratulate him. It’s hard to believe that it’s been 40 years. The bat is on display in Cooperstown. It remains one of the top five events in the history of the Royals.

Brouhaha Scale: 10

5. Cub fans take it in the shorts

What was it about 1983? Was it the weather? In April of 1983, Chicago Cubs manager Lee Elia, frustrated by his team’s 5 and 14 start, and the non-existent fan support, blew his top after a tough loss to the Dodgers. As his players were leaving the field, the few fans that were there booed lustily and a few threw drinks at the Cubs. Elia had seen enough. In his postgame presser, he unloaded. Here’s the transcript, and it’s a honey:

“Bleep those bleepin’ fans who come out here and say they’re Cub fans that are supposed to be behind you rippin’ every bleepin’ thing you do. I’ll tell you one bleepin’ thing, I hope we get bleepin’ hotter than bleep, just to stuff it up them 3,000 bleepin’ people that show up every bleepin’ day, because if they’re the real Chicago bleepin’ fans, they can kiss my bleepin’ ass right downtown and print it. They’re really, really behind you around here ... my bleepin’ ass. What the bleep am I supposed to do, go out there and let my bleepin’ players get destroyed every day and be quiet about it? For the bleepin’ nickel-dime people that show up? The motherbleepers don’t even work. That’s why they’re out at the bleepin’ game. They oughta go out and get a bleepin’ job and find out what it’s like to go out and earn a bleepin’ living. Eighty-five percent of the bleepin’ world is working. The other 15 come out here. A bleepin’ playground for the bleep bleepers. Rip them motherbleepers. Rip them country bleep bleepers like the bleepin’ players.”

My God, that’s wonderful. I had to get my calculator out to make sure my numbers were correct. That’s 26 bleeps by my count. I remember this happening and seeing the video on television the next day. The entire interview was nearly a constant beeep, which was the sound they used back in the day to drown out the bleeps.

Brouhaha Scale: 9

6. Mt. Piniella blows

No story about baseball brouhahas would be complete without a Lou Piniella entry. Piniella, a former Royal great, was managing the Cubs at the time when on June 2, 2007, he charged third base umpire Mark Wegner who had just called Angel Pagan out at third in a close game with the Braves. Piniella had long been one of baseball’s premier Red Asses, and on this day, he was in full bloom. Wegner and Sweet Lou stood toe to toe, jawing at each other. Lou then started kicking dirt on Wegner, always a classy move. Piniella threw his hat to the dirt then gave it a kick. It was a nice kick too as the hat went sailing. Fans started getting into it and showed the outfield grass with trash. In all, Lou gave his hat two more kicks before finally running out of steam after about ten minutes. Have you ever yelled, kicked or screamed for ten minutes? Try it sometime, it’ll give you your cardio for the day.

Piniella reviewed the tape after the game and was a big enough man to admit that yes, Wegner had made the correct call. Major League Baseball was not amused and gave Sweet Lou a four-game vacation.

With the advent of instant replay, which I do like most of the time, we’ve also lost something. That something being a good manager-umpire donnybrook. If there was a Mount Rushmore of arguing managers, Piniella would be there along with Earl Weaver, Bobby Cox and Billy Martin.

Brouhaha Scale: 7