In my experience, disdain or hatred is often born from misunderstanding. Things are much easier to make fun of, dismiss, or criticize from a place of ignorance. People love to bring things down to their level through uncreative jabs rather than taking the time to actually understand them. When those things are inherently complicated or scary, this can be even more of a natural coping mechanism. The job of baseball manager is no different.
Perhaps the biggest cultural shift in baseball during the last 20 years is the acceptance of data and statistics as a way to evaluate performance. No matter how much someone has analyzed a team or player, there’s always one more algorithm or data set to consider. This still doesn’t totally apply to managers though, whose work is nearly impossible to quantify. Buzzwords like “culture” and “accountability” manifest themselves more behind the scenes than on the field, pushing the managers into mysterious shadows. However, one tentpole of baseball’s acoustic past permeates across generations, busting through the nonstop digitization and number crunching that’s taken over the sport.
I’m talking about pure, unadulterated emotion.
I’m talking about the heart writing a check the mind would never cash.
I’m talking about a comically upset baseball coach storming on to the field for a completely unhinged tirade. Just one man expressing his anger very close to another man’s face while sometimes removing their clothes during said tirade.
The setting: July 2, 2015. Safeco Field. The Seattle Mariners are hosting the New York Yankees. Lloyd McClendon is managing his second season from the M’s bench. It’s not going great. Seattle was 24-27, had lost four of their last five games, and on this night, were sending rookie Mike Montgomery into the inferno for his MLB debut. Montgomery’s opponents included some of the best to ever do it, names ranging from Alex Rodriguez to CC Sabathia to Carlos Beltrán and Andrew Miller. His teammates were a less-heralded crew of Justin Ruggiano, Rickie Weeks, and Joe Beimel-types. Willie Bloomquist started at shortstop and batted second. What better time to leave work early through the angriest possible loophole?
To be fair, Lloyd McClendon had every right to erupt. Known for years as an earthquake of a man—prone to quick, sudden chaos—McClendon watched his first-time pitcher tie Alex Rodriguez in a knot.
Given the circumstances, and the rules of baseball, this was a momentous play. A New York runner stood on second base, 180 feet away from being the first earned run of Montgomery’s career. A base hit would have likely scored him. But, with two outs already secured and a full count on Rodriguez, one more strike would have ended the inning and kept the bicoastal enemies tied at zero. A-Rod offered a hesitant and unconvincing swing at Montgomery’s 3-2 pitch. Looking like he had broken the invisible swing wall in front of home plate, Rodriguez would have been toast if the first base umpire ruled his halfhearted effort as a full swing. Mariners catcher Mike Zunino, already in a confident jaunt toward the dugout, pointed toward first base the same way I point when I see someone at a party lighting a joint.
Zunino, his sprouting pitcher, and Lloyd McClendon were met with arms wide open. But instead of the welcoming, happy kind, it was the palms down, universal symbol of “No” kind.
Devastating. Tragic. An affront to fairness and competency everywhere. By ruling that Rodriguez had not technically swung, this umpire allowed him to take first base on a walk, extending the inning for the progressively in-over-his-head Montgomery. Mark Teixeira came up next and walloped an RBI double, making what happened in the middle of these events all the more valid.
Both McClendon and Zunino were ejected for voicing their displeasure with the umpire’s call. But it was McClendon in particular who captured the spirit of millions. During those magical 100 seconds in SoDo, McClendon was not only an avatar for the fed up Mariners fan, but he was also an extension of Being Mad Online. Like many of us, he came into the argument scorching hot, making sure that his biggest and most important points landed before the carnage began.
After being turned away by the first umpire, Lloyd redirects his ire toward the rest of the sorry crew. But, and this part is important, he brought a fresh look to the second part of the argument.
Anger not yet quenched, Lloyd removed his hat with admirable aplomb and thrust it toward the ground. Knowing that Point A to Point B would include a quick pit stop, he used that respite to go full Rapinoe on the hat.
This move is a classic two-pronged attack. It both gets the crowd swirling into a frenzy and lets the next poor umpire know that Lloyd means business. He certainly won’t be telling him like it isn’t.
Finally, Lloyd gets on his horse and rides toward the third base umpire, the last man standing between him and a WWE-style exit. It’s his last opportunity for wylin’ out, as he’s expended a lot of energy and knows the end of the night is fast approaching.
Unsurprisingly, the third base ump does not want to hear any of Lloyd’s maniacal musings. He does show a stoic patience though, like an exhausted parent waiting for a child to get some steam out before they inevitably crash. When Lloyd finally leaves the field, he does so in a magnetic way, drawing the attention of an entire stadium as he completes a mobile destruction of the umpires’ lives. I was at this game with a friend and lucky enough to be in some incredible seats thanks to his parents. If you look closely you can see us (me in blue, him in white) bowing to Lloyd as he puts the finishing touches on his work.
The Mariners lost this game in extra innings on a home run from Yankee legend Garrett Jones. That is wildly insignificant. As far as me, you, and Lloyd McClendon are concerned, the Mariners won this game handily. Runs, hits, and errors cannot hold a candle to the rage scoreboard. A quick glance up there tells us that the Seattle Mariners conducted themselves with a liberated yet controlled fury.
That should count for a win, or maybe even two.