When skippers get the old heave-ho

And if the stadium is constructed beneficially, it isn’t particularly hard to remain hidden.

At O.co Coliseum in Oakland, the clubhouse tunnels are far removed from the dugouts. It’s not like a manager can park himself in the tunnel and carry on a conversation with his coaches. San Francisco’s AT&T Park gives its managers better vantage points, but exposes them to being spotted. Other facilities are more forgiving.

“I think of an Anaheim,” A’s broadcaster Ray Fosse said. “In Anaheim, you walk down the stairs and you can look up. The umpires can’t see you, but your bench coach can just stand there like this and you say, ‘Hey, make a move.’ ”

Fosse noted that such side-mouth whispering was more easily accomplished in baseball’s older stadiums, many of them gone now.

“I think of Memorial Stadium, where the Orioles played,” he said. “And I think of Earl Weaver. I mean, he would just – dugout’s here, walkway’s there, he’d just stand there. He’s within shouting distance.”

Tom Kelly (remarkably, just five ejections in 2,385 games) was based at the Metrodome for his 16 seasons managing the Twins.

“There were 44 steps that go down or up between the clubhouse and the dugout,” said Kelly, who does studio work for the Twins. “There were two doors at the bottom of the dugout there, and you could leave one of the doors open. Sometimes it would be open, sometimes closed, but mostly it was open. You could actually close one and sit there if you wanted.”

As an active manager, Melvin has to be a little more guarded in his comments. At first he denied ever having a back-door channel to the dugout. But he couldn’t help himself.

“You know what? I got one,” Melvin said. “One time in Detroit, years back. It’s a couple steps down, so you can mosey over there and kind of peek in. You don’t get a very good perspective there, but you feel a little bit closer to the action. I’ve done that once. But it really didn’t do anything for me, because I couldn’t see what was going on.”

Some field generals have used players to shuttle instructions in to their “relief manager.” Nowadays, of course, cell phones make it easy to call or text unobtrusively from inside the clubhouse.

“If you watch Mike Aldrete (the A’s bench coach, second in command under Melvin), he’ll be given the (lineup) card,” Fosse said. “But he’s on the phone. … And that’s not hidden. I think from the umpire’s standpoint, if you’re ejected you have to leave the field. Once you leave the field, they don’t care.”

In truth, a manager doesn’t always want to keep pulling the strings.

“If you’re not there in the action, anything you send in will be behind the action,” Baker said. “Managing is not being in the action, it’s being in advance of the action.”

Anyway, most managers have a high degree of confidence in their underlings. The staff has collaborated on personnel strategy and availability before the game, and discussed key matchups. The transition from manager to bench coach tends to be pretty seamless.

“I usually try to leave these guys alone out here, for the most part,” said Showalter, the Orioles manager (29 ejections in 2,565 games). “They don’t need me over their shoulder. John (Russell, the bench coach) has managed a lot of baseball games. Wally (pitching coach Dave Wallace) can do it. It’s not brain surgery.”

Baker agrees – to a point. If a manager gets tossed from a September game with his team eight games back, what’s the point of loitering around the tunnel door? He might as well pop a cold one in the clubhouse and cool his jets. But things are a little different in the heat of a pennant race, when every call to the bullpen might have a bearing on the playoffs.

Baker trusted his coaches. Just not as much as he trusted himself.

“It’s like driving to the airport,” he said. “If you’re late to the airport, isn’t it easier hanging on the steering wheel than sitting in the passenger seat? From the passenger seat, you feel like the person is driving all wild and crazy. At the wheel you feel like you’re in control.”

The good news for Major League Baseball, and the sad news for fans who are amused by red-faced managers getting 86’ed, is that ejections are sharply declining in the era of the replay review. There isn’t as much reason for a manager to charge out of his dugout and mist an ump’s face with spittle when he can simply initiate a challenge.

As a result, there aren’t as many managers sneaking around the tunnels, trying to get a peek at how the center fielder is shaded. Just in case, though, you may want to leave a door ajar.

You can reach Staff Writer Phil Barber at 521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com. Follow him on Twitter @Skinny_Post.

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