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Cook: McClendon can't win fight against umpires

Sunday, June 16, 2002

If nothing else, Pirates Manager Lloyd McClendon is a fighter. Don't tell him he's managing a small-market team that has no chance. He expects the Pirates to win. To his credit, he has passed on that passion to his players. They play hard every game. They're competitive. To say they have overachieved is the greatest tribute you can pay their manager.

But McClendon is fighting a fight he can't win with the umpires.

They hold grudges.

That's why McClendon did himself and the Pirates no favors in San Diego in May when he threw his cap on the screen behind home plate after being ejected by umpire Mark Barron. He made an even bigger mistake at PNC Park last season when he yanked up first base and carried it off the field after arguing the third of three close calls by umpire Rick Reed that went against the Pirates. Boy, we loved that. The players loved it. Certainly, all the national sports television shows loved it.

The umpires hated it.

It's easy to think the Pirates still are paying the price.

That certainly seemed to be the case Wednesday night during a game in Anaheim when McClendon was ejected from the dugout by Reed -- wouldn't you know it? -- while Angels Manager Mike Scioscia was arguing on the field. McClendon said he merely asked Reed to get the game going and claimed the umpire immediately turned abusive and cursed him before tossing him. Reed said McClendon was the one who was abusive and showed a "lack of respect."

In this case, I believe McClendon.

It's impossible to believe Reed, especially after he also said he didn't remember any history with McClendon.

What?

Reed sees someone walk off the field with a base every day?

"I'm not going to apologize for anything I do between the white lines," McClendon said from Cincinnati where the Pirates are playing a weekend series. "If someone has a problem with that, that's tough, I'll deal with it. I'm sure Lou Piniella isn't going to apologize for what he's done over the years. You never should have to apologize for standing up for what you think is right ...

"I know people have accused us of being whiners, and that ticks me off to no end. But I'm not going to stop fighting for my players. If I did, they'd look at me and say, 'Don't you care as a manager?' I can't let that happen. They bust their butts for me. I'm going to do the same for them."

McClendon said he believes the Pirates too often haven't gotten a fair shake from the umpires.

"I'm sure it's nothing intentional on their part. I certainly would never question their integrity. But it's human nature to relax a little and take something for granted. We've lost for so long that I think it's easy for umpires to lose respect for us and take us for granted. I've got to change that. If I get thrown out of 100 games, then I get thrown out of 100 games. I'm going to keep demanding a playing field that's equal for my players. I don't think it's wrong to demand the umpires' best effort every day."

It's admirable that McClendon fights for his players. His ejection Wednesday night was his third this season. The first two came after he rushed to Jason Kendall's defense after Kendall was thrown out for arguing balls and strikes. That's a big reason the players respect him so much and play so hard for him. Players here felt the same way about Jim Leyland when he was manager. They appreciated his fire. They did not feel that same way about low-key Gene Lamont.

But there's a fine line a manager has to walk with the umpires, especially a young manager. Piniella, who manages the Seattle Mariners, has a long history of histrionics with umpires, but he also has won a world championship and taken four other clubs to the playoffs in his 16 seasons in the big leagues. You have to think he's won the umpires' respect, at least grudgingly. McClendon, in just his second season, has won next to nothing.

That's why McClendon has to pick his spots a little better. He would have been better off biting his tongue and not saying anything to Reed the other night, innocuous or otherwise. Reed, like many umpires, is more confrontational than he needs to be. Why do even the slightest thing to provoke him, especially in that situation?

Maybe it was just a coincidence that a close play went against the Pirates at first base later in that same game. The call didn't just result in the quick ejection of Bill Virdon, who had taken over as the Pirates' acting manager. It led to a big run in the Angels' 8-5 win.

Then again, maybe it wasn't a coincidence ...

Hey, McClendon might have to say that politically correct garbage about the umpires' integrity, but I don't.

Just in case the umpires really do hold grudges, McClendon would be wise to control his temper. He still can fight for his players and argue calls. But he doesn't have to show up the umpires to make his point. He doesn't have to heave his cap or steal a base.

Unfortunately, not all umpires have short memories like, ahem, Reed.


Ron Cook can be reached at rcook@post-gazette.com.

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