Bar is high, but ex-Brave’s umpire feud topped all

The umpire-manager argument is unique in baseball. Similar verbal wars in other sports don’t measure up because only in baseball do we see elderly men in full uniform waddle out of dugouts and charge after authority figures with such fury that you would think Denny’s had just dropped its senior-citizen discount.

But the greatest umpire-manager arguments in history had something special: a character who brought his own style amid all of those expletives and flailing limbs. There was Earl Weaver, whose face would turn pomegranate red. He used selected four-letter words in ways we never imagined. There was Billy Martin, who punctuated his tirades by kicking dirt on umpire’s shoes, and when he was really animated, threw handfuls of dirt.

Lou Piniella drew 63 ejections, not nearly as many as Bobby Cox (161). But they were great theater. Arms waving, dirt kicking and — his own special touch — throwing down his hat and then kicking it around the diamond. In Cincinnati, Piniella also pulled up first base and threw it — twice. The Reds’ Hal Morris later mused: “Some guys were saying they should make it a new Olympic sport.”

But the best meltdown of all-time belongs to minor-league manager Phillip Wellman. He managed the Mississippi Braves, an Atlanta affiliate, from 2007-10. He will forever be a star on YouTube. Type his name into the search box and you’ll find out why.

In June 2007, when Wellman was managing the M-Braves in Chattanooga, one of his pitchers was thrown out of the game for using a foreign substance. The eruption that followed was so pronounced that the Braves suspended him for three games. Personally, I think they should’ve put him on tour.

Wellman stormed out of the dugout and immediately threw down his hat and bumped the ump. (Just warming up.) Following a lot of yelling and pointing (left hand, right hand, then both hands), he walked to home plate and kicked dirt on it. Then he dropped down to his knees, patted down the dirt and drew the outline of a larger plate with his finger. (Now THAT was original.)

It gets better. Wellman walked to third base, argued with that umpire and then picked up the base and flung it to the outfield. Gets better. He dropped to the ground, as if on the front lines in an army, crawled with his arms and legs to the mound, picked up the rosin bag and tossed it like a grenade to the umpire’s feet. (Another original move.)

Still not done. Then he pretended to throw the umpire out of the game, turned walked to second, picked up that base, as well as the third-base bag nearby, carried both to the outfield and dropped them there. Then he walked to the now opened portion of the center-field wall — as in Field of Dreams — turned, blew kisses to the crowd, then exited and disappeared into the night.

Nothing in his baseball career ever will top that.

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