Scott Servais was hired to manage the Mariners last October, but it took him until Sunday to join the brotherhood you might call a fraternal disorder.
During his team’s 11-6 defeat to the St. Louis Cardinals, Servais collected his first managerial ejection.
Whatever Servais did to get kicked out of the game was not discernible from a distance, or even up close. But umpires are experts at identifying subtleties not apparent to the naked eye, which is why they call so many balks.
At issue between Servais and home-plate umpire Carlos Torres was Shawn O’Malley’s strike-three swing that didn’t appear to be a swing. The call seemed critical at the time because the Mariners, down 6-3, had a runner on first base in the bottom of the sixth inning.
“It was very close,” said Servais, who wanted Torres to ask first base umpire Rob Drake for a second opinion on O’Malley’s swing. Torres not only refused to comply, he gave Servais the boot. The manager made the trip to the clubhouse with a brief layover at home plate.
“I went out and talked to him after I got tossed,” Servais continued. “I’m pretty sure you could tell he missed the call because he would not respond. That was pretty frustrating, just from a respect standpoint. I had already been tossed out of the game, you can at least talk about it. He didn’t feel there was a need to.”
Moments later, watching the game on his office television, Servais saw Franklin Gutierrez launch a Jaime Garcia pitch for a three-run homer into the Mariners’ bullpen. The seesaw game was tied 6-6, but what was looking like a barnburner series finale in the bottom of the sixth soon became a burned-out bullpen’s longest day.
Six home runs were surrendered after James Paxton couldn’t work past the fifth in a grind-it-out performance absent the crispness of his last three starts.
“I saw some pitches up,” Servais said. “I had a really good view sitting in my office. You can see more from there.”
Servais now is on the bottom of a list whose career leader is Bobby Cox. The former Braves skipper, who also managed the Blue Jays, was thrown out of 161 games. Among those in the Top 10 are the usual suspects — John McGraw (132), Earl Weaver (94), Leo Durocher (94), Tony La Russa (87) — but reputations can be deceiving.
For instance, Ron Gardenhire, not famous for his outbursts with the Twins, had 65 ejections — one more than Lou Piniella, still perceived in Seattle as The King of All Tirades.
Piniella long has insisted the animosity he had for umps was overrated.
“I respect umpires, I’ve always respected them,” Piniella said before his 2014 induction into the Mariners Hall of Fame. “Whenever I had a particular argument, I’d go to their locker room the next day and tell them, ‘Listen, I’m sorry for the ruckus last night, it’s nothing personal.’ ”
As a token of his sincerity, Piniella often gave umpires a gift certificate at a downtown Seattle steakhouse. Umpires being umpires — most of them would take a barefoot walk over a mile of shattered glass for a free appetizer — the gift cards worked every time.
“Sometimes I’d go there and argue with the umpires and yell, ‘Where are you going to eat tonight?’ ” Piniella said. “Fans thought we were really getting into it, and we were just talking about having dinner somewhere.”
As Servais suggested, he hasn’t built up much cachet with baseball’s Blue Man Group. Umpires advance to the major leagues just as players do — through the minors — and they often get to know each other years before they find themselves reunited in the big leagues. But this is Servais’ first season as a manager at any level.
Still, he’s familiar with the drill. The lifelong football fan had a linebacker’s mean streak as a baseball player, and in 1996, his participation in a classic Cubs vs. Mets brawl at Shea Stadium — instigated by pitcher Pete Harnisch, the once and future close friend of Servais who now works for the Mariners as an assistant for minor league player development — resulted in an ejection and $500 fine for the Cubs catcher.
Whatever Servais did Sunday (or, more specifically, said) wasn’t as overt as his 1996 tackle of Harnisch, but it was enough for him to be sent to his room for three innings.
Asked how been long it has been since he was ejected, Servais could only recall that it’s been “a long time, back in my playing days.
“It won’t be the last.”
If that’s the case, here’s some advice:
Apologies usually work, and steak dinners work even better.