Sports

John McGrath: Cincinnati Reds’ Bryan Price not first manager to lose poise in April

Before his rant notable for a profanity commonly used by car owners who learn their vehicles have been towed from a no-parking zone, Cincinnati Reds manager Bryan Price was not a household name.

Seattle Mariners fans might recall Price as the only pitching coach former manager Lou Piniella trusted. Piniella discarded those guys as if they were sweatshirts with paint stains, but he liked Price, an easygoing sort with superior communication skills.

At least that’s the Bryan Price I recall. In 2010, when the Mariners’ front office was conducting the managerial search that eventually brought Eric Wedge to Seattle, I suggested Price. Even though he had no experience as a skipper, his calm nature impressed me as a timely fit for a disjointed team that had lost 101 games.

A different side of Price was revealed Monday to a national audience. Angry that Reds beat reporters had stepped beyond the boundaries of their jobs by … well … reporting on the Reds, Price launched into a six-minute diatribe that included 77 versions of a superfluous but undeniably versatile word.

As a point of reference, Martin Scorsese’s “The Wolf of Wall Street” holds the record for pronunciations of that word in a feature movie, with 506, or almost three per minute. Price approached 13 per minute.

A movie about the Reds manager probably won’t be made, but if a biopic — Bryan’s F-Bomb Song? — is forthcoming, count on Martin Scorsese to direct it.

Tantrums are fascinating. We see video clips or hear audio recordings of a baseball manager losing his temper, and we find the histrionics hysterical: Grown men — the older they are, the funnier it is — throw a fit. Hee-hee.

But when former Kansas City Royals manager Hal McRae hurled everything on his office desk this way and that way in 1993, nobody in McRae’s office was laughing. Ten years earlier, nobody in the office of ex-Chicago Cubs manager Lee Elia considered his famously comical berating of Cubs’ fans — “85 percent of the world works, the other 15 percent show up here” — as comical.

A baseball manager’s frustration is funny only from a distance. Up close, in the moment, frustration that reaches a boiling point is scary.

The Elia, McRae and Price rants have something common: Each erupted in April, when the season still is young and yet at that critical juncture where wheels can go off the rails.

Elia’s 1983 Cubs had just lost for the 14th time in 19 games when he ripped the over-served beer drinking fans in the Wrigley Field bleachers. His tantrum belied a keen sense that keeping his dream job depended on whether he could reverse the fortunes of a bad team — and reverse them in a hurry. (He couldn’t and didn’t. The second-year manager was fired that August.)

McRae’s 1993 Royals were a few minutes removed from a 5-3 defeat that dropped their record to 7-12 when he went Vesuvius in his office.

Price’s 2015 Reds won their first four games, only to lose seven of the next eight. As Elia was, Price is in his second year as the manager of a flawed team that likely won’t contend. He’ll find work if he’s fired — any pitching coach once respected by Lou Piniella finds work — but the gig he’s got right right now is a once-in-lifetime opportunity that unravels with each Reds defeat.

Anything funny about that?

I hear the rage in Price’s voice and think of Elia, another former Mariners coach and Piniella favorite. Elia is a gem: The son of an Albanian immigrant, he parlayed his modest big-league playing career — 95 games as a backup shortstop — into a five-decade career as a coach, instructor and father figure for hundreds of players.

And, still, he’s remembered for a three-minute rant that followed a 4-3 defeat on April 29, 1983.

It’s unfair, but that’s how managing a baseball team works. Whatever you say can, and will, be used against you.

Bryan Price, it seems to me, is a good guy with the poise of a professional, and his poise got away from him for a minute or six.

I hope his baseball legacy is not determined by a four-letter vulgarity he used 77 times the other day, but who knows?

There’s a reason some words are called curse words.

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