What is the Magic Word?
I was watching the boob-tube a few minutes ago, an interview of Buck O’Neil regarding the old Negro Leagues, and there was a blurb about him getting thrown out of a game by the umpire. They then cut to an interview the actual umpire who said that he had ejected O’Neil because he had said the “magic word.”
I’ve wondered what the magic word is before for some years. I’ve long thought that the magic word, based on my extensive readings on baseball history, was “c***s***er,” although “m*****f***er” and “a**h**e” would also due the trick. (If you can’t figure out what the actual words are my redactions, you probably aren’t old enough to be reading this post in the first place.)
It turns out that there are a surprising number of internet posts on this not-so-weighty topic. In the modern game, there is a strong argument to be made that that the magic word is “you,” as in “you [epithet of your choosing].” Reportedly, aspiring umpires are trained in at least some places to allow managers and players to vent about calls they don’t like, but that as soon as the comments are directed toward the umpire personally rather than at the call, it’s time for the thumb.
This makes a lot of sense, as it is a bright line rule that is easy for the umpire to apply and for the player/manager in question to understand. To any arbiter in a court of law or on a playing field, a relatively simple rule that is easy to apply and easy to understand is going to be preferrable a rule that is highly nuanced in most circumstances.
Now that the instant replay regime is in effect, it would be interesting to know if ejections have dropped precipitously. If the play can be challenged by instant replay, the need to vent is almost eliminated, since little is gained by it, compared to simply buying time in discussion with the umpire so that the replay guys can advise whether to make a challenge.
I would thus expect that, except for ejections resulting from hit batsmen, the number of ejections has plummeted. On the other hand, ejections will never disappear completely because batters and catchers/pitchers cannot challenge ball-strike calls by replay. If an umpire is calling a poor or inconsistent strike zone, players/managers will squawk, particularly if the bad/inconsistent call results in a key strikeout, walk, hit or home run.
Players/managers hate inconsistent strike zones much more than umpire strike zones that do not comply with the rules. If an umpire calls his own peculiar strike zone consistently, then pitchers and hitters know what to expect and can make the necessary adjustments, since within a full season in a league, the players are all familiar with each umpire’s strike zone. The only time you hear complaints about these strike zones are typically from pitchers who live on pitches thrown an inch or two of the outside corner but right at the catcher’s target, when the umpire calls a to-the-rule or tighter strike zone.