|How to lose mind ... and keep dignity|
By Jim Caple
Page 2 columnist
There are thousands upon thousands of games each year in sports, most instantly forgettable. Too seldom do we see an athlete reach true perfection with a performance so masterful, so inspiring and so sublime that it makes grown men weep, poets sigh and angels sing from the heavens.
"That was the best," said bench coach John McLaren, who has been witness to most of Sweet Lou's eruptions. "He had all his greatest hits in it. He had the cap, he had the base, he had yelling in the umpire's face. He had everything."
"I thought he was going to have a heart attack," said reliever Norm Charlton, who played for Piniella when he tossed his first base in 1990. "It's been awhile since I've seen him in that bad a mood."
Piniella has mellowed considerably in recent years, but he proved he still can reach the high C when first base umpire C.B. Bucknor called Seattle catcher Ben Davis out on a bang-bang play with two out in the bottom of the ninth inning. Piniella ran onto the field to express disagreement in his usual calm manner, slamming his cap to the ground and screaming in Bucknor's face.
Bucknor injudiciously exacerbated the situation by responding with a quick ejection and a perceived smirk that invited -- nay, demanded -- an escalation in protest.
Piniella provided it by kicking his cap, screaming some more, yelling at first-base coach Johnny Moses to return his cap and promptly throwing it again. After further screaming, he reprised his most famous routine by reaching down and uprooting first base from its mooring, raising it aloft as if he were Rickey Henderson after breaking Lou Brock's stolen base record.
Most mortals would have stopped there. Not Piniella. He tossed the base down the right-field line, and it was at that point he showed why he is the master of his art. Not satisfied with the distance of his toss, he hustled to the bag and threw it again, this time into fair territory.
This was a true artist at his peak, delivering a performance for the ages. This was Pavarotti singing at La Scala, Monet painting water lilies at Giverny, Olivier portraying Richard the III at the Old Vic.
"I think I hurt my hamstring and right shoulder," Piniella said.
"I think he was in control, and I don't think he was just trying to fire us up," Charlton said. "I think he was just mad. Today we can laugh about it, but that call could have cost us the game, and he was really pissed off."
So, at what point did the players start laughing?
"At the point when Lou wasn't looking at us," Charlton said.
The great Earl Weaver kicked so much dirt on so many umpires that he no doubt moved more earth than International Harvester during his career. Billy Martin was ejected so many times he left more games early than a Dodgers season-ticket holder. But in an age of the manager/CEO, it is Piniella who is preserving the managerial ejection as an artform.
Like any great artist though, Piniella left it to others to critique his performance. "I haven't seen a replay of it and I don't want to see it," Piniella said. "Put it this way. I'm not going to have my TV on any sports channel for the next couple days."
But if Piniella won't discuss the essential elements of his craft, we will. Here are the rules for a classic eruption.
1. Do not go quietly into that good night: Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
And the best way to do that is to kick dirt. Basketball, hockey and football coaches don't have this option, but baseball managers do and they ought to exploit it. The infield is covered by dirt -- use it.
2. Throw a fit: Dirt unavailable or an insufficient protest? Then grab something and let it fly. Ice jugs, clipboards, ballbags, headsets and bat racks are always handy and a guaranteed crowd pleaser. Chairs are unwieldy but a sure way to catch a referee's attention -- as are benches, although they require even more brawn. Bases require effort, but are well worth it.
Counting Wednesday's two tosses, Piniella has now tossed first base into the outfield three times, which pretty much gives him the copyright on the routine, though no one has yet gone for the cycle by throwing second and third base as well.
3. No blood, no foul: You can yell, you can scream, you can kick dirt, you can throw anything you want but never, ever physically attack anyone as Ohio State coach Woody Hayes did when he punched Charlie Baumann during the 1978 Gator Bowl. That's just bad form.
4. Don't hide: After making your point with a tantrum, leave the field with dignity. Sit in the clubhouse and relax, watching the game on TV and sending coaching instructions to the man you left in charge. Do not attempt to sneak back into the game by wearing Funny Nose and Glasses, as Mets manager Bobby Valentine did a couple years ago.
5. Be like Lloyd: Don't follow the path of predecessors, be creative. Push the envelope as Pirates manager Lloyd McClendon did last year. Rather than copy Piniella by tossing first base into the outfield, McLendon picked the base up, tucked it under his arm and walked off the field, thereby proving that you truly can steal first base.
Nobody, however, will ever top former St. Paul Saints manager Marty Scott and Fargo-Moorhead manager Doug Simunic. When an umpire ejected both managers after a heated argument in a Northern League game several years ago, Scott and Simunic met underneath the grandstand and settled the dispute like men.
They donned the costumes for the Saints' nightly sumo wrestling contest and went at it mano-a-mano on the field. When the umpire realized who was in the costumes, he ejected them again.
Not even Piniella could match that Wednesday.
But there's still time.
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.