There is a common belief around baseball that managerial outbursts can resurrect a lifeless team and give them the spark they need to turn games around. And, to be honest, I would count myself amongst those believers. I don’t know why, but there’s just something about seeing a grown man screaming in another grown man’s face about balls and strikes that just puts a smile on my face. As a former (not particularly good) pitcher, I like to live vicariously through them.
But do these tirades actually help the team in any way beyond providing countless hours of entertainment value? Do they effect the outcome of the game?
Say what you will about Aaron Boone — and a lot of you did, quite vocally, in the comments of one of my recent articles — but the one thing we can all agree on is that he clearly enjoys going ballistic on umpires. Since taking over the job in 2018, Boone has been ejected a whopping 17 times. For the sake of comparison, the next-closest manager in the AL East is the Rays’ Kevin Cash, who has been ejected 11 times since 2015. Here is the team’s record in games where Boone has been ejected:
For those counting, the Yankees have a 10-7 record in games when Boone is ejected. Of note, however, is the column titled “Situation When Ejected,” which breaks down the circumstances of the game when Boone was thrown out. As you can see, out of the 17 ejections and 10 eventual victories, the Yankees only came from behind to win once. Let’s explore that instance a bit closer.
August 31, 2018: 7-5 win over the Detroit Tigers
In one of the more hilarious outbursts of his career, Boone got thrown out in the fifth inning of this game after very aggressively demonstrating what a catcher does for the ump. At the time of his ejection, the Yankees were down 3-0. After his ejection, the Yankees exploded for a four-run sixth inning off Jordan Zimmermann, including home runs from Brett Gardner, Aaron Hicks, and Miguel Andújar.
According to a nice write-up from Bryan Hoch, Gleyber Torres — whose at-bat led to Boone’s ejection after some questionable strike calls — recapped the ejection and the game, saying, “After that, we were a little more excited. We played to win, and we did.”
I’m not so sure it did. Zimmermann came into this game with a 4.22 ERA that jumped to 5.92 when he tried to go through the lineup a second time. He was not exactly the dominant figure on the mound that he once was with the Nationals, either. Conveniently, the seonc time through the order was exactly where he was at in this game.
How about the ties?
Based on the above chart, there were two instances of the Yankees going on to win after the game was tied at the time of Boone’s ejection. Let’s look into them a little bit.
July 18, 2019: 6-2 win over the Tampa Bay Rays
This is probably the defining moment of Boone’s managerial tenure thus far. Take from that statement what you will. While Gardner stole the show with his bat-banging antics, Boone’s polite-yet-harsh criticisms of rookie umpire Brennan Miller’s strike zone went viral, leading to a new catchphrase for Yankees fans: “Savages in the box” (minus an expletive or two). For me, though, the real highlight is Boone quipping, “Real bad start.” For some reason, the simplicity of that line just makes me howl.
But did it actually wake the team up? I don’t think one could say that for certain. The game remained tied at two runs each until the bottom of the fifth inning, when the Yankees struck for three runs after the lineup strung together a couple doubles and a few singles. They would eventually go on to win the first game of the doubleheader 6-2. Yonny Chirinos was the pitcher for the Rays and, like in the case of Zimmermann, his ERA jumped almost two full points to 4.29 when he was exposed to the lineup twice.
August 26, 2021: 7-6 win over the Oakland Athletics
Faced with an umpire who demonstrated a clear inability to differentiate between balls and strikes early in the game, Boone started barking at home plate ump Todd Tichenor and eventually stormed out of the dugout to confront him after a particularly horrid third strike call on Joey Gallo. Boone was quickly tossed from the game, but he was sure to get his money’s worth this time around.
Perhaps adding fire to the narrative that manager ejections give a team a boost, Giancarlo Stanton sent a ball into orbit five pitches later. The Yankees would eventually go on to win the game, 7-6, on the back of Stanton and his two home runs. While I enjoy the narrative that Boone’s anger somehow sparked life into an otherwise lifeless team, I think this one can be chalked up to the fact that, at the time, Big G was the hottest hitter in the game.
So what do we make of all this?
One of the things I love most about baseball is its ability to mythologize itself. Although I don’t always agree with the narratives we create to understand the game—I’m always inclined to side with what the data indicates rather than conventional wisdom passed down from generation to generation — it’s a quirk that I believe makes baseball a truly unique game.
This is precisely how I view the belief that managers going nuts on an umpire can ignite a fire within their team: as a fun quirk. While the data doesn’t necessarily back the wisdom up—one come-from-behind win in 17 tries isn’t exactly indicative of success—I’m still going to have fun believing it all the same. And, at the end of the day, I think there’s something to be said for the fact that players feel like their coaches have their backs when they go to bat for them. Baseball is, after all, a human game.
I suppose, in some weird way, this is my way of saying that this is one of the very rare times when I’ll believe the myth over the data. It’s just more fun that way. And, in a season as disappointing as 2021 has been for us Yankees fans, you have to latch onto the fun wherever you can.