When you think of performing arts, your mind does not wander to a baseball field. But on the heels of Aaron Boone’s latest ejection, it had me pondering the uniqueness of being thrown out of a baseball game. If you watch a football or hockey game, the vigor that encompasses the verbal abuse spewed by coaches would never stand during a baseball game. Essentially, the football referees take on the abuse, sometimes give it back, and everyone moves on with their lives. Basketball is closer to baseball, where technical fouls are regularly distributed to diffuse these types of situations. Baseball, however, is in a category of its own, delivering dramatic scenes more fit for Broadway than a baseball field.
The stage is set by the fact that one of the few subjective aspects remaining in the sport, calling balls and strikes, is deemed unacceptable to question in MLB. “You can’t argue balls and strikes” is a common phrase pointed to during broadcasts, despite the irony of the situation. Despite the history of great blowups on a baseball diamond—Billy Martin, Lou Piniella, and George Brett come to mind—there has been a concerted effort to keep these types of reactions at bay. But nothing unlocks self-expression from an MLB manager quite like a pitch outside of the zone.
Act 1. Setup. With the information and statistics on umpires these days, the foundation for confrontation is oftentimes set before the first pitch is thrown. Unnerved fans, players, and coaches are already on edge waiting for the first shoe to drop—then the trigger happens. The aforementioned incorrect strike-three call is enough to set the foundation for any good scene. Yankees broadcasts do a good job of picking up chatter from the dugout, even if indistinguishable, often hinting at the brewing displeasure. The urge for a manager to protect his players is always prominent, but the relationship between umpire and manager is still distant at this point.
Act 2. Confrontation. One more bad call is enough to ignite a fire, and usually at this point the umpires have had enough. The umpire torques their body, loads up their right arm, and releases their frustration with a unique pointer-finger gesture reserved only for baseball ejections. The confrontation has begun. Let’s call Act 2 the Aaron Boone special. He has the flare, theatrics, and language of any lead actor. He has classical training from ESPN and real-world experience as a big-league player. His verbiage when arguing with umpires is equal parts baseball poetry and comedic roasting. While his hot mic moments have become legendary, his hands tell the story. His finger-pointing is poignant—adding two-handed-raises, like blinders on a horse, to funnel his energy towards his antagonist. He also adds the hands-behind-the-back approach, with a slight lean forward when asking questions, like a grade-school teacher asking about a math problem. Boone wields the power of imitation, leaning on the ability to question one’s performance and mock his adversary. Being able to immerse yourself into the role is a character trait of any good performer.
Act 3. Resolution. During baseball ejections, the resolution is intertwined with the confrontation, because the umpire has already made his decision that the manager is no longer allowed to participate. The rise of the crowd starts to dissipate as a low hum hangs over the spectators. The manager leaves (or is escorted) stage left, and just as quickly as the confrontation starts, the show is over.
Was Wednesday Boone’s final theatrical performance as Yankees Manager? Perhaps not, but if this were to be his last season, he’s put on a show quite a few times.