ST. PETERSBURG — With the new instant replay system, manager meltdowns with umpires have turned into displays of etiquette befitting Miss Manners.
Gone are the dirt-kicking, base-throwing, four-letter-word-yelling blowouts that made for highlight-reel lore. The images of ex-Rays manager Lou Piniella punting his cap, or the Yankees' Billy Martin and Orioles' Earl Weaver popping their tops, might as well remain on VHS.
"It's just turning into a lovefest," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "It's almost like you can't get upset anymore."
Now, instead of storming onto the field to challenge a call, managers stroll to the umpires, stalling long enough to get word from the dugout — relayed from their video coordinator — whether to ask for a challenge.
As replay gives managers a recourse they never had before, conversations have gone from crass to cordial. Swear words have been replaced by small talk.
"I feel like I should ask them out to dinner," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire joked. "It's kind of weird. You're used to coming out of the dugout all fired up. Now you're waiting for someone to give a thumbs-up or thumbs-down. It's really not that much fun. It's kind of boring."
Managers say that though arguments (and ejections) will likely significantly decrease, there's still room for disagreements, including on judgment calls that aren't reviewable such as balls and strikes.
"You can still be drinking wine by the eighth inning under the circumstances," Maddon said.
And although fans, players and, yes, some managers might miss the theater created by the brouhahas with the men in blue, it'll go a long way toward improving relationships with umpires, and it could be a good thing.
"I think it's going to make the game better," Gardenhire said. "I've had plenty of people tell me, 'You need to calm down, you're not showing my kids any good sportsmanship.' So maybe they'll see me being a good sport now.
"But my face hasn't gotten red all year. And that's not much fun."
Blue Jays manager John Gibbons says he has pulled up video of some of the best manager-umpire battles back in the day.
Weaver, the late Hall of Famer, was known for kicking dirt at the umpire, and home plate. Martin once grabbed a piece of Yankee Stadium infield and tossed it at an umpire. Former Atlanta manager Bobby Cox boasts the most managerial ejections in league history at 158. Piniella had a penchant for pulling a base out and chucking it — often more than once, the Tampa native's eyes wide and face reddened.
"Lou Piniella," says former longtime umpire Randy Marsh, "he could go nuts."
But, as Gibbons points out, those legends aren't in uniform anymore.
"You don't have the characters in the game anymore like you had back then in these managing roles," he said. "Those guys were special. Back then, you could get away with a lot more than you can today anyway. Those days are over, but in a lot of ways they were already."
Not that the current managers are pushovers.
Gibbons said he got suspended for bumping — "inadvertently" — an umpire in the minors. In 2001, Lloyd McClendon, then the Pirates manager, literally stole a base and took it back into the clubhouse. Gardenhire's "craziest scene" actually came at Tropicana Field:
"I had argued at third base, argued at second base, and when I went and argued at first base, I told (umpire Angel Hernandez), 'I'm not coming back out there. I'm tired of arguing with all you guys. I don't want to stay in this game anymore, because I can't stand watching you guys.' And he threw me out."
Maddon had a similar moment in the minors with Beaumont (Texas). But his best might have come in 2011 in Chicago against the White Sox. After a first-base call by umpire Doug Eddings that was overturned by the group, Maddon went into a frenzy. After he got ejected, he pretended to kick out each one of the umpires on his way to the clubhouse.
Maddon has been ejected a franchise-record 33 times.
"I kind of have fun with that," he said. "A lot of times it looks pretty crazy out there, but then you laugh with the umpire the next day. And I've been doing that for many years now."
Marsh, 65, an umpire from 1981-2009, was on the other side of some nasty confrontations in his day, many with former Dodgers skipper Tommy Lasorda.
As professional as umpires are, they're also human, so harsh words aren't immediately forgotten over the course of a series, or season.
"It kind of carries over, unfortunately," Marsh said. "But to think you've got it out for the team is absolutely wrong."
Marsh, now MLB's director of major-league umpires, says he has been pleased that the instant replay process has "taken the antagonistic attitude" out of it. He said the fact that replays are shown on stadium scoreboards for all to see "takes the gas out of all of it."
"For the most part, when they look at it on replay, it's going to be right one way or another," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "And there's really nothing to argue about."
Marsh says replay will be good for umpires because they can correct a call, and missed ones won't get constantly replayed on ESPN or live on forever, like Jim Joyce's blunder that thwarted Armando Galarraga's perfect game in 2010.
"If we had replay, those games could have possibly ended differently," Marsh said. "And those umpires wouldn't have that stigma attached to them."
With replay available, most manager interactions with umpires are polite and predictable. In a role reversal, it's sometimes managers who are booed for coming out too often, slowing the game while pondering a potential challenge.
Gibbons felt that wrath during Toronto's opening series at the Trop, killing time with small talk with umpire Jim Wolf.
"I said, 'You know what I'm doing,' and he said, 'Yeah,' " Gibbons said. "He said, 'So what do you want to talk about?' We started shooting the bull a little bit. Wolfy is a big weightlifter, so I said, 'Those pipes are looking good, man.' "
Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @TBTimes_JSmith.