One thing they don't teach in umpire school is how to handle a family argument. Which is probably best, because nobody has figured it out yet anyhow.
You may have noticed in the last couple of years that some disagreements involving the Orioles tend to become family affairs. Sometimes they get rather demonstrative.
Always they involve an umpire. Last night it was Rich Garcia's turn, and for a moment he probably thought he was surrounded by Ripkens. Bill was leaving, not too happy about the called third strike that sent him to the dugout. Cal Jr. was approaching home plate, naturally supporting his brother's cause, and Cal Sr. was chomping in the wings of the third-base coaching box. The only people missing were the Hatfields and the McCoys.
So much for the peace and quiet of a game that was scoreless in the sixth inning. Before anybody could get back from the hot dog stand, two-thirds of the Ripkens were out of the game.
This was a first for Garcia, getting two members of the same family on one play. But once Bill was excused for continuing his argument from the bench, Garcia knew this wouldn't be a tidy dismissal.
Cal Jr. said something, manager Frank Robinson came from the dugout and Cal Sr. was thrown out of the game shortly after leaving his station. If you think blood isn't thicker than water, you've never paid attention to Cal Sr. when one of his sons is having a disagreement with an umpire.
Not that Cal Sr. doesn't boil on other occasions; he has the ability to make Earl Weaver seem mild. He may not even be aware of it, because he prides himself on being able to look at each individual as nothing more than a player, but Cal Sr. turns it up a notch when kin is involved.
"There's no doubt about it," Garcia said in the umpires' dressing room, long after the squabble. "Without question, if you look at the reports . . .
"If you have a problem with Cal [Jr.] or Bill, you're going to have to deal with Rip. Not necessarily with Cal or Bill, but Rip.
"It's not the first time -- I had almost the same situation in Seattle, and I ran him [Cal Sr.]."
That was also after a disputed pitch to Bill. "I told him early in the year that I wasn't going to listen to him yelling from the third-base box about balls and strikes," Garcia said. "Nobody else can do it, why should he?"
As is the case with almost any ejection, there was a difference of opinion about what transpired. "He [Bill] yelled all the way to the dugout; I could have thrown him out then, but I was being a nice guy, I let him go," quipped Garcia. "But he kept yelling from the dugout."
That's when the fun started. Once Bill had been tossed, there were two other Ripkens plus Robinson on the scene. "Cal Jr. was just defending his brother, you can't blame him for that," said Garcia with a shrug. But as soon as Cal Sr. emerged from within the chalk lines he was fair game. "He was 20 feet away from me. I gave him a chance, I told him to get back in the [coaching] box."
For an instant Robinson was in the middle, but not for long. "He [Garcia] fired right by me like I wasn't even there," said Robinson.
Garcia said that both of the dismissed Ripkens were belaboring the ball-strike issue, thus were excused early. But according to Robinson, there were different translations of what was going on.
"I heard what Bill yelled -- he said 'so what?' which alluded to something Richie said to me the inning before [when a pitch to Mike Devereaux was questioned]. Cal Sr. [who was not around at the conclusion to offer a firsthand version] was talking to Cal Jr. when he came down the line. He said, 'Cal, don't talk to him [Garcia].' He wasn't talking to Garcia."
"I'm not going to change Frank's mind," said Garcia. "Bill screamed all the way back to the dugout, and kept yelling when he got there. And a coach can't leave the box to argue balls and strikes anymore than a manager can leave the dugout."
If there was a funny scene, it was created by first-base coach Johnny Oates trying to restrain Cal Sr., who might be the strongest man, pound for pound, in baseball (with apologies to Jose). "I was at a disadvantage," Oates said with a laugh. "Actually, my toes were at a disadvantage -- he stomped all over them. He's a strong little old man. He's stronger than his age."
For Garcia, the unpleasantries were part of the sometimes unpleasant job. "You deal with it the way you would deal with anybody else," he said. "It was a normal ejection -- my fourth and fifth of the year."
Not an unusual amount -- except that the Ripkens account for 60 percent of the total. Which proves nothing other than the family that argues together sometimes leaves together.