Let me introduce you to Joe Mikulik, manager of the South Atlantic (baseball) League's Asheville Tourists, the minor league Billy Martin (may he rest in peace).
It's June, 2006, and Roger Clemens' kid, Koby, of the Lexington Legends, has just been proclaimed safe at second on an oh, so tight call. Mikulik's eyes bug as if on cartoon-esque pipestems. He charges from the mound and begans explaining to the uber-taciturn ump that his call was as bit overprotective of the pedigreed Clemens kid. The ump then performs baseball's age-old heave-ho gesture, with plenty of body english.
That's all Mikulik needs to take his own act up several notches. I won't describe it here; instead you can watch:
Flash ahead six years and a month to July 2012. Up-and-coming Cito Culver of the Charleston River Dogs, is signaled safe at third following a run-down attempt. Color Mikulik livid. Again the attempt to explain to taciturn ump that his bifocals were fogged. Again the heave-ho. Again the Mikulik act:
The press has, even prior to 2006, portrayed Miulik as a loaded gun, cocked, and ready to fire. I'm going to ignore all the supporting evidence (much of it compelling) and declare my own opinion: Mikulik is baseball's premier metaphorist.
Notice in the film clips that he doesn't merely try to explain to the umps that they need seeing-eye dogs, he re-enacts the play at second, then at third (where Culver must have run outside the base path if he really evaded the tag), as if he's been studying them for a while on stop-action replay film.
His core metaphor? The bases, of course. He detaches them, shows them to the umps, so he can be sure they know one when they see one. He kicks dirt over home plate, then spritzes it clean. It's all about the bases – the defense protects 'em, the offense has to reach 'em safely, and the ump has to be on top of 'em like the CIA with a spy satellite. Everything else in baseball centers on 'em. The bases. I mean, what's the point of hitting and fielding without the bases?
You ain't doing your job, Mikulik seems to be saying in 2006, so what the bleep, we might as well not have bases at all – he tosses second base into short right field. And just to prove this is all theater, in 2012 he hands third base to a Lexington fan – one who has been riding Joe for years, as it turns out. Joe even knows the loose-lipped guy's name. And finally, just to assure us that this is more than managerial petulance, Joe doffs his cap and takes a bow before retiring to the clubhouse.
There are other metaphorical nuances here, and you can pore over the films yourself to find them.
But one thing Joe knows for sure about today's baseball – fans want action, not strategy. Emotion, not cagey coolness between the foul lines. So he picks his moments, and (think here of kerfuffles in the faux-professional sports of wrestling and hockey) he launches himself like a grenade onto the field.
For one brief and shining moment, all eyes are on baseball – not the ridiculous, furry mascots, or singing Y-M-C-A, or slingshotting t-shirts, or a last glance about for the peanut and beer vendor. It's all about the haphazardly coreographed drama that is minor league baseball.