Big League Stew

Skilled lip reader transcribes memorable manager-umpire confrontations from 2012

Mark Townsend
Big League Stew

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Don Mattingly gets in the face of umpire Bill Welke. (AP)

One of my favorite stories of the 2012 season was Vin Scully’s humorous attempt to lip read Jim Tracy’s outburst towards umpire Mike Everitt.

It was a classic managerial meltdown that stemmed from a disputed trap or catch by Rockies centerfielder Dexter Fowler. Originally ruled a trap, the call on the field was changed to catch almost immediately. That led to an umpire huddle and one more reversal, which sent Tracy over the edge and forced Scully to coin the phrase “blinkin’ fertilizer” to keep his translation PG in the midst of a one-sided, R-rated dialogue.

And we all enjoyed that experience to no end.

It also probably led more than a few of us to wonder what was actually being said in some other memorable manager-umpire confrontations during the 2012 season. Well, thanks to seasoned lip reader Evan Brunell, we have a little bit better idea as he provided his best transcriptions for several of those arguments to Baseball Prospectus.

Before we give you an excerpt of his work, though, here’s a little bit more about Brunell and the challenges he has to go through in communicating as someone with a hearing impairment, and also his ability to lip read.

I’ve been deaf since before I can remember and grew up using hearing aids, which made me adept at lip reading, an ability I still rely on heavily. It's difficult for me to explain how exactly I lip read (How exactly do you hear?), but I've been known to be skilled at it, even among my peers.

Although it comes naturally for me given my hearing impairment, lip reading isn’t easy, and it doesn’t result in complete comprehension: only about 35 percent of actual speech is visible on the lips. Lip reading can be done only when paired with context. What is the general subject matter? How does this person usually talk? What is their body language? If someone is angry, you can make adjustments for that. Having a strong grasp on the language is crucial as well, so your brain can automatically fill in gaps with sentences that fit the situation. The ability to think ahead to what is likely to be said also plays a major part.

Brunell put his skills to use in translating 20 different argument for the article. We’ll give you Brunell's transcription of the Jim Tracy-Mike Everitt argument here, and then encourage to check out the Baseball Prospectus piece. It’s highly entertaining and informative, but just watch out for the colorful language.

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Jim Tracy: (comes in at the end of a sentence) —Okay? I didn't say any of that s--t.

Mike Everitt: Okay, okay. I understand.

JT: I'm just saying, he caught the f---ing ball. He caught the ball. I just want you to know, I didn't f---ing [Obscured] f---ing ball.

[Obstructed, ejection not show]

ME: Tracy, if you're going to let me talk, let me—

ME: I let you go. We got together. We determined it was not a—

JT: You got to be s--tting me

ME: I don't know what you want me to say.

[Obscured]

JT: —S---NG ME! It's f---ing unbelievable! It's unbelievable! And when it's over with, I can't wait to see the ramifications of what f---ing happened! There's no f---ing way! That's a f---ing out! He caught the—How are you going to feel if he f---ing caught the ball, which we know he did?

[Obstructed]

JT: Yeah, okay, fine, [Obstructed] I wasn't [Obstructed] It was the right f---ing call!

ME: [Obstructed] That's what we're doing!

JT: Bulls--t! That is f---ing bulls--t!

[Obstructed]

ME: I know! I admit it! I do! Yes, I do!

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