Rarely does a catcher greet the umpire with such an outburst. The early innings are a period when players become acquainted with the umpire's strike zone and the tempo of his calls. Denkinger was flabbergasted by Fisk's eruption, and that was precisely what Fisk intended. He wanted to startle Denkinger and he did it by abrogating the unspoken rules of home-plate conduct. By quickly throwing the ball back to the pitcher, by not turning around, by not jumping up, the catcher obeys these rules. For his part, an umpire will have an easier time of it if he answers a catcher's questions, which is child's play compared to the alternative—jawing with a discontented pitcher 50 or 60 feet away.
"The umpire is not a machine. He is not a computer and he is not a robot," says Dodger Catcher Steve Yeager, whose six seasons have taught him the value of a gentle approach. "The umpire is human and entitled to a few mistakes." No matter how firmly he believes that, Yeager, like other catchers, cannot let umps' mistakes go entirely unchallenged, because he is literally caught in the middle, his face toward the pitcher, his back brushing against the umpire. It is his deftness at public relations—his ability to satisfy his pitcher's need for an advocate while not enraging the ump—that maintains harmonious working conditions for all. The tactics and tone he employs can be as violent as Fisk's outburst, which was tantamount to rebellion, or as subdued and inventive as those used by former Dodger Tommy Haller in 1971.
Umpire Bruce Froemming was a rookie then. Haller had spent 11 seasons behind the plate, and he had an umpire in the family—brother Bill in the American League. For five innings Haller asked Froemming about every close pitch, not showing him up but testing his judgment. Finally he popped the question.
"Bruce, what's your last name?"
"Spell it," demanded Haller.
"That's with one 'I'?"
"Yep," replied the unsuspecting ump.
"That's exactly how you've called the game all night."