HOUSTON - Home plate umpire Marvin Hundson calls strike three against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
How do umpires call hitters out on a third strike? Here's an attempt to categorize the strike-three calls around the league.
Over at Deadspin, the fantastic Erik Malinowski has been profiling every umpire in Major League Baseball. It was an incredible series that just concluded, and as a postscript, he's collected GIFs of the strike-three calls from every current major-league umpire.
Part one is here and part two is here. This article is based off this scholarly research, so if you haven't seen the GIFs already, head over there for a quick peek. I'll wait for you to come back, but not for you to shop for a new computer after your current one melts from pure GIF power.
Great. Now that we're hypnotized by this amazing curation, we can study it. The biggest surprise of the study: There just isn't a lot of variation. With 72 different umpires and 72 different opportunities to make up a strike-three call, there is way more uniformity than I would have expected. A breakdown of the calls:
The Invisible Chainsaw
Example: Tim McClelland
This is the most popular move. It isn't even close. This is where the umpire puts one arm out, and then pulls it back, as if he's ripping the cord of an invisible chainsaw. Or leaf blower. Or lawn mower. Or See 'n' Say. Whatever you think the umpire might be holding, go with it. By my unofficial count, there are 47 umpires who use the invisible chainsaw, getting ready to bust into a Jackyl cover every time someone strikes out.
There is some overlap between this category and the next one, and there are some umpires who put their twist on it. Fieldin Culbreth likes to stick his leg up in the air, as if to say, "Gonna cut my foot with this here chainsaw … lol no I'm not." Some umps will look toward the pitcher, and some of them will turn toward one of the dugouts. But this is still the overwhelming favorite.
Also, from right before that GIF up there: Bonus David Wright Face
Example: CB Bucknor
The second-most popular, as there are 13 literalists among the 72 umps. The literalists celebrate a punch out by punching out an invisible foe.
It's not always a punch to the face. Dale Scott likes to go with a brutal body blow. Tim Welke goes straight for the beans, hoping to sterilize and emasculate his opponent at the same time he's inflicting great pain. But most of them go for the face.
Tom Hallion might have the most famous strikeout call of all, throwing an exaggerated uppercut like something out of Mike Tyson's Punch Out.
Pro Tip: Dodge Hallion's uppercut, and wait for him to take his mask off and wink before you counter with a quick jab.
The literalists can often flit in and out of the invisible-chainsaw category, too, but they're usually easy to spot. If you start a chainsaw with that kind of violence, you usually lose a digit or a limb.
Also, it's weird to put a guy named "Jim Joyce" under a literalist label -- the dude practically invented Modernist umpiring -- but at least he gets a little weird with his, doing a floaty, smooth martial-arts thing that's reminiscent of a briefs-clad Martin Sheen in a Saigon hotel room.
Grabbin' an Apple From the Tree
Example: Derryl Cousins
Simple. An almost down-homey gesture. Up to grab a strikeout apple. Down with the strikeout apple. Delicious strikeout apples. There are six apple-farmers, but at least three of them slip in and out of other calls. Kerwin Danley and Angel Hernandez usually follow the apple with an invisible chainsaw, for example.
Yessssss, Mom Got Me Aerosmith Tickets For Graduation!!!
Example: Dana DeMuth
A demonstrative show of excitement, vaguely '80s or early '90s in nature, not unlike the reaction after Macaulay Culkin would catch a burglar in a homemade trap. This is surprisingly rare, with only three umpires using this one. Brian Runge almost counts in this category, as he makes a MGMATFG move after starting his invisible chainsaw.
Gwyneth Paltrow's Head
There's a cruel twist to this one, alright. In the Deadspin profile, Jerry Layne does something completely different. He's avant-garde. The umpire who broke all the rules, defied all the conventions.
Example: Jerry Layne
He opens something. Maybe a box. Maybe a bag. I'd like to think he has a Schwarzenegger-type crack for each time he does this.
Layne: Looks like mama packed a strikeout for you in my lunch bag today.
Layne: Oh, look what I found! Bus tickets to Pawtucket!
Layne: A gift? For me? Well, let's just … hey, it's a quicker game! Because of you striking out so damned much! You shouldn't have!
Alas, Layne does an invisible chainsaw most of the time. I went through seven of his other called strikes, looking for another head in a box. He's usually pretty traditional, though. Vrooom, vrooooom.
Here's the full breakdown. Note: This list is based purely on Malinowski's GIFs. Some umpires like to go in and out of different states, just as water has the potential to exist as ice, liquid, and vapor.
Jim Joyce (stylish)
Tim Welke (nuts)
Dale Scott (body blow)
Pickin an apple
Kerwin Danley (also invisible chainsaw)
Brian Runge (also tickets)
Angel Hernandez (does invisible chainsaw)
Got Tickets to Aerosmith
Jerry Layne (sometimes)