Padilla’s Lesson: Selfish Retaliation Doesn’t Make Friends

The ability to appropriately retaliate is a vital part of a pitcher’s resume, giving his teammates confidence that not only will he offer support should they be thrown at, but that he’ll do his darndest to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

While this is generally considered a positive attribute, last year we learned that in this regard, there can be too much of a good thing.

Vicente Padilla has long been considered baseball’s loosest cannon when it comes to hit batsmen. He drills hitters at will; that he appears to use raw emotion rather than baseball’s Code as his source of motivation makes this a dangerous tack to take.

Padilla spent most of the last four years with the Texas Rangers, where he was an unquestionably valuable member of the rotation, leading the team’s starting pitchers in either wins or winning percentage in two of his three full seasons with the team.

He also led the league in hit batsmen once, and drilled guys with such frequency that his teammates developed a distaste for the practice; Padilla’s recklessness was continually putting them in the crosshairs of retaliatory strikes.

It came to a head for him during a game in June 2009, when he hit Mark Teixeira of the New York Yankees twice. New York’s A.J. Burnett threw a response pitch that nearly hit Nelson Cruz in the head, and Padilla was placed on waivers the following day. It was a clear message; while Padilla wasn’t kicked off the team outright, the process to trade or release him had been initiated. Were he to stay with the Rangers, he needed to change his ways.

On Aug. 5, however, Padilla imploded, in typical fashion. After giving up a two-run homer to A’s outfielder Scott Hairston in the first inning, he drilled Kurt Suzuki two batters later. Sure enough, the A’s retaliated by hitting Michael Young.

“I have a lot of good friends on the Yankees, and they were like, ‘One of you guys is going to get hurt one day,’ ” Young said in the Dallas Morning News after the Teixeira incident. “No one wants to see that happen, obviously, but it’s the nature of the game. A lot of time times we felt like we had a bull’s-eye on our back.”

Three days after the A’s incident, the Rangers designated Padilla for assignment.

The pitcher had apparently burned so many bridges within his own clubhouse that his dismissal led to widespread celebration. General manger Jon Daniels portrayed Padilla as a bad teammate, and received handshakes and congratulations from relieved members of the Rangers when they heard the news. (Among those celebrating was Ian Kinsler, who had been targeted for retaliation in 2006 after Padilla hit White Sox second baseman Alex Cintron.)

The player to offer the greatest level of detail to the press was outfielder Marlon Byrd, who had also played with Padilla in Philadelphia.

“About time,” he said in the Morning News. “It’s absolutely a positive for this team. We have to get rid of the negatives to make a positive, and I believe this is a huge positive for this team. . . . You have to be a good teammate. You have to help teach younger guys the right things. He wasn’t a positive influence on the young guys. You started questioning his character and about how much he cared.”

The primary problem with being publicly frank about a head-hunting former teammate, of course, is the possibility that you’ll end up hitting against him someday.

Just over a week ago, on July 10, Padilla, now with the Dodgers, faced Byrd, now with the Cubs, for the first time since leaving Texas. Needless to say, he drilled him in the back.

This led to another retaliatory cycle, the type of which helped lead to Padilla’s banishment from Texas. Cubs pitcher Andrew Cashner responded by drilling Los Angeles second baseman Blake DeWitt an inning later, and subsequently received high-fives in the dugout, and congratulations in the clubhouse after the game (despite the fact that the Cubs lost, 7-0).

(Afterward, Cashner upheld the Code, claiming in the Chicago Tribune that the pitch to DeWitt “slipped.” Byrd’s praise of Cashner’s “pinpoint accuracy,” however, seems to counteract that.)

It’s a complex tale of intertwined codes, which go to show how one rule can affect another, and another and another.

Primary among them, of course, being to avoid angering pitchers who will be only too delighted to respond.

Update: He wasn’t ejected from the game, but Cashner was eventually fined by the commissioner’s office for his action.

- Jason

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3 Comments

Filed under Marlon Byrd, Retaliation, Vicente Padilla

3 responses to “Padilla’s Lesson: Selfish Retaliation Doesn’t Make Friends

  1. broccoman

    And yet no suspensions here, while Cox gets one game and Venters four for accidentally plunking Prince Fielder. Ridiculous.

    I wonder what the response should be to whining overweight 1B who complain too much?

  2. Chris

    Hey Jason,

    I want to thank you for the fantastic blog you have going on here. Just found it this morning and have been voraciously reading through the articles since.

    I remember this particular sequence between Padilla and Suzuki very well. I watched the game and couldn’t believe what I just saw. I play for an adult league in my hometown and was called in to relieve. I was asked by my manager to throw at someone because we were getting shellacked at that point. I refused and ended up striking out the side. My manager congratulated me with a smile after that inning and didn’t mention it again.

    I think at some point throughout the season, there will be instances of players needing to govern the game themselves. If a teammate is intentionally hit, you go after one of the opposition’s guys. If a team swings and hits three or four first pitches consecutively, throw a pitch at someone. But to throw at someone because they beat you, it’s not right. Same goes for Lincecum in that game on July 20th when he threw at Kemp.

    Keep up the fantastic writing. You’ve earned yourself a loyal and faithful reader.

    Cheers.

    Chris

    • jturbow

      Thanks, Chris. The love is appreciated.

      Big league tactics don’t always translate to the lower levels. Pitchers’ lack of control in the amateur and youth ranks makes intent much more difficult to discern, and it’d be crazy for a manager to order a kid to retaliate for something that happened on the field.

      Nice to see that your own manager met your reticence with a smile. That’s not always the case. Take the example of Goose Gossage and Billy Martin, shortly after the pitcher joined the Yankees in 1978. From The Baseball Codes:

      The pitcher was shagging balls in the outfield when Martin ambled over. Gossage guesses the ensuing conversation was some sort of test; if it was, he failed miserably. According to Gossage, the dialogue went like this:

      Martin: Goose, when you get in the game today, I want you to hit Billy Sample in the head.

      Gossage: What?

      Martin: I want you to drill Billy Sample in his fucking head.

      The pitcher deliberated for a moment before denying his manager’s request, telling Martin that he had no bad feelings for Sample and wasn’t about to fight somebody else’s battle. Martin’s response was to berate the pitcher, both on the field and in the clubhouse. This may well have contributed to Gossage’s horrible start with the team, in which he took losses in three of his first four appearances. (He did manage to rebound, winning that year’s American League Rolaids Relief Award.)

      Thanks for reading!

      -jt-

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