Cervelli-abration: How Much is Too Much, and What to do About it?

So Francisco Cervelli hit a big home run and clapped his hands in celebration as he stepped on the plate, directly under the nose of Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

The next pitch Cervelli saw hit him square in the back.

It certainly looked incriminating, and although pitcher John Lackey denied all intent, that’s what he’s supposed to do. The Yankees broadcast crew jumped on it immediately, with Michael Kay not missing a beat after Cervelli was drilled before saying, “I’m going to tell you why Cervelli just got hit. I will tell you why. Because when he hit the home run he celebrated at home plate and clapped his hands right in front of Saltalamacchia.” The telecast then cut to a pre-queued clip of the moment. (Watch it, preceded by the home run itself, here.)

Kay was hardly the only one to see it in this light. Another example, from the Boston Globe, which structured its use of quotes to paint a particular picture:

“He was pumped for that [third] home run of his career,” Lackey said. “I thought it was a little excessive, honestly.”

Said Saltalamacchia: “He’s done a lot of that stuff. … He likes to get excited. That’s fine. As far as the clapping goes, yeah, it could have been a little much. You don’t show anybody up. You play the game the way you play it. You’ve got to stay in your boundaries.”

Seems pretty cut and dried. There are some compelling arguments to the contrary, however.

Start with the fact that the Red Sox trailed 4-2 at that point in the seventh, and Lackey’s primary job was to keep that deficit static. The last thing he’d rationally want is to put the leadoff hitter on base with the lineup about to turn over. (Sure enough, Cervelli came around to score New York’s final run.)

Said Lackey in the Boston Herald, “I’ve been fined twice for hitting guys this year and I’ve paid them because they were right. But this one, I’m not afraid to tell you if I’m trying to hit somebody. I would’ve told him to his face.”

The statement that rang truest from Lackey, from the New York Daily News, pointed out in stark terms every truth of the situation. The Globe excerpt above utilized part of it, but cut out the key final sentiment.

“(Cervelli) was pumped for that ninth home run of his career (third actually), yeah. I don’t know. I thought it was a little excessive, honestly, but that’s not a spot you handle something like that.”

Naysayers can start their counter-arguments with the fact that this game doesn’t mean anything because Boston and New York are both going to the playoffs, then talk about Boston wanting to avoid facing Justin Verlander twice in the ALDS.

But those who think a starting pitcher in the midst of a pennant race is willing to compromise a victory in order to take care of some vendetta—especially with five games remaining between the teams during which to drill Cervelli at a more opportune moment—must ignore an awful lot of reality to do so.

More of an affront to the Code than anything Lackey did was Cervelli’s celebration—specifically, where it took place. Had he clapped his hands upon seeing the ball leave the yard, the Red Sox would not likely have noticed. Had he waited for several steps after crossing the plate, on his way back to the dugout, same thing.

As Craig Calcaterra wrote over at HardballTalk, “Cervelli pumps his fist when he gets a good sandwich. He woops it up if he tosses a wadded up piece of paper into a trash can on the first try. If Cervelli gets one more home run in his career it’ll be a gift from the friggin’ gods, so let him have his little moments.”

Done and done. The guy has to measure those moments, however, to ensure they occur somewhere than directly in front of his opponent. Otherwise, he can expect more of the same kind of treatment he received from Lackey.

Perhaps next time it’ll even be intentional.

Update (9-1-11): MLB didn’t buy it. Lackey’s been fined.

- Jason

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3 Comments

Filed under Francisco Cervelli, John Lackey, Retaliation

3 responses to “Cervelli-abration: How Much is Too Much, and What to do About it?

  1. Phil Penberthy

    I remember when Bryce Harper blew a kiss after hitting a home run and there some outrage. There was also some opinion that the minors were a different atmosphere and the code didn’t extend downwards. To what extent is this true and how much of this can be used to explain “green to the bigs” behavior? I recognize Cervelli isn’t that green but clearly he has a strong personality that is taking a long time to adjust.

    • Jason Turbow

      We must also embrace the notion that he might never adjust. The Yankees have been trying to get Cervelli to tone down his act for some time (for this very reason), and we can see the (lack of) results. In this case, it’s probably less that he’s green than that he’s Venezuelan. The Code in Central and South American baseball is much more lax than the big leagues in regard to on-field celebrations. Jarrod Saltalamaccia noted as much.

      “The game, it’s changing,” he said after the game in question. “Younger guys are coming in. I’ve seen it. Elvis Andrus, [Yunel] Escobar over at short [for Toronto], a lot of players. It’s the way they play the game. . . . A lot of Latin players, that’s how they play. It’s OK to an extent. But sometimes you’ve got to step back.”

      A moment later, he backtracked, trying to avoid the possible perception that his sentiments were racially based: “I basically wanted to clarify and say I wasn’t trying to say ‘Latin’ players or any of that stuff,” he added. “I was just saying he was an emotional guy and a lot of the younger guys coming up were emotional players and they’re young guys coming up, wanting to make a name, and stick around.”

      Except that his statement wasn’t racially based, it was culturally based—and accurately so. No less an authority than David Ortiz, a Dominican, agreed. “We are like that, for real,” he said in the Wall Street Journal. “Sometimes we kind of forget about where we’re playing at, and we do things we brought from my country.”

      This doesn’t affect the question about whether Cervelli will eventually tone it down. The answer may come down to the level of success he reaches. Jose Valverde is extremely animated on the mound, but he has that leeway as an All-Star reliever. Carlos Perez was wildly emotional in the mid-90s, right up until he stopped being an effective pitcher, at which point his histrionics became far less tolerable.

      A lot of minor leaguers are remarkably green when it comes to the unwritten rules, and learn quick, hard lessons upon reaching the majors. Many Latin players are even further behind the curve, not that it buys them much leeway once they arrive—as Cervelli vs. Lackey may have shown us.

      • James H.

        Regardless of whether he was intentionally hit while up 4-2, the fact that he got hit can be one of (probably many) lessons he’ll get for being so boisterous. Maybe he’ll learn, maybe he won’t.

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