Author Archives: Jason Turbow

Wayback Machine: Pimping on the Farm, Circa 1994

Via Deadspin this afternoon, a long-lost clip of what may be the most audacious home run pimping in this history of home run pimps  (or at least that which has been captured on video).

Behold, Rich Aude of the Buffalo Bisons.

In his defense: It was a game-winner, in his home ballpark. To his detriment: Everything else.

According to the Buffalo News, the pitcher, Bob Wishnevski of the Springfield Redbirds, exacted revenge two months later, drilling Aude in the back.  

The first baseman went on to appear in 62 games over parts of three seasons with the Pirates. He apparently got his act together, because he was never hit by a pitch at the big league level.

 

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Today’s Class: Intro to Pitch Doctoring

spitball

In the wake of yesterday’s Michael Pineda pine tar firestorm:

There’s an entire chapter in The Baseball Codes devoted to cheating, including a rundown of the various substances pitchers use to alter the flight path of the ball. (Plus: titillating stories of said substances in action!)

For an online primer that’s both free and doesn’t require a trip to the bookstore, you can turn to yesterday’s Deadspin account by ex-hurler Dirk Hayhurst (who has appeared in these pages previously). There’s just no getting away from this stuff.

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Substance Abuse, NY Style: Yankees Pitcher Puts the ‘Pine’ in ‘Pineda’

So Michael Pineda loaded up his hand with a substance that would only be shocking if it was not pine tar. Why is this of interest? A few reasons:

  • His Yankees are playing the Red Sox, with just a couple people paying attention.
  • He did the worst job of hiding it we’ve seen since Kenny Rogers in the 2006 World Series. (Considering the Detroit-St. Louis matchup that year, Pineda did it on an arguably bigger stage.)
  • He was busted quickly by the BoSox TV crew, who called it quickly and accurately.
  • Despite the fact that Pineda struck out seven over six innings of one-run ball in a 4-1 New York victory, nobody in the Red Sox dugout saw fit to challenge him on his proclivities.

The latter point is the most pertinent. Lots of players cheat, after all, and even more of them fail to see the use of pine tar—employed primarily to improve grip—as even qualifying as cheating.

The Red Sox themselves know a thing or two about the topic. Why, just last October there was speculation about Jon Lester doing some World Series doctoring of his own. Earlier last season, Clay Buchholz raised some eyebrows by repeatedly dabbing at his unnaturally shiny forearm during a start.

Boston manager John Farrell is aware of all of this. It is almost certainly why he chose not to act, despite being made aware of the substance on Pineda’s hand in the fourth inning. (Official lines: Pineda, It was dirt; Girardi, I saw nothing; Farrell, He cleaned it off so we’re cool.)

In 2012, then-Nationals manager Davey Johnson was not nearly so cool when he got Tampa Bay reliever Joel Perralta ejected from a game for secreting pine tar on his glove. Afterward, Rays manager Joe Maddon raged about the impropriety of it all. The Code, of course, says that managers will wink across the field at each other when this kind of thing goes down, because nobody’s closet is devoid of skeletons, and the opening salvo in an accusation battle is rarely the final shot fired.

So Farrrel played this one close to the vest. Lester is still on his roster, after all. Buchholz was on the mound, as the Red Sox starter opposite Pineda.

Similar silence was precisely the course of action taken by Tony La Russa back in ’06, when Rogers was spotted with a palm smudged similarly to Pineda’s: He made sure Rogers washed his hands, and let it go from there.

Joe Girardi is undoubtedly grateful.

 

 

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Pimping in Twin Cities Sparks Iffy Tiff

Donaldson riled

They showed us what not to do in Minnesota on Wednesday. Then they showed us again … and again.

Oakland’s Josh Donaldson led off the anti-exhibition in the 10th inning by admiring his deep fly ball, which landed just outside the left-field foul pole.

He compounded matters by striking out on the next pitch, a 2-2 slider from Minnesota left-hander Glen Perkins, for the third out of the inning. At the end of his exaggerated follow-through, Donaldson flipped his bat end over end toward the visitors’ dugout, and prepared to take the field. (Watch it here.)

Perhaps Perkins would have tolerated the flip without the foul-ball pimping. Perhaps he would have let the pimping slide without the flip. As it was, he took the time to inform Donaldson exactly how he felt about both ends of the equation, yelling toward the plate as he descended the mound. Donaldson came right back with words of his own, and the benches quickly cleared. No punches were thrown.

“The dude struck me out, pretty good pitch, I flipped my bat and I hear him barking at me,” said Donaldson in an MLB.com report. “I look up and he says something, points his finger. … I don’t feel like I disrespected him at all. I’m out there trying to win a game for our team and he’s trying to win a game for his team. I don’t know what it was all about. I’ve never even spoken to the guy.”

By referencing his own bat flip, it’s pretty clear that Donaldson knows exactly what it was all about. In case there was any question, Perkins put it quickly to rest.

Asked by reporters after the game if Donaldson had admired his foul ball, the pitcher was succinct. “He did—I think everyone saw that,” he said. “He hit it a long way. But I’m strict, too. I’m not big on that.”

It’s unlikely that this will merit further visitation from either of the aggrieved parties, but in case it does, the teams wrap up the series this afternoon.

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The Unwritten Rules, Written Down … in Korean

KBOSo my first unwritten rules post of the young season comes out of Korea. Of course it does.

This is what happens when a professional baseball league tries to eliminate the unwritten rules by, you know, writing them down and stuff.

If one is to believe Kim Euong-yong, manager of the Hanwha Eagles of the Korean Baseball Organization, his players recently refused to steal bases while holding a six-run lead—not because it was unseemly, but because their players association had instructed them against it.

The directive seems to have banned such thefts when a team is up by at least six runs, in the sixth inning or later.

This, of course, is ludicrous, and the Korea Professional Baseball Players Association denied it outright. They even called it “ludicrous” themselves (a clear triumph of translation).

Moral imperatives lose some heft when turned into actual legislation. Doing something because it’s the right thing to do—or even after a nudge from a veteran teammate—is different than being ordered to do it from a bureaucrat. A mom can tell her kid to play nice, but when she starts giving him step by step directions, at some point it starts to look less like play and more like following a script.

And that doesn’t even account for the subtleties of game play—things like the offensive potential of one’s opponent, and one’s own ability to hold a lead through the late innings of a game—that means a seven-run lead might not be enough one day, while a five-run lead the next could be just fine.

(Even if the KPBPA is telling the truth about not laying down such law, they did mention that, oh, by the way, their members have agreed cut down on excessive celebrations. Their toe is clearly in the water …)

In related news, KBO alum Ryu Hyun-jin gets the start for the Dodgers tonight in their home opener.

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Spring Drill Exchange in Arizona Sets Tone for D-Backs

Wade Miley

Mr. Miley

There are benefits to blanket warnings that your team will no longer tolerate opposing pitchers throwing at your players. Say it enough, and back it up once or twice, and maybe people will believe it to be true.

Of course, should your pitcher, under said blanket, hit somebody unintentionally, cries of innocence tend to fall on deaf ears.

This is part of what made last week’s HBP exchange between the Diamondbacks and Rockies so confusing. Perhaps Arizona pitchers are training up their tough-guy attitude, which would help explain Wade Miley putting a fastball into Troy Tulowitzki’s calf on Wednesday.

It sure seemed like retaliation, coming as it did after  Rockies farmhand Tommy Kahnle hit Arizona’s Mark Trumbo in the back—which itself came after Diamondbacks GM. Kevin Towers said on his local radio show last October that “Come spring training, it will be duly noted that it’s going to be an eye for an eye,” and that pitchers who don’t agree “probably don’t belong in a Diamondbacks uniform.”

Unless there’s some unknown beef between Kahnle—whose lack of control has contributed to his never having pitched above the Double-A level—and Trumbo, the initial volley was almost certainly a case of a misplaced pitch. Was Miley out to prove that his team won’t tolerate wildness from farmhands?

But Towers’ statement—along with the facts that Miley has excellent control and Tulowitzki is an obvious retaliatory target—eliminates the perception that the drilling was a mistake. Even if the drilling was a mistake.

It was almost certainly a mistake when, later in the game, Arizona pitcher Jimmie Sherfy—a 22-year-old whose career consists of 17 1/3 innings at or below A-ball—hit Colorado’s Michael McKenry. Again, however, thanks to Towers’ decree, it didn’t matter. The Rockies responded in kind, right-hander Raul Hernandez throwing a pitch behind Jesus Montero in the eighth, at which point plate ump Doug Eddings finally saw fit to warn both dugouts.

It barely matters that Towers followed up his initial statement to clarify that he wasn’t in support of hitting guys on purpose, but rather if “our hitters are being made uncomfortable at the plate, we need to be the same way.” He added that his point was “about pitching inside effectively with purpose.”

Yeah, but still. Damage done.

Spring training is a great place to settle old scores—atone for injustices of the past when the games don’t count and tee times await those who get thumbed from ballgames early. Turning it into a proving ground for new scores, however, is reckless. Tulowitzki left that game and had not returned to the lineup as of the end of last week.

If Miley was throwing at Tulo, he was out of line. If the pitch legitimately got away from him, he can thank his GM for causing the rest of us to doubt that to be true.

(H/T to Troy Renck, who shares his own terrific insight at the Denver Post.)

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1971: On the Invention of the Dugout Brushback

Chuck Dobson Research for my next book, about the Oakland A’s dynasty of the 1970s, to be published by Houghton Mifflin in 2015, has turned up boundless examples of unwritten rules from that bygone era. Turns out that hot-headed pitchers of the time weren’t limited to the pantheon of Bob Gibson and Don Drysdale. From the Oakland Tribune, June 25, 1971:

It was just another rainout until Oakland’s Chuck Dobson threw a brushback pitch at Minnesota manager Bill Rigney.

Rigney was standing in the Twins’ dugout at the time.

“He didn’t roll it in there,” Minnesota coach Vern Morgan said afterward. “What is he, crazy?

Dobson was angry for historical reasons, and because Rigney made him change his pants. Dobson ripped his trousers sliding into a tag at home plate for the last out in the top of the third yesterday.

With the game still scoreless, Dobson went out to the mound to pitch the bottom of the inning, his right trouser leg taped together and mud rubbed on the tape to cover the whiteness.

Rigney yelled a protest at plate umpire Nestor Chylak and Dobson had to go inside and change. By the time he returned to the field, it was raining again—there had been a 39-minute delay in the firs tinning—and the game eventually was called without another pitch thrown.

Dobson took two steps off the mound, turned, and either lobbed or fired the ball into the Twins’ dugout, depending on who told the story. In any case, the ball bounced into the dugout.

“I wanted him to have the game ball,” Dobson said. “I don’t have much patience with him. He called us a bunch of garbage collectors the last year he managed the Angels (1969), and this year he said his team could beat us any time they wanted to. I probably shouldn’t have done it, but he called us too many bad names to just lay down and take it.”

“I didn’t see it,” Rigney said. “I was just turning around to sit down. I guess it almost hit (pitching coach Marv) Grissom. I heard it. It hit the wall. It sounded kind of like ‘splat.’ ”

Grissom charged out of the dugout and wagged a warning finger at the departing Dobson.

“He just fired it in there,” Grissom said. “That’s bush league. That should be an automatic ejection.”

 Dobson faced Minnesota once more during Rigney’s tenure—the following week, in Oakland—and was not hit by a pitch.

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1976: Reggie Unhappy with Baltimore Protection

Reggie O'sResearch for my next book, about the OaklandA’s dynasty of the 1970s, to be published by Houghton Mifflin in 2015, has turned up boundless examples of unwritten rules from that bygone era. The latest concerns Reggie Jackson, freshly traded to the Baltimore Orioles in 1976, who was unappreciative of the fact that his teammates were getting knocked down, seemingly free of repercussion.

There’s little to tout  about a you-hit-my-guy-so-I’ll-hit-your-guy mentality, but the reality—more prevalent in 1976 than in the modern game—is that if pitchers are given the leeway to command the inner part of the plate without constraint, they frequently will. That command coming at the cost of a few hit batters is a built-in cost … until an opponent entices them to knock it off. Which was Jackson’s point. 

From the Associated Press, June 13, 1976:

Kansas City — An angry Reggie Jackson declared Saturday that if Orioles pitchers don’t hit a Kansas City batter this Sunday, “then, by God, I’m walking off this team.”

“But first, I’m going to fight them all myself,” he said, gesturing toward the Royals locker room. “So I get whipped… So what?”

Jackson stalked back and forth in front of a row of silent, dejected Baltimore players who had just lost, 7-6, on national television, for their eighth setback in a row.

Jackson’s anger — evidently shared by many of his teammates as well as manager Earl Weaver — stemmed from Lee May’s being hit in the head by a pitch from Royals reliever Marty Pattin in the ninth inning.

May was hit in the arm but not hurt in the first inning by Steve Busby. He was the first batter up in the ninth following Jackson’s three-run homer and was struck behind the left ear by Pattin.

The veteran slugger was helped off the field and taken to a hospital for x-rays. His condition was not immediately known.

“If we don’t hit somebody tomorrow, I just won’t believe it,” Jackson said. Still pacing and talking in a low growl, he unraveled the tape which bandaged his injured right wrist and spat expletives.

“But, Reggie, you know Earl’s philosophy on these things,” said a teammate.

“The hell with his philosophy. They hit him in the first inning and the manager says, ‘let’s not do anything.’ And look what happened. It’s time to change that philosophy,” Jackson said.

Weaver was told in his office moments later that his philosophy had been placed under fire.

“I’m beginning to wonder myself,” said the Baltimore skipper, adding, “I have no more to say.”

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Jim Fregosi on the Concepts of Hierarchy, Respect and Appropriate Response

Jim FregosiIn the wake of Jim Fregosi’s passing last week, Rick Bozich, longtime writer for the Louisville Courier-Journal, shared a story of some behind-the-scenes insight he gained into baseball’s retaliatory process, courtesy of the former big leaguer.

In short: In 1985, Cubs minor leaguer Shawon Dunston big-leagued a pre-game interview request from Bozich. When Fregosi—then managing the opposing Louisville Redbirds—heard about it, he responded on the field. The details are well worth a read.

(Although Dunston doesn’t come out looking great here, since I started interviewing him in the latter stages of his career and on into his current role as a part-time coach with the Giants, he has been among the most open, accessible people around. Maturity … and maybe the occasional well-placed fastball … works wonders.)

Fregosi will be missed.

[h/t to reader CBF.]

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1972: Pudge’s Boston Blast Buys Bad Blood

Carlton FiskResearch for my next book, about the OaklandA’s dynasty of the 1970s, to be published by Houghton Mifflin in 2015, has turned up boundless examples of unwritten rules from that bygone era. The latest concerns an intramural spat among the Boston Red Sox, and illustrates the idea that its usually a good idea for ballplayers to measure their comments to the media. From the Associated Press, Aug. 9, 1972:

Carlton Fisk is leading the Red Sox in home runs and batting average, and was a member of the American League All-Star team.

The Springfield Union quoted the 24-year-old catcher as saying that teammates Reggie Smith and Carl Yastrzemski have not been hustling, nor have they demonstrated any leadership abilities. The story was picked up by the wire services and blown up by the Boston press.

The Union article quoted Fisk as saying, “(Yastrzemski and Smith) don’t realize the effect they have on the club as a whole. When they aren’t as aggressive in the outfield or when they don’t show desire, the whole team droops.”

Misquoted?

“I was severely misunderstood,” Fisk said last night before the Red Sox defeated the Indians, 4-1.

“I guess it’s a lesson to learn,” the easy-going catcher said. “But you have to learn the hard way, I guess. Maybe I’m too naive, I don’t know. I just won’t say anything to anybody anymore. I’m completely disenchanted. The story made it sound malicious when it wasn’t meant that way. I told Carl and Reggie it wasn’t meant like it appeared in the paper.”

Fisk, Smith and Yastrzemski met with manager Eddie Kasko for a 10-minute closed-door session before the game to straighten things out.

“As far as all parties are concerned, it’s a dead issue,” Kasko said. “Fisk explained that he was misquoted and misinterpreted and that he didn’t mean things the way they came out. The explanation was satisfactory to both Smith and Yastrzemski. Both of them know what kind of a kid this is. They know he’s not the type to go popping off.”

Smith was asked about the problem. “There’s no problem,” Smith said. “There never was any problem to begin with.”

Maybe not, but Smith was in no laughing mood after the game. He read an article in a Boston newspaper that said Fisk was correct in his remarks about the two high-priced outfielders. Smith finished reading the article, violently flung the paper across the clubhouse and stormed into the trainer’s room.

Fisk’s comments marked the second time in a little more than a year that Yastrzemski and Smith have been criticized by fellow teammates. Last year in New York, Billy Conigliaro blasted both outfielders, saying they were babied by management. Conigliaro was traded after the season, but the Red Sox were loaded with outfielders then. All-Star catchers are a little harder to find.

 

 

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