Category Archives: Don’t Call out Opponents in the Press

Rays, Red Sox Bring Battle Online

Red Sox-RaysIn June, the Red Sox and Rays got into it when John Lackey drilled Matt Joyce.

Last year they got into it when Franklin Morales drilled Luke Scott (among multiple confrontations during a long Memorial Day weekend).

During the decade spanning 2000 to 2010, they were involved in a series of skirmishes significant enough to merit an entire section in The Baseball Codes.

At least yesterday the hostilities were limited to Twitter.

It started with a blown call—Daniel Nava appeared to score what would have been the tying run on a sacrifice fly with two outs in the eighth, but was called out at the plate by umpire Jerry Meals—a decision that helped Tampa Bay to a 2-1 victory over the Red Sox in Boston. The win pushed the Rays into first place by half a game.

Afterward, the team’s official Twitter feed got into the action.

Rays tweet

Not willing to be outdone, the Red Sox shot right back.

Red Sox tweet

Welcome to retaliation in the digital age.

Update (7-31): Reader RoadDogRuss alerts me that this wasn’t the first digital tweaking between the teams.  (The tweet, of course, refers to this incident.)

(H/T Bleacher Report)

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Oakland’s One Clap is One Too Many for Some Members of the Yankees

When one plays for the Yankees, who not so long ago were cruising toward the playoffs but who suddenly find themselves desperately trying to keep the Orioles at bay, one can get touchy during the course of getting one’s butt kicked by the team with the American League’s lowest payroll.

At least Eric Chavez did. After New York’s 10-9 win in 14 innings at Yankee Stadium Saturday, he told the New York Post that, following each of Oakland’s three homers in the 13th inning, A’s players partook in some “orchestrated clapping, chanting,” which Chavez described as “high school-ish,” “pretty unprofessional” and something “that crossed the line.”

The antics were described in the San Jose Mercury News:

The routine the A’s did is based on the Randy Moss-related “One Clap” song and video clip that was all the rage on YouTube. Gomes often played that song during spring training, and he said the A’s have done the routine all season in the clubhouse and on the team bus.

Somebody yells “One Clap!” and teammates respond with a clap.

The reason it should not have troubled Chavez, said Jonny Gomes, “is it happened in our dugout. It didn’t happen between the lines.” (To judge by the TV replays, which are far from comprehensive, it’s difficult to discern anything objectionable happening in the A’s dugout on the first, second or third home runs of the inning.)

For Chavez to get riled about such a thing is a tad ironic. When he was a young player with the A’s—playing the Yankees, no less—he learned a difficult lesson about speaking out a bit too quickly about the opposing nine.

From The Baseball Codes:

Nearly as innocent were the comments made by A’s third baseman Eric Chavez before his team faced the Yankees in Game 5 of the 2000 ALDS. Responding to a press-conference question about his opponents, who had won the previous two titles, Chavez talked about how great the Yankees had been in recent years, what a terrific job they’d done, and how difficult it was to win as consistently as they had. He also added that they’d “won enough times,” and that it would be okay for somebody else to play in the World Series for a change. Chavez was twenty-two years old, wide-eyed and hopeful. There was nothing malicious in his tone.

Unfortunately for the A’s, the press conference at which Chavez was speaking was being broadcast live on the Oakland Coliseum scoreboard for early-arriving fans. Also watching were the Yankees, on the field for batting practice. “So he’s dropping the past tense on us? Did you see that?” spat third baseman Scott Brosius from the batting cage. One New York player after another—Derek Jeter, Paul O’Neill, Bernie Williams— took Chavez’s comments and blew them up further. The Yankees hardly needed additional motivation, but now they had it. Their first three hitters of the game reached base, four batters in they had the lead, and by the end of the frame it was 6–0. The A’s were in a hole from which they could not climb out before they even had a chance to bat.

How one feels about this apparently depends on the dugout in which one happens to sit. The day after Oakland’s one-clap hysteria, Nick Swisher responded by hitting a home run for New York, then lingering for a beat in the batter’s box to admire it. (Watch it here.) Asked about it in the Post, he said, “Like Jonny Gomes says, what’s the hurry?”

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For a Good Time, Please Don’t Call Mike Napoli

Wilson and Napoli during happier times.

Usually, pitchers can unbunch their panties via well-placed fastballs aimed at or near the player responsible for said bunching. It’s time-honored and it’s effective and, if it’s executed properly, it allows adequate venting with no long-term damage.

The long-term nature of the damage Mike Napoli suffered yesterday is up for debate, but there’s little question that he’ll be feeling this particular pinch far longer than he would a baseball to the thigh.

Napoli apparently riled pitcher and former teammate C.J. Wilson by saying, upon Wilson’s signing with Anaheim during the off-season, that he was looking forward to taking the left-hander deep.

Were Wilson truly miffed, he could have called Napolito talk it over. Were he baseball miffed, he could have drilled him the next time the two faced each other. Wilson, however, appears to have been more provoked than angry, gladly looking for an excuse to execute what can only in baseball and frat-house circles qualify as a “prank.”

He tweeted Napoli’s phone number. (That’s what Wilson considers a prank? No, this is a prank.)

Sure, there’s long been a place for off-field retaliation in baseball. Before there was Twitter, Ty Cobb and Buck Herzog fought in Cobb’s hotel room, some hours after Cobb had spiked the second baseman during a game. In this modern age of mass communication, however, it seems that one can do far worse deeds digitally than with one’s fists.

Wilson’s prank—again, we use the term loosely—may have been marginally appropriate had he and Napoli possessed a relationship strong enough to sustain such shenanigans. Napoli, however, told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that this is not the case.

“I don’t even know why he did it,” he said. “You don’t do that. I am not taking it as a prank. You know, I haven’t even talked to him since the end of last season. We don’t have that type of relationship.”

So Napoli has to deal with the inconvenience of getting a new phone number. Wilson has to defend himself from the outraged masses. And the rest of us get to consider what may yet happen when these guys meet during the regular season (never mind the two spring training contests left between the teams, on March 24 and 25).

- Jason

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Filed under C.J. Wilson, Don't Call out Opponents in the Press, Mike Napoli, Retaliation, Uncategorized

A Dark Day for Baseball Etiquette in Cincinnati, Pretty Much All Around

This is what can happen when a player utters even a syllable too many about his opponent. (Though to be fair to the Cardinals, “little bitches” is a full four syllables.)

A day after forgetting to use his inside-the-clubhouse voice when discussing feelings about the St. Louis ballclub with the press—which included referring to them by the above epithet—Cincinnati’s Brandon Phillips stepped to the plate yesterday as the Reds’s first hitter of the game.

Upon entering the batter’s box, he tapped his bat on the shin guards of Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina and plate ump Mark Wegner as a means of greeting.

There’s nothing wrong with this. It’s standard practice for Phillips, meant as nothing but a friendly hello.

At least until he encountered a short-fused catcher who clearly prefers that his team be referred to in terms more genteel than “little bitches.”

“Why are you touching me?” he asked Phillips, as reported in the Cincinnati Enquirer. “You are not my friend, so don’t touch me.”

Phillips had thrown down the gauntlet with his comments, and Molina was only too happy to pick it up. Both teams flooded the field, and the scrum quickly turned into a baseball rarity—a fight in which actual blows were thrown. Managers Dusty Baker and Tony La Russa were ejected. (Watch it here.)

The appropriate response to Phillips and Molina: Grow up a little.

The unwritten rules mandate on-field retaliation only for on-field breaches of etiquette, and nothing more. Phillips ran his mouth, and the Cardinals responded in the best way possible, holding him to a combined 1-for-10 over the ensuing two games, while winning both to move into a tie with Cincinnati in the NL Central.

Molina should have let his comments go, and concentrated on the game, not a silly schoolyard spat. (He did use the confrontation as a bit of personal motivation, hitting a second-inning homer off Johnny Cueto.)

Now, what had been an unendorsed bit of foolishness from a single player has turned into genuine bad blood. It certainly helps make things interesting as the teams battle for the division lead, but these matchups are loaded with motivation based on baseball alone. Watching players act like testosterone-fueled kids does nothing for the purity of a good stretch drive.

* * *

During the course of the festivities, Baker and La Russa got into it, bringing quickly to mind the fact that they haven’t had the smoothest relationship over the years.

When Baker was with the Cubs in 2005, La Russa went public about concerns over Kerry Wood’s inside pitches, which was followed by Cards pitcher Dan Haren hitting his counterpart on the Cubs, Matt Clement.

Baker took it as an attempt at “selling wolf tickets,” or overtly trying to intimidate his team, saying in the Chicago Tribune that “no one intimidates me but my dad and Bob Gibson—and this bully I had in elementary school. But I grew bigger than him, and he stopped bullying me.”

The two eventually met and settled things, but it didn’t take long for their history to bubble to the surface yesterday.

* * *

Another unwritten rule was broken in the middle of the crowd of players, when Cueto, backed up against the backstop by a pile of humanity, opted to kick his way free.

There are rules to any fight; in the Code-driven world of professional baseball, this is especially true. It’s why Izzy Alcantara has gained such notoriety, and why Chan Ho Park’s attempted drop kick of Tim Belcher in 1999 continues to be replayed.

Square up and hit a guy, if you must, but the unwritten rules stipulate that kicking a player as means of attack is less than manly; something even for little bitches, if you will.

Cueto’s spikes landed, apparently repeatedly, on the face of St. Louis catcher Jason LaRue, who suffered a concussion and bruised ribs, and has been ruled out of playing today—and possibly much longer.

“He could have done some real damage (on LaRue),” said Chris Carpenter in the Cincinnati Enquirer. “He got him in the side of his eye, he got him in his nose, he got him in his face. Totally unprofessional. Unbelievable. I’ve never seen anything like that. He got kicked square in the side of the face with spikes. C’mon, give me a break.”

Cueto was on the mound for the Reds yesterday, but batted first with two runners on, and later during a 2-2 game. Neither situation was appropriate for retaliation.

The teams meet again in early September. This time, on-field payback—should that be the route the Cardinals choose to take, and with La Russa at the helm, it’s a good bet—will be entirely appropriate.

Buckle in.

Update (Aug. 12): Cuteo has been suspended for seven games—effectively, two starts—for his part in the brawl. If he knows what’s good for him, he’ll appeal in an effort to delay his punishment until just before the Reds visit St. Louis on Sept. 3.

- Jason

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Filed under Brandon Phillips, Don't Call out Opponents in the Press, Fights, Johnny Cueto

Phillips: Cardinals are ‘Little Bitches'; Cardinals: 7-3 Victory

If Brandon Phillips’ isn’t Jonathan Sanchez’s newest favorite person, he should be.

Sanchez, the Giants’ No. 4 starter, let his mouth run loose on Sunday, when he guaranteed that his team would sweep its upcoming three-game series against San Diego and win the National League West.

Confidence is great, but braggadocio is rarely appreciated by one’s opponent. But just as pundits were beginning to dig into the concept of how to let sleeping dogs lie, Phillips laid down a distraction of such gravity that Sanchez may as well have forgotten how to speak English, for all the attention he’s getting.

Turns out that Phillips doesn’t like the Cardinals. Like, even a little. Despite missing a recent game after fouling a ball off his leg, he was geared up for Cincinnati’s showdown with its NL Central rivals.

His full quote, as reported by Hal McCoy of the Dayton Daily News:

“I’d play against these guys with one leg. We have to beat these guys. I hate the Cardinals. All they do is bitch and moan about everything, all of them, they’re little bitches, all of ’em.

“I really hate the Cardinals. Compared to the Cardinals, I love the Chicago Cubs. Let me make this clear: I hate the Cardinals.”

  • Fact: Phillips is a fun-loving guy.
  • Fact: Phillips is a bit of a loose cannon.
  • Probable fact: Phillips was merely joking around, and said what he did facetiously, in a light-hearted moment.
  • Indisputable fact: None of that matters.

Earlier this season, Phillips claimed he meant no disrespect to the Washington Nationals when he beat his chest after scoring a run. It made no difference; he still got drilled in response.

Similar retaliation for Phillips’ recent statement is unlikely—his on-field act in Washington was met with an on-field response; this is a different matter entirely. Still, that hardly means the incident is over.

When David Cone publicly called out Dodgers pitcher Jay Howell in the 1988 NLCS, the Dodgers responded with a wave of bench jockeying so vicious that a rattled Cone lasted just two innings into his Game 2 start. (The story is outlined here, within the context of Carlos Zambrano’s calling out A’s pitcher Jerry Blevins earlier this season.)

Yesterday, the Cardinals let their pitching do their talking, as Phillips went 0-for-5 and struck out to end a 7-3 St. Louis victory that cut Cincinnati’s lead in the division to a single game.

Tony La Russa also got involved. Just as Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda amplified Cone’s quote to motivate his team in 1988, La Russa did his part to give Phillips’ statement some legs.

“We win the right way and we lose the right way,” he told reporters. “We’ve received a lot of compliments over the years that when we lose we tip our caps and when we win we keep our mouths shut. That’s my comment.”

Given a moment to think it over, however—in the post-game shower, no less—La Russa flagged down reporters and added this:

“I don’t think that will go over well in his own clubhouse. Phillips is ripping his teammates — Scott Rolen, Miguel Cairo, Russ Springer, Jim Edmonds—all the ex-Cardinals over there. He isn’t talking about this year. He is talking about the way we’ve always played and those guys are old Cardinals. Tell him he’s ripping his own teammates because they are all old Cardinals.”

If that’s the case, he’s doubly ripping the former Reds—Ryan Franklin, Jason LaRue, Kyle Lohse, Felipe Lopez, Aaron Miles and Dennys Reyes—in the St. Louis dugout.

The most vocal any Cardinals player got in response was to point to Phillips’ performance on the day, and reiterate that the game is played on the field, not in the media.

“I didn’t know we had bad blood,” Skip Schumaker said in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “They can talk. And we’ll leave our comments to ourselves.”

It’s reminiscent of a similar dispute in 1972, when Angels pitcher Clyde Wright decided to talk about defending AL Cy Young and MVP winner Vida Blue, immediately after besting him in a 3-1 victory.

“Why should I be up for him?” Wright is quoted as saying in Ron Bergman’s book, Mustache Gang. “He’s just another pitcher now. I’m 8-3 and he’s 1-4. I can get up for the A’s, but not for Vida Blue. He doesn’t look as aggressive as before. You can see it in his eyes. He ran out to the mound, sure, but we all do that now.”

Blue’s response came eight days later, when he gave up a single run over nine innings to top Wright and the Angels. It was only then that he offered an opinion about what Wright had said.

“I don’t think Clyde Wright looked as aggressive as before,” Blue said after the game. “He ran out to the mound, but we all do that now. I can get up for the Angels, but not for Clyde Wright. What’s he now—8-4? I’m 2-4, but I’d say this even if I were 24-4.”

The Cardinals hardly needed motivation from Brandon Phillips to win the NL Central; how they perform down the stretch will be independent of anything he did or could say. (The same holds true for the Padres, in regard to Jonathan Sanchez.)

If they do pull it out, however, one sentiment pertaining to his statement will be irrefutably true: It didn’t hurt anybody but Cincinnati.

Update (Aug. 10): Talking about it today, Phillips didn’t back down, essentially saying that he said his piece, and now he just wants to win.

Reds manager Dusty Baker in McCoy’s column in the Dayton Daily News:  “You prefer that they don’t say that, but everybody refers to the freedom of speech and then you say things and get in trouble for it. I talked to him about it and it just puts a little more pressure on him to play better personally.”

- Jason

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War of Words Brews in Motown Following Valverde’s Dramatics

Valverde in action, back when he was with the Diamondbacks.

We got a Code twofer this weekend, with on-field actions drawing a response that is itself governed by baseball’s unwritten rules.

It started with Tigers closer Jose Valverde, whose antics atop a pitcher’s mound are well established. He spins, spits, hops, jumps and pumps his fists at regular intervals. It’s an ongoing display that has earned its own Facebook fan page, but still doesn’t seem to bother the likes of Nick Swisher and Mark Teixeira, who claimed after facing him last week that they had bigger things to worry about than Valverde’s body language. (Watch his routine against the Yankees here.)

Not everyone in baseball agrees.

Arizona catcher Miguel Montero decided on Friday that he had seen enough of Valverde’s act, following the right-hander’s celebratory gesticulations during and after shutting down the Diamondbacks in the ninth inning. (This included a strikeout of Montero, after which Valverde bent over, then hopped off the mound.)

“He’s a (bleeping bleep),” Montero told the Arizona Republic after the game. “The way he acts, it’s not right, you know?”

Montero’s knowledge, of course, goes deeper than being insulted on the field. The two were D-Backs teammates in 2007, and for the handful of games that Montero was in the big leagues in ’06.

“You’ve got to be professional,” added Montero. “I’ve always felt that way, and I’ve always told him. That’s the way he is. I guess he thinks it’s right, but I don’t care.”

He also added that Valverde didn’t have the “kind of brain” to be smart enough to throw three straight splitters to strike him out.

Children are taught that two wrongs don’t make a right, but in this case, Montero adding a public lambasting of his opponent to said opponent’s initial theatrics made for some quality entertainment.

That’s because by the end of the weekend, Valverde shot back.

“Tell Montero he’s a freaking rookie and I can do whatever I want to,” Valverde said in Sunday’s Arizona Republic. “Tell him that. Put it in the papers. If he wants to do something, tell him to come to my locker and let me know. I never liked Montero. He’s a (bleeping) piece of (bleep). Tell Montero he has two years (in the majors) and I have eight.”

Montero responded quickly, saying that “it doesn’t matter if he’s got eight years. I don’t think he’s got eight years because he got sent down seven or eight times. That really doesn’t count. When you get sent down your major league service stops counting. He got called up in ’02 and he got sent down in ’02 and ’03 and ’04 and ’05 and ’06. I guess this year he was a free agent so that let me know he got six years. In four out of six years he’s given up 100 runs a year. He’s only had two good years in his career. So what? He’s still a (bleep) to me.”

These are baseball players, of course, not mathematicians. Montero is in his fourth season, and, reported the Republic, only one of Valverde’s minor league stints from 2003-06 was due to demotion, rather than to injury rehab assignments.

During his initial blast, Montero said that at the earliest possibility against Valverde, he was “going to pimp it”—assumedly talking about showboating at the plate to a similar degree that Valverde does on the mound.

This would have been an appropriate response. Taking one’s beef to the press: not so much.

But entertaining. Always entertaining.

- Jason

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Filed under Don't Showboat, Don't Call out Opponents in the Press, Jose Valverde, Miguel Montero

Zambrano: Blevins ‘Lucky’ to Retire Me

While players are expected via the unwritten rules to refrain from slamming each other in the press, this particular piece of Code can offer wild entertainment when ignored.

Jerry Blevins and Carlos Zambrano gave us a brief taste this week, with a mini-war of words that played out on the pages of various newspapers.

It started when Zambrano claimed that Blevins—a left-handed reliever who had been inserted into Tuesday’s Cubs-A’s contest one batter earlier—“got lucky” by inducing him to pop out to second base to end the sixth inning.

Cubs manager Lou Piniella had let Zambrano hit for himself with two on, two out and the Cubs down, 5-2. The portly pitcher admitted that he was going after a home run.

Blevins didn’t appreciate the disrespect—especially coming from a guy who had given up five runs in six innings, and whose ERA stood at 5.66. Given the chance, he fired back.

“I did get lucky,” he said the following day in the San Jose Mercury News. “Any time they don’t pinch-hit for a pitcher to face me, I’m lucky. I’ve gotten a lot better hitters out than him. He’s a good hitting pitcher, but he’s still a pitcher. Yes I’m lucky—for them not pinch-hitting.”

In the pantheon of verbal battles, this is just a mild case of banter—although it did draw a rebuke from NBC Sports’ Hardball Talk, which asked, “What is it with A’s pitchers that make them so damn defensive? Is Blevins from the 209 too?”

When it’s done right, this sort of disrespect through the press can have disastrous results. Perhaps the most noteworthy incident occurred during the 1988 NLCS, when Mets pitcher David Cone published a bylined article in the New York Daily News (ghost-written by Bob Klapisch) that he quickly regretted.

The Mets had just touched Dodgers reliever Jay Howell for two runs in the ninth to take a 3-2 victory in Game 1. In describing the comeback to Klapisch after the game, Cone intoned that Howell kept going back to his best pitch, the curveball, again and again, failing to mix up his repertoire to a degree that would throw Mets hitters off balance. The strategy, Cone said, reminded him of when he was a high school pitcher, throwing curve after curve after curve.

From The Baseball Codes:

The sentence that made it to print read slightly differently: “Seeing Howell and his curveball reminded us of a high school pitcher.” Cone has never denied uttering those words, but has long stressed that the context was skewed. One lesson he learned when the paper came out the next day was that context doesn’t count for a hell of a lot in the face of opponents spitting fire over your sentiments. “All of a sudden,” said Cone, “it was me calling Jay Howell a high school pitcher.”

Just as suddenly, the Dodgers had new life. Manager Tommy Lasorda brought a copy of the Daily News—not so easy to find on the streets of Los Angeles—into the clubhouse and ran it through a copy machine. Before the game, he rallied the team around him and exploded. “When we got to the clubhouse that day, the article was posted all over the place—we couldn’t miss it,” said Dodgers catcher Mike Scioscia. “We had our pre-game meeting, and Tommy used it for all it was worth. He kept saying that [Cone] was calling all of us a bunch of high-schoolers, not just Jay Howell. He kept saying that they thought we were a bunch of high school kids, on and on. He was pretty emotional, of course, as only Tommy can be.” . . .

When Cone took the mound, the Dodgers bench, fired up by Lasorda’s speech, started riding him hard, offering up, said the pitcher, “bench-jockey insults that were as bad as I have ever heard.” It was vicious, it was loud, and it was relentless. “Everybody, right down to the trainer, was screaming at me,” said Cone, whose father, Ed, was sitting next to the Dodgers dugout and heard every word.

It worked. Cone, whose 2.22 ERA during the regular season was second in the National League, lasted just two innings, giving up five runs before being removed for a pinch-hitter in the third. It was the shortest outing he had ever made as a big-league starter.

Blevins v. Zambrano is a comparative blip, with no likely repercussions; barring a change of team for either pitcher, they won’t face each other again for years.

Still, it offers fabulous entertainment when watching from the outside.

- Jason

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Filed under Carlos Zambrano, Don't Call out Opponents in the Press, Jerry Blevins