Category Archives: Gamesmanship

1972: Bucking Wood’s Knuckler

Wilbur WoodResearch 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 is from July 4, 1972, in which a future Hall of Famer discusses some possible gamesmanship in Chicago. From the Oakland Tribune:

After his two-hitter against California, Catfish Hunter made some allegations against the White Sox. In his previous start, in Chicago, Hunter was beaten, 4-0, by White Sox knuckleballer Wilbur wood.

“The baseballs are bigger in Chicago when you pitch against Wood,” Catfish charged. “You can tell that when you get the ball in your hand. When you pitch 200 to 220 innings a year, you can tell by just holding one. The seams are a lot higher. I talked to [Angels left-hander] Clyde Wright before the game, and and he said he noticed the same thing pitching against Wood in Chicago. He said he threw six baseballs back and couldn’t find one the right size. All they’ve got to do is wet them and then dry them out. That makes them bigger.”

Larger seams on the baseball would add flutter to Wood’s knuckler.

Wood won 24 games for the White Sox that year, pitching a modern-era record 376.2 innings and finishing second in the Cy Young Award voting.

4 Comments

Filed under Gamesmanship, Oakland A's

Wise Guy: Outfielder Accepts Ill-Gotten Gains

By now, you’ve probably seen the umpiring butchery that Mike DiMuro foisted upon Cleveland, when he ruled that Dewayne Wise caught a foul ball while tumbling into the stands that the right fielder very clearly did not catch. (Watch it here.)

The real question, as it concerns the unwritten rules, is one of gamesmanship. Wise knew that he didn’t catch the ball, but was more than happy to accept the out. Did he act appropriately?

Of course he did. It’s the same reasoning used by outfielders who have trapped flyballs but act as if they caught them. (Wise was even more innocent than that—he didn’t act in any way like he made the catch.)

“Everybody thought it was pretty funny,” he told the Westchester Journal News. “They’re just laughing about it, the way I got up smiling. What was I supposed to do? I’m not going to laugh and show up the umpire right there.”

He was also not going to willingly give up one of the 27 outs necessary for his team to win the game.

“Baseball is a game where you try to get away with anything you can,” said Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg in the Saturday Evening Post. “You cut corners when you run the bases. If you trap a ball in the outfield, you swear you caught it. Everybody tries to cheat a little.”

“It’s not cheating,” said former outfielder and minor league manager Von Joshua, ” if the umpire lets you get away with it.”

Wise’s action is less like his teammate Derek Jeter acting like he was hit by a ball that struck his bat, and more like Greg Maddux, a master at throwing scuffed baseballs. Maddux didn’t scuff them himself, however—he held onto ones that had acquired abrasions through the course of regular use, taking what was legally given to him during the course of the game and using it to his fullest advantage.

Tough to fault anybody for that.

1 Comment

Filed under Dewayne Wise, Gamesmanship

Big League Chew: Morgan Pulls Out All the Stops (Among Other Things) to Get into Carpenter’s Head

This is what happens when baseball’s premier red-ass butts heads with one of the game’s loosest cannons. As if there wasn’t enough tension built in to St. Louis’ desperate chase of the Brewers in the waning days of the NL Central, Nyjer Morgan threw decorum—and his chew—to the winds Wednesday, shouting down Chris Carpenter as the Cardinals ace tried to finish a complete-game shutout.

After the right-hander struck out Morgan for the first out of the ninth inning, he directed an inflammatory comment toward the plate (at least according to Morgan), to which the hitter replied—and I lean here on my decades of experience reading lips via sports telecasts—“fuck you.” (Watch it here.)

Morgan, it seems, had been swiping at low-hanging fruit throughout the game, trying to rattle a pitcher who’s proved susceptible to such tactics in the past. To Carpenter’s credit, he didn’t cave.

“He was yelling at me at second base,” said the pitcher in an MLB.com report. “He was yelling at me down the line when he hit the double. The whole game he’s screaming and yelling, the whole game. I’m not going to allow it to happen. I don’t know if that’s the way he plays, to try to get guys out of their game or what. But I’ve been around too long to allow that to happen, I can tell you that much.”

As Morgan strode purposefully back to the dugout following his at-bat, he dismissively tossed his wad of chewing tobacco toward the mound. It didn’t come anywhere close to Carpenter, but that wasn’t Morgan’s intention. It was simply as dismissive a message as he could send in that moment.

Albert Pujols responded by charging in from first base, Prince Fielder raced to restrain Morgan, and the benches emptied. (No punches were thrown or shoves exchanged.) Morgan was eventually tossed by the umpires, at which point he could be heard on the telecast saying, “He said it first, he’s got to go, too.”

Were it only that simple. Morgan knows—and was likely trying to exploit—a history with the Cardinals that dates back to August, 2010, when the outfielder—then with Washington—went out of his way to senselessly collide with Cardinals catcher Bryan Anderson in a non-play at the plate.

That was followed this spring by an exchange that started when Morgan ran into Pujols in a play at first. Morgan and Carpenter got into a verbal spat during a series at Miller Park earlier this season. The teams also had tension over a tit-for-tat hit-batter exchange involving Pujols and Ryan Braun.

Ultimately, Morgan is either genuinely off-kilter or wildly canny, using the tactic of supreme annoyance to get his opponents off their collective game. (The former was bolstered by his recent run-in with fans in San Francisco. The latter has been ably demonstrated for years by A.J. Pierzynski.)

No matter the answer, it comes down to Nyjer being Nyjer. He said after the game that the confrontation “was over with”—but he wasn’t quite telling the truth.

Not long afterward, Morgan sent out a series of tweets referring to Pujols as “Alberta” and saying “She never been n tha ring.” (See below.)

Ozzie Guillen once described Pierzynski this way: “If you play against him, you hate him. If you play with him, you hate him a little less.”

Through Morgan’s tenures in Pittsburgh and Washington, that appeared to be the case with him, as well. The Brewers, however, seem to love the guy.

He’d be well-advised to keep it that way.

Update: Morgan is headed in the wrong direction. Brewers management is not taking kindly to his act.

- Jason

1 Comment

Filed under Gamesmanship, Nyjer Morgan

Lights, Rain and Radar: How to Get into your Opponent’s Head, an Introductory Course in Gamesmanship

When the lights go down in St. Louis . . .

When the lights went out in St. Louis last night, there were two outs in the 11th inning and San Francisco’s Brian Wilson was on the verge of closing out a 7-5 victory.

Instead, the teams sat for 16 minutes while the sound guy at Busch Stadium played Journey’s “Lights” and somebody tried to deal with the electrical system.

The chatter after Wilson finally returned to record the game’s final out had to do with the possibility of malfeasance on the part of Tony La Russa. Did the Cards’ manager manipulate the power grid in an effort to cool down the opposing closer?

Of course he didn’t. Or at least he probably didn’t. Still, the coincidental timing was enough for Bruce Bochy to quip afterward that it was “pretty good gamesmanship” on La Russa’s part.

The Giants’ skipper was joking, but there’s a reason La Russa’s name comes up during moments like this.

Earlier this year, for example, he was accused of selectively distributing weather information when the Cardinals were hosting Cincinnati, then pitching reliever Miguel Batista instead his scheduled starter, Kyle McClellan. Batista threw all of six pitches before rain halted the game for more than two hours.

Afterward, McClellan, fresh, took his rightful place on the mound.

Dusty Baker, meanwhile, claiming an information inequity between the teams, had his starter, Edinson Volquez, warm up from the get-go. The right-hander never got a chance to pitch, however; when play resumed, Baker had to turn to Matt Maloney rather than risk having Volquez get hot twice.

“It’s really a tough start,” Baker said in an MLB.com report. “The information that we received was probably not the same information they received, or else we wouldn’t have started [Volquez] in the first place. We were told there was going to be a window of opportunity there. That window lasted about three minutes.”

Maloney gave up three runs in three innings, and the Cardinals won, 4-2.

La Russa, of course, is hardly alone when it comes to gamesmanship. In April, Livan Hernandez accused the Pirates of doing much the same thing.

Weather reports, however, are far less interesting than the other tally on Pittsburgh’s gamesmanship scorecard. That came when Clint Hurdle appeared to dupe Rockies skipper Jim Tracy with two outs in the 14th inning of a tie game. With a runner on first, Andrew McCutchen stepped into the on-deck circle as Jose Tabata batted.

That had been McCutcheon’s spot in the order earlier in the game, but the outfielder was removed as part of a double-switch. The guy actually scheduled to hit next was relief pitcher Garrett Olson, whose last plate appearance had come in 2009, and who has collected all of one hit in his five-year career.

Had Tracy been paying better attention, he might have realized that the Pirates’ bench was empty, leaving Olson to fend for himself at the plate.

It never came to that. Seeing McCutchen, Tracy had reliever Franklin Morales pitch to Tabata—who promptly lashed a game-winning double. (Watch it here.)

From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: “Asked if the move was a decoy to get the Rockies to think McCutchen was up next … ‘No, come on, why would we do that,’ Hurdle said with a sly chuckle.”

* * *

Rain delays and decoys are one way for a home team to gain an advantage. Radar guns are another.

Earlier this season, Diamondbacks GM Kevin Towers admitted to the Arizona Republic that when he held the same post with San Diego, the Padres took to manipulating their ballpark’s radar gun to get into the heads of opposing pitchers.

“I know for a fact that every time Brad Penny pitched for the Dodgers in San Diego it was probably the lowest velocities he ever had,” he said. “He liked velocity. He’d stare at the board. He was throwing 95-96, but we’d have it at 91 and he’d get pissed off and throw harder and harder and start elevating.”

Hardball Talk’s Aaron Gleeman checked, and—lo and behold—Penny is 1-5 with a 6.47 ERA in 10 career games pitched in San Diego.

(The subject was initially raised when fireballing Aroldis Chapman, after topping out at 106 mph earlier in the season, dropped nearly 15 mph off his fastball in San Diego, then magically regained his velocity during Cincinnati’s next series. Towers’ comments could themselves have been a form of gamesmanship, as his new club uses the non-manipulatable Pitch-f/x system, and the Padres—and all their secrets—are now the enemy.)

The tactic works both ways. During the 2002 postseason, when Robb Nen was throwing pus with a shredded shoulder during what would be the final innings of his career, the folks at AT&T Park shut off the radar gun altogether when the Giants’ closer entered the game. It might not have fooled anyone on the opposing team, but it certainly didn’t hurt.

- Jason

Leave a comment

Filed under Clint Hurdle, Dusty Baker, Gamesmanship, Jim Tracy, Kevin Towers, Tony La Russa

Liriano’s No-Hitter Rife with Unwritten Rules

As you may have heard, Franciso Liriano threw a no-hitter this week. And of course, the Code was involved—because the Code is always involved in no-hitters.

Like many of his no-hit-pitching brethren, the Twins left-hander insisted that he wasn’t even aware that he hadn’t allowed a hit until late in the game. It was only when he became a dugout pariah in the eighth inning, he said, his teammates avoiding him at any cost, that he grokked what was going on.

“When everybody was walking away from me and nobody was talking to me, I was like ‘What’s going on?’ ” he said in USA Today.

(When told that Liriano said he didn’t realize he had a no-hit bid until the eighth inning, Twins catcher Drew Butera said, in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, “He’s lying. I think they all realize it.”)

* * *

Elsewhere on the field, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire stuck to the unwritten rule mandating ultimate respect for a feat like Liriano’s. Despite the fact the right-hander’s pitch count was at 116 with one out to go, and despite the fact Liriano hadn’t thrown more than 97 pitches in a game this season, and despite the fact that he had never thrown a complete game in more than 200 professional starts, and most of all despite the fact that the winning run was at the plate in a 1-0 game and Liriano was clearly tiring, Gardenhire left him in.

“I wasn’t walking out there to the mound, I’ll tell you that,” he said in the Star Tribune. “He looked like he was doing fine. It was cool night. It was his ballgame the whole way.”

Asked if he was prepared to stick with Liriano all the way, Gardenhire said: “How far is all the way? He can only load the bases and then probably something’s gotta happen.”

Gardenhire didn’t show nearly that much restraint last season, when he pulled Kevin Slowey from a game in which he had similarly given up no hits. The difference: Slowey was battling an elbow so sore that he had missed his previous start, and after seven innings had already thrown more than Garendhire was comfortable seeing. Eight days later, Rangers manager Ron Washington did something similar with Rich Harden.

Also last year, Yankees manager Joe Girardi said that he was ready to pull C.C. Sabathia from his early-season start even before he gave up his first hit of the game, in the eighth inning.

The standard-keeper for yanking pitchers from the midst of perfection is Preston Gomez, who did it twice, with two different teams. If nothing else, the guy was clearly a man of conviction.

* * *

One more Code-based moment occurred during Liriano’s gem, when umpire Paul Emmel ruled that Minnesota first baseman Justin Morneau tagged Chicago’s Gordon Beckham as the White Sox second baseman raced by him in an effort to beat out a double-play grounder.

Had Morneau tagged him? Of course not. Did he sell it as if he had? Of course he did. That’s what ballplayers do. If the game is willing to tolerate the great lengths to which players will go to gain an advantage—bat corking and ball scuffing and sign stealing and etc.—it’d be a tall order to expect a player to give up a free out granted him by an unsuspecting umpire.

It’s why diving outfielders act as if they’ve caught balls that they know they trapped, why hitters facing three-ball counts will sometimes lean toward first after the next pitch, trying to influence ball four even if they felt it was a strike.

It’s all part of baseball. Now enjoy that no-hitter.

- Jason

5 Comments

Filed under Francisco Liriano, Gamesmanship, No-Hitter Etiquette, Ron Gardenhire

Posada Enrolled in Classes at Derek Jeter Acting Academy

Maybe he was just trying to take some heat off his captain. More likely, this kind of thing happens more often than we think, but we’re paying attention now.

Either way, Jorge Posada took first base last night after not being hit by a pitch.

Sound familiar?

Of course, the sum of Posada’s histrionics involved taking off his shin guard and offering a slight grimace, not hopping around and wincing to the point that medical intervention was necessary. (Watch it here.)

It was an 0-2 pitch from Tampa Bay’s James Shields that skipped on the ground in front of Posada’s feet. He hopped back, never indicating that the pitch did anything but hit him. The relative lack of outcry compared to the recent Derek Jeter incident could have also had to do with the fact that there were already two outs, Posada never scored, and the Yankees won handily anyway, 8-3.

Still, it’s a reminder to all those who bandied about the phrase “Derek Cheater” this week that this is something heady ballplayers do.

- Jason

5 Comments

Filed under Gamesmanship, Jorge Posada

Jeter Just Doing What Ballplayers Do

The sports world is absolutely fascinated with Derek Jeter right now, the golden-boy Yankees captain-cum-cheater who acted gravely wounded by a ball that didn’t hit him during a game last night against Tampa Bay. (Watch it here, complete with commentary from each team’s broadcast crew.)

I don’t get the criticism. This is what ballplayers do.

Sure, they’re not often caught en flagrante to the degree that Jeter was, but at heart, they’re all the same in this regard. You’d be hard-pressed to find a single example in the history of the game in which a player willfully informed an umpire that a call had been incorrect in favor of the opposition. It doesn’t happen on balls or strikes or plays at the bases. It doesn’t happen on difficult fair-foul calls.

And it certainly doesn’t happen on hit-by-pitches.

Sure, Jeter went overboard with his Shakespearian dramatics. If you want to make a distinction between benefitting from an umpire’s bad call and influencing an umpire into making a bad call, that’s fair. But the underlying tenets are the same: in baseball, every advantage counts; you get ’em where you can.

“He told me to go to first base. I’m not going to tell him I’m not going to first, you know,” said Jeter, afterward. “It’s part of the game. My job is to get on base. Fortunately for us it paid off at the time, but I’m sure it would have been a bigger story if we would have won that game.”

Nobody ever called out an outfielder for acting as if he caught a ball he actually trapped.

“Play it off—that’s not cheating if the umpire lets you get away with it,” said longtime outfielder Von Joshua. “Any means you can to win a baseball game. . . . Sometimes you get it, sometimes you don’t. That’s just part of the game.”

Even Rays manager Joe Maddon was impressed by Jeter’s effort. “I thought Derek did a great job, and I applaud it,” he said in an MLB.com report, “because I wish our guys would do the same thing.”

Heck, is it really so different than A.J. Pierzynski sticking his elbow into the path of a pitched ball in order to get on base? Neither are admirable, but both are accepted. (Of course, when Pierzynski did it with the bases loaded and a 9-2, eighth-inning lead in 2004, he insured himself a future drilling.)

HardballTalk points out similar displays from Yunel Escobar and Pierzynski, again.  It’s pure gamesmanship.

Jeter even has precedent on his own team. In a 1928 game between the Yankees and Browns, with two outs and Lou Gehrig the baserunner at first, second-base umpire George Hildenbrand turned to watch the play on the lead runner when Bob Meusel hit a ground ball to shortstop Red Kress.

Except that Kress threw to first, and Hildenbrand was caught with his back to the play.

Meusel had been thrown out cleanly, but Hildenbrand hadn’t seen it. Instead, he appealed to Meusel’s honesty.

“Everybody knows you’re out, Bob. Everybody saw it . . .” he said, according to the Baseball Hall of Shame, Vol. IV. “Be a sport and call yourself out.”

Meusel’s response: “George, you’ve been getting nine thousand bucks a year for a long time as an umpire. Now’s a good time to start earning it.”

Hildenbrand had no choice. The runner was safe, and Browns pitcher Al Crowder had to seek his fourth out of the inning.

So wnough with the calls of “Derek Cheater.” The guy was just doing what big leaguers do.

Update (9-22-10): Jorge Posada did kinda sorta the same thing.

- Jason

17 Comments

Filed under Derek Jeter, Gamesmanship