Category Archives: Intimidation

Joaquin Andujar: RIP


Sad news just in from the Dominican Republic: Former pitcher Joaquin Andujar—four-time All-Star and the rotation cornerstone of St. Louis’ world champs in 1982—has passed away. Part of his success was predicated on effective use of intimidation, which led to one of my favorite stories in The Baseball Codes, courtesy of former pitcher Mike Krukow. Andujar comes across as a bit of a villain in the tale, but there’s no mistaking that for the better part of a decade he was one of the best pitchers in the National League. Baseball lost a good one.

In 1984, the Giants found themselves in an ongoing feud with St. Louis pitcher Joaquin Andujar, who frequently tried to establish his menacing mound presence through early-innings use of brushback and knockdown pitches. That appeared to be his strategy on July 17, when he hit San Francisco’s second batter of the game, Manny Trillo. In retrospect, it wasn’t his best decision.

“Manny was a teammate of mine on three teams and a very good friend, and a guy you should not hit when I was the pitcher,” said Mike Krukow, on the mound for the Giants that day. “And when Andujar got him, I said, ‘Okay, boys, wear your batting gloves on the bench because we’re going to fight when this asshole steps up to the plate.’ ”

When Andujar came up two innings later Krukow didn’t hesitate, putting everything he had into a fastball aimed directly at his nemesis . . . and missed. The ball ran inside and backed Andujar up, but didn’t come close to damaging its intended target. This only made Krukow angrier. The pitcher snapped the return throw from catcher Bob Brenly, stalked across the mound, and glared at the hitter. Again he fired his best fastball at Andujar . . . and again he missed. At that point, home plate umpire Billy Williams interceded, levying a hundred-dollar fine and tell ing Krukow, “I gave you two, and that’s enough.”

The pitcher knew he was beaten. He hadn’t been able to hit Andujar when he had the chance, and now he was out of chances. So he seized his only remaining opportunity, dropped his glove and rushed the plate in a rare instance of the reverse mound-charge. Krukow was able to throw a quick punch at his counterpart before the two were separated.

Inexplicably, once the fight was broken up, neither pitcher was ejected. “Now, how about that?” said Krukow, still amazed decades after the fact. “Billy Williams says to me, ‘Now, that’s it, I’m going to leave you in the game. You’re not going to throw at him anymore?’ I said, ‘No, no. I’m all right. Everything’s cool. I got him.’ ”

The umpire allowed Krukow to return to the mound, still in the mid­dle of Andujar’s at-bat. At that point, said Krukow, the first thought that flashed through his mind was “Son of a bitch—I have another chance to get him!” It didn’t take long, however, for the right-hander to realize the ultimate futility of the situation; in addition to Williams’s warning was Krukow’s own fear of missing Andujar a third straight time. Instead, he bore down and struck his antagonist out.

Although Krukow did no immediate damage at the plate, his tactics certainly had an effect. When Andujar got back to the mound, his 13-7 record and 2.88 ERA were rendered meaningless; the would-be intimida­tor quickly unraveled, giving up four runs to the Giants in his next inning of work, and seven runs overall in just over four frames. It was his worst start of the season, almost certainly a result of the confrontation a half-inning earlier. “We exposed his macho,” said Krukow. “It was great.”


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The World According to Pedro

Pedro cardJust in case anybody doubted Pedro Martinez’s reputation as one of baseball’s biggest headhunters, he confirmed as much in his book, “Pedro,” excerpted last week in Sports Illustrated.

In July 2003, Martinez pitched a series finale against the Yankees. He takes it from there.

Two days before my start, Roger Clemens drilled Kevin Millar. I didn’t care whether it was intentional or not. Clemens hit one of my players, so I filed it at the top of my to-do list.

The first batter of the first inning was Alfonso Soriano. I nicked him, but I swear, that one was just up and in. Soriano leaned in and swung right into that ball. The umpire said it was a strikeout.

Derek Jeter was up next, and I sailed one in on his hands and got him good. Both he and Soriano had to leave the game early to have X-rays taken. I told some teammates, “At least I gave them a discount on an ambulance—they both got to go in the same one.” That comment surprised [fellow pitcher] Derrek Lowe. He told me he figured that when I hit batters, it was an accident 90% of the time. He was 100% wrong. When I hit a batter it was 90% intentional.

This is the same guy who once said, “Wake up the Bambino and have me face him. Maybe I’ll drill him in the head.” You know, just in case his Hall-of-Fame stuff wasn’t intimidating enough on its own.


Filed under Boston Red Sox, Intimidation, New York Yankees

Bring it, Royals

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When to Get Upset Over a Line Drive Up the Middle (Hint: Never)

This is the line between messages sent and messages received. In this case the message was intended for the sender’s own team, but as is often the case when dealing with lunkheads, that didn’t matter a bit to Yordano Ventura.

Heading into the sixth inning Sunday, Kansas City was hammering the Angels and Royals starter Ventura had given up only one hit. With one out, he threw a fastball up and in to Mike Trout, then took offense when Trout drilled the next pitch up the middle, about a foot over Ventura’s head … as if even the league’s best hitter has that kind of bat control.

As Trout settled in at first, the pitcher took several steps in his direction, a display of anger that the incredulous Trout seemed not to comprehend. Trout eventually came around to score on Albert Pujols’ double, upon which he popped up from his slide and implored the on-deck hitter, Matt Joyce, to keep up the momentum.

This is where Ventura proved himself as either unfailingly brave or unflinchingly stupid. Six feet tall and a rail-thin 180 pounds, Ventura gives up two inches and 55 pounds to his opponent. In proximity to the Angels slugger from his position backing up the play, he again started to vibe on Trout—this time for his exuberance—and was quickly whisked away by catcher Salvador Perez, who is clearly smart enough to serve as the brains for two people. (Watch it here.)

If Ventura got into anybody’s head, it was his own. The pitcher suffered a mysterious calf cramp on the very next play, allowing Joyce to reach first base when he was unable to cover the bag, and was removed from the game.

If Ventura and Trout have any history, it isn’t yet clear. (Trout had one hit and one walk against the right-hander in five plate appearances prior to Sunday.) Until that point, Trout … and the rest of the baseball world … are left to wonder just how much more red Ventura’s ass can get.

[gif via Deadspin]

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Inside Intimidation Doesn’t Always Work Out the Way One Plans

One pitch. The next pitch. There is something to the idea of keeping hitters uncomfortable, but as Yoenis Cespedes shows, a batter’s comfort level is entirely internal.

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You Lookin’ at Me?: Staring Contest Goes Awry in Detroit

Balfour - MartinezVictor Martinez looked at Grant Balfour during the ninth inning of yesterday’s ALCS Game 3. Apparently he didn’t do it correctly.

Balfour began jawing. Martinez jawed back. They exchanged at least 16 letters’ worth of four-letter words. Dugouts emptied. Angry hops behind phalanxes of teammates were hopped. Then Balfour got back to his job, got three quick outs, and sealed Oakland’s 6-3 victory.

Balfour is fiery. Also, Australian. He does a lot of spectacularly accented shouting on the mound, usually toward nobody in particular. It does, however, further his goal of being as intimidating as possible.

Martinez was having none of it. After fouling off a 1-2 pitch, he stared down the pitcher while adjusting his batting gloves. Upping the ante, Balfour impolitely told him to knock it off. Martinez responded in kind. According to videotape evidence, each thinks the other is a “bitch.” (Watch a bleeped version here.)

“Fuck that,” Martinez said to reporters after the game. “Not even the greatest closer, that’s Mariano [Rivera], tells you stuff like that. I’m not a rookie that he’s going to come in and say little shit like that.”

Balfour’s intimidation jab, it seems, was successfully parried. (It’s easy to say that Balfour is now in Martinez’s head, putting the hitter at future disadvantage, but it would be just as easy to say that Martinez did the same thing in reverse. )

The moment calls to mind one of the least plausible mound charges in history, mostly because it came from a guy widely considered to be among the best human beings to wear a baseball uniform. It was 2001, and in a game between the Royals and Tigers, Mike Sweeney caught everybody by surprise by going out of his squeaky-clean character to charge pitcher Jeff Weaver.

His reason: Weaver, he said, “said something I didn’t like.”

(Weaver’s insult came in response to Sweeney’s request that the rosin bag be moved to a different spot on the mound.)

Sweeney tackled Weaver, punches were thrown and the game was delayed for 12 minutes.

“It’s something I’ve never done before and it’s something I’m not proud of. But I had to do it,” Sweeney said later. “Weaver is a talented young pitcher, but I’d like to see him respect the game more. Tonight, what he did was uncalled for and I did what I did.”

The lesson: Don’t mess with a man’s respect.

Another incident had a more lasting impact. In 1931, the White Sox were playing an exhibition game against a Houston club from the Texas League, whose 20-year-old pitcher, reported Sport Magazine (and re-reported in David Gallen’s book, The Baseball Chronicles), would not stop talking to the hitters.

“Well, lookee, now watta we got here?,” he said. “Jes’ keep that ol’ bat on the shoulder, fellah. I’m a gonna breeze this here one right across the middle. Now don’t get the catcher fussed up by swingin’ at it. Jes’ save yer strength and watch ‘er go by.”

Irate White Sox manager Owen Bush called out to his hitter.

“What’s going on out there?,” he yelled. “You’re supposed to be a major-leaguer. You’re letting that dizzy kid make a fool outa ya!”

That “dizzy kid” was named Jay Hanna Dean. The next season he would win 18 games for the St. Louis Cardinals en route to a Hall of Fame career. And Bush’s inadvertent nickname stuck; the right-hander’s given name was quickly lost to history.

As for Balfour, he insisted that there were no prior problems with Martinez. He even went so far as to indicate there wasn’t even a present problem.

“It’s all good,” he said in an report. “I’m cool with it, bro. Hey, he’s a great competitor. He’s a great hitter. I like a little fire and obviously he does, too. It makes for a bit of fun, right?”

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Filed under Grant Balfour, Intimidation, Victor Martinez

Inside the Mind of Miggy – Cabrera Buzzed, then Fanned, then Steams

Cabrera unhappyIt was a classic misdirection. With an 0-2 count on Miguel Cabrera to open the 10th inning on Saturday, Fernando Rodney sent a 100-mph pitch so outside the strike zone that catcher Jose Molina could not get a glove on it. Wildness thus established, he followed it up with a pitch near Cabrera’s head.

In many respects, the pitch was perfectly placed. It tailed in at the last moment, but was easily trackable by the batter and was never in danger of hitting him. Cabrera leaned back to avoid it, but it would not have made contact even had he remained still.

The strategy was also sound. The previous day, Cabrera had homered twice (and didn’t help matters by celebrating that game’s final out by performing what appeared to be an imitation of Rodney’s archer pose, which the closer strikes following saves). Cabrera leads the major leagues in batting average, RBIs and OPS, and is second in home runs. It was without doubt in Rodney’s best interest to make him as uncomfortable at the plate as possible.

And it worked. Cabrera flailed at the next pitch, a down-and-in changeup, for strike three.

Perhaps Cabrera’s displeasure was compounded by the result of his at-bat, but upon reaching the dugout he spent a considerable amount of time gesturing toward, and yelling at, Rodney. (Watch it all here.)

The pitcher was obviously not trying to hit Cabrera during extra innings of a 3-3 game. Even if he was, it is given wisdom that such a strike is far easier to execute when aiming at the torso than at the head, which is a smaller and more maneuverable target. Much more likely was that Rodney wanted to crimp Cabrera’s style—get him out of the dangerous space in which he’s resided all season—and either A) misjudged the height of his inside pitch, or B) didn’t care.

Cabrera didn’t comment afterward, but his manager, Jim Leyland, did.

“I don’t care about throwing inside but I don’t like it up there,” Leyland said in an report, referring to Cabrera’s head. “We will not tolerate that. You can take that to the bank. We won’t tolerate that up to the head to anybody. … That will cause a lot of problems for people.”

It caused problems for Ben Zobrist on Sunday, when, with two outs and nobody on base in the first inning, Tigers starter Rick Porcello drilled him in the back with a 94-mph fastball. It was intentional and it was expected. Plate ump Vic Carapazza quickly warned both benches.

Cabrera got his own measure of revenge three innings later, when he crushed a homer into the Rays Touch Tank—only the second such blast in the ballpark’s history.

Despite Cabrera being “a little sensitive,” according to Zobrist, the Rays left it at that. Except of course, for the final explanation offered by Maddon for their lack of further response. Via Twitter:

Maddon tweetTo gauge it by the wisdom of the author of The Godfather, the Rays, apparently, will not forget this slight. Considering that they won’t face Detroit until next season (or in the playoffs), however, their memories will have to hold for a while.


Filed under Intimidation, Retaliation