Category Archives: Retaliation

Things Get Real in Baltimore: Jays Rookie Hunts Heads, Draws Ire

Marcus Stroman needs to sit down for a while. A long while, probably.

The Blue Jays right-hander took a noble idea—standing up for one’s teammates, the mark of any good team player—and turned it ugly in a hurry on Monday. After Orioles catcher Caleb Joseph apparently stepped on Jose Reyes’ fingers during a bang-bang play at the plate in the fifth inning, Stroman responded during Joseph’s next at-bat, spinning a 92-MPH fastball just behind the hitter’s helmet.  (Watch it all here.)

Plate ump Ted Barrett immediately warned both benches. It was the wrong decision. On one hand, the warning removed Baltimore’s option to respond (in what would hopefully be a more reasoned manner). More importantly, tossing Stroman immediately might have obviated the need for any response at all. (O’s manager Buck Showalter came out to vociferously argue the latter point, as far as Stroman’s lack of ejection.)

“You let your emotions take over and all of a sudden someone’s lying at home plate in a pool of blood with a blow to the head,” said a disgusted Showalter after the game in a Baltimore Sun report. “How really manly do you feel? Was it really worth it?”

Even within baseball there is widespread disagreement over what constitutes a retaliation-worthy offense, and what shape retaliation should take when it’s in the offing. One thing everybody agrees on is that any liberties taken above the shoulders are squarely out of bounds. As former outfielder Dave Henderson said in The Baseball Codes: “I have a rule: You can drill me all you want. But if you throw at my face, it gets personal. I kill you first, then your grandpa, your grandma—I just go on down the list. It gets personal. Batters should get mad. The guys who get hit on the elbow and all that, I have no sympathy for them. Big deal, you got hit. I got hit in the head twice in my career; the other stuff didn’t count.”

Stroman is 23 and having a splendid rookie season for Toronto. As such, he probably feels the need earn his stripes with the veterans on his team, showing them that he has the convictions necessary to protect their collective flank. It’s been the dance of big league pitchers forever; what Stroman lacks is nuance. Never mind that Joseph did nothing wrong; there were still a dozen ways for Stroman to send a message about Reyes’ hurt fingers without putting anybody in harm’s way.

Whether the ball ended up where the pitcher wanted it to, or if it was a message pitch that came a little closer than intended is irrelevant. Showalter nailed it after the game when he said, “If you don’t have the command to throw the ball where you’re supposed to to deliver a message, then you shouldn’t be throwing at all there. It really pushed the hot button with all of us because it certainly wasn’t called for. That was obvious. It was borderline professionally embarrassing.”

Joseph himself clairified the complete disconnect between Stroman’s actions and the mores of the game when he said, “Yeah, there’s a code. Every baseball player knows there’s a code. I’m not the judge here to judge intent or any of that stuff. I’m just glad it didn’t hit me.”

In that, Joseph wasn’t just acting like a ballplayer. He was acting like a human being, which is something to which Marcus Stroman needs to pay some very close attention.

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At Some Point, Everybody Wants Theirs

As a concept, eye-for-an-eye hasn’t ruled baseball’s landscape for a number of years, laid victim to the evolution of the sport’s unwritten rules, which has seen them become significantly more lenient. Thursday, however, we saw just how prevalent the notion actually remains, as a response both for the severity of an act, and for the frequency. It’s out there—all it needs is a trigger.

The incident that got the most play, of course, was Giancarlo Stanton taking a Mike Fiers fastball off his face. The impact was severe, both literally and symbolically, as one of the game’s best hitters suffered extensive damage that will sideline him indefinitely. Adding to Miami’s, it was ruled that he swung at the pitch (negating the HBP), just as it was ruled moments later that Stanton’s mid-at-bat replacement, Reed Johnson, finished the sequence by striking out swinging at a pitch that ended up hitting him, too.

Never mind that Fiers seemed genuinely anguished over the incident, both in the clubhouse and on Twitter. (We’ve now come to the age of the virtual hospital visit.) Miami responded an inning later, reliever Anthony DeSclafani hitting Carlos Gomez in his left elbow.

In Arlington, Mike Trout was hit twice by the Rangers, and three times over a two-game span. All were likely accidental, but at some point response becomes mandatory. When the victim is one of the game’s best players, response time increases.

Angels reliever Joe Smith opened the ninth by hitting rookie Rangers catcher Tomas Telis in the waist.

There is no question that modern hair triggers are less hairy than ever, and that the game is a softer, gentler place than it ever has been, but even the most mild-mannered ballplayer or manager has a line someplace. Intentions can be irrelevant. Hit a star player too hard or too often, and you’re bound to find out exactly where it is.

 

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The Fine Art of Negotiation, Baseball Edition: How to Keep Your Hitters From Getting Drilled

win-winBaseball retaliation is generally considered to be a you-hit-my-guy-so-I’ll-hit-your-guy proposition, designed either to curtail unwanted activity from the other team or to make some sort of macho statement. Many decry it as unnecessary, and say that the game would be better if it didn’t exist.

Sunday we saw a story of what it takes for a pitcher—an old-school pitcher with retaliation on his mind—to not only acknowledge that point of view, but to agree with it. The story comes from FanGraphs’  David Laurila, who got it from Astros bench coach and former Orioles manager Dave Trembley.

It dates back to September 2007, and a game in which Baltimore pitcher Daniel Cabrera found himself distracted by Coco Crisp, dancing back and forth while taking his lead from third base. Distracted, Cabrera ended up balking the run home, then grew angry. The right-hander’s next pitch, to Dustin Pedroia, came in head high. This infuriated the Red Sox, and served to clear the dugouts.

When no retaliation occurred the next day under the watch of Red Sox starter Daisuke Matsuzaka (or the string of relievers who followed after he was knocked out in the third), Josh Beckett—Boston’s starter for the series finale—decided to take matters into his own hands.

“[Beckett] is old-school, and Cabrera popped Pedroia for no reason, so I knew one of our guys was going to get it,” said Trembley in Laurila’s account. “[Nick] Markakis, [Brian] Roberts … somebody was going to get it.”

Instead, Trembley approached Red Sox manager Terry Francona with a proposition. From FanGraphs:

“I called Tito,” he said. “I said, ‘If I tell you that I’m going to suspend Cabrera, will you tell me none of my guys are going to get thrown at?’ He said he’d get back to me. When he called back, he said, ‘Are you sure you’re going to suspend Cabrera?’ I said that I was. I’d talked to [general manager] Andy MacPhail and Cabrera was going to miss a start—we were going to take his money.

“Beckett pitched the next day and didn’t hit anybody. If I hadn’t called Tito, one of our guys would have gotten drilled, and deservedly so. Cabrera had a reputation and a problem with Boston and New York. Whenever they hit home runs against him, he’d hit somebody. To this day he’ll tell you he wasn’t throwing at Pedroia, but everybody on the team knew he did. An incident like that can get ugly.”

For somebody to work within the system as Trembley did is both remarkable and honorable, not to mention pragmatic. It leads one to wonder why more managers don’t take that tack.

Then again, maybe some of them do, but we just don’t hear about it. Trembley’s story is not so dissimilar from another incident involving Francona and the Red Sox, which was featured in The Baseball Codes. Pick up the action in a 2006 game between Boston and the Twins, which Minnesota led 8-1 in the bottom of the eighth. With two outs and nobody on base, the batter was Torii Hunter, who worked the count against Red Sox reliever Rudy Seanez to 3-0:

The last thing a pitcher wants to do with his team down by a wide margin late in the game is walk batters, which not only suggests unnecessary nibbling but extends a game that players want to end quickly. When a count gets to 3-0, as it did with Hunter, it’s a near-certainty that the ensuing pitch will be a fastball down the middle.

The unwritten rulebook does not equivocate at this moment, prohibit­ing hitters in such situations not just from swinging hard, but from swing­ing at all. Hunter did both, and his cut drew appropriate notice on the Minnesota bench. “After he swung I said to him, ‘Torii, you know, with a seven-run lead like that, we’ve got to be taking 3-0,’ ” said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. “He honestly had not even thought about it.”

“I wasn’t thinking,” admitted Hunter. “I just wanted to do something. I knew a fastball was coming, and if I hit a double or whatever, we could get something going. I was just playing the game. I got caught up in it.” The incident serves to illustrate the depth of the Code’s influence. Hunter was generally aware of the unwritten rules, and except for rare instances of absentmindedness abided by them—while simultaneously disdaining much about their very existence. “Man on second, base hit, and you’re winning by eight runs, you hold him up at third,” he said. “You play soft, and I hate that part of the game. I hate that you don’t keep playing the way you’re supposed to, but you have these unwritten rules that you don’t run the score up on guys. Well, okay, what if they come back? The runs we didn’t score, now we look bad. We don’t think about that. At the same time, those rules have been around a long time, and if you don’t fly by them, you’ll probably take a ball to the head, or near it.

“You don’t want to embarrass anybody, but what’s embarrassment when you’re trying to compete? There’s no such thing as embarrassment. You’re out there to try to win, no matter what the score looks like. Whether it’s 4–3 or 14–3, you’re trying to win. I’ve seen guys come back from 14–3 and win the game 15–14. If I go out there and try not to embar­rass you and you come back and win, I look like the dummy.”

It’s a powerful system that forces an All-Star to override his competi­tive instincts for a code in which he does not believe. If one wants to avoid retribution, one must embrace the unwritten rules; barring that, Hunter learned, an act of contrition can suffice.

After the game, Gardenhire took the outfielder to the visitors’ club­house to speak to Red Sox manager Terry Francona, trying to wipe away the potential for hard feelings. To abide by the unwritten rule that bars opposing players from the locker room, the meeting took place in a rear laundry room in the bowels of the Metrodome. There Hunter informed both managers that he had swung out of inattention, not disrespect.

“We wanted to make sure [Francona] understood,” said Gardenhire. “I went there to let him know that I know the game too. It’s a manager’s responsibility when a player swings 3-0 to make sure the player under­stands that. I wanted him to know we didn’t give a sign for him to swing away, that Torii just made a mistake. I thought that it was good for Torii to explain it to him, so I took him over.”

Francona brushed it off as no big deal, saying that his mind had been wrapped around devising ways for the Red Sox to come back in the final frame and that he hadn’t even noticed. He did, however, express his appreciation for the visit. And the rationale worked. It appeased the mem­bers of the Red Sox who had noticed—there were several—and no bean­balls were thrown the following day.

“You see those types of things and you know it’s being taken care of internally,” said Red Sox pitching coach Al Nipper. “You say, hey, it’s an honest mistake, it wasn’t something intentional where the guy’s trying to show you up. We all make mistakes in this game. Ron Gardenhire is a class manager, and that was a true coaching moment for him. . . . I guarantee you, that was a moment he probably didn’t relish to have to do with a vet­eran, but he had to do it.”

[Thanks to reader Shawn Y. for the heads-up.]

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Hey, Kevin Towers: the Pursuit of Justice Doesn’t Always Make You Right. Sometimes it Just Makes You a Bully

McCutchen drilledSince taking over the Diamondbacks in 2010, general manager Kevin Towers has aimed to turn his franchise into the rootinist, tootinist, unwritten rules followingest team in the land. He installed noted red-ass Kirk Gibson in the manager’s seat. He went on the radio  and claimed  that “it’s going to be an eye for an eye, and we’re going to protect one another,” adding that “ if you don’t follow suit or you don’t feel comfortable doing it, you probably don’t belong in a Diamondbacks uniform.”

Well, Randall Delgado belongs in a Diamondbacks uniform. And that’s not necessarily a good thing.

Delgado has barely earned his keep when it comes to good pitching (5.61 ERA over 34 games in relief), but he has to be in Towers’ good graces after Saturday night’s performance. The gap between pleasing one’s superiors and appropriate behavior is where the crux of this story lies.

It started on Friday, when Pirates closer Ernesto Frieri inadvertently hit Arizona’s Paul Goldschmidt on the hand. It was unquestionably a mistake—a fastball that sailed inside and barely clipped the batter, who flinched backward a hair too slowly. If D’Backs brass hadn’t decided to retaliate yet at that point, they probably gained clarity when the diagnosis came in: Goldschmidt’s hand was fractured and he’d miss significant time.

The Pirate to bear the retaliatory target was Andrew McCutchen—you hit our best player, we’ll hit yours—and Delgado drilled him in the ninth, after missing with his first offering (which came up and in, but not up and in enough), then sending a decoy breaking ball away. His third pitch, at 95 mph, hit McCutchen sqare in the spine. The outfielder gave no notice to the macho piece of Code saying that drilled batters should act like it didn’t hurt, instead going down as if he’d been shot. (A heater into the backbone will do that to a guy in ways that being drilled in the thigh will not.) On his way to first, he spiked his bat in anger. (Watch it here, including video of the leadup.)

For those who need further proof of intent, when Towers went on his radio diatribe last year, he specifically called out his team’s lack of response when Goldschmidt was hit: “Goldy gets dinged, and no retaliation. It’s like, ‘Wait a minute.’ If Goldy’s getting hit, it’s an eye for an eye. Somebody’s going down or somebody’s going to get jackknifed.” So there.

(Worth noting: Goldschmidt was hit three times in 2013, all without response, all with Wade Miley on the mound for Arizona. Was Miley talked to? To judge by his egregious use of force this spring, yes.)

After the game, McCutchen took issue less with the drilling itself than with its details. “Retaliation is going to happen in this game, but there is a right way to do it,” he said in an MLB.com report. “They had plenty of chances. First inning, do it. Perfect time: one out, guy on second base. Get it over with. But they wanted to wait it out, wait until the ninth, second and third.”

Indeed, Arizon had first base open with one out and McCutchen at bat in the first inning. It is a tailor-made circumstance for those with pain on their minds. Trouble is, Gibson had a similar situation in June—first base open against the Brewers—and when he used it to drill Ryan Braun, it ended up costing his team the game.

So he waited. Even if Arizona’s need to retaliate is highly questionable, the method of execution Gibson chose is not. The game was tied in every one of McCutchen’s preceding at-bats, when allowing a baserunner in the name of vendetta would not just be wrong, it would have been even stupider than what the D’Backs ended up doing.

Gibson’s act might have played well when he was starring for the Tigers in the 1980s, but the game has changed. That kind of response to a clearly benign situation is no longer acceptable. McCutchen gets huge credit for not charging the mound, but that’s a possibility—if now a downright likelihood, and not just with the Pirates—if Arizona pitchers continue their reckless ways.

 

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Courtroom Meets Code in the World of Civil Action Over Baseball Fights: Jose Offerman, Come on Down!

OffermanSo now we know what the legal community thinks of the unwritten rules.

In 2007, while playing for the Long Island Ducks of the independent Atlantic League, Jose Offerman charged the mound. While there, he hit used his bat to hit pitcher Matt Beech in the hand and catcher Jonathan Nathans in the head. (See photos of the incident here.) Now Offerman is on civil trial for damages borne from assault, and people on both sides of the courtroom are trying to explain in legal terms just what happened.

It started when Beech, pitching for the Bridgeport Bluefish, hit Offerman with a pitch. Beech, testifying in a deposition read on Monday, claimed that it was unintentional. “I threw him a cut fastball that hit him in the lower leg,” he said. “I did not hit him intentionally. If I had wanted to hit him, I would have aimed a fastball at his ribs, so no one else would get hurt.”

While it’s unclear how hitting Offerman in the ribs rather than the leg would keep others from getting hurt, Beech added that such information should be assumed knowledge for all ballplayers. Offerman, whose 15-year big league career included stops with seven different teams and two All-Star appearances, is counted among that group.

Nathans claims that his own aspiring baseball career was ruined, and is suing Offerman and the Ducks for $4.8 million. I’m sure the fact that he is now an attorney has nothing to do with it. (Not to mention the fact that a 28-year-old hitting .200 in the Atlantic League—who was playing with his seventh independent team since topping out at the Double-A level of the Red Sox system three years earlier—isn’t usually what one would call a lock for future big league riches.)

The Code came into play again when Joseph Klein, the Atlantic League’s executive director, stated for the record that “plunking is wrong.” Klein has a long and storied career in all levels of baseball, so his opinion is not uninformed. “Hitting players intentionally is not part of the game, as I see it,” he said, although based on the AP report of the trial he did not indicate whether he was talking about baseball in general or the Atlantic League specifically.

One thing that Klein was not prepared for, he said, was intervention by law enforcement, who arrested Offerman after the attack. “I was stupefied and dumbfounded,” the exec said. “What happens between the lines should stay between the lines.” In that, at least, the Code agrees: there are numerous ways to respond to a given grievance from within the field of play. (Then again, the unwritten rules also mandate that under no circumstances should a bat have to be entered as a piece of evidence in a potential trial, primarily because it has no business being anywhere on the field but the batter’s box or on-deck circle.)

Offerman was suspended indefinitely by the league, which has yet to rescind the ruling (mostly because Offerman hasn’t asked them to). Official charges were dropped after the player agreed to two years’ probation and rehabilitation. (It didn’t work. In 2010, while managing the Licey Tigers of the Dominican Republic Winter League, Offerman punched an umpire and was suspended for what ended up being three years.)

While it’s tragic to see a person sufficiently disturbed to go after somebody with a bat, it’s interesting to see a baseball pro discount, as Klein did, that the idea of hitting batters intentionally even exists. He did, however, discuss a time during his own playing career when such a thing happened to him:

Klein recalled that he, too, was the victim of a plunking.

“The ball hit me right here,” he said, pointing to the base of his skull, just behind his ear.

Smith asked whether Klein ever retaliated for that pitch.

Klein replied that although he didn’t charge the mound, the pitcher did get his comeuppance. Klein said he smacked a line drive back at the very same pitcher the next time he faced him 10 days later.

“Hit him right in the shin,” Klein said with a mischievous smile. “I was sort of happy about that.”

As for Offerman, I love him for the fact that, unrelated to any of this, he led the National League in errors three out of four seasons (nearly doubling up his closest competition in 1992) with the Dodgers. This led Jay Leno to joke that Offerman was so upset over his fielding that he decided to end it all and jumped in front of a bus. It went right through his legs.

If that’s not worth a few bucks whatever civil judgment is about to be rendered, I don’t know what is.

 

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Ron Roenicke Does Not Like Hitting Guys on Purpose

On Thursday, Ron Roenicke explained why his team did not seek to escalate the budding feud with Arizona that exploded two days earlier, after Arizona’s Evan Marshall drilled Ryan Braun to load the bases, followed by Jonathan Lucroy’s grand slam.

“How many times we get hit during a season and how many times we hit people, it should explain how we feel about it,” the Milwaukee manager said in an MLB.com report. “We do the right things. We try to play the right way, and I’m not in control of what happens on the other side.”

For those scoring at home, how many times they’re hit is “a lot,” and how many times they hit people is, “not so much.” (The actual numbers since Roenicke took over are 248 and 125, respectively.)

“We try to pitch the way we should pitch,” he said. “We don’t throw at people. There’s a time you have to pitch inside to get people out. Good hitters you have to pitch inside. So that’s what happens.”

This is a terrific ideal, with obvious upside: Because Milwaukee pitchers don’t risk extra baserunners put on in the name of vendettas, Milwaukee pitchers are almost never hurt by extra baserunners put on in the name of vendettas. The downside, however, is a little more nuanced, and has to do with people far darker than Roenicke.

Because as clean as the Milwaukee manager wants to live, he has to deal with people in opposing clubhouses who harbor no such virtuosity. These are pitchers and managers who are all too willing to throw inside with impunity, not just to establish the inner portion of the plate but to intimidate opponents. One way to control this type of reckless behavior is to respond in kind. They’re known as message pitches for a reason, and the ones that come in response to hit batsmen are the clearest sort. We’re not talking about drilling somebody who flipped a bat, but holding accountable opponents who intentionally put your batters into harm’s way. It’s more than just making a statement—it is a physical reminder to the pitcher who started it that such behavior will not be tolerated.

There will also be questions raised should Brewers position players feel that said accountability is not a part of their team’s game plan. It’s easy to imagine a player, or a faction of players, growing upset over passivity from their staff after a critical mass of their teammates has been drilled, unanswered. (It’s easy to imagine because it has been a regular occurrence over the years—players calling out their own pitchers, wondering when somebody is going to step up and do something about all the guys being abused.)

None of which is to say that this is the right way to go. (Or that Roenicke doesn’t play by any other of the unwritten rules. He does.) Baseball is constantly changing, and so is the Code. If Roenicke is at the vanguard of a movement in which the only batters hit are hit inadvertently, more power to him.  The game will be better for it.

Ideals and reality don’t always mesh however, and watching this play out over time will prove useful to those trying to figure out which way the wind is actually blowing.

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On the Impracticality of Hitting Opponents Out of Anger, Arizona Diamondbacks Edition

Braun drilled

This is what it looks like when a plan doesn’t work out.

The Arizona Diamondbacks, angry with the Brewers for a variety of reasons, and with Ryan Braun for some very specific other reasons, finished a passel of business Tuesday in the span of two pitches. The first sailed behind Braun, the next drilled him in the backside.

Milwaukee’s response: Hit ‘em where it hurts.

Things grew heated in the sixth, when Milwaukee right-hander Kyle Lohse hit Chris Owings in the upper back, the ricocheting ball knocking his helmet off his head. It did not bear the marks of an intentional pitch; it was about the slowest fastball in Lohse’s arsenal during a close game, and the right-hander visibly blanched when the pitch made contact. (Watch it here.)

By itself, this may not have been enough to fully rile the D-Backs. But when, two batters later, Lohse threw a slider over the head of pitcher Mike Boslinger—who was trying to bunt Owings to second—Arizona took note. This pitch, too, was almost certainly unintentional. Why would anybody want to drill the pitcher in a two-run game? Much more likely, Lohse was trying to put a pitch in a difficult-to-bunt location. (In that, at least, he succeeded.) Add to that the fact that he grazed Didi Gregroius with a slider in the first inning, and manager Kirk Gibson’s mind was almost made up for him.

The very next inning, he had what he must have felt was a tailor-made situation. Not only were there runners on second and third with one out, leaving first base open, but the batter was Ryan Braun. The same Ryan Braun who Gibson was not at all shy about slagging last year, in response to the fact that the 2011 NL MVP led the Brewers to a taut playoff win over Arizona, and later admitted to have been juicing at the time.

“If I get a chance to see Braun, I got a question for him, right to his face,” said Gibson last year, in an Arizona Republic report. “Is he about rehearsed by now? About ready to come out? He’s probably been practicing at theater school somewhere. Anyway, she was looking at how things like that can influence people’s opportunities and the opportunity to do something like that.”

So: Pissed-at-the-present plus pissed-at-the-past apparently equals send-your-reliever-out-for-some-dirty-work. Arizona pitcher Evan Marshall sent a 94-mph fastball behind Braun’s back, drawing a warning from plate ump Ted Barrett. His next pitch was even faster, and connected with the small of Braun’s back. Barrett ejected him on the spot. Not so oddly, Gibson seemed delighted when Marshall returned to the dugout. (Watch it here.)

The plan, of course, backfired. Gibson strategized as best he could, using his statement to set up the double play in an instance when he would have been justified in ordering an intentional walk to do the same. But his team’s 4-3 lead turned into a 7-4 deficit when the next hitter, Jonathan Lucroy, touched reliever Brad Ziegler for a grand slam. (Watch it here.)

Oops.

The Diamondbacks have talked a lot of late about the need to stick up for their own in ways just like this, and followed up in as overt a way as he could. That’s the thing about planning, though—without execution, it doesn’t amount to a whole hell of a lot.

The teams have two more games, today and Thursday, with which to continue sending messages. If Gibson’s astute, he’ll recognize not only that he took his best shot (two of them, in fact), and that it didn’t work out so well for him. His slate should be clean. If the Brewers are astute, they’ll recognize that Lucroy gave them the best response for which they could ever have hoped.

Even-steven, everybody. Now go play some ball.

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