Category Archives: Running Into the Catcher

When is the Baseline Not the Baseline? When it’s Your Team’s Catcher Blocking it, Apparently

Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina understands the concept of blocking the plate. So does his manager, Mike Matheny, a big league catcher for 13 seasons. Which is what makes their professed confusion over the propriety of a play in which Molina was bowled over during Tuesday’s 9-0 loss to Pittsburgh so confusing.

As Josh Harrison rounded third on a second-inning single by Jose Tabata, Molina positioned himself in the baseline, awaiting the throw from right fielder Carlos Beltran.

The catcher’s positioning left Harrison little choice. A slide would have put him into the catcher’s shinguards. A wide-slide-and-swipe-tag combo was also out of the question. So Harrison—only 5-foot-8, but 190 pounds—took what was clearly his best option, and lowered his shoulder.

Molina held onto the throw and tagged Harrison out, but lay in the dirt for several long moments and had to leave the game. (Afterward, his back, shoulder and neck were sore, but he reported no concussion symptoms. Watch the play here.)

A clean, legal play resulted in an out on the basepaths. This didn’t stop Cardinals pitcher Jake Westbrookfrom meting out retaliation in the bottom of the fifth. A 3-0 Pirates lead coming into the frame had grown to 5-0 courtesy of four straight hits to open the inning, and Westbrook faced a first-and-third situation with Harrison at the plate. With second base open and the pitcher frustrated, he acted, drilling the batter in the leg. (Watch it here.)

Plate ump Adrian Johnson showed an unfortunately quick trigger, immediately warning both benches—a decision that elicited an anmiated conversation with infuriated Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle, whose team had been stripped of an opportunity to respond to what had effectively been the first shot fired.

A well-blocked plate.

“A baseball play was made at home plate,” he said after the game in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “They decided to pitch Josh Harrison inside and tight. That’s a baseball play. What I was disappointed in is we didn’t have an opportunity to make a baseball play. If (Johnson) thought there was intent to hit him, throw the pitcher out and let’s move on.”

Had Molina given Harrison a lane to the plate—like the one Buster Posey gave to Scott Cousins last season when he was nonetheless knocked over and out for the year—St. Louis would have had a legitimate gripe. As it is, their confused post-game comments seemed unusually pointed. A sampling, from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

  • Molina: “I would love for him to slide, but this is baseball. It’s one of those things that is going to happen.”
  • Matheny, on the legitimacy of the play: “What do you mean by legitimate? Everybody has the option to slide. He had an option to slide and he didn’t.”
  • Unnamed Cardinals player: “He probably would have been safe if he had slid. That was not the play.”
  • Carlos Beltran: “A runner has a choice — to slide to home plate or hit the catcher. . . . It’s not a dirty play, but, like I say, you have the choice. Go for the base or try to hit the guy.”

Beltran made the point perfectly, only in reverse. By positioning himself where he did, Molina left Harrison no choice about what to do. The only way to get to the plate was through the catcher.

“When I was about (30 feet) from the plate, I saw him slide his feet back,” said Harrison. “The whole plate was blocked; there was no way to slide around him.”

Perhaps the Cardinals’ players were covering for Westbrook, who likely acted on his own. Maybe they really meant it. Either way, Johnson’s warning delayed until today—the final game between the teams this season—any response for which the Pirates may have opted. If matters are to be further settled, it will happen tonight.

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Filed under Josh Harrison, Running Into the Catcher

Whiteside Shows that Plate Collisions Work Both Ways

Lost amid the recent talk about the propriety of crashing into the catcher is the fact that the catcher is hardly defenseless behind the plate. On late-breaking plays, of course—like the one in which Buster Posey was injured—he has little choice but to absorb whatever punishment is being dished out. But with time to prepare, a catcher has tools at his disposal.

From The Baseball Codes:

I might take a spike in the shoulder, but I’ve got my shin guard in his neck,” said Fred Kendall, who caught in the big leagues for a dozen sea­sons and whose son, Jason, became an All-Star catcher in his own right. “There are ways to counter it, if that’s the way he’s going to play. . . . If I take the baseball and put it in the web of my glove—the web, not the pocket—and I tag you, it’s just like taking a hammer and whacking you in the teeth; if I take my mask off and I throw it right where you’re going to slide; if I place my shin guards the right way, it’s like sliding into a brick wall.

Last night, the Giants received a reminder of this mindset in the most necessary way. Earlier in the day, Posey told reporters that his season was almost certainly over. Then, in the eighth inning against Milwaukee, Prince Fielder tried to score from second base on a two-out single.

The throw from left fielder Cody Ross came in on one hop, well in time and plenty high for Eli Whiteside—two days ago the Giants’ backup catcher, but now their starter—to brace for impact.

He did more than that.

Protecting his mitt with his bare hand, Whiteside lunged toward Fielder, taking the impact to the runner, punching him in the chest with the baseball as Fielder went flying. As Whiteside scrambled to his feet and saw umpire Mike Muchilinski call the runner out, he held out the ball, then flipped it insouciantly past Fielder toward the mound. (Watch it here.)

That it came at Fielder’s expense was merely bonus (if you forget why, click here). This was a message from Whiteside to his teammates, not to the Brewers: We are strong, we are resilient, and we are badass.

San Francisco’s chances to defend their title took a grave hit when Posey went down. But credit Whiteside for this: What he did was the mark of a champion.

- Jason

 

 

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Filed under Buster Posey, Eli Whiteside, Prince Fielder, Running Into the Catcher

Posey Leveled. Is a Clean Hit a Retaliation-Worthy Offense?

You be the judge: Did Scott Cousins go out of his way to hit Buster Posey?

By now, you’ve either seen the replay or willfully avoided it. In the 12th inning of Wednesday’s game between the Giants and the Marlins, Scott Cousins came barreling home with what he hoped would be the winning run. Giants right fielder Nate Schierholtz fired a strike that would have nailed the runner had catcher Buster Posey held onto the ball.

Posey did not hold onto the ball. Cousins, unaware of this, leveled him.

It was a split-second play, Cousins reacting as he was taught—to initiate contact with the catcher in hopes of dislodging the baseball. His approach was standard, and his hit was clean.

As with many plays involving baseball’s codes, however, there is a caveat: Posey was positioned perfectly, toward the pitcher’s mound, just up the line. He did not block the plate before he had the ball (which would have given Cousins unlimited leeway to do whatever he had to). The runner was offered a clear path to the dish—a tactic enacted specifically to avoid unnecessary contact. (Watch the play here.)

The result: a broken leg and torn ankle ligaments for the Giants’ most indispensable player, who will be out of action indefinitely.

The question in the wake of this devastating news is whether Cousins’ slide was appropriate. As is true with many sections of the Code, there are multiple ways to answer.

Yes, Cousins’ takeout was appropriate. It’s the hard-nosed approach ballplayers should take when trying to score on a contested play. It is, argue many within the game, as close as a play comes to embodying the competitive spirit of baseball. A collision at the plate is, without question, the most exciting moment in a given game.

Then again, if Cousins could have scored without contact, why not do it that way? (Take, for example, last year’s collisions involving Angels catcher Bobby Wilson and Indians catcher Carlos Santana, each of whom was run over by vicious hits; because they both were blocking the plate without the ball, repercussions for the baserunners were minimal.)

“Is it a cheap shot?” asked Giants manager Bruce Bochy on Giants’ flagship KNBR (as reported by the San Jose Mercury News). “It depends who you’re talking to. They happen all the time, home-plate collisions. I think he thought the ball was going to beat him. He decided to go at Buster and try to knock it loose, that’s what it looked like to me. But there was a lane for him.” (Listen to it here.)

Bochy knows this drill well. He was a big league catcher for nine seasons, a manager for 17. He has been blown up by baserunners, and understands that it’s part of a catcher’s job description. But it’s also part of his current job description to protect his guys. As such, he called for baseball to examine the rule regarding home-plate collisions.

He’s not the only one.

“You leave players way too vulnerable,” Posey’s agent, Jeff Berry, told ESPN’s Buster Olney. “I can tell you Major League Baseball is less than it was before [Posey's injury]. It’s stupid. I don’t know if this ends up leading to a rule change, but it should. The guy [at the plate] is too exposed.

“If you go helmet to helmet in the NFL, it’s a $100,000 fine, but in baseball, you have a situation in which runners are [slamming into] fielders. It’s brutal. It’s borderline shocking. It just stinks for baseball.”

Berry took his complaints to Joe Torre, who heads up on-field operations for MLB.

Whatever Torre decides, as the rules currently stand, actions like Cousins’ are entirely permissible. After watching replays, several members of the Giants spoke out in defense of the Florida outfielder. “We think it was (a clean hit),” said Freddy Sanchez in the Mercury News. Added Schierholtz, “It’s part of the game. There’s really no right way to take a hit.”

Schierholtz, of course, was once on the other side of the equation, when he plowed into China’s catcher during the 2008 Olympics.

Nobody was more clear on the propriety of the event than Cousins himself, who was reportedly in tears upon hearing that Posey might be lost for the remainder of the season.

“It’s a baseball play,” he said in the Palm Beach Post. “It’s part of the risk of being a catcher. We’re trying to win games also. I’m not going to concede the out by any means, not in that situation, not ever. I’m on this team to help do the little things to help this team win a game and if that means going hard and forcing the issue on the bases because I have speed, then that’s what I’m going to do.”

On a micro level, the question now is: Should the Giants retaliate?

The answer is as complex as the issues leading up to the question. The play was clean. From a long view it was also unnecessary, but in the moment it’s tough to begrudge Cousins the decision he made.

Cousins did not play in Wednesday’s series finale, and a 1-0 score prevented any batters from being intentionally hit.

Cousins said he called Posey twice, and plans to send him a written apology. It might not be enough. If the Giants do seek revenge, it will be typical fare: Sometime during the teams’ next meeting, Aug. 12-14 in Florida, Cousins will be drilled in the ribs, thigh or backside. It will be small payback for the loss of Posey, who will almost certainly not have returned by that point, but it will have satisfied the Code’s requirement. When a player of Posey’s stature gets injured on a questionable play, payback is frequently part of the response.

Perhaps the definitive comment came from Giants broadcaster Mike Krukow, via the San Francisco Chronicle:

I hate what happened last night, but it was a clean play. The law of the land. It was a hard, aggressive play, and hell, it won the game (7-6) for them. What, you change the rules so no contact is allowed? No way to do that.

Tell you what, though. When I pitch against that guy (Cousins), I drill him. Oh, yeah, I’m smokin’ him. That’s legal, too, last time I checked.

Then again, should the Giants opt to let it slide, it will likely fail to make waves. This may be one of those instances in which the victim’s reaction dictates his teammates’ response: If Posey is angry, fastballs will undoubtedly fly in August. If, as a catcher, he appreciates Cousins’ clean intentions, that outcome is far less certain.

- Jason

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Filed under Buster Posey, Running Into the Catcher, Scott Cousins

It Really Hasn’t Been a Good Week for Nyjer Morgan

There has to be a wager involved with this, somehow. Why else would a major league player attempt to go from zero-to-Alex Rodriguez in a bizarre and misguided weeklong quest to become baseball’s Most Hated Player?

World, meet Nyjer Morgan. You might not have known him in mid-August, but you certainly do now.

Over the last seven days, he’s gotten into it with fans, his own manager and various members of the opposition, both as the player delivering punishment and the one receiving it.

Had he paid a lick of attention to baseball’s unwritten rules along the way, virtually all of it could have been avoided.

He’s in today’s news for yesterday’s fight, but Morgan’s slide began on Aug. 25, when he threw a ball into the stands in Philadelphia. Some say he threw it to the fans, some say he threw it at the fans. Morgan claims it was a big misunderstanding (a tack corroborated by at least one member of the crowd), but the league quickly levied a suspension for his actions, which is currently under appeal. (The piece of Code he ignored: Never engage with hecklers. It rarely ends well.)

On Aug. 27, Morgan got picked off base in the eighth inning of a close game against St. Louis, which proved particularly costly when the batter, Willie Harris, subsequently hit a home run. The Nationals lost, 4-2. Morgan was confronted after the game by Nationals manager Jim Riggleman, and dropped from leadoff to eighth in the batting order.

His response: The following day, he attempted to level Cardinals catcher Bryan Anderson in a play at the plate, despite the fact that Anderson had his back to the play and was moving in the opposite direction. Morgan was so focused on his target that he veered away from the plate to make contact, and in fact never scored. (Code: Run into catchers only when a slide would lead to a likely out. Even more importantly, never let personal vendettas get in the way of your team’s success.)

Riggleman was angry enough about it to call his player out in public, after apologizing to both Anderson and Tony La Russa. Morgan, he said, as reported by Nationals Daily News, did an “unprofessional thing,” and, indicating that lessons would be learned, “you’ll never see it again” from him. (The manager wasn’t quite accurate on this point.)

Riggleman then benched Morgan for the series finale, under the auspices that he had become too prominent a target to safely take the field.

On Aug. 30, Morgan responded to Riggleman. “I guess he perceived it as some nasty play with the intentions of trying to hurt somebody before coming to me and asking me about the situation, which was very unacceptable,” he told the Washington Post. “But on my half, I’m not going to go ahead and throw fuel on the fire. I’m going to try to be as professional as I can about the situation.”

It’s frequently the case, of course, that when players feel the need to proclaim the fact that they’re being “professional,” they’re actually anything but. (Code violation: Never call out your manager in public.)

In fact, Morgan cited the unwritten rules in his own defense, saying that Riggleman “just basically did a cardinal sin. You don’t blast your player in the papers.” (This is true, unless the player’s behavior has deteriorated to the point where the manager feels he has few other options. )

It didn’t take long for Morgan to stir further controversy. In the 10th inning of a scoreless game on Aug. 31, he ran into Marlins catcher Brett Hayes with enough force to place him on the disabled list for the remainder of the season with an injured shoulder. While Morgan didn’t go out of his way to reach his target this time, consensus held that he would have been safe—with the winning run, no less—had he slid. (See previous Code citation about running into catchers. The Marlins won it with a run in the bottom of the frame.)

In light of Morgan’s previous indiscretion with a catcher, the play seemed like the act of a guy hoping for someone to try to knock the chip off his shoulder. (Watch it here.)

When he took the field for the bottom of the inning, Morgan again got into it with fans, this time being caught on tape cussing them out. (See previous unwritten-rule citation regarding fan interactions.)

Any one of these things can constitute a distraction in the clubhouse. The sum of them, especially coming as they did in the span of a week, reads like the linescore of a borderline sociopath.

Which brings us to yesterday’s firestorm.

Morgan was hit in the fourth inning by Marlins starter Chris Volstad—clear retaliation for his treatment of Hayes the day before. Not content to let it end there, Morgan subsequently stole second and third on the next two pitches, while his team trailed by 11 runs in the fourth inning.

This is a clear violation of the unwritten rules, although under ordinary circumstances, a player’s own teammates care more about him staying put in that type of situation than does the opposition. Morgan’s steals, however, were an unequivocal message to the Marlins, conveying that he neither appreciated their treatment of him, nor respected their right to do what they did. (Code: If you send a message to the other team, expect one in return.)

“That was garbage,” he told reporters after the game. “That’s just bad baseball. It’s only the fourth inning. If they’re going to hold me on, I’m going to roll out. The circumstances were kind of out of whack, but the game was too early. It was only the fourth inning. If it happened again, I’d do it again. It’s one of those things where I’m a hard-nosed player. I’m grimey. And I just wanted to go out there and try to protect myself. I didn’t want to get outside the box. There’s bit a little bit of controversy surrounding the kid lately. But it’s just one of things.”

That’s one way to look at it. Another way is that “the kid” essentially gave the Marlins little choice but to reinforce their point. Which they did, when Volstad threw a pitch behind him two innings later.

“I think that’s the only reason we tried to go after him a second time,” said Marlins third baseman Wes Helms in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. “Since he stole the bases, I think it pumped us up a little more and got to Volstad a little bit. . . . I cannot stand when a guy shows somebody up or show the integrity of the game up to the fans or whatever. There’s just no place in baseball for that. In my opinion, you’re going to get what’s coming to you if you do that. Tonight, it was time we had to show him we weren’t going to put up with the way he was treating us, but also with the way he was trying to take bases down 10 runs. After he got hit, you know why he did it. . . . I can’t really say anything good about a guy that doesn’t play the game the right way and doesn’t play for the integrity of the game.”

It’s not like Morgan needed to further prove a willingness to put his personal agenda ahead of the integrity of the game, but he did. After Volstad’s pitch sailed behind him, Morgan charged the mound, and a rarity in baseball occurred—a fight that involved actual fighting.

The Marlins—particularly first baseman Gaby Sanchez—couldn’t wait to get their hands on Morgan, and players quickly piled up near the mound. (Watch it here.)

Other accounts offer copious details of the fight. One pertinent example doesn’t even involve Morgan, but third base coach Pat Listach, who was among the first people in the scrum. Baseball’s Code mandates that fighting is left to the players, with coaches and managers serving to fill the role of peacemakers. That was clearly not Listach’s intent, and he may well be disciplined by the league for his actions.

Should Morgan be given any sort of pass in this situation, it’s for the fact that his response to being drilled—the stealing of back-to-back bases—fell within the boundaries of reason; as he said, it was only the fourth inning and the Marlins were holding him on, which is frequently taken as a tacit green light for eager baserunners.

Also, even more importantly, the Marlins took their shot earlier in the game. Between Morgan’s steals and the injury to his catcher, Volstad can hardly be blamed for wanting to get in another blow—but Morgan’s assumption that it was one too many is not unreasonable. In the middle of the fight, Riggleman could be seen mouthing the words “one time” to Florida manager Edwin Rodriguez, indicating the number of retaliatory attempts to which he felt the Marlins were entitled. (“We decide when we run,” said Riggleman in the Sun-Sentinel. “The Florida Marlins will not decide when we run.”)

“I understand they had to get me back a little bit,” said Morgan in the Post. “It’s part of the game. . . . I guess they took it the wrong way. He hit me the first time, so be it. But he hit two other of our guys?” (Volstad did indeed hit three batters on the day.) “Alright, cool. But then he whips another one behind me, we got to go. I’m just sticking up for myself and just defending my teammates. I’m just going out there and doing what I have to do.”

Doing what he had to do, of course, is up for interpretation. Saying that there’s a case to be made for Morgan’s viewpoint on the incidents leading up to the fight does nothing to discourage the sentiment that the guy has been wildly, unassailably, dangerously out of line for the better part of a week.

Guys like Manny Ramirez and Alex Rodriguez can flaunt the unwritten rules at their discretion; their jobs are safe, so long as they continue to produce.

When it’s a leadoff hitter with a .317 OBP, who led the league in being caught stealing last year and is on the way to doing it again, the margins are considerably tighter.

Watch out, Nyjer Morgan. There aren’t many people in your corner right about now.

- Jason

Update: Gaby Sanchez now says that the Marlins were not “really holding (Morgan) on,” prior to his fourth-inning stolen bases. For what it’s worth.

Update (9-03-10): MLB has ruled. Morgan will be suspended for eight games, in addition to the seven that had already been handed out (which is currently under appeal). Also suspended were, from the Marlins, Volstad (six games), pitcher Alex Sanabia (who must have done some heavy and unnecessary hitting in the scrum, for five), Sanchez (three), Edwin Rodriguez (one). Pitcher Jose Veras was fined.

Suspended from the Nationals were pitcher Doug Slaten (probably for furthering tensions by hitting Sanchez in response to the first baseman’s clothesline tackle of Morgan to begin the fight) and Listach (three games each), and Jim Riggleman (two games). Riggleman and Listach also were fined.

Update (9-16-10): Morgan’s suspension was reduced to eight games.

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Filed under Chris Volstad, Fights, Nyjer Morgan, Retaliation, Running Into the Catcher

Morgan’s Takeout Attempt Stirs Frustration in Both Dugouts

It’s said that in the middle of a bang-bang play, where rational thought is subverted in favor of pure instinct, a man’s true colors can be seen.

If this is true, it doesn’t reflect well on Nyjer Morgan.

In the eighth inning of Saturday’s game against St. Louis, Morgan should have scored from first base on a Willie Harris double—which would have been the Nationals’ fourth run of the inning and 12th run of the game, and which would have given them a seven-run lead.

That Morgan was waived around in the first place, with his team holding a six-run lead, was acceptable, as he was so clearly safe that first baseman Albert Pujols, serving as the cutoff man, didn’t even bother to throw home.

However, with catcher Bryan Anderson venturing up the line toward first, his back to the plate and moving away from the play, Morgan inexplicably lowered his shoulder and went out of his way to barrel into him.

So far out of his way, in fact, that he never touched the plate. When Nats catcher Ivan Rodriguez, who had just scored, grabbed Morgan at the edge of the cutout and spun him around to double back, he violated the rule stipulating that players can not be touched by a teammate in the middle of a play. The run was subsequently wiped off the board. (Watch it all here.)

That, however, was the least of Washington’s worries.

How serious was the display? One of a manager’s primary responsibilities is to shield his players from undue scrutiny, refraining from leveling public blame even when he’s making a pastime of tearing them apart behind closed doors.

Nationals manager Jim Riggleman didn’t even offer a pretense of protecting Morgan. After apologizing to both Anderson and Tony La Russa after the game, he delivered a number of choice sentiments about his center fielder to the press. Among them, as reported by Nationals Daily News, was that Morgan did an “unprofessional thing,” and, indicating that lessons will be learned, that “you’ll never see it again” from him.

Most interestingly, Riggleman chose not to skirt the fact that La Russa will almost certainly be motivated to retaliate, and went so far as to say that he’d do the same thing were it his player at the wrong end of the collision.

“I can’t minimize [the incident], because if I take the approach that there’s nothing wrong with it, we’re gonna get people hurt on the field,” he said. “There’s gotta be retaliation. If Nyjer was playing today, he’d get hit. If an opposing player did that to my catcher and came to the plate, he’d get hit.”

At least Riggleman had his player’s interests in mind on Sunday, when he pulled him from the lineup for the teams’ final meeting until 2011 (at which point there’s a decent chance that La Russa will no longer be involved).

In the interim, the St. Louis manager appreciated Riggleman’s approach.

“They handled it internally, and they made it clear to us that it was a mistake,” he said in an MLB.com report. “The Nats did what they had to do to defuse it. Guys make mistakes. I made it a point not to say anything after the game. I didn’t say a word.”

Communication can go a long way in this type of situation. In 2006, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire apologized to Red Sox skipper Terry Francona after Torii Hunter swung at a 3-0 pitch with his team holding an 8-1 lead in the eighth inning. An act that any pitcher could justify as retaliation-worthy was subsequently nullified, and no further action was taken.

In this case, we won’t know until next season how much weight Riggleman’s apology will hold.

We do know, however, that an off-season is hardly too long to wait for someone with retaliation on his mind.

- Jason

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Filed under Bryan Anderson, Nyjer Morgan, Running Into the Catcher

Freight Train Rolling; Dunn Offers Lesson to Rookie Catcher

We got to see Stephen Strasburg strike out eight Indians Sunday in his second major league start, but he wasn’t the only highly touted recent call-up to make an appearance.

Cleveland catcher Carlos Santana was playing in just his third big league game, and learned a valuable lesson in the process.

In the second inning, with Adam Dunn on second base, Washington’s Mike Morse hit a single to right field. Although the throw home was cut off by first baseman Russell Branyan, the 6-foot-6, 285-lb. Dunn thundered into Santana, flattening the catcher without so much as leaving his feet. (Watch it here.)

It called into question the unwritten rules regarding collisions at the plate, one of which says that a catcher has no business being in the baseline if he’s not holding the ball.

Could Dunn have avoided the collision had he been paying attention? Probably. Was it incumbent upon him to do so? Absolutely not.

In that situation, there’s no reason for Dunn to pay attention to anything but the space in front of him; if the catcher is standing there, Dunn has two choices—go around him or through him.

When Dunn was with Cincinnati in 2003, he found himself participating in another incident at the plate, which also involved questions about when it is and isn’t appropriate to flatten a catcher.

With the Reds holding a 10-0 lead over Philadelphia, Dunn was waved home from second on a single because the outfielder’s throw missed the cutoff man and the second baseman had to scamper to get to the ball.

In this type of situation, an acceptable interpretation of the Code says that runners can be sent home if there will be no play at the plate. There shouldn’t have been a play, so third base coach Tim Foli waved Dunn in.

From The Baseball Codes:

There was no way the throw would come close to beating Dunn. Except that the runner, sensing Foli’s lack of urgency, slowed down considerably, allowing the defense time to recover. By the time Dunn recognized his mistake, he was just steps away from catcher Mike Lieberthal, who was standing in the basepath, ball in hand. At that point, Dunn—a former football player for the University of Texas— reacted instinctively, putting everything he had into a brutal collision. And though he didn’t succeed—Lieberthal held on for the second out of the inning—when Dunn next came to bat he was thrown at by reliever Carlos Silva, and charged the mound.

“I don’t know what I’m supposed to do there,” said the slugger after the game. “Stop and let him tag me out? Slide? I think I did the right thing.”

In that situation, Lieberthal was entitled to the baseline, and Dunn was entitled to separate him from the baseball. (Or at least he would have been, had the score been closer.)

Against the Indians on Sunday, Santana had no business being in the baseline; intentionally or not, Dunn reminded him of that.

It’s a mistake that Santana will not likely make again.

(Thanks to SB Nation for the GIF.)

- Jason

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Filed under Adam Dunn, Carlos Santana, Running Into the Catcher

Bobby Wilson’s War

Just a day after Alex Rodriguez helped propel the unwritten rules of baseball into the national spotlight, another Yankee, Mark Teixeira, did his part to keep them there. The circumstances and motivations couldn’t have been more different, but a Code discussion is a Code discussion.

On April 23, Teixeira, steaming in from third base, leveled Angels catcher Bobby Wilson with a hit so vicious that it put Wilson into the hospital, with a concussion and injured leg. (Watch the video here.)

There are numerous facets of the play that help paint the catcher as an innocent victim:

  • Wilson was effectively blocking only the inside portion of the plate, meaning that had Teixera attempted to slide wide, the collision might have been avoided.
  • Wilson, with all of 20 big-league games under his belt, was making his first start of the season.
  • Teixeira had been drilled earlier in the inning by Angels starter Ervin Santana, leading to speculation that the play might constitute a measure of payback.
  • Angels outfielder Torii Hunter, whose stature in the game is equal to that of Teixeira, said in the Orange County Register that “if he slides, he’s safe regardless. I guess he was on a mission.”
  • Teixeria emerged unscathed. Wilson hasn’t played since.

Compelling as this all may be, the unwritten rules are rarely swayed by sentiment. The Code says unequivocally that if a catcher doesn’t possess the baseball, he has no business standing between baserunner and plate. And Wilson didn’t possess the baseball.

He had been set up to receive the throw on the first-base side; once it arrived, he spun across the plate to make the tag. This would have been fine had the throw not bounced off his chest protector even as he began to turn. (It wasn’t dissimilar to a wide receiver who’s thinking which way he’s going to break once he makes the catch, then drops the ball.)

The amount of time Teixeira had to settle on his line of baserunning tactics based on Wilson’s body language: sub-eyeblink.

The most famous incident of catcher decimation came in the 1970 All-Star Game, when Pete Rose took out Cleveland’s catcher Ray Fosse with the winning run in the 12th inning. Like Wilson, Fosse was in the baseline without the ball (unlike Wilson, he was actually moving toward Rose to field an errant throw), and got leveled. The hit from Rose separated Fosse’s shoulder, forever robbing him of his power. (It was also enough to knock Rose out of action for the next three games; still, when asked if he had done the appropriate thing, Rose responded, “Nobody told me they changed it to girls’ softball between third and home.”)

The clearest vindication for Teixeria (aside even from Wilson himself, who, despite not being able to remember the play, said later that “I know his intent wasn’t to hurt me. It’s baseball. . . . It’s part of the game”) is the fact that three former iron-tough catchers—Angels manager Mike Scioscia, Yankees manager Joe Girardi and Yankees coach Tony Pena—watched from either dugout, and none of them found fault with the play.

(Scioscia called it “clean.” Said Girardi in the New Jersey Star-Ledger: “Your job as a catcher is to block the plate. You’ve got to keep the runner from scoring. Sometimes you get run over.)

Teixeria went so far as to maintain another unwritten rule after the game, calling over to the Angels clubhouse to check on Wilson’s status.

It didn’t take long even for Hunter to come around; later in the same interview in which he said that Teixeira should have slid, he admitted that “You don’t have a lot of time to think about it—five steps, 10 steps maybe. If you have 10 steps, you’re already planning on running him over no matter what. If he’s on the plate, blocking the plate, I gotta do it. At least try to jar the ball loose.”

Teixeira had far less time than that. Verdict: Teixeira.

- Jason

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Filed under Bobby Wilson, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Mark Teixeira, New York Yankees, Running Into the Catcher