Jim Fregosi on the Concepts of Hierarchy, Respect and Appropriate Response

Jim FregosiIn the wake of Jim Fregosi’s passing last week, Rick Bozich, longtime writer for the Louisville Courier-Journal, shared a story of some behind-the-scenes insight he gained into baseball’s retaliatory process, courtesy of the former big leaguer.

In short: In 1985, Cubs minor leaguer Shawon Dunston big-leagued a pre-game interview request from Bozich. When Fregosi—then managing the opposing Louisville Redbirds—heard about it, he responded on the field. The details are well worth a read.

(Although Dunston doesn’t come out looking great here, since I started interviewing him in the latter stages of his career and on into his current role as a part-time coach with the Giants, he has been among the most open, accessible people around. Maturity … and maybe the occasional well-placed fastball … works wonders.)

Fregosi will be missed.

[h/t to reader CBF.]

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1972: Pudge’s Boston Blast Buys Bad Blood

Carlton FiskResearch 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 concerns an intramural spat among the Boston Red Sox, and illustrates the idea that its usually a good idea for ballplayers to measure their comments to the media. From the Associated Press, Aug. 9, 1972:

Carlton Fisk is leading the Red Sox in home runs and batting average, and was a member of the American League All-Star team.

The Springfield Union quoted the 24-year-old catcher as saying that teammates Reggie Smith and Carl Yastrzemski have not been hustling, nor have they demonstrated any leadership abilities. The story was picked up by the wire services and blown up by the Boston press.

The Union article quoted Fisk as saying, “(Yastrzemski and Smith) don’t realize the effect they have on the club as a whole. When they aren’t as aggressive in the outfield or when they don’t show desire, the whole team droops.”

Misquoted?

“I was severely misunderstood,” Fisk said last night before the Red Sox defeated the Indians, 4-1.

“I guess it’s a lesson to learn,” the easy-going catcher said. “But you have to learn the hard way, I guess. Maybe I’m too naive, I don’t know. I just won’t say anything to anybody anymore. I’m completely disenchanted. The story made it sound malicious when it wasn’t meant that way. I told Carl and Reggie it wasn’t meant like it appeared in the paper.”

Fisk, Smith and Yastrzemski met with manager Eddie Kasko for a 10-minute closed-door session before the game to straighten things out.

“As far as all parties are concerned, it’s a dead issue,” Kasko said. “Fisk explained that he was misquoted and misinterpreted and that he didn’t mean things the way they came out. The explanation was satisfactory to both Smith and Yastrzemski. Both of them know what kind of a kid this is. They know he’s not the type to go popping off.”

Smith was asked about the problem. “There’s no problem,” Smith said. “There never was any problem to begin with.”

Maybe not, but Smith was in no laughing mood after the game. He read an article in a Boston newspaper that said Fisk was correct in his remarks about the two high-priced outfielders. Smith finished reading the article, violently flung the paper across the clubhouse and stormed into the trainer’s room.

Fisk’s comments marked the second time in a little more than a year that Yastrzemski and Smith have been criticized by fellow teammates. Last year in New York, Billy Conigliaro blasted both outfielders, saying they were babied by management. Conigliaro was traded after the season, but the Red Sox were loaded with outfielders then. All-Star catchers are a little harder to find.

 

 

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1974: Reggie vs. Ryan

ReggieResearch 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. Reggie Jackson tells of a showdown he had against Nolan Ryan in 1974, in which he congratulated Ryan—in his inimitable fashion—for a job well done. Ryan, of course—in his own inimitable fashion—appeared to take it in a way other than how it was intended. From Jackson’s account of the ’74 season, “Reggie: A Season with a Superstar”:

September 3: We knocked out Nolan Ryan in the fifth inning of a 7-0 win. …

I got a lot of heat because I patted him on the butt after I made out my second time up, but I didn’t tell anyone why. … The second time up, he called for the catcher, Ellie Rodriguez, and sent him back to the plate to tell me he was going to throw only fastballs right over the plate. He was losing 3-0 at the time, but he said he wanted to get the best fastball and the best power together and see who would win. I didn’t know whether to believe him, but he delivered. He just threw fastballs. Bam, bam. And I hit one, wham. I sent it on a line to left. I thought it was going to drill a hole through the seats and wind up outside the ballpark. But I didn’t get it high enough and it was caught in front of the fence. I was disappointed, but I called it a draw. He had got me out, though I had hammered the hell out of the ball. I knew he knew it. Running back to the dugout, I went by him and gave him a pat on the ass to let him know he had given me a display of guts I admired. He didn’t say anything. He didn’t have to.

The next time up, he wasn’t going to give me one I would hit out. He threw hard, but he didn’t throw a strike. He threw one right at my eye. You know, he cranks up and seems to get a running start and that ball is nothing but a blur. When he aims one at you, it freezes you with fear, because it could kill you. All I saw was this white blur coming right at me and it throws me for a split second before I got the hell out of there. I went down flat, just in time. I was burned by the heat of the ball as it went by.

I was so shook I thought that if he threw three straight strikes I’d let him have them. We were ahead and I wanted to wind up alive. But, you know, I figured, well, fuck him. I don’t want to back down. I don’t want to start a trend that will have every pitcher in the game going for my head to back me down. So, I grit my teeth and dug in and was ready to swing at anything good. He didn’t throw me anything good. He threw me two maybes that were called balls, which made it four balls, and gave me my walk. I never moved a muscle in that batters box, but I breathed a sigh of relief afterwards.

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1975: Sending a Message in One Easy Step (Beanball Not Included)

Dick WilliamsResearch 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. Manager Dick Williams tells a tale of running up the score while at the helm of the California Angels, as a means of sending a message to A’s owner Charlie Finley—who had spent three seasons trying to keep his boot heel firmly affixed on the manager’s neck when Williams worked for him. From Williams’ autobiography, “No More Mr. Nice Guy”:

In April 1975, my Angels were leading the A’s 9-1 in the sixth inning of the second game of a doubleheader in Anaheim, and Mickey Rivers was on first base. I decided, up yours, Charlie. I sent Rivers to second base on a hit-and-run attempt. Our batter got a hit and Rivers scored all the way from first. And of course the A’s were angry. When you’re leading by a big margin, running like that is considered crass. Not just because you’re openly challenging the other team or making a comment on their ability to throw you out. Mostly, it’s because you don’t need to run. You’re winning by eight runs, you just need to keep your mouth shut and finish the game. You don’t need to run, and the losing team doesn’t appreciate it. You realize that more baseball fights start because of a needless steal than because of a stupid beanball.

I should mention here that it’s also considered crass for a team leading 9-1 to shout obscenities about the opposing team’s owner from the dugout. Particularly when the owner’s real name is being used, as in “Take that, Charlie, you son of a bitch!” Or perhaps even, “Fuck you, Charlie!” I must admit, that night I let a few such things slip. Was I looking for a fight? You decide. Oakland reliever Jim Todd thought so. He was already mad because, after not allowing an earned run all season, we had touched him up for five. Immediately after Rivers’ steal, Todd’s next pitch was directed at, and collided with, the top of Bruce Bochte’s head.

The first thing I did was run to home plate to check on Bochte. Every manager does that. I leaned down and saw that he still had both eyes. My job was done. Now I did something that most managers would not do. I charged the mound of a team I’d spent three wonderful years managing. I charged the mound and lunged at their 6-foot-2 pitcher, who was about 20 years younger than me but obviously without a gut in his body. He tried to run. I grabbed him by his belt and dragged him to the ground and started pounding on him. That’s right, I took on Jim Todd, and — you guessed it — soon I was rolling around with what seemed like 50 of my former players.

Anybody who knows Dick Williams and saw this scene would think, he’s a dead man. He’s lying on a pitching mound and is fair game for former players who truly are looking for his nuts with their cleats. But I guess the A’s liked me as much as I like them — or at least some of them did. My world darkened underneath a green and gold uniform, but the voice was friendly. “It’s Reggie,” the voice whispered. “I’m just going to lie here on you until this thing ends.” I laughed and he laughed, and we just lay there like two kids playing King of the Mountain while all hell was breaking loose on top of us.

Oakland center fielder Angel Mangual, with whom Williams had consistently feuded, did eventually sneak some kicks in to his former manager’s ribs, but it seems that, for Williams at least, all ended relatively well.

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1972: Clear-Headed and Hot-Headed Very Different States

Ken HoltzmanResearch 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. On-field revenge was more institutionally prevalent then than it is now, leading some players to go to extremes. This tale of getting things done properly is brought to you via the Oakland Tribune, May 22, 1972:

[A's pitcher] Ken Holtzman was sailing along with a 2-0 lead in the second inning when he grounded to Royals first baseman John Mayberry, 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds. Mayberry took the ball, ambled over to the bag to make the third out, but stopped instead of crossing over toward the dugout. The 165-pound Holtzman, running full speed, crashed into Mayberry and went down as if knocked out by Joe Frazier. When Lou Piniella led off the next inning, the still-shaken Holtzman threw the first ball over his head.

Holtzman: “I didn’t know where I was. I was so dizzy and so mad, I thought Piniella was Mayberry, so I threw the ball over his head. When I got back to the dugout, they told me what I’d done.” [Holtzman went on to say that he had hit the back of his head after falling, had bitten his tongue and was still dizzy upon being removed from the game in the sixth inning.]

Piniella is shorter and doesn’t weigh as much as Mayberry, and not only is Piniella white and Mayberry black, but Piniella bats right and Mayberry left.

By the time Mayberry came up again, Holtzman’s head had cleared. He threw a ball over HIS head and then struck him out.

 

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Justin Verlander: Holding the Line for Sportsmen Across the Land

Justin VerlanderBy now, you’ve undoubtedly heard Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman shooting off his mouth to disparage his opponent after making a nice play to close out Seattle’s win over the 49ers on Sunday. (Details at Deadspin.)

Shortly after the game, Justin Verlander tweeted this:

Why baseball is great: Players (at least some of them) keep each other accountable. No threat of impact, no taunting about imminent pain, just a suggestion to keep loose in the batter’s box—that happy feet might be in one’s future—is enough to get a guy thinking. As players frequently attest, anticipating a pitch like that is often worse than the pitch itself.

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Braden, Protector of the Code, Hangs ‘Em Up

Dallas Braden SIDallas Braden gave up the ghost today, accepting that there is nothing left in his injured shoulder to help him recapture major league success, and called it a career. Based on my personal interactions with the guy—and there were many, including extensive talks for multiple features like this one—I can report that he was truly thoughtful, one of the good guys in a clubhouse full of good guys. (He remains the only active player to whom I have given a copy of The Baseball Codes.)

His primary epitaph will be the perfect game he threw against the Yankees Rays on Mother’s Day, 2010 (especially poignant, given that his grandmother, who raised him after his own mother passed, was in the stands). I will remember him best, however, for calling out Alex Rodriguez for an unwritten rules violation so obscure that because few people had ever heard of it, Braden was widely branded as some sort of arrogant nut.

This being my beat, however, I had heard of it, and understood exactly what the pitcher was trying to say.

In honor of a career too short, here’s the original post. Read it here, or click through to find links to the eight follow-up items at the bottom.

Alex Rodriguez is one of two types of player: A guy who’s profoundly ignorant of much of the Code, or a guy who actively disdains it.

This is someone who has been caught peeking at catchers’ signs, and who, as a baserunner, tries to distract fielders when they’re camped under fly balls.

Today in Oakland, with Rodriguez on first base, Robinson Cano hit a foul ball so high that A-Rod had time to round second and get partway to third before it landed. Rather than going back the way he came, however, Rodriguez cut straight across the diamond and directly across the pitcher’s mound.

It’s a direct violation of one of the lesser unwritten rules, and A’s pitcher Dallas Braden noticed.

After the inning ended, Braden lit into A-Rod on the field, eventually being greeted by a dismissive wave from the superstar. “I was dumbfounded that someone of his status would let that slip his mind,” Braden told Jeff Fletcher of FanHouse after the game. “He understands that. I was just trying to convey to him that I’m still out there. The ball is in my hand. That’s my pitcher’s mound. If he wants to run across the pitcher’s mound, tell him to do laps in the bullpen.”

It’s a rule that’s been around a long time.

“That mound is the pitcher’s home, his office, and he doesn’t want anyone trampling over it,” said longtime outfielder Dave Collins. Luis Gonzalez called the mound “the Twilight Zone,” describing it as something to stay away from.

Like any rule, a small handful of guys go out of their way to crap on it, if only to be annoying. It shouldn’t surprise anybody that A.J. Pierzynski is one of those players. According to multiple sources, he makes a habit of the practice, coming close enough to the pitcher to brush him on his way back to the base or the dugout.

“He’s gotten hit a few times because of it,” said Tim Raines, Pierzynski’s former coach with the White Sox. “He’s been hit more than once.”

“You’re always going to run across some guy who will fly out, round first, and cut as close as he can to you, just to either mutter something under his breath, just to piss you off as a pitcher,” said Jamie Quirk. “He’s gonna get as close as he can to you; he won’t bump you, but he’ll try to piss you off.”

Is Rodriguez that kind of guy? It’s difficult to tell. The evidence against him, however, certainly does nothing to help his case.

As a side note, the incident in question brought the game’s unwritten rules into the forefront of the national consciousness only months after The Baseball Codes came out, culminating in the No. 34 spot overall in Amazon’s sales rankings shortly thereafter. For that alone, I’m grateful.

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