Tag Archives: Cincinnati Reds

Big Talkers Not Welcome: Fastballs in Cincy Lead to Words, and Players are Sensitive Creatures

Cubs-RedsIf you throw as hard as Aroldis Chapman, you must expect that your opponents will, on occasion, get squirrely. Should a ball get away from you and fly toward somebody’s head, this matter becomes especially prevalent. Should it happen twice in an inning—watch out.

Thursday, it happened twice to a single batter, Nate Schierholtz of the Cubs, and Chicago was not pleased. The pitches were obviously unintentional: The game was tied in the ninth inning, which is when closers pitch, which is why we so infrequently see closers carrying out any form of retaliation. The Cubs let Chapman know about it anyway, from the dugout at top volume. Things could have ended there, but for Chapman’s subsequent dismissal of the entire Chicago dugout—delivered with an insouciant wave of his glove toward their bench as he was leaving the field after recording the inning’s final out.

When Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo took the field in the bottom half of the inning, it was time for the Reds dugout to weigh in. Rizzo had already been hit by a first-inning pitch from Homer Bailey, and was one of the primary Cubs to heap verbal abuse on Chapman. Somebody wearing Red said something with which he disagreed, and, throwing down cap and glove, he headed for the Cincy bench. Only a fool would have started a fight at that point, facing a line of guys in the other team’s uniform, and Rizzo is no fool. He did some shouting, however, and the Reds shouted back and the dugouts emptied. (Watch it here.)

It’s easy to ask what could have been done to avoid all this. It’s yet unknown what Cincinnati players yelled at Rizzo, but a ballplayer has little business approaching the opposing bench like that. It’s unknown what Cubs players yelled at Chapman, but he has to be aware enough to realize that multiple top-speed, head-high pitches at the same batter are going to elicit a response.

There’s something else at play here, as well: the disappearance of the quality bench jockey from the modern game. Once, players freely ragged each other from across the field in a back-and-forth patter designed to build unity on one side of the field and to get into players’ heads on the other. There were terrible aspects to the practice, such as what Jackie Robinson had to deal with on a fairly continual basis during the early part of his career, but there was also good to come from it. The patter between ballplayers took on a language of its own, and even as one side figured out just what to say to somebody in a given situation, players learned how to absorb the abuse without letting it get to them. The best bench jockeys performed verbal kung fu, turning the abusers’ words back on them with additional heft.

Stories of bench jockeys are ages old:

  • Schoolboy Rowe, a newly married pitcher for the Tigers, made the mistake during the 1934 World Series of concluding a radio interview with a question for his wife: “How’m I doing, Edna?” The St. Louis Cardinals made sure that the phrase was heard continuously and at top volume through all seven games.
  • During his early playing days, Leo Durocher went through a rough patch during which he was accused of stealing the pocket watch of his teammate, Babe Ruth. When Durocher took over as manager of the Dodgers years later, players from the Giants began waving Walker Cooper’s watch at him, saying, “Leo, look at the watch. Look at Ruth’s watch.”
  • The Washington Senators bench once rode Mickey Mantle so hard that he was distracted into thinking the fielder’s choice at second on a ball he hit was the inning’s third out, and didn’t even run to first to try to beat the double play.
  • After the publication of Ball Four, Jim Bouton took an abundance of abuse from around the league, from players shocked that one of their own would begin spilling secrets. The Reds, Johnny Bench and Pete Rose in particular, were particularly vocal, saying things like, “Shakespeare, you no-good rat-fink. Put that in your fucking book,” wrote Bouton in his follow-up, I’m Glad You Didn’t Take it Personally. The pitcher’s favorite line came when the count got to ball three: “What’s the tile of your book?” Later, Bouton wrote, he sat near Johnny Bench at a banquet and catcher told him, “I read where you said Pete Rose and I got on you from the dugout worse than anybody. Well, I want you to know we really weren’t that upset about the book. Pete and I got on everybody. So don’t worry about it.”
  • One of the most famous moments in baseball history, Babe Ruth’s called shot against the Cubs in the 1932 World Series, was a result of bench jockeying. According to Cubs second baseman Billy Herman, Ruth wasn’t pointing to center field but responding, after two quick strikes, to the verbally abusive Cubs bench that he wasn’t yet finished hitting. His motion, said Herman, was to quiet Chicago pitcher Charlie Root, not to indicate where he intended to hit the ball.

Perhaps the best summation of the process came in a tale about none other than Leo Durocher, told in Sport Magazine in April 1947:

Once last summer (Durocher) was abusing Murry Dickson, Cardinal pitcher, from the coaching box so violently that umpire Lee Ballanfant begged him to lay off.

“Please, Leo,” pleaded Ballantfant, “he’s a nice kid …”

“I don’t doubt it,” interrupted Durocher, “and after the game, I’ll be willing to buy Dickson a steak diner with champagne trimmings and take him to a show. But right now I want to beat him any way I can, see?”

Bench jockeying more or less died out in the 1980s, the victim of an evolving game. “I don’t know if it was just the teams not being teams for a long period of time together, a lot of player movement, playing with a bunch of different people, not having that team chemistry like that,” said Chris Speier, whose 19-year career ended in 1989, and who put up with a lot of it early in his playing days. “I don’t know when it stopped, but it definitely has stopped.”

Baseball diamonds are a more genteel place now, in many ways for the better. Still, when something comes up like what came up in Cincinnati yesterday, the downside of the disappearing bench jockey becomes clear. Modern players simply have comparatively little idea about how to deal with this kind of adversity.

Take the story of another Reds player, pitcher Mario Soto, who in 1982, rattled by heckling from Phillies third base coach Dave Bristol, walked six and gave up seven runs over 3.2 innings. He was so mad that after the game he called Philadelphia’s clubhouse and challenged Bristol to a fight. His manager, Russ Nixon, offered a different perspective. “That’s just something Mario is going to have to learn to deal with,” he said.

It was just as simple as that.

 

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What Jinx? Bailey Throws Into Doubt How Much the Baseball Gods Actually Care About Such Things

The official Cincinnati Reds Twitter feed mentioned Homer Bailey‘s no-hitter 12 times before he completed it, not to mention a steady stream of references during the telecast by broadcaster Thom Brenneman. It was the second straight no-no in which Bailey was karmically messed with.

Somehow, he completed it, anyway. Go figure.

Bailey nono

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Chapman Goes Top Shelf, Twice; Cleveland Not Intimidated

Nick Swisher

Nick Swisher: Not delighted.

Head-high fastballs from Cincinnati pitchers were the order of the holiday weekend. First came Johnny Cueto on Sunday, riling up Chicago’s David DeJesus. A day later, Aroldis Chapman sent a 100 mph offering past—and well above—Nick Swisher, all the way to the screen. He followed that with an equally hot pitch that ran considerably closer to Swisher’s noggin.

Swisher can be seen on the telecast repeating the phrase, “Don’t do that” to the pitcher. After he flied out to left field, Swisher and Chapman exchanged words as he passed by the mound on his way back to the dugout. (Watch it all here.)

“The first one I saw go by and I was like, ‘Wow, that was pretty quick,’” Swisher said in a USA Today report. “And then that second one was a little too close for comfort—100 mph at someone’s head? Let’s be honest. That’s not exactly the best thing.”

Reds manager Dusty Baker wrote it off to wildness—“Is that the first time you’ve seen Aroldis throw one to the screen?” he asked—but it’s also plausible that it was Chapman’s version of strategic intimidation. (Last season Chapman struck out 122 while walking 23. Wildness does not appear to be an integral part of his makeup.)

Yes, even guys with 100-mph fastballs like to give themselves an extracurricular edge now and again. Just ask Nolan Ryan.

The first game in which Bobby Grich ever faced the flame-throwing strikeout king, in 1973, he laced a ball down the right-field line and made the mistake of verbally urging it to stay fair. The ball went foul, however, and Ryan ensured that Grich remembered the at-bat by putting his next pitch, a Chapman-esque fastball, up near his head. “I got the message,” Grich said.

During his rookie season, B.J. Surhoff took a big swing against Ryan, and ended up on his back as a result of the right-hander’s next offering. Mike Devereaux, same thing. Mike Aldrete bunted against him and was subsequently knocked down on consecutive pitches. Milt Thompson bunted and was hit in the ribs. Doug Jennings faked a bunt and was drilled. After avoiding an inside pitch, Bert Campaneris motioned for the pitcher to throw it over the plate, and was rewarded by being hit in the knee. The list goes on and on.

The purpose, primarily, was to keep the opposition uncomfortably on its toes. “The intimidation factor,” said Chris Speier, who wracked up 45 plate appearances against Ryan over the years, “was so high.”

“Quite honestly, there were a lot of guys who wouldn’t even play against [Ryan],” said Jerry Remy. “They’d just bail out. It was funny when you saw the lineups—there were a couple guys who, when he was pitching, you knew would not be in that lineup. They’d come down with a mysterious illness. I think because he was the most intimidating pitcher in the league.”

Dusty Baker not only acknowledged that syndrome, but labeled it: “Ryanitis.” It’s still unclear whether his closer is trying to foster his own brand of Chapmanitis, but it’s as good an explanation as any.

The modern game, however, holds far less tolerance for those willing to place a ball near a hitter’s head than it did during Ryan’s era.

Swisher handled things well, not even moving his feet before re-setting after the first wild pitch, then responding to the second one by putting good wood on a ball that was ultimately caught at the wall. The Indians as a team comported themselves accordingly when interviewed after Monday’s game, and on Tuesday responded on the field, with starter Zach McAllister drilling Brandon Phillips in the ribs in the fifth inning, an apparent response to Chapman’s antics.

Intimidation, after all, is in the eye of the beholder.

“You’re only intimidated if you allow yourself to be,” said Andy Van Slyke, about his showdowns with Ryan. “It’s really that simple. If he hit me, I’d go take first base and steal second base and tell him to go fuck himself. That’s how you’ve got to play this game.”

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Hot-Headed Ways For Hot-Headed Men to Behave Like Hotheads

Cueto-DeJesusJohnny Cueto believes in responding should an opposing player disrespect him.

The guy also possesses the unfortunate combination of thin skin and anger-management issues. The same man who kicked Jason LaRue into retirement with a ridiculous display during a fight in 2010 was at it again on Sunday. Apparently irked in the first inning by David DeJesus’ decision to step out of the batter’s box during an at-bat, Cueto responded by flinging a fastball over the outfielder’s head—like, three feet over his head—when he came to the plate five frames later. (Watch it here.)

Plate ump Bob Davidson quickly warned both benches, curtailing retaliatory activity for the rest of the game, but the discussion was just getting started. And most of it centered on baseball’s unwritten rules.

Start with Cubs pitcher Matt Garza, who lasted just four innings. His postgame diatribe to reporters was long and pointed. Excerpts, from a CSNChicago report:

  • “I think that’s kind of immature on his part and totally uncalled for. He’s lucky that retaliation isn’t in our vocabulary here.”
  • “That’s kind of BS on his part. Just totally immature. If he has something to say about it, he knows where to find my locker and definitely I’ll find his.”
  • “If Cueto has any problem, he can throw at me and I’ll definitely return the favor. I didn’t like that one bit.”
  • “I hope he hears this, because I really don’t care. If we want to retaliate, we could have and lost a bullpen guy, but we don’t need that. We play the game the right way.”
  • “He needs to cut it out, because I’ll stop it.”

This from a guy who claims to have no personal history with Cueto. The message was, essentially, play the game the right way, or we’ll take care of it—the right way, via the Code. Problem was, Garza’s use of the media to address Cueto was itself against the Code, and served to puzzle one of the unwritten rules’ greatest practitioners, Cueto’s manager on the Reds, Dusty Baker.

Cueto hasn’t spoken to reporters since the incident, but Baker quickly picked up the slack. Rather than limit the scope of his conversation to on-field retaliation (perhaps spurred by Garza’s “find my locker” comment), he took things straight to the back alley.

“Take care of it then,” he said in an MLB.com report. “I mean, [Cueto] couldn’t hit Wilt Chamberlain with that pitch. … You got something to say, you go over there and tell him. Johnny ain’t running. Know what I mean? A guy can say what he wants to say, but it’s better if you go over and say it to his face.”

The most interesting part of the situation was when Baker recalled how, during his own playing days, situations were resolved a bit more directly.

“I just wish, just put them in a room, let them box and let it be over with, know what I mean?” he said. “I always said this. Let it be like hockey. Let them fight, somebody hits the ground and then it’ll be over with. I’m serious about that. I come from a different school. Guys didn’t talk as much. You just did it.”

He wasn’t just talking, either. As a player, was at the center of just such a situation. During a game against Pittsburgh in 1981, his Dodgers teammate, Reggie Smith, grew increasingly riled over the inside pitching of rookie Pascual Perez (despite the fact that Smith wasn’t even playing, due to a shoulder injury). When Perez hit Bill Russell with a pitch in the sixth inning, then hit Baker four batters later, Smith really started barking.

Pirates third baseman Bill Madlock motioned to Smith as if to say that he’d have to get through him to reach the pitcher, but Perez was not looking for protection. After striking out Steve Garvey to end the inning, Perez pointed first at Smith, then toward the grandstand. The two quickly retreated to the tunnels of Three Rivers Stadium to settle things, followed closely by teammates and managers.

As the 16,000 fans in attendance watched a vacant ballfield, puzzled, and umpires raced in an effort to intervene, a baseball fight broke out. Which is to say that, for all the dramatic build-up, tempers quickly cooled and peacemakers in the crowd broke it up before a punch, apparently, could be thrown.

The ultimate point, however, said Pirates manager Chuck Tanner, was that there was no carry-over. “It was taken care of,” he said.

If that incident somehow did not meet Baker’s criteria of guys not talking as much, another of his teams was involved in an off-field fight—this one in which fighting actually occurred, with punches and everything. Except instead of involving opposing teams, it featured only participants from his own roster. It was 1973, and Baker played for the Atlanta Braves, under manager Eddie Matthews. From The Baseball Codes:

The way Davey Johnson, then a star second baseman for the Braves, tells it, after an initial verbal disagreement with Matthews, the manager invited him into his room and challenged him to a fight. Johnson, reluctant at first, changed his mind when Matthews wound up for a roundhouse punch, then knocked the older man down. Matthews charged back, and as the sounds of the scrape flooded the hallway, players converged on the scene. In the process of breaking things up, several peacemakers were soon bearing welts of their own.

“The next day at the ballpark we looked like we had just returned from the Revolutionary War,” wrote Tom House (a member of the team, who, true to the code of silence, left all names out of his published account). “Every­body had at least one black eye, puffed-up lips, scraped elbows, and sore hands. It had been a real knockdown battle.”

This was something that couldn’t be hidden from the press. Matthews called the team together, and as a unit they came up with a story about a game that got carried away, in which guys took good-natured beatings. Flimsy? Maybe. Accepted? Absolutely.

“You can ask Hank Aaron and others on that team,” Johnson said, laughing. “Eddie said his biggest regret [in his baseball career] was not having it out with me again. That one never got out. It never made the papers.”

The Cueto-Garza-DeJesus situation will probably never come close to that. But that’s kind of the point. The call-and-response nature of baseball’s unwritten rules—taking care of things on the field, as it were—exists to prevent this sort of thing. And, save for the occasional below-decks brawl every few decades or so, it works pretty well in that regard.

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Don’t Mess With My No-No: Speier’s Meddling Works Out in the End

Remember when A’s manager Bob Melvin put the shift on earlier this month against Jarrod Saltalamacchia as pitcher A.J. Griffin took a no-hitter into the fifth inning? How Saltalamacchia took advantage, bunting for his team’s first hit? How Melvin bore ultimate responsibility with his ill-timed strategy?

Seems that he’s not alone.

Friday, interim Reds manager Chris Speier did precisely the same thing, shifting his infield to the right for lefty hitter Pedro Alvarez in the eighth inning of Cincinnati’s game against Pittsburgh, even as pitcher Homer Bailey worked on a no-hitter.

Unlike Saltalamacchia, however, Alvarez failed to appreciate the fact that, with a simple willingness to poke a ball down the third base line, he’d not only have achieved his team’s first hit, but he’d have brought the winning run to the plate in a 1-0 game. Instead, he swung away and hit a line drive toward the shortstop position, manned by third baseman Scott Rolen.

“If [Rolen]’s not there that goes right between short and third,” said Bailey in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “I thought that was it.”

Speier’s maneuver was the same as Melvin’s, save for the fact that it worked. Perhaps he had intel saying that Alvarez doesn’t bunt under any circumstances, and he took advantage. Barring that, though, it’s difficult to criticize Melvin without laying down a similar dose right here.

 

 

 

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Delayed Gratification: Pittsburgh Strikes Back, a Month Later

The hubbub surrounding Brandon Phillipsaccusations of racism helped obscure a profound truth about baseball’s unwritten rules: Teams will wait as long as is necessary to respond to events in which they feel they’ve been significantly wronged.

Phillips getting drilled Monday was at the heart of it, but had little to do with the genesis of the situation. It began on Aug. 3, when Reds closer Aroldis Chapman drilled Andrew McCutchen with a 101-mph fastball. The following day, Reds starter Mike Leake hit Josh Harrison, then descended the mound toward him to deliver a follow-up message.

Of concern to the Pirates was the fact that umpire Brian Gorman issued warnings after the latter incident. It was, I wrote at the time, “an unfortunate development that precluded—correction, delayed—any type of Pittsburgh response.”

The delay is now over. In the eighth inning Monday, Pittsburgh reliever Jared Hughes placed a fastball into Phillips’ left leg. It certainly looked intentional, although the surrounding factors—a 3-3 tie with one out in the eighth is not the prototypical moment for retaliation; a hitter like Phillips, who can run, is not an ideal target, especially with Joey Votto lurking two batters later; and catcher Rod Barajas reached out as if to catch a wayward pitch—suggest otherwise.  (Watch it here.)

Phillips got in some jabs of his own, first picking up the baseball and tossing it toward Hughes—this is the act that is widely assumed to have precipitated Phillips’ post-game tweet claiming racism—then stealing second. (He did not score, and the game went 14 innings.)

As McCutchen jogged toward his dugout following the Reds’ half of the eighth, a clearly perturbed Phillips engaged him with a clear message for somebody on the Pittsburgh bench. That turned out to be Hughes, but by Tuesday the feuding participants reached an accord. Nobody was hit in last night’s game, and no fireworks are anticipated for the teams’ four meetings through the end of the season.

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Deke Softly and Carry a Big Stick: Castro Falls for Misdirection, Gets Himself Gunned

Contrary to Brandon Phillips’ actions, no ball was headed his way.

Starlin Castro has for the duration of his career been criticized for an ongoing failure to pay requisite attention during the course of a baseball game. From forgetting the number of outs in an inning (which kept him from attempting to turn what would have been an inning-ending double-play against the Giants), to failing to slide into second on a stolen-base attempt, to facing the wrong way as his pitcher was delivering the baseball, the guy’s career has been a laundry list of mental lapses that temper an exceptional skill set.

The latest came on Friday—though to be fair, this time the All-Star had some help in botching things up.

That assistance came courtesy of Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips. Castro, at first base, took off on a stolen-base attempt—itself a questionable move, what with the Cubs down five runs—as Josh Vitters singled to right. Phillips acted as if he were about to receive a throw from the shortstop for a play at second; despite Castro having the entire left side of the field in his direct line of sight, he somehow fell for it. (Watch here, at the 1:16 mark.)

Castro was deked into a full stop, and by the time he figured out what was happening and tried to motor to third, it was far too late. Xavier Paul threw the ball in to Phillips, who relayed it to third baseman Wilson Valdez, who tagged Castro for an easy out.

After the game, Alfonso Soriano said in an ESPN Chicago report that Castro “needs to concentrate more on the game.” This is undoubtedly true, but it also helps to understand the basics of Phillips’ misdirection.

“You know not to trust middle infielders—it’s their job to deke,” said longtime middle infielder Bip Roberts.

If Castro (a middle infielder himself) lost track of the ball between the plate and the spot in right field where it eventually landed, he always had third base coach Pat Listach (a former middle infielder) to clue him in. Then again, if a guy can’t be reliably counted on to face the game when fielding his position, it’s probably too much to ask that he pay attention to coaches when running the bases.

“A ball is hit, and I’m supposed to know where that ball falls at all times,” said Rangers manager Ron Washington. “If I run blind and get deked out, whose fault is that? Is that the infielder who deked me out, or is that my fault for not knowing what’s going on?”

Lonnie Smith, of course, was deked by Twins second baseman Chuck Knoblauch in the seventh game of the 1991 World Series—a play that likely cost Atlanta a vital run in a game they ended up losing, 1-0, in 10 innings. Smith, however, was 35 years old, a 14-year veteran and on the game’s biggest stage. Castro is only 22, and, one would hope, is still at the early end of his learning curve.

Still, said Cubs manager Dale Sveum after the game, according to MLB.com, “If you’re going to steal a base five runs down, you better [darn] well know where the ball’s hit.”

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