Tag Archives: Detroit Tigers

1973: Billy Goes to Bat for his Boys

Billy MartinResearch 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 is from September 5, 1973, and has to do the Detroit Tigers. The topic is ostensibly cheating, but, if we take it at face value, actually concerns managers protecting their players. From the Associated Press:

Billy Martin claims he lied about the incident which led to his being fired as manager of the Detroit Tigers.

Martin says he never told pitchers Joe Coleman and Fred Scherman it to throw spitballs in a game last week against Cleveland.

Coleman and catcher Duke Sims, meanwhile, also say Martin didn’t order spitters thrown.

“They had gotten together with Duke Sims in the dugout and decided to prove to the umpires that they (umpires) didn’t know what a spitter was,” Martin told one reporter. “The first I knew about it was when I saw Coleman wetting his fingers on the mound.”

“Once that happened I had to stand behind my players,” he continued. “I knew they’d be fined or suspended for what they had done, and I couldn’t let that happen. I needed them to pitch.”

Martin told newsmen after last Thursday’s 3-0 loss to the Indians’ alleged spitball specialist Gaylord Perry that he had ordered the illegal pitches to bring controversy “to a head.”

“I’m admitting it,” he said then. “We threw spitters tonight. Obvious spitters. On purpose.”

He said it was at his order.

Friday, Martin was suspended by American League President Joe Cronin, who said the action was taken “for directing your pitchers to throw illegal pitches and publicly stating that you have done so.”

Sunday, Martin was fired by Jim Campell, Tigers general manager, who said the spitball incident wasn’t the sole reason but the final straw in a long line of incidents leading to the sacking.

Bonus fun: Figure out how Martin created controversy with his 1972 baseball card, above!

1 Comment

Filed under Managers Protect Their Players

A Tale of Spit and Run

Al KalineResearch for my next book, about the Oakland A’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 installment, from May 14, 1966:

Nobody threatens retaliation, but it is on record that Alvin Dark hung the label of “bush” on Al Kaline.

It was Dark’s first visit to Tiger Stadium as Kansas City manager. Kaline was on first with two out in the eighth and Detroit leading by nine runs. Kaline took off and stole second base on pitcher John Wyatt.

“Do you all steal when you’re nine runs ahead?” Dark asked a reporter in the clubhouse. “That was pretty bush. I heard about this fellow (Kaline) for years and years. What if he broke his leg? Detroit might finish sixth.”

Kaline’s explanation was that he was showing up Wyatt for being shown up himself.

“Wyatt threw me a spitball,” said Al. “I don’t mind if it means the game. But he was way behind. Normally I wouldn’t have done it. But when I had the chance to steal, I took off.”

Manager Charlie Dressen said Kaline did the right thing.

“I always say when you have 13 runs, get 14,” declared Charlie. “Let Dark say something to me if he doesn’t like it.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Don't Steal with a Big Lead

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leave a comment

Filed under Grant Balfour, Intimidation, Victor Martinez

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2 Comments

Filed under Intimidation, Retaliation

Homer, Homer, Homer, Plunk: What Else can an Ump Assume?

Hamels homer collageSometimes, intent doesn’t matter.

When Orioles starter Jason Hammel drilled Detroit’s Matt Tuiasosopo on Saturday, nobody on either team felt strongly that he did it on purpose. The fact that there is no such thing as an 82-mph purpose pitch—which is where Hammel’s fateful offering clocked in—did not dissuade plate ump Hunter Wendelstedt from ejecting the right-hander on the spot.

It being the first pitch after back-to-back-to-back home runs, not to mention its location up near the batter’s head, will put a ballpark in that kind of mindframe. After all, the reasoning goes, even if Hammel didn’t mean to drill Tuiasosopo, perhaps he should have—especially after Victor Martinez, Jhonny Peralta and Alex Avila just went deep. When one’s strategy as a pitcher isn’t working out quite as one had hoped—and make no mistake, three straight bombs under any circumstance will make a pitcher question his strategy—the only prudent plan is to change things up.

Put another way: If a team is getting far too comfortable at the plate, make them less comfortable. Starting immediately. (Watch the drilling here. Watch the homers here.)

So when Hammel’s actions followed the script—even if, in retrospect, his intention appears to have been elsewhere—an umpire can hardly be faulted for ignoring the finer points of the situation. After all, there is plenty of historical precedent on which to build. A small sampling, culled from a long-ago post detailing four straight homers hit by the Diamondbacks (which focused more on the outdated unwritten rule of restraint from swinging at the first pitch after back-to-back—or more—home runs):

  • In 1944 Cardinals Walker Cooper, Whitey Kurowski and Marty Marion hit consecutive homers against Reds pitcher Clyde Shoun. The next hitter, Marty Marion, was knocked down.
  • In 1991,Angels pitcher Scott Bailes hit Randy Velarde of the Yankees after giving up consecutive home runs.
  • In 1996, after the Red Sox connected for three home runs against the Angels, reliever Shawn Boskie threw a pitch behind Jose Canseco’s back.
  • In 2003, Astros pitcher Shane Reynolds gave up three home runs to the Pirates, then put a pitch under the chin of Brian Giles.
  • Mike Hegan, addressing the mindframe if not the actual scenario: “In April of 1974, I hit behind Graig Nettles the whole month. Graig hit 11 home runs, and I was on my back 11 times. That’s the kind of thing that happened.”

Former reliever and longtime pitching coach Bob McClure put it this way, in an interview for The Baseball Codes:

We were in Yankee Stadium one time, and I gave up back-to-back home runs to two left-handers. I’d given up back-to-back home runs before, but not to two lefties. Dave Kingman was up next, and I remember [catcher] Charlie Moore calling for a fastball away. He knew better—he was just going through them all. He called fastball away. No. Curveball. No. Changeup. No. Fastball in. No. And then he goes [flip sign—thumb swiped upward across index finger, indicating a knockdown] and I nod. So I threw it and it was one of those real good ones—it went right underneath him and almost flipped him.

He was all dusty and his helmet was over here and his bat was over there and he grabbed them and got right back in there. I threw him a changeup and he popped up to first base. And as he made the out, he rounds first and is coming toward the mound, and I’m trying to get my glove off because I’m figuring to myself, if I’m going to die, I’m getting the first punch in. [Kingman, one of the game’s premier power hitters, stood 6-foot-6, 210 pounds. McClure was 5-foot-10, 170.]

He came right up to the dirt, then went around it, pointed at me and said, “There’ll be another day, young man.” And he just kept on going. I saw him about 10 or 12 years later and asked him if he remembered that incident. He looked me right in the eye and said, no. Just like that.

All of which is a long way of saying that back then, we were taught the 0-2 up and in. Home run, next guy: boom! Knock him down.

All of which goes toward the near certainty that Wendelstedt knew what he was going to do with Hammels in the case of a hit batter before the ball even left the pitcher’s hand.

“[Hammel] had probably 10 to 12 balls slip out of his hand today,” said Orioles manager Buck Showalter, defending his pitcher in the Baltimore Sun. [With a] breaking ball, it’s tough on umpires trying to judge intent, but they get a lot of pressure from the major league offices. … I understand what the umpire’s trying to do, but it’s very tough for them to judge intent.”

“They claim there was no intent,” responded crew chief Jerry Layne. “Three home runs and a guy gets hit. You’re an umpire, what do you do?”

In many ways, the Code is not nearly as prevalent as it once was. But there are times when people—sometimes even against their better intentions—make sure that it stays at the forefront of people’s minds. Welcome to the milieu, Jason Hammels, even if you didn’t mean to be here.

Leave a comment

Filed under Intimidation, Umpires Knowing the Code

Kiss Me, Al: Tigers Pitcher Turns Baseball into Blarney Stone, Sparks Minor Uproar

A kiss is just a kiss—unless it happens in the ninth inning of a playoff game. Then, all hell breaks loose.

Tigers reliever Al Alburquerque put it to the test on Sunday. With the game tied, runners at the corners and two outs, the right-hander was called upon to face A’s slugger Yoenis Cespedes, who he retired on a comebacker to the mound. Before tossing the ball to first, however, Alburquerque planted a wet one on the horsehide. (Watch it here.)

“Did I see what I just saw?” Tigers catcher Gerald Laird, who had been removed for a pinch-hitter a half-inning earlier, recalled thinking. “Obviously,” he said later, “I did.”

So did the A’s. After the game, outfielder Josh Reddick told reporters that he “didn’t appreciate it,” that he “thought that was immature” and “not very professional.” Cespedes said that he may kiss his bat the next time he connects against Alburquerque.

By Monday afternoon, however, during an off-day at Oakland’s O.co Coliseum, the A’s were downplaying the incident as a non-story.

“What am I going to do, yell at them?” asked Jonny Gomes. “That doesn’t take care of anything. Bash them in the media? That doesn’t take care of anything. Just let the baseball gods take care of it. That’s why the baseball gods are there.”

For his part, Alburquerque, 26, said Monday that he intended no disrespect to Cespedes or the A’s, and that his actions were colored by “the emotion of the game.” Regardless, the second-year pitcher, a native of the Dominican Republic, was pulled aside after the game by Miguel Cabrera, Alex Avila and Octavio Dotel, who explained to him the reality of the situation.

“We just talked common sense,” said Avila. “First, you don’t want to kiss a baseball that you’re about to throw to first base, because if he does that and throws it over Prince [Fielder]’s head, it doesn’t look so good. Also, the last thing you want to do is fire the other team up.” (The rest of the Tigers later took to jibing Alburquerque fairly relentlessly, including asking the flummoxed pitcher if the ball kissed him back.)

While this particular antic isn’t exactly commonplace, it does have some historical precedent when it comes to similar showmanship. Perhaps the most prominent example occurred during Game 7 of the 1982 World Series, when St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Joaquin Andujar fielded a grounder by Milwaukee’s Jim Gantner, then held the ball while watching watch Gantner run until the final possible moment, firing the ball to first base just in time.

Gantner turned and called the pitcher a hot dog (among other things), Andujar responded with a parade of his own curse words at high volume, and the pair had to be separated.

Closer to the tenor of Alburquerque’s display was Sammy Sosa, who in a spring training game in 1999 hit two home runs against Arizona’s Todd Stottlemyre, and bowed to the crowd, Japanese-style, after each. Sosa said afterward that his intent was to show respect to the fans.  Stottlemyre didn’t buy it.

“I sure don’t remember Mickey Mantle bowing after home runs,” he told the Associated Press. “I guarantee Joe DiMaggio didn’t bow.”

In neither case did the pitcher retaliate. In fact, the most appropriate form of retaliation is the one utilized by Philadelphia in 1993 against Bryan Hickerson, after the Giants reliever snared a line drive by Wes Chamberlain to end the sixth inning and spiked the ball into the turf.

“That infuriated us,” said Phillies outfielder Milt Thompson. Dusty Baker, then the Giants manager, said that Hickerson’s display was not directed at the opposing dugout, and that if the Phillies wanted to take it personally, it was up to them. They did, and it was; Philadelphia, down 8-3 at the time, came back to win, 9-8, in 10 innings.

This is exactly the type of thing that the A’s, down two games to none, have in mind. “Our best retaliation,” said Brandon Inge,” is to win three in a row.”

Ultimately, Avila had the most concise take on the subject.

“It’s baseball, not a soap opera,” he said. “It’s probably not the best thing to do in a playoff game, but at the same time there are much more important things going on.”

2 Comments

Filed under Al Alburquerque, Showing Players Up

Spit-Gate Underway: Did Valverde Hock? More Importantly: Does it Matter?

Well, it sure looked like Jose Valverde spat onto the ball—or at least into his glove, which contained the ball—in Sunday’s game against Cincinnati. A clip distributed (over and over again via Twitter) by a Reds fan named Justin Tooley shows Valverde, on the mound facing Devin Mesoraco, pursing his lips and doing something that looks an awful lot like spitting into his glove.

Chatter around the Internet concerns the possibility of Major League Baseball taking action against him. The quick response: No chance.

The first reason for this is plausible deniability. Implausible as it might seem, Valverde might simply have been sneezing. There’s also the fact that his ensuing pitch was a high-and-tight four-seam fastball, not the typical diver that pitchers look for from spitters. As Yahoo’s Kevin Kaduk noted, “Valverde is well known for throwing a split-fingered fastball, which makes you wonder why he passed on throwing that pitch if he did indeed spit on the ball.”

Writer/pitcher Dirk Hayhurst (who’s graced these pages before) weighed in on his blog with the notion that spitting on the baseball is, in the pantheon of ball-doctoring methodology, “like trying to kill an antelope with a sharp stick.” He also ran down the assortment of goops found in bullpen bags across the land:

Sun screen combined with rosin make for on the fly finger Fixodent. Firm Grip, found in every training room, makes the ball hang from your finger tips. Well rubbed in shaving gel gives a little extra tack, but no to so much that your hands suck up dirt and dust like chicken getting battered for deep fry.

Vasilene does the opposite. The ball slides out of your hand like a splitter and drops significantly more. If Vaseline is to advanced for you, try Skin Lube, it’s the gunk trainers stick under tape wraps so players don’t chafe while playing. It doesn’t gleam like Vasilene so you can smear it under your hat bill with out worry.

Umps really watching you? Try Kramergesic or Red Hot. Burns a little, but it also leaves a nice slime in it’s wake. If you get asked about it, you can say it’s medicinal. Plus, a mixture of lube and sweat works far better than spit or snot . . . Unless you prefer snot, in which case, rub a little Red Hot in your nose and get it running good. Just don’t get it in your eyes or you’ll leave the game in tears regardless of your performance.

Heck, in the case of Ted Lilly, it wasn’t even about substances he used, but where he (allegedly) stood atop the mound. With all this stuff at his disposal, it doesn’t make a lot of sense for a pitcher to expectorate in obvious ways as the center of attention on a baseball diamond. (Then again, very little about Jose Valverde actually does make sense.)

If you’re wondering whether any of the pitchers who utilize those methods have been caught, the answer is a resounding yes—a lot of them do it, and it’s impossible that they could all avoid detection. Their collective penalty, outside of the rogue moundsman every decade or so whose viscous  pursuits are so obvious as to leave no choice but punishment once they’re discovered : virtually nothing. Baseball has avoided punitive action with far more damning evidence in hand than Valverde just offered up. Take Red Munger, a pitcher for the Cardinals in the 1940s. From The Baseball Codes:

Munger was known by opponents and umpires alike to load up balls with tobacco juice. After umpire Larry Goetz called the second strike of an at-bat on one of Munger’s doctored pitches, the hitter complained that the pitch had been a spitter. “Yes it was,” Cardinals catcher Joe Garagiola recalled Goetz saying. “Strike two.”

A cheating pitcher may simply be a hornets’ nest that most umpires don’t appear inclined to poke. For something more recent, there’s this, also from The Baseball Codes:

In April 1973, Yankees outfielder Bobby Murcer exploded to the press after facing Cleveland’s greaseball king Gaylord Perry in the pitcher’s second start of the season, yelling: “Just about everything he throws is a spitter. . . . The more he knows you’re bothered by him throw­ing it the better he is against you. He’s got the stuff behind his ear and on his arm and on his chest. He puts it on each inning. I picked up the balls and they’re so greasy you can’t throw them.” Murcer went so far as to call commissioner Bowie Kuhn “gutless” for refusing to respond—and this was after the outfielder had recorded a three-hit game against Perry. When the pitcher was confronted with Murcer’s accusations, however, he said that Murcer hit “fastballs and sliders,” not spitballs. It would have been a more credible excuse had Perry been on the same page as his catcher, Dave Duncan, who in a separate contrived denial said that Murcer had hit “off-speed stuff.”

To further the argument, The New York Times hired an unnamed Yan­kees pitcher to chart Perry’s every pitch throughout the game, marking those he thought to be spitballs. When the resulting pitch chart was com­pared with a replay of the game, the Times noted that, before every pitch identified as a spitter by the Yankees operative, Perry tugged at the inside of his left sleeve with his right (pitching) hand—an action he did not take for the rest of his repertoire. Yankees second baseman Horace Clarke, according to the chart, struck out on a spitter that, on replay, was seen to drop at least a foot. In the fourth inning, Thurman Munson asked to see the ball twice during his at-bat—during which, said the chart, Perry threw four spitters. . . .

Partly in reaction to the uproar Perry caused, a rule was implemented in 1974 that removed the mandate for hard proof in an umpire’s spitball warning, saying that peculiar movement on a pitch provided ample evi­dence. It didn’t take long—all of six innings into the season—before Perry earned his first warning under the new rule. Not that it mattered; by the end of the season he had won twenty-one games, was voted onto the All-Star team, finished fourth in the Cy Young balloting, and was thrown out of exactly zero games for doctoring baseballs.

In fact, Perry wasn’t docked for throwing a spitter until 1982, when he was 43 years old and in his 21st big league season—eight years after his autobiography, Me and the Spitter, was published.

Hayhurst made the excellent point that some of the greatest pitchers of all time cheated. Greg Maddux’s name has come up repeatedly during the course of this particular conversation. Nolan Ryan, Don Drysdale and Whitey Ford either admitted to or were regularly accused of scuffing balls or loading them up. When Commissioner Ford Frick lobbied to have the spitball re-legalized in 1955, Pee Wee Reese responded with the classic comment, “Restore the spitter? When did they stop throwing it?”

So even if you don’t afford Valverde the benefit of the doubt; even if you’re outraged that a pitcher would resort to such underhanded tactics; try to get over it. You’ll be receiving no satisfaction from baseball’s response—if baseball responds at all.

Update (7-12-12): Valverde says he was just wiping sweat from his face.

Update (7-13-12): MLB has spoken with the Tigers, with no apparent ramifications.

Leave a comment

Filed under Cheating, Jose Valverde

On the Importance of Umpires Knowing at Least Something About the Game they’re Purporting to Officiate

Prince Fielder connects for the first of his homers on Sunday. Phil Coke did not approve.

On Saturday, Prince Fielder launched two home runs off of Boston’s Josh Beckett within the game’s first five innings. In the bottom of the seventh, he was hit on the calf by Red Sox reliever Matt Albers.

Phil Coke came out of the Detroit bullpen a half-inning later with the perfect opportunity to exact retribution: He faced Fielder’s first-base counterpart and fellow superstar, Adrian Gonzalez, with a 10-run lead. Instead of sending a message, however, he struck Gonzalez out.

There may be great power in hindsight for Phil Coke, or he may have had the finer points of the “We’ve seen enough of this crap” method of pitching explained to him by teammates or coaches after the game. That would explain his appearance on Sunday, when, in the seventh inning, the left-hander made up for opportunities lost. With Dustin Pedroia on second and two outs in a game the Tigers trailed 9-7, Coke—a day late—went gunning for his man.

His aim was as poor as his timing, however, as Coke’s pitch sailed up near Gonzalez’s head, without any real danger of hitting him. Which is where the umpiring at Comerica Park comes into question.

At this point, plate ump Dan Iassogna should have been all over Coke. Ejection would have been justified even without the previous day’s action, based only on the location of the pitch, but Iassogna did nothing. (In his defense, even Gonzalez didn’t take the pitch too seriously, joking with Iassogna and Tigers catcher Alex Avila about whether he should start to get scared.)

It might have been a good idea. With his next offering—and two bases open, after Pedroia took third on the previous pitch—Coke hit Gonzalez in the back. Bobby Valentine raced out for a chat involving, among other things, disbelief that the pitcher had not yet been ejected. It didn’t have much effect; only after crew chief Dale Scott consulted with Iassogna were warnings even issued. Coke remained in the game.

Iassogna has some history with this type of thing, having notably erred on the reactionary side earlier in his career, much to his own detriment. In 2002, before he had even reached full-time status with MLB, Iassogna was behind the plate for a game in which the Dodgers led the Reds 4-0 going into the ninth inning. After Los Angeles closer Eric Gagne gave up a bloop single and a two-run homer, he hit Adam Dunn with his next pitch. That was all Iassogna needed to see; he tossed Gagne on the spot.

The details of this particular story matter, however. Gagne’s pitch to Dunn was clearly unintentional; it only grazed the bottom of the slugger’s jersey, failing even to hit flesh. When Gagne was ejected, Dogers manager Jim Tracy lost his mind.

“I went crazy,” he said. “I’ve been very upset a few times as a big league manager, but that was maybe the most upset I’ve been on a baseball field, because of what I perceived to be as a lack of understanding as to exactly what it was that was going on. . . . I don’t know of any pitcher in baseball, after a home run has preceded the at-bat and you’re in the ninth inning trying to win, who’s going to hit the next guy and bring the tying run to the plate.”

Gagne and Tracey were both ejected, the Reds tied the game with two more runs off three more pitchers, and Cincinnati won it in the 13th against Omar Daal, who had been scheduled to start for the Dodgers the following day.

It’s enough to make an ump gun shy, which Iassogna might be these days. That certainly appeared to be the case on Sunday.

“They should’ve given a warning after the one at (Gonzalez’s) head, the first pitch,” said Valentine in the Boston Herald.

Gonzalez, too, worried about the lasting effects of the umpire’s decision.

“You know it’s going to happen,” he said of potential future retribution, in an ESPN Boston report. “We’ve all got seven more years here. It might not happen the next series, but eventually it’s going to happen. . . . I just think it’s a bad call on their end because now it’s putting Miggy’s (Miguel Cabrera) and Prince’s careers at risk. You know it’s going to happen eventually.”

Next chance: May 28, in Boston. No word yet on the whereabouts of Dan Iassogna that week.

- Jason

Leave a comment

Filed under Retaliation, Umpires Knowing the Code

Brad Penny Demonstrates his Love of Yelling. Again

Gif via Rays Index.

Being a known red-ass will occasionally work in a player’s favor. That’s because displays of jerkitude, should they fit a pattern of self-involved outbursts, are difficult to mistake for disrespect. “It’s just Bill being Bill,” an opponent might say, should such a red-ass be named Bill.

Tuesday, it was Brad being Brad.

Brad Penny, of course, is one of the most temperamental bastards in the game—and that’s not necessarily an insult. Fire has fueled him through a mostly successful 12-year career, but so too has it put him on the periphery of acceptable behavior.

As he pitched against the Rays, Penny drew attention for his response to Sean Rodriguez, Tampa’s second baseman who, on a seventh-inning popup, ran so hard he nearly reached second by the time left fielder Delmon Young caught the ball.

Penny, apparently upset at the audacity of hustle, first scowled at Rodriguez, then yelled at him. Rodriguez, sufficiently affronted, yelled right back. Rays manager Joe Maddon saw fit to call it out the following night, after another bit of Rodriguez hustle—he beat a two-out force play at second as the winning run crossed the plate in the 10th—was the difference in a Tampa Bay victory.

“For anybody to bark at another player for . . . hustling is absolutely insane, ludicrous,” said the manager, in a St. Petersburg Times report. “And if Sean had just charged the mound, I’d have been fine with that at that particular moment.”

Penny was being ridiculous, of course. Only a special kind of maniac can fault a guy for playing too hard—especially on a non-impact play. The thing is, according to Penny, he’s not that kind of maniac. He was getting on Rodriguez for yelling and cursing, of all things. “To me, that’s a sign of disrespect if you’re screaming that loud,” he said a day later in the Times. “All these kids can hear you; it’s not too loud in here. So to me, that’s not really professional.”

Really.

The problem with this logic is that a concern for the potential corruption of western Florida’s youth does not equal disrespect. And if Penny did feel disrespected, trying to justify his actions by hiding behind an it’s-all-about-the-children excuse is just sad.

But that’s the thing about Brad Penny. It was just last month that he got into an argument with his own catcher, Victor Martinez, about pitch selection, visibly berating him on the mound before a stadium full of people. (Watch it here.) He’s also been known to enforce legitimate tracts of Code when the mood strikes. (With the Marlins in 2001, for example, he drilled New York’s Tsuyoshi Shinjo for having swung at a 3-0 pitch while the Mets held an 11-3 lead a day earlier. While denying intent, he said afterward that Shinjo “did deserve to get hit.”)

Even if Penny was offended by Rodriguez’s choice of language—offered as it was toward nobody in particular, likely out of the hitter’s frustration at his own inability to execute—that’s okay because he seems to be offended by most of the things the people around him do on a regular basis.

It is, after all, just Brad being Brad.

- Jason

1 Comment

Filed under Brad Penny, Thin Skin

When Umpires Strike, Blatant-Retaliation-for-Questionable-Offenses Division

There are two directions an umpire can go in instances of retaliation that occur under his watch.

He can let the situation play out, offering the other team a chance to respond before bringing down the hammer with warnings.

Or he can go quick-draw in an effort to immediately tamp down further inflammatory actions.

In the latter scenario, the offended party will inevitably be displeased about being handcuffed in its response. Which is exactly what happened to the Indians over the weekend.

It started with Asdrubal Cabrera mashing a ball down the line, an an all-or-nothing shot certain to clear the fence. He watched it fly, to see whether it went fair or foul.

It went foul. As did Tigers pitcher Rick Porcello, who by appearances felt shown up by Cabrera’s lingering presence in the batter’s box. He put his next pitch behind Cabrera’s back.

The Cleveland shortstop glared toward the mound, but his progress in that direction was stopped by plate ump Paul Schrieber, who issued quick warnings to both benches. Indians manager Manny Acta was not pleased. (Watch it here.)

“When that happens, you don’t need a warning to throw the guy out of the game,” he said in a Fox Sports report. “If you do not throw the guy out of the game then you should not issue a warning because then we’re not getting our shot.”

If only everyone was so clear, concise and correct. The manager has every right to expect a chance to respond to such a blatant Code violation—or, alternatively, have the ump collect a pound of flesh on his behalf. This doesn’t happen every time, of course; ever since umpires were instructed to tighten their trigger fingers, countless players and managers have been upset at lost retaliatory opportunities.

Acta, however, verbalizes his frustration better (read: more candidly) than most.

He was forced to specifically instruct pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez to avoid responding; it was still early in the game and he didn’t want to burn his bullpen. (His message was effective—Jimenez refrained from taking action, but that’s not always the case. Joe Torre recalls a time when he managed the Braves, in which he told pitcher Ray King Donnie Moore to leave well enough alone at the tail end of a volatile situation—before recognizing the situation for what it was. “‘I have no chance. I’m talking to a deaf man,” he said of the conversation. “I walked back to the dugout and he hit Graig Nettles. You can talk until you’re blue in the face, but it’s guys defending each other. That’s what it’s about.”)

Acta also talked about the nature of Cabrera’s blast (“The guy was just standing there looking at a foul ball. It was a foul ball. That was all”) and the blatant nature of the drilling (“Everybody, including the vendors in the stadium, knew that he threw at him”), but it was his touchstone summary of the Code and some of its modern interpretations that was truly impressive. The gems included:

  • A mini-treatise on the relative safety of retaliation for AL pitchers, as well as the inherent risks: “Guys who do that in the American League, all they’re doing is putting their team in jeopardy because they don’t hit. Guys in the National League who hit guys are the guys that show me something because they have to get up to the plate.”
  • A polemic on the inter-team chumminess of modern players: “None of these guys want to fight. The game has changed so much, it’s a joke. All we’ve got to do is watch BP (batting practice). They’re all hugging and laughing (with opponents). Look on the bases, how you’ve got three, four guys (on opposite sides) talking to each other.”
  • A sidebar on players’ softness (directed toward Porcello), pointing out one player who did not fit that bill—Francisco Rodriguez. While with the Mets, the closer took exception to comments made by Yankees pitcher Brian Bruney about his animated nature, and confronted him before a game. Acta: “You want to know who’s tough? Frankie Rodriguez is tough. He didn’t like what some guy did a couple years ago, he went out at stretch time. . . . That’s being tough, not throwing a ball at a guy and not even facing the guy. If you have to get up to the plate (to hit), then maybe I can see you being tough.”

Porcello offered standard denials about the pitch getting away from him, but if even the vendors could read his intent it doesn’t hold much water.  The teams meet again on Sept. 5. Hold onto your hats.

- Jason

2 Comments

Filed under Rick Porcello, Umpire Warnings