Tag Archives: Oakland A’s

The Waiting Game: or What to Do When Approached on the Mound by a Manager, in One Easy Step

Kendrick cardKyle Kendrick was frustrated on Saturday. He was pitching well right into the sixth, had helped his team to a 5-1 lead. Then, after a Buster Posey leadoff single, Pablo Sandoval popped up for what should have been the inning’s first out. But the ball fell between Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, at which point Utley tried to flip the ball to second for the force … which would have worked, had his throw not pulled Jimmy Rollins off the bag.

The next batter, Michael Morse, doubled home a run, and Ryne Sandberg came out to the mound for a chat. Kendrick, with little interest in conversation, did not wait for his manager, storming off to the dugout while Sandberg was en route, handing him the ball as they passed.

If the basis of the Code is respect, waiting for one’s manager to reach the mound is a baseball bedrock, even if the pitcher doesn’t agree with the decision to make a change. Especially if a pitcher doesn’t agree with his decision to make a change. Put differently: a red-assed pitcher irked by a hitter digging into the batter’s box is following a narrow band of his precedent-setting forebears, but a manager angry at being abandoned by his pitcher in front of a stadium full of people is directly in line with every guy who’s ever managed in the big leagues.

Seems like a decent segue into the A’s. As some of you know, I’m under contract to write a book about Oakland’s teams of the early 1970s (somewhat breaking news: the story is so large, with so many pieces, that the publication has been moved back to 2016 so I have the space to tell the story in the way it deserves to be told), and this story falls right in line with an incident from 40 years ago.

In 1974, Alvin Dark took over as manager of the two-time defending champions, and in the early going, his methodology was not well received by his players. In particular, Dark had a problem with pitcher management, frequently giving his starters early hooks that ended up backfiring when the bullpen blew some sizeable leads. The most egregious of these instances came in the season’s third game, when Dark was still trying to figure out his roster. He yanked Vida Blue two batters into the fifth inning, with Oakland leading Texas, 5-1. Rollie Fingers allowed both runners to score, and Blue became ineligible for the victory since he had not gone the requisite five frames. From that moment on, Blue held some pretty serious antipathy against Dark.

Fast forward to mid-July. Blue was pitching well enough, entering the fifth inning in New York with a 3-1 lead. But even as the pitcher began to struggle, Dark wanted to let him finish the inning, to become the pitcher of record. But Vida imploded, with four hits and two walks turning Oakland’s lead into a 6-4 deficit. Dark had to pull him with two outs in the frame to stem further damage. When he approached the mound, however, Blue walked straight past him and tossed the ball backward. Dark let it drop onto the ground. It was as insolent a move as could be imagined from a player who had just coughed up a lead. Not only that, but it was the second time in recent history that an A’s pitcher had done it; after the first time, by Ken Holtzman, the manger threatened a $250 fine for any subsequent miscreants.

When the team arrived at Shea Stadium for a doubleheader the following day (New York was a one-ballpark town while Yankee Stadium was undergoing renovations), the manager called them together. It had been precisely 100 days since the season opener, and Dark finally had had enough. They sat in a semicircle in the locker room, while the manager stood in the middle. He usually liked to pace when he addressed a group like this, but this time he stayed in one spot. He did not shout and he did not curse. More impactfully, for the first time that anyone could remember, the uber-religious Dark did not quote the bible even once.

“I’ve never been more disappointed in a group of young men in my life,” he said, according to his book, When in Doubt, Fire the Manager. “I’ve never been more disappointed in a team of world champions. If being a world champion makes you act the way some of you are acting, no thank you. I don’t care to be one.”

“Vida, you and I are even now,” he said. “I screwed you out of a game your first start of the season, and I was never more sorry in my life. But we’re even now. I left you out there yesterday, trying to get you a win, and I’m the one who suffers. You degraded the position of manager. Not me, the position, by acting like a bush kid.” Dark confirmed the $250 fine, and said that it would cost $500 if it happened again. He didn’t want to play catch with his pitchers when he removed them from games, he said.

The Phillies don’t have quite as much drama in their clubhouse as those A’s did—nobody has quite as much drama in their clubhouse as those A’s—but the lesson holds. Afterward, Sandberg labeled Kendricks’ action as no big deal (although he did see fit to talk to the pitcher about it on Sunday), and Kendrick confessed to letting the pressure get to him. “I didn’t handle it right,” he said in a CSN Philadelphia report.

Kendrick is barely hanging on with a 5-11 record and 4.90 ERA, and has plenty of reason to be frustrated. All in all, however, this seems like a decent learning experience for the eight-year vet and the rookie manager, both in the nature of comportment, and how to handle oneself should things break down.

For another example of the concept, this one featuring Frank Robinson and discussed in The Baseball Codes, click here.

[H/T Hardball Talk.]

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Filed under Mound Conference Etiquette

Machadope: On the Reckless Pursuit of Imaginary Justice


Machado swingsManny Machado is trying to rewrite the unwritten rulebook, virtually from cover to cover. One day the guy is inventing new things to get angry about, the next he’s figuring out new ways to retaliate for them.

In the process, he’s proved himself to be among the most reckless, hard-headed and downright dangerous players in the game, and should be harshly suspended for Sunday’s action.

Machado’s aggravation with the A’s began on Friday, when he took issue with an ordinary tag by Josh Donaldson, who was later thrown at by O’s reliever Wei-Yin Chen. On Sunday, the young shorstop took it to a new level stratosphere.

Hitters will occasionally come into contact with catchers on a backswing. It happens. That said, it is rare and inadvertent, and because it puts catchers into no small degree of peril—a bat is connecting with their head—hitters who do it are immediately apologetic.

Not reckless Manny Machado.

Machado hit A’s catcher Derek Norris with a backswing early in Sunday’s game, then connected again with significant force on an exaggerated follow-through in the sixth, his bat cracking the top of Norris’ helmet. The catcher, stunned, was immediately pulled from the game. Was it intentional? Judge it by Machado’s reaction. The guy didn’t so much as turn around. In fact, as a dazed Norris was being led into the A’s clubhouse, the Baltimore shortstop was caught on camera smirking. (Watch it here.)

“Usually most guys, it’s a, ‘You all right?’ Something,” said Norris after the game, in an MLB.com report. “But, if anything, I might’ve caught him smiling one time, which is kinda bizarre. Not really much [courtesy] coming from his side today. I don’t need a guy to ask me if I feel all right to feel good about a situation, but I think it is courteous for one ballplayer to another to ask if they’re all right. But yeah, nothing.”

This action is beyond the pale. Pitchers who throw at opponents’ heads are shunned by their peers—even those peers who believe in retaliatory pitches. Every one of them cites the idea that aiming a fastball above a player’s shoulders is the quickest way to end a career. Norris is no Tony Conigliaro in terms of long-term impact (at least from the looks of things so far), but a trip to the disabled list to deal with late-manifesting concussion-related issues is not out of the question. That the blow was leveled intentionally, under the scope of game play, is shameful.

Machado backswing

A normal backswing? You be the judge.

Machado compounded matters in the eighth when A’s pitcher Fernando Abad, on to protect a 10-0 lead, threw an inside fastball toward Machado’s knees—almost certainly a response to the backswing, but a mild one. It was not a difficult pitch for the batter to avoid, and it passed unimpeded to the backstop.

Machado waited until the next pitch, then swung and let go his bat—ostensibly to fly at Abad, though it sailed harmlessly down the third base line. It was obvious enough for the Orioles own broadcast crew to proclaim, “Manny Machado thought he was thrown at, and on that swing he let that bat go, intending it to go to the mound.”

A minor pass is given for the fact that Machado is coming off of knee surgery, and is obviously protective of that part of his anatomy. Then again, the reaction fits perfectly with everything we’ve learned about him this weekend. The 21-year-old hothead with the big ego has put some personal and indecipherable code of ethics above the safety not just of his opponents (it appears he’d have been happy to have hit two Oakland players with bats), but his own teammates, should the A’s opt to retaliate at some point in the future. Machado hasn’t yet spoken publicly of some irrational need to be respected, but his actions are those of somebody who feels strongly that he is owed something, despite a decided lack of merit.

O’s manager Buck Showalter pased the buck after the game, saying in the Baltimore Sun that he preferred to let players take care of this kind of thing on their own, and adding that “I thought Manny handled it better than someone with some experience [would]. It was also a good experience for him to have. He cares. It’s a learning experience for all of us.”

If it’s really a learning experience, Machado needs a voice of reason wearing orange and black telling him to knock it off. The Code dictates that one (or more) of Machado’s more senior teammates step in to corral what is looking increasingly like an out-of-control player. That said player is the most talented guy in Baltimore’s system complicates things, but not so much that the team’s veterans can’t bring their voices into the equation.

The A’s may well have a few things to say about the situation when the teams meet again in July, but if things haven’t been handled internally long before then, the Orioles will have far bigger things to worry about than Oakland.

Update (6-9-13): The talking to has happened, at least to some degree. Machado apologized via the team’s TV network.

Update (6-10-13): I can’t see any way this would actually happen, but the Orioles are presenting a serious front: Dan Duquette says that sending Machado to the minors is “an option.”

Update (6-10-13): Machado has been suspended five games, and will appeal. In a less sensible move, Abad has been fined for a pitch that did not hit a batter, after he was thrown out of a game for that same pitch, but only after throwing another, subsequent pitch.

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Filed under Retaliation, Unwritten Rules

A’s Push Back on Porter, Houston Pilot Pops

 

Porter tossed

Leave it to Bo Porter to show us how closely the Code can be  linked both to perspective and perception.

On Thursday, his pitcher, Paul Clemens, was ejected for drilling Oakland’s Jed Lowrie. The following night, he grew upset when A’s pitcher Fernando Abad received only a warning for hitting Houston’s Jason Castro. Both pitches were likely intentional. When Porter argued that point, he was tossed. (Watch it here.)

Those details, in a vacuum, place Porter pretty squarely in the role of aggrieved victim. Mix in a few pertinent facts, however, and it’s remarkable how much things change.

Lowrie was drilled because … well, it’s still not clear. Porter was obviously angry that the A’s shortstop bunted against the shift in the first inning of a game on April 18. Why he was angry is a point of some contention, which the manager has yet to explain with any sort of clarity. Still, he responded by apparently having Clemens throw at Lowry later in the game, and then had him drilled (again apparently, and again with Clemens on the mound) when the teams met again six days later. Plate ump Toby Basner knew the history, and tossed the pitcher for his actions.

On Friday, Oakland’s Brandon Moss bookended the ninth—another huge inning against the Astros in a season full of them—by getting hit twice. Neither appeared intentional: The first, from right-hander Josh Fields, barely grazed him. The second was a sailing cutter that had Anthony Bass, Houston’s sixth pitcher of the night, staring skyward in frustration after it found its mark.

No matter—after a time, enough is enough. It’s been said all week that Porter’s reckless behavior surrounding the Lowrie incident would eventually make targets out of his players, and on Friday it happened. Innocent as things may have been surrounding Moss, the tipping point had been reached. Castro was drilled, and Porter was irate.

Houston’s skipper has displayed no talent for instrospection to this point in the proceedings, but if he honestly assesses his role in this string of events, and wonders if he could have changed the outcome along the way with an even slightly cooler head, answers would be pretty easy to find.

Of course, chances are that—based on his exiting body of work, anyway—none of those answers would make him happy.

Porter’s go-to phrase through this entire affair has been “Baseball takes care of itself,” and in that, anyway, he is correct. On Friday, Oakland rolled a course correction into action. Here’s hoping that Porter views it with some clarity.

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Filed under Retaliation, Unwritten Rules

Throw at Me Once, Shame on You; Throw at Me Twice … Holy Hell, You Really Threw at Me Twice for That?

Clemens tossed

It’s been a great week for double-dipped stupidity. First Michael Pineda, now Bo Porter.

As if the Houston manager’s act last week wasn’t thin enough—he apparently had his pitcher throw at Oakland’s Jed Lowrie for bunting in the first inning, then shouted the shortstop down after he flied out to end the frame—he reprised it yesterday.

Paul Clemens, the same guy who threw at (and missed) Lowrie last time, was again the man on the mound. This time he connected, drilling him in the backside. (Watch it here.) The next batter, Josh Donaldson hit a two-run vengeance homer, but since the A’s were already ahead, 8-1, it made little difference. Porter’s team continue to be the Astros.

Donaldson’s homer came off of Anthony Bass, because plate ump Toby Basner, showing outstanding situational awareness, tossed Clemens immediately after Lowry was drilled.

Lowrie called it “flat-out embarrassing” in an MLB.com report.

“There’s no other way to say it,” he said. “Every perspective, every angle you look at it, it’s embarrassing. That kind of conduct should be condemned.”

He’s absolutely right. Clemens went about things the right way for a guy with vendetta on the mind—every one of his questionable pitches came in below the waist—but there’s no mistaking the fact that Porter’s leadership is fast becoming reckless. After the game, the manager refused to criticize the act, going so far as to justify it as “part of the game” because Houston’s “George Springer got hit tonight, too.”

It’s one thing to teach a young team to stand up for itself. It’s another to overreact to a bogus charge, then double down on it later. The Gerrit Cole-Carlos Gomez affair earlier in the week had people across the spectrum decrying the sport’s unwritten rules, but they had it wrong—this was the incident that makes the Code look bad.

Perhaps Porter feels that his best chance to get runners on base this season is to turn them all into targets by pissing off the opposition with an ongoing display of irrational behavior.

Shouldn’t be long, now.

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Bo Knows: No Such Thing as Too Early, When it Comes to Well-Timed Bunts

Lowrie-Porter

What’s up, Bo Porter?

Because baseball’s unwritten rules are built upon the concept of respect, the first rule among them is usually don’t run up the score.

What this means, practically speaking, is shutting down aggressive play late in blowout games—things like stealing bases and hustling into a base that is not otherwise conceded to you. People differ on the point at which such a code comes into play, but in nearly 10 years of covering this very topic, one thing has become abundantly clear to me:

The first inning of a game can never, ever, under any circumstances, be described as “late in the game.”

So when Houston manager Porter—and by extension, Astros pitcher Paul Clemens—took exception to Oakland’s Jed Lowrie laying down a bunt (against an accomodating defensive shift, no less) in the first inning on Friday, it was nothing short of ludicrous.

Houston’s fuse had burned short: The A’s had already scored seven runs in the frame, and Lowrie was batting for the second time. Also, they’re the Astros.

When Clemens faced Lowrie in his next-at bat, in the third, there was no mistaking his intentions. The right-hander’s first pitch was aimed at Lowrie’s knee, and ended up going between his legs. (Watch it here.) His second pitch was also inside.

After Lowrie flied out to end the inning, he asked former teammate Jose Altuve what was going on. At this point, Porter stormed out of the dugout and began shouting at Lowrie to “go back to shortstop.”

Porter’s rage would have been understandable if it was even the sixth or seventh inning, let alone the eighth or the ninth. Sure, his team is the AL-worst Astros, who boast six sub-.200 hitters in the starting lineup, and whose best hitter, Jason Castro, is batting .216. Yes, Porter was already into his bullpen.

His is probably the perfect team to lend credence to the point that, in the face of the Astros’ own inability to score runs, Lowrie was, in some way, rubbing it in.

But still: IT WAS THE FIRST INNING.

Lowrie hit it on the screws in his postgame comments.

“If we’re talking about the eighth inning, of course I’m not going to bunt,” he said in an MLB.com report. “But they’re giving me that by playing the shift and, as a competitive guy, I’m trying to help my team win. We’re talking about the first inning of a Major League game.”

Yes, we are. Yes, we are.

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Filed under Bunting for hits, Don't Play Aggressively with a Big Lead

Pimping in Twin Cities Sparks Iffy Tiff

Donaldson riled

They showed us what not to do in Minnesota on Wednesday. Then they showed us again … and again.

Oakland’s Josh Donaldson led off the anti-exhibition in the 10th inning by admiring his deep fly ball, which landed just outside the left-field foul pole.

He compounded matters by striking out on the next pitch, a 2-2 slider from Minnesota left-hander Glen Perkins, for the third out of the inning. At the end of his exaggerated follow-through, Donaldson flipped his bat end over end toward the visitors’ dugout, and prepared to take the field. (Watch it here.)

Perhaps Perkins would have tolerated the flip without the foul-ball pimping. Perhaps he would have let the pimping slide without the flip. As it was, he took the time to inform Donaldson exactly how he felt about both ends of the equation, yelling toward the plate as he descended the mound. Donaldson came right back with words of his own, and the benches quickly cleared. No punches were thrown.

“The dude struck me out, pretty good pitch, I flipped my bat and I hear him barking at me,” said Donaldson in an MLB.com report. “I look up and he says something, points his finger. … I don’t feel like I disrespected him at all. I’m out there trying to win a game for our team and he’s trying to win a game for his team. I don’t know what it was all about. I’ve never even spoken to the guy.”

By referencing his own bat flip, it’s pretty clear that Donaldson knows exactly what it was all about. In case there was any question, Perkins put it quickly to rest.

Asked by reporters after the game if Donaldson had admired his foul ball, the pitcher was succinct. “He did—I think everyone saw that,” he said. “He hit it a long way. But I’m strict, too. I’m not big on that.”

It’s unlikely that this will merit further visitation from either of the aggrieved parties, but in case it does, the teams wrap up the series this afternoon.

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1971: On the Invention of the Dugout Brushback

Chuck Dobson Research 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. Turns out that hot-headed pitchers of the time weren’t limited to the pantheon of Bob Gibson and Don Drysdale. From the Oakland Tribune, June 25, 1971:

It was just another rainout until Oakland’s Chuck Dobson threw a brushback pitch at Minnesota manager Bill Rigney.

Rigney was standing in the Twins’ dugout at the time.

“He didn’t roll it in there,” Minnesota coach Vern Morgan said afterward. “What is he, crazy?

Dobson was angry for historical reasons, and because Rigney made him change his pants. Dobson ripped his trousers sliding into a tag at home plate for the last out in the top of the third yesterday.

With the game still scoreless, Dobson went out to the mound to pitch the bottom of the inning, his right trouser leg taped together and mud rubbed on the tape to cover the whiteness.

Rigney yelled a protest at plate umpire Nestor Chylak and Dobson had to go inside and change. By the time he returned to the field, it was raining again—there had been a 39-minute delay in the firs tinning—and the game eventually was called without another pitch thrown.

Dobson took two steps off the mound, turned, and either lobbed or fired the ball into the Twins’ dugout, depending on who told the story. In any case, the ball bounced into the dugout.

“I wanted him to have the game ball,” Dobson said. “I don’t have much patience with him. He called us a bunch of garbage collectors the last year he managed the Angels (1969), and this year he said his team could beat us any time they wanted to. I probably shouldn’t have done it, but he called us too many bad names to just lay down and take it.”

“I didn’t see it,” Rigney said. “I was just turning around to sit down. I guess it almost hit (pitching coach Marv) Grissom. I heard it. It hit the wall. It sounded kind of like ‘splat.’ ”

Grissom charged out of the dugout and wagged a warning finger at the departing Dobson.

“He just fired it in there,” Grissom said. “That’s bush league. That should be an automatic ejection.”

 Dobson faced Minnesota once more during Rigney’s tenure—the following week, in Oakland—and was not hit by a pitch.

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Filed under Oakland A's, Retaliation