Tag Archives: Oakland A’s

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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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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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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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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Filed under Don't Steal with a Big Lead, Oakland A's

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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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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Filed under Dallas Braden, Don't Cross the Pitcher's Mound