Tag Archives: Retaliation

Spring Drill Exchange in Arizona Sets Tone for D-Backs

Wade Miley

Mr. Miley

There are benefits to blanket warnings that your team will no longer tolerate opposing pitchers throwing at your players. Say it enough, and back it up once or twice, and maybe people will believe it to be true.

Of course, should your pitcher, under said blanket, hit somebody unintentionally, cries of innocence tend to fall on deaf ears.

This is part of what made last week’s HBP exchange between the Diamondbacks and Rockies so confusing. Perhaps Arizona pitchers are training up their tough-guy attitude, which would help explain Wade Miley putting a fastball into Troy Tulowitzki’s calf on Wednesday.

It sure seemed like retaliation, coming as it did after  Rockies farmhand Tommy Kahnle hit Arizona’s Mark Trumbo in the back—which itself came after Diamondbacks GM. Kevin Towers said on his local radio show last October that “Come spring training, it will be duly noted that it’s going to be an eye for an eye,” and that pitchers who don’t agree “probably don’t belong in a Diamondbacks uniform.”

Unless there’s some unknown beef between Kahnle—whose lack of control has contributed to his never having pitched above the Double-A level—and Trumbo, the initial volley was almost certainly a case of a misplaced pitch. Was Miley out to prove that his team won’t tolerate wildness from farmhands?

But Towers’ statement—along with the facts that Miley has excellent control and Tulowitzki is an obvious retaliatory target—eliminates the perception that the drilling was a mistake. Even if the drilling was a mistake.

It was almost certainly a mistake when, later in the game, Arizona pitcher Jimmie Sherfy—a 22-year-old whose career consists of 17 1/3 innings at or below A-ball—hit Colorado’s Michael McKenry. Again, however, thanks to Towers’ decree, it didn’t matter. The Rockies responded in kind, right-hander Raul Hernandez throwing a pitch behind Jesus Montero in the eighth, at which point plate ump Doug Eddings finally saw fit to warn both dugouts.

It barely matters that Towers followed up his initial statement to clarify that he wasn’t in support of hitting guys on purpose, but rather if “our hitters are being made uncomfortable at the plate, we need to be the same way.” He added that his point was “about pitching inside effectively with purpose.”

Yeah, but still. Damage done.

Spring training is a great place to settle old scores—atone for injustices of the past when the games don’t count and tee times await those who get thumbed from ballgames early. Turning it into a proving ground for new scores, however, is reckless. Tulowitzki left that game and had not returned to the lineup as of the end of last week.

If Miley was throwing at Tulo, he was out of line. If the pitch legitimately got away from him, he can thank his GM for causing the rest of us to doubt that to be true.

(H/T to Troy Renck, who shares his own terrific insight at the Denver Post.)

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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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1976: Reggie Unhappy with Baltimore Protection

Reggie O'sResearch for my next book, about the OaklandA’s dynasty of the 1970s, to be published by Houghton Mifflin in 2015, has turned up boundless examples of unwritten rules from that bygone era. The latest concerns Reggie Jackson, freshly traded to the Baltimore Orioles in 1976, who was unappreciative of the fact that his teammates were getting knocked down, seemingly free of repercussion.

There’s little to tout  about a you-hit-my-guy-so-I’ll-hit-your-guy mentality, but the reality—more prevalent in 1976 than in the modern game—is that if pitchers are given the leeway to command the inner part of the plate without constraint, they frequently will. That command coming at the cost of a few hit batters is a built-in cost … until an opponent entices them to knock it off. Which was Jackson’s point. 

From the Associated Press, June 13, 1976:

Kansas City — An angry Reggie Jackson declared Saturday that if Orioles pitchers don’t hit a Kansas City batter this Sunday, “then, by God, I’m walking off this team.”

“But first, I’m going to fight them all myself,” he said, gesturing toward the Royals locker room. “So I get whipped… So what?”

Jackson stalked back and forth in front of a row of silent, dejected Baltimore players who had just lost, 7-6, on national television, for their eighth setback in a row.

Jackson’s anger — evidently shared by many of his teammates as well as manager Earl Weaver — stemmed from Lee May’s being hit in the head by a pitch from Royals reliever Marty Pattin in the ninth inning.

May was hit in the arm but not hurt in the first inning by Steve Busby. He was the first batter up in the ninth following Jackson’s three-run homer and was struck behind the left ear by Pattin.

The veteran slugger was helped off the field and taken to a hospital for x-rays. His condition was not immediately known.

“If we don’t hit somebody tomorrow, I just won’t believe it,” Jackson said. Still pacing and talking in a low growl, he unraveled the tape which bandaged his injured right wrist and spat expletives.

“But, Reggie, you know Earl’s philosophy on these things,” said a teammate.

“The hell with his philosophy. They hit him in the first inning and the manager says, ‘let’s not do anything.’ And look what happened. It’s time to change that philosophy,” Jackson said.

Weaver was told in his office moments later that his philosophy had been placed under fire.

“I’m beginning to wonder myself,” said the Baltimore skipper, adding, “I have no more to say.”


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

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

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

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

Fregosi will be missed.

[h/t to reader CBF.]

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

Ken HoltzmanResearch for my next book, about the OaklandA’s dynasty of the 1970s, to be published by Houghton Mifflin in 2015, has turned up boundless examples of unwritten rules from that bygone era. On-field revenge was more institutionally prevalent then than it is now, leading some players to go to extremes. This tale of getting things done properly is brought to you via the Oakland Tribune, May 22, 1972:

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

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

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

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


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Justin Verlander: Holding the Line for Sportsmen Across the Land

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

Shortly after the game, Justin Verlander tweeted this:

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

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1972: On Making Moon Mad

Blue Moon OdomResearch 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, from Oakland Tribune beat writer Ron Bergman,  July 10, 1972: 

Jim Longborg threw a pitch in the first inning that bounced in back of Reggie Jackson. Blue Moon Odom retaliated by throwing behind Dave May, the first batter in the Milwaukee second. The ball nicked him in the back.

On the way to first, May exchanged words with Odom. Later in the inning, with May on third, Odom picked up Rick Auerbach’s attempted squeeze bunt and ran down May. A few more words were heard.

“Odom was saying that he didn’t think he hit May,” said plate umpire Don Denkinger. “At that point, I said if anything more happened, I’d have to warn both managers.”

Jackson said he thought Longborg was throwing behind him deliberately, and added, “It’s no fun, a pitch like that. It pleased me what Odom did. We like to play behind a guy like that.”

Longborg said he wasn’t throwing behind Jackson deliberately. Odom wouldn’t say that.

“That pitch didn’t get away from him that much,” Moon said. “He’s got pretty good control. It was intentional. They asked me why I threw behind May. I told them to ask their pitcher. It didn’t matter who’d been up first the next inning — my mother, or the manager — I still would’ve thrown at him. I meant to throw behind him. I didn’t try to hit him. I didn’t think I hit him until [A’s catcher Dave] Duncan told me later that I ticked his shirt. I told [Brewers first baseman] George Scott that I would’ve thrown at him if he’d been the first up. And he’s one of my big buddies.”

Over in the Milwaukee clubhouse, Scott shook his head from side to side.

“Man throw behind you, you got to throw at somebody else,” Scott said. “I’m glad I wasn’t the first one up.”

May walked in from the shower and said that “I definitely will remember this. It will stick in my mind. Lonborg wasn’t throwing at Jackson. I told Odom after he threw at me that I was coming out to get him. I went out to see what he was going to say. He didn’t have anything to say. When a guy throws behind you, he’s got something in mind.”

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Reggie: ‘You Got to Throw at Someone on the Other Team and Hurt Them’

Reggie Jackson, 1969As means of explaining the relative lack of frequency of posts to this site recently , I figure it’s time to announce my latest project: a book about the championship Oakland A’s teams of the early 1970s, to be published by Houghton Mifflin in spring, 2015. Suffice it to say that I’ve been fairly well inundated.

I bring it up here because during the course of my research I’ve encountered any number of unwritten rules-related issues from back in the day, covering all manner of topics. Referencing them regularly through the off-season seems like a decent way to pass the time until pitchers and catchers report in February. They might not mean much now, but boy are they fun.

For now, it seems like the best way to approach it is offer up entire excerpts—from game stories, mostly, primarily from the Oakland Tribune’s beat writer par excellence, Ron Bergman. This one is from July 18, 1969.

Even before the game, Reggie Jackson was ticked off.

“I’m telling you,” he said, spitting on his hands, “if they try that stuff on me when Chuck’s pitching, somebody’s going to get hurt.”

It just so happens that Jackson’s roommate, Chuck Dobson, is pitching tonight for the Oakland Athletics in the opener of a three-game series against the California Angels.

For the second game in a row and the seventh time this season, Jackson was hit by a pitch last night during the A’s 8-2 victory in Seattle. This one, thrown by loser Marty Pattin (7-9), struck him on the right forearm.  …

“What they’re trying to do,” said Reggie, “is make a good pitch inside for a strike or miss.”

What the inflamed major league home run leader meant was miss by hitting him.

“That’s one base,” Reggie continued. “That’s better than four. I don’t mind. It’s all part of the game. But all I ask is protect me. A man’s got 35 homers for you, you got to throw at someone on the other team and hurt them.”

Someone reminded Reggie that [A's pitcher] Lew Krausse threw at Don Mincher Wednesday night after Jackson was hit by Gene Brabender.

“Yeah,” snapped Jackson. “Throw the ball and holler ‘watch out.’ ” When they throw at me they don’t holler watch out. Look, someday I’m going to be hit on the hand and it’s going to break. [Jackson was referring to the hand he threw up when protecting his head.] Then what? I’m going to have to go out there with shin guards on my arms. “

Catfish Hunter, who won his third in a row with a six-hitter, said he would have retaliated had he thought the Pilot pitchers were throwing close to Jackson deliberately.

“If they start throwing at his head, then I’ve got to brush them back,” said Hunter, referring to Seattle’s Don Mincher, who homered off the A’s for the third straight game.

Of the seven times Jackson had been hit over the team’s first 92 games to that point, most had been on his aforementioned hand. The aforementioned Mincher, who led Seattle with 25 homers in 1969, would be acquired by the A’s for the 1970 season, and again led his team in homers, with 27.

Also worth noting: Reggie’s prescience in envisioning Barry Bonds’ body armor, three decades before it actually came about.

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When Hot Talk Radio Blows Up: D-Backs GM on the Softness of His Pitchers

Kevin TowersKevin Towers did a lot of things with his weekly show on KTAR 620AM in Phoenix on Tuesday.

He showed why open discussion of baseball’s unwritten rules from an insider’s perspective can a bad idea.

He illustrated the gap between a normal response to a situation, and a baseball response.

And, in case any doubt remained, he proved conclusively that he holds some old-school opinions when it comes to this kind of thing.

In discussing the team’s lack of retaliation last season when provoked—on the same day that he fired D-Backs pitching coach Charles Nagy, no less—Towers intoned that he expected more from his pitchers when it comes to keeping the opposition honest.

“Come spring training, it will be duly noted that it’s going to be an eye for an eye and we’re going to protect one another,” he said. “If not, if you have options, there’s ways to get you out of here and if you don’t follow suit or you don’t feel comfortable doing it, you probably don’t belong in a Diamondbacks uniform.”

Towers referenced his team’s 8-1 loss to the Dodgers on Sept. 9, specifically the behavior of some Los Angeles players as they celebrated a six-home-run game in their dugout. It did not make him feel respected.

“I was sitting behind home plate that game and when it showed up on the Diamondvision of stuffing bananas down their throats, I felt like we were a punching bag,” he said. “Literally, if I would have had a carton of baseballs, I would have fired them into the dugout from where I was sitting behind home plate.”

Because, you know, in his sport, justice is meted out by throwing baseballs at a guy.

He went on to describe a moment later in the month when first baseman Paul Goldschmidt was drilled, but Arizona pitchers did not respond. Towers: “Goldy gets dinged, and no retaliation. It’s like, ‘Wait a minute.’ If Goldy’s getting hit, it’s an eye for an eye. Somebody’s going down or somebody’s going to get jackknifed.” (As noted by Hardball Talk, Wade Miley was the pitcher all three times Goldschmidt was drilled last season.)

It made for captivating radio. It also earned the GM national attention, and not in a good way. Yesterday he circled back to clarify that “going down” and getting “jackknifed” are distinct from getting drilled. (Which is true, even if it’s difficult to square with his personal inclination to throw baseballs at the Dodgers.)

“I’m not saying hit players on purpose,” he said in an MLB.com report. “I’m saying if our hitters are being made uncomfortable at the plate, we need to be the same way; we need to make the opposing hitters uncomfortable at the plate and pitch in with purpose and take that inner third away.”

He cited an instance in which the Padres retaliated for a batter hit by Arizona closer Heath Bell by throwing inside to Aaron Hill.

“The bat went up in the air and it knocked him off his feet,” Towers said. “I said, ‘You know what, that’s baseball.’ They weren’t trying to hurt Aaron Hill. They were protecting their player. It was pitched in with purpose to send a message. I applaud that, and that was from the other club. It’s the way baseball is played. He ended up getting him out on the outer half because he took away the inner half.”

Ultimately, it’s a stretch for an old-school baseball guy to expect that most people outside the game will understand his perspective on the subject (especially if he devolves into prattle about throwing knockdown pitches from the stands). One of Towers’ problems, of course, is that even the people within his own organization didn’t seem to understand him. He wasn’t pleased with Kirk Gibson’s lack of response when players were thrown at this season, and the topic played a role in his dismissal of Nagy.

The idea of retaliatory pitches can be debated all day and into tomorrow, but Towers’ comments planted him within the baseball mainstream. The unwritten rule he broke was in talking about it in anything other than platitudes to begin with. 

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Darling on Werth Drilling: ‘Boy, Was That Obvious’

Werth drilledWhy Frank Francisco drilled Jayson Werth on Thursday is not yet clear. That it was intentional—and stupid—was obvious to at least three people: Werth, Bryce Harper and Mets broadcaster Ron Darling.

It came with no outs in the eighth inning, on a 3-0 fastball, after Francisco had already allowed doubles to the first two batters he faced, extending Washington’s lead to 5-2. (The Nats ended up winning, 7-2. At this point, frustration is as good a guess as any when it comes to pinpointing Francisco’s motivation.)

Werth knew it was intentional when it happened. So, apparently did plate ump Anthony Recker, who, despite the fact that Werth made no move toward the mound, grabbed the barrel of his bat as he lingered near the plate, staring at Francisco.

“Boy, was that obvious,” said Darling on the broadcast. “For you folks at home—and you hear me all the time say, ‘That wasn’t intentional’—well, this one was intentional.”

Darling was then asked by broadcaster Gary Cohen why Francisco would drill a batter in that situation.

Darling’s reply: “Because he’s a fool.” (Watch it here.)

Werth wouldn’t comment after the game, but handled things in the moment, taking out shortstop Reuben Tejada moments later with an aggressive slide at second base. Harper, who reached on a fielder’s choice, did something similar to second baseman Daniel Murphy.

(The idea was summed up by Bob Brenly in The Baseball Codes: “I’ve gotten on first base when I’ve been hit by a pitch and told the first baseman, ‘If there’s a ground ball hit I’m going to fuck up one of your middle infielders, and [pointing to the mound] you can tell him that it was his fault.’ That’s a way you can get them to police themselves. A pitcher drills somebody just because he feels like it, and if one of the middle infielders gets flipped out there he’s going to tell the pitcher to knock it off. Ultimately, that’s all we want anyway—just play the game the right way.”)

“That was total B.S. what Francisco did there,” said a scout in attendance, in a Washington Post report. “Almost got his shortstop’s ankle broken.”

Sure enough, Nationals pitchers never retaliated. If Werth’s slide wasn’t enough for them, they’ll have to wait until next year to address the issue, because the teams don’t meet again this season.

Update (9/16): At least one Mets pitcher wasn’t too pleased.



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