Retaliation

Edwards Gets Chatty About Retaliation

Carl Edwards Jr.

Maybe Carl Edwards Jr. needs more time to work into midseason form. He’s having an outstanding spring, posting a 1.93 ERA and striking out more than a batter per inning for the Cubs, but one part of his game shows clear signs of rust: After drilling Seattle’s Austin Nola on Tuesday, he came out afterward and admitted to reporters that he meant to do it.

Kris Bryant and Willson Contreras had hit by pitches earlier in the game—Bryant’s been hit three times in 36 plate appearances this spring, Contreras three times in 31 plate appearances—and, Edwards said, he’d had enough. Via MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian:

“Yeah, I did. It’s just, honestly, it’s like the nature of the game, spring training or not. It’s just you get to a point where you’re kind of tired of the guys getting hit. I mean, those are our big guys. That’s 25-man roster. Those are guys that are going to help us win championships, help us win ballgames. And, you know, all due respect, but it’s the nature of the game. And it just gets to a point where you just get tired, you know? Yes, it was Willy and a couple innings before it was KB.”

The idea is that Edwards’ response will serve to curtail teams from taking similar liberties in the future with Chicago’s middle-of-the-order guys. It also suggests that a 40-man guy or non-roster invitee might not have received similar protection from the reliever.

Except that Seattle’s pitchers, Cresbitt and Mills, are both non-roster players, targeted for the minor leagues. The entire Mariners lineup, in fact, was Triple-A-level at best, considering that the big leaguers had already departed for Japan. Stepping in against wild youth during March games can be a crapshoot, and Edwards’ message pitch probably held little resonance for guys who weren’t trying to drill anyone in the first place.

At the very least, the right-hander let the rest of the Cubs roster know that he’s looking out for their best interests. Maybe—like Dock Ellis, who drilled three straight Reds players to open a game in 1974—he simply felt too much complacency on a team with playoff aspirations. Where he went wrong was talking about it. From The Baseball Codes:

When a pitcher confesses to hitting a batter intentionally, it’s an admission that, at best, strikes an odd note with the view­ing public. People inside baseball understand appropriate doses of retalia­tion, but the practice represents a level of brutality that simply doesn’t translate in most people’s lives.

This is the reason that such admissions leave the commissioner’s office little choice but to levy punishment. It’s why Frank Robinson—one of the most thrown-at players of his generation and in possession of a deep understanding of baseball’s retaliatory code—was so heavy-handed when he served as Major League Baseball’s director of discipline, long after his playing career had ended. It’s why Jose Mesa was suspended for four games in response to hitting Omar Vizquel after saying he would do pre­cisely that, even though he wasn’t even thrown out of the game in which it happened. It’s why normally outspoken White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen responded with nothing more than a knowing smile when asked whether he’d ordered one of his pitchers to throw at his former outfielder Carlos Lee during a 2006 spring-training game. It’s why, after Dock Ellis famously and intentionally hit three batters in a row to open a game in 1974, Pirates catcher Manny Sanguillen proclaimed to the media that he had never seen anybody so wild, despite having been briefed by Ellis about his plan prior to the game. It’s why, when Mickey Lolich of the Tigers and Dave Boswell of the Twins exchanged beanballs in a 1969 con­test, each said afterward that his ball had “slipped.”

If the defendant confesses to a crime, the hanging judge has little choice but to act. Don’t be surprised when MLB hands down a suspension for Edwards in the coming days.

 

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Hidden Ball Trick

Miguel Cabrera Is Back, And He’s Tricking The Hell Out Of The Twins

Hidden ball trick

Miguel Cabrera pulled off the hidden-ball trick at first base against Minnesota’s Ehire Adrianza yesterday, faking a return throw to the pitcher after a pickoff attempt and giving the Twitterverse a good chuckle.

It’s spring training, so okay, but it’s not like this kind of thing doesn’t happen during the regular season. There are too many instances over the recent past to comprehensively list here, but a particularly banner year for the play was 2013. That August, Evan Longoria, with a big hand from the rest of the Rays infield, pulled it off at third base against Juan Uribe of the Dodgers, leading to some terrific ribbing from Uribe’s teammates. (It also led the Dodgers to bring in a magician to teach Uribe an actual hidden-ball trick.)

Ten days later, Max Stassi—after his first major league hit, no less—was caught, perhaps inadvertently, when Ian Kinsler ended up with a deflected ball that Stassi had been unable to track.

That September, just a few weeks later, gave us this:

There was even a play earlier that summer in which the Padres caught Pablo Sandoval napping off of second, which isn’t listed higher because it didn’t count. Mainly, it serves to show how difficult it is to pull off the play successfully: Umpires ruled that not only had time already been called on the other side of the field, but pitcher Sean O’Sullivan was standing atop the mound, which would have negated things anyway.

(One other play worth noting came in 2005, when Arizona’s Luis Terrero was caught by Florida third baseman Mike Lowell after a base hit to left—which is newsworthy here mainly because the ball was initially fielded by a baby Miguel Cabrera, who can be seen above tagging Ehire Adrianza.) Watch it as part of this compilation:

The Sandoval account excerpts part of the hidden-ball trick passage from The Baseball Codes, but because I love this stuff so much, I’m running it again below, with more detail:

A deke is essentially baseball pantomime, a player catching a ball that isn’t really there, then tagging a befuddled opponent. Its inverse is the hidden-ball trick, in which a fielder applies a tag with a ball the runner thinks is somewhere else. The play usually involves the first or third baseman receiving the ball from an outfielder after a hit, then acting like he’s given it to the pitcher, often through a fake handoff near the mound. When the baserunner takes his lead, the fielder has simply to tag him; as long as the pitcher isn’t atop the mound when this happens, it’s perfectly legal.

“A lot of people thought it was kind of a chickenshit play,” said Steve Lyons, “but my feeling always was, Pay attention.” Lyons’s favorite situa­tion in which to utilize the strategy was on tight double plays, when all eyes were on the first-base umpire to see whether he’d call the runner safe or out. Because many first basemen naturally hop off the bag toward the pitcher, said Lyons, “all you have to do is take three more steps, give [the pitcher] a little nod, hang on to the ball, turn around, and come back to first base. Guys get off the base too early all the time.”

Third baseman Matt Williams was one of his era’s foremost practition­ers of the trick, going so far as to induce runners off the base. With the Giants in 1994, Williams pretended to give the ball to pitcher Dave Burba, then returned to his position and asked the runner, Dodgers rookie Rafael Bournigal, if he “could clean the bag off.” The runner gra­ciously stepped aside, which Williams immediately made him regret. “The intent was not to embarrass anybody or to pick on anybody,” he said after pulling the trick against Royals rookie Jed Hansen three years later. “But you want to win, and we needed to win that game.”

At least he got that much out of it. Lyons said that in the minor leagues he once pulled off the play at first base on consecutive days, against the same baserunner, Carlos Martinez. “He was probably pissed off, but the embarrassment when you actually get caught overrules everything,” he said. “You get caught, you’re embarrassed, you start walking back to the dugout. He was big enough to pinch my head off if he wanted to.”

Lyons once hid the ball so well that baserunner Scott Fletcher wasn’t the only one completely snookered—so was the umpire, who called the runner safe on the play. “I got in a pretty good argument over that one,” said Lyons. “I said, ‘Do you think I’m stupid enough to pull the hidden-ball trick, have everybody in the entire ballpark not know that I have the ball, fool every player on both my team and their team, fool the guy who’s on first base, and then tag him before he’s off the bag? Do you think I’m that dumb?’ And what I didn’t realize until that point was that I didn’t really give the umpire a shot to know I had the ball. In fact, I fooled every­body. It’s a little unfair to have him make the right call on that play if he doesn’t know I have the ball, so after that I tried to make sure that they did. It’s pretty hard to try to hide the ball from everybody in the world and still show it to the umpire and say, Hey, I’ve got it here, keep your eyes open—but that’s what I tried to do.”

Philadelphia infielder Steve Jeltz presented an even harder-luck case in 1986. He had the ball, showed it to the nearest infield umpire, and picked the runner, Curt Ford of the St. Louis Cardinals, cleanly off second base. The only problem was that Phillies catcher John Russell, unaware of what was going on across the diamond, requested time out, which plate ump John McSherry granted just as the shortstop was racing to apply the tag. Because the ball was no longer in play by the time Jeltz reached Ford, the runner was allowed to return to second.

Finally, let’s close with Harold Reynolds, recounting with Darryl Hamilton the time he caught Hamilton with just such a play—after Hamilton’s first hit upon being called up to major league spring training camp, no less. (Turns out that Reynolds used the Matt Williams classic let-me-clean-off-the-bag line.)

Hidden ball trick!

Retaliation, Umpires Knowing the Code

That Time When Syndergaard vs. Utley Brought Us ‘Ass In The Jackpot’ In All Its Glory

Syndergaard tossed

Way back in 2016 I wrote about Noah Syndergaard’s ejection against the Dodgers, for a pitch he threw behind Chase Utley in response to Utley’s having broken the leg of shortstop Ruben Tejada during the previous season’s playoffs.

Which brings us to video of umpire Tom Hallion trying to cool the situation, and barely succeeding. (The clip came out last June, but is somehow making the rounds again now. Which is reason enough to dive in with gusto.)

The umpire seems to understand that baseball has a method for delivering retaliation, and even appears receptive to looking the other way. Except, he tells the pitcher, “that’s the wrong time to do it.”

This is where things get confusing. There was one out in the third inning of a scoreless game when Syndergaard threw his pitch well behind Utley. The right-hander had already faced him once, leading off the game, and struck him out. There was also the not-inconsequential detail that the Mets had faced Utley five times, covering 19 plate appearances—including five the previous day—since he’d injured Tejada without so much as a whiff of controversy. If Syndergaard’s timing was wrong, what timing would have been better?

When Terry Collins gets involved, he tells Hallion: “You gotta give us a shot!”

Hallion’s response: “You get your shot. You had your shot right there. … You know the situation, Terry.”

Collins was, of course, talking about a repercussion-free shot, not one in which one of his aces gets tossed in the third inning after throwing only 33 pitches. The best guess here is that Hallion didn’t mean a word he was saying, and was just trying to cool the situation as quickly as possible.

The most vital part of the conversation—and this cannot be understated—came when Hallion broke out the phrase that has since gained him infamy: “Our ass is in the jackpot.” Twice.

The situation is old, the insight is new, and spring training is in full swing. Welcome back to baseball, everybody.

Retaliation, Teammate Relations

When Bad Things Happen To New Teammates: Welcome To Philly, Bryce Harper

Hamels vs. Harper

Remember back in 2012, Bryce Harper’s rookie year, when the guy was the most hyped teenage phenom baseball had seen in a generation? Remember when, in his first at-bat in his eighth game ever, Cole Hammels drilled him, just because?

Hamels admitted to it and everything, as reported right on this here blog, as a way of putting the upstart rookie in his place.

This is relevant today because, while Hamels has moved on (first to Texas, then to the Cubs), the Phillies manager then, Charlie Manuel, is still a special advisor with the club … which, as of last Saturday, has a new superstar right fielder. So of course the incident came to mind, and the former skipper made sure to get out in front of the situation.

“I didn’t tell Hamels to hit you,” Manuel told Harper prior to his introductory press conference, according to The Athletic’s Matt Gelb.

Okay, then. I guess that’s that.

***

Actually, baseball history is rife with examples of guys who have beefed having to join forces in the same clubhouse. Inevitably, players manage to put aside their differences, or at least lower the volume a little bit. In 1940, for example, Cardinals catcher Mickey Owens went after Dodgers player-manager Leo Durocher after the infielder started jawing at him following a play at second base. The full-fledged fistfight was the culmination of a series of events that included the beaning and subsequent hospitalization of Dodgers second baseman Joe Medwick a day earlier, and a near brawl between Durocher and Cardinals manager Billy Southworth over breakfast that morning. Owens, who was fined $50 for his actions by commissioner Ford Frick, could not have been more firm in his ill feelings about Durocher.

Less than six months later, he was traded to Brooklyn. Somehow, Owen and his new skipper existed copacetically for the next five seasons.

In 1975, after Rangers second baseman Dave Nelson bunted on Gaylord Perry for a base hit, the pitcher exacted revenge by throwing a ball at his head, which missed its mark only because Nelson deflected it with his arm. Later that season Perry was traded to Texas, and Nelson was notably cool upon the pitcher’s arrival. Eventually Perry approached his new teammate. “Hey, Dave,” he said. “I enjoyed the competition.” Nelson couldn’t believe it. He exploded about the right-hander’s head-hunting ways, and Perry took the time to explain his mindset. Nelson didn’t agree, but he at least appreciated the response. “I didn’t have much respect for him until he became a teammate,” Nelson said later.

Much more fun than either of those instances was Mike Piazza’s reaction following the incident during the 2000 World Series when Roger Clemens threw a shard of bat at him. Piazza opted against going after the pitcher at the time, and perhaps regretted having missed the opportunity. In 2004, he got another chance, teaming with Clemens (who had since joined the Houston Astros) on the National League All-Star roster. The rest comes straight from The Baseball Codes:

The National League’s starting battery was Clemens and Piazza; despite sharing the home clubhouse, the pair was noteworthy for their avoidance of each other. Not only did a public reconciliation fail to materialize, but the two shared not so much as a handshake, and Clemens spent much of his pre­game time on the field warming up in the bullpen with someone other than Piazza.

Then the fireworks started. Clemens lasted just one inning in his home ballpark, giving up six runs on a single, double, triple, and two home runs. Through it all, Piazza never once visited the mound to calm him. After­ward, the theorists started in: Had Piazza attained a measure of revenge by tipping the hitters to what was coming? The chance to embarrass Clemens in front of his hometown fans had to be appealing. But Piazza’s not talking. Neither are the American League hitters. The plate umpire, Ed Montague, swears that he didn’t hear a thing. And as far as Roger Clemens is concerned, the less he knows the better.

The pressure Bryce Harper will face over the next 13 seasons in Philadelphia will be significant, but,  none of it should resemble any of that. At least he has that much going for him.

Retaliation

With Springtime Tit-For-Tat, Pirates and Rays Already In Midseason Form

Spring Training

Spring training has long been a place to settle old scores. Want to drill a guy without repercussions to your regular-season ERA? Save it for March. Just this morning I saw a tweet from @RememberWhenMLB …

… about one of the very first topics I covered upon launching this blog back in 2010. Zito did what he had to do, Fielder took it in stride, and everybody moved along their merry ways.

Baseball was different then; retaliation for personal expression is far less expected now than it was even a decade ago. This is a good thing. But just because someone like Zito is less likely to throw at someone like Fielder in the modern version of spring training doesn’t mean that it doesn’t happen.

Just ask the Pirates.

In a game between the Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay yesterday, two Rays pitchers—Ryne Stanek and Oliver Drake—hit Pirates batters in the early going. Unless there’s some yet-to-be-publicized bad blood (unlikely given that the last time these teams  played each other in the regular season, 2017, none of the four principals—the batters who got hit or the pitchers who hit them—were even on their respective rosters), those pitches were purely accidental. Because of course they were. It’s the only reasonable explanation.

For Pirates pitcher Clay Holmes, it didn’t matter. The right-hander responded by drilling Pirates infielder Willy Adames. (He later denied intent, which is itself believable given that the primary knock on Holmes is his control.) For Rays manager Kevin Cash, however, Holmes’ motivation was clear. “Are you happy?” he yelled across the field from his dugout after the pitch connected.

Holmes, a 26-year-old who made it into 11 games last year in his first season in the big leagues, understands that the best way to curry favor in one’s clubhouse is to stand up for one’s teammates in any way necessary. While the scope of the word “necessary” can shift from player to player, there’s no mistaking that with one simple fastball, the right-hander established that the Pirates have at least one guy among their ranks unwilling to tolerate abuse (whether real or perceived) to his teammates.

Never mind that it’s ludicrous to send a message about mistake pitches thrown during a period in the schedule when ballplayers are mainly trying to work out winter kinks. (Hell, Drake’s a non-roster invitee who started his appearance with six straight balls.)

Plate ump Bill Welke actually warned both benches, to ensure that the foolishness went no further. “It’s weird in spring training,” said a baffled Adames after the game, in a Tampa Bay Times report. “You’re not expecting that.”

Nossir, you’re not. We’re now faced with the dual possibilities of A) This going away quickly because who really cares, and B) It’s still only spring training, so if Cash or any of his charges wants to respond, they have massive latitude to do so. Let’s hope it’s the former.

[H/T Road Dog Russ]

They Bled Blue

The First Review Is In For My New Book

TBB cover smallMy next book, They Bled Blue—about the 1981 Dodgers—isn’t out until June 4, but the first review is already in, from Kirkus. There’s some good stuff in there: “While less vaunted than the 1927 or 1961 New York Yankees, the 1981 Los Angeles Dodgers produced enough fireworks to deserve significant attention, and Turbow delivers the goods. … A skillful mixture of biographies, on-field action, and behind-the-scenes baseball politics in a story with a happy ending for Dodger fans.”

It was an exceedingly weird year for an overachieving team with an abundance of compelling story lines. It was also a joy to write.

Pre-order now at Amazon or, even better, at your local independent bookseller.

Names

That Time When God Faced The Devil At The Metrodome

Jim GottSo the Giants just traded for reliever Trevor Gott, an unassuming deal for a back-end reliever.

The trade does, however, serve to remind us of former pitcher Jim Gott (who himself pitched for the Giants from 1985 to 1987, and is not related to Trevor)—specifically that time when he first squared off against Twins infielder Tim Teufel.

It was 1983. Gott was in his second season with Toronto and Teufel was a September call-up for the Twins. Neither player was a world-beater, and both teams would finish in the second division. The reason the showdown gained notice: In German, Gott means “God” and Teufel means “Devil.” The players didn’t yet possess enough name recognition for religious, Teutonic-minded baseball fans to pay notice, which was probably a good thing. Teufel, playing in his 10th major league game, touched Gott for his first-ever home run, a sure sign of evil defeating good.

Or was it? Teufel singled against Gott an inning later in his next at-bat, then went hitless against him for the rest of his 11-year career (even as Gott moved to the Giants, Pirates and Dodgers, Teufel to the Mets and Padres)—a stretch of seven at-bats plus two walks. (Gott is currently the bullpen coach for the Phillies, and Teufel a minor league instructor for the Mets.)

Trevor Gott will likely encounter no such nemesis as his namesake. Hell, even the Devil Rays scratched Satan from their name.