Just a day after Alex Rodriguez helped propel the unwritten rules of baseball into the national spotlight, another Yankee, Mark Teixeira, did his part to keep them there. The circumstances and motivations couldn’t have been more different, but a Code discussion is a Code discussion.
On April 23, Teixeira, steaming in from third base, leveled Angels catcher Bobby Wilson with a hit so vicious that it put Wilson into the hospital, with a concussion and injured leg. (Watch the video here.)
There are numerous facets of the play that help paint the catcher as an innocent victim:
- Wilson was effectively blocking only the inside portion of the plate, meaning that had Teixera attempted to slide wide, the collision might have been avoided.
- Wilson, with all of 20 big-league games under his belt, was making his first start of the season.
- Teixeira had been drilled earlier in the inning by Angels starter Ervin Santana, leading to speculation that the play might constitute a measure of payback.
- Angels outfielder Torii Hunter, whose stature in the game is equal to that of Teixeira, said in the Orange County Register that “if he slides, he’s safe regardless. I guess he was on a mission.”
- Teixeria emerged unscathed. Wilson hasn’t played since.
Compelling as this all may be, the unwritten rules are rarely swayed by sentiment. The Code says unequivocally that if a catcher doesn’t possess the baseball, he has no business standing between baserunner and plate. And Wilson didn’t possess the baseball.
He had been set up to receive the throw on the first-base side; once it arrived, he spun across the plate to make the tag. This would have been fine had the throw not bounced off his chest protector even as he began to turn. (It wasn’t dissimilar to a wide receiver who’s thinking which way he’s going to break once he makes the catch, then drops the ball.)
The amount of time Teixeira had to settle on his line of baserunning tactics based on Wilson’s body language: sub-eyeblink.
The most famous incident of catcher decimation came in the 1970 All-Star Game, when Pete Rose took out Cleveland’s catcher Ray Fosse with the winning run in the 12th inning. Like Wilson, Fosse was in the baseline without the ball (unlike Wilson, he was actually moving toward Rose to field an errant throw), and got leveled. The hit from Rose separated Fosse’s shoulder, forever robbing him of his power. (It was also enough to knock Rose out of action for the next three games; still, when asked if he had done the appropriate thing, Rose responded, “Nobody told me they changed it to girls’ softball between third and home.”)
The clearest vindication for Teixeria (aside even from Wilson himself, who, despite not being able to remember the play, said later that “I know his intent wasn’t to hurt me. It’s baseball. . . . It’s part of the game”) is the fact that three former iron-tough catchers—Angels manager Mike Scioscia, Yankees manager Joe Girardi and Yankees coach Tony Pena—watched from either dugout, and none of them found fault with the play.
(Scioscia called it “clean.” Said Girardi in the New Jersey Star-Ledger: “Your job as a catcher is to block the plate. You’ve got to keep the runner from scoring. Sometimes you get run over.)
Teixeria went so far as to maintain another unwritten rule after the game, calling over to the Angels clubhouse to check on Wilson’s status.
It didn’t take long even for Hunter to come around; later in the same interview in which he said that Teixeira should have slid, he admitted that “You don’t have a lot of time to think about it—five steps, 10 steps maybe. If you have 10 steps, you’re already planning on running him over no matter what. If he’s on the plate, blocking the plate, I gotta do it. At least try to jar the ball loose.”
Teixeira had far less time than that. Verdict: Teixeira.