The lack of retaliation by Pirates pitcher Zach Duke when it was so clearly mandated has raised some interesting questions. For example, why didn’t Pirates manager John Russell—who by multiple accounts was enraged at Duke’s inaction—simply order his pitcher to get the job done?
Once, this would have been a no-brainer. In the 1940s, Leo Durocher was known to leave hundred-dollar bills in the locker of Whitlow Wyatt as a reward when the pitcher threw at players’ heads. Numerous opponents recall longtime manager Gene Mauch shouting for his pitcher to “spin his helmet.”
Heck, when Casey Stengel managed the Boston Braves, he was once so upset when one of his rookie pitchers—appearing in just his second big-league game—failed to retaliate according to expectations that he sent the guy back to the minors. It was four more years before Warren Spahn returned to the big leagues (although the U.S. Army also had something to do with his delay), a turn of events that Stengel later called the biggest blunder he ever made as a manager.
Modern managers, though, are different. Now that players constitute multi-million-dollar investments, nobody wants to take responsibility should a fastball go awry.
Pitchers are occasionally encouraged in vague terms (“Do what you have to do”), but rare is the order to actually drill somebody.
(One noteworthy exception to this trend is Ozzie Guillen, who ordered his own rookie pitcher, Sean Tracey, to hit a batter in 2006. When, like Spahn, Tracey failed to carry out his manager’s wishes, he was, like Spahn, banished to the minors.)
Instead, pitchers are expected to understand this responsibility. Should a young player fail to appropriately read a situation, a good talking-to will usually do the trick. For a veteran like Duke, however, significantly more is expected.
Another question involves the window of opportunity. Duke had the chance to directly retaliate against the pitcher who twice threw at McCutchen—Ramon Ortiz came to the plate for the first time this season in the sixth inning—and didn’t do anything about it.
The following inning, when Pirates reliever Jack Taschner sent a ball behind the head of the first hitter he faced, Andre Ethier, it was a clear message sent.
So is the case closed, especially if Ortiz manages to hit against the Pirates again? The vagaries of scheduling make this a mostly moot point; as of May 2, the Pirates and Dodgers had faced each other six times, and will not meet again until 2011. (We’re putting our money on them failing to square off in October.)
Not that it would have mattered. Duke had his chance and completely whiffed; Taschner got a measure of revenge with his message pitch, even though he didn’t actually hit anybody.
If the Pirates respond next season, it will open old wounds in a hurry. As in the wrong as the Dodgers were in this instance, Pittsburgh would be just as guilty if they choose to pursue this into 2011—and the smart money’s on them staying far, far away from even the appearance of vengeance.
That is, unless Zach Duke decides he has something to prove.