It’s rare to see open displays of animosity between managers and players. Not that it doesn’t happen; there are all types in baseball and not everybody gets along. This sort of tiff, however, almost inevitably takes place behind closed doors. It’s one of the manager’s duties, after all, to promote a peaceful clubhouse environment—if not in fact than at least in perception.
Suddenly, however, we’ve been awash in such incidents.
It started last week with the open and ongoing feud between Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez and shortstop Hanley Ramirez. It continued three days later when Mets skipper Jerry Manuel pulled John Maine from a game after only five pitches, causing his pitcher to openly rebel in the dugout.
To those episodes, we now add two more.
On Saturday, Albert Pujols went at it in the dugout with St. Louis manager Tony La Russa, after Ryan Ludwick was caught stealing for the final out of the eighth inning, leaving Pujols standing at the plate. It was lose-lose for the slugger; had Ludwick been safe, first base would have opened and Pujols would almost inevitably have drawn an intentional walk.
The slugger flipped both bat and helmet as he returned to the bench, then knocked two trays of gum against the wall. He’s clearly frustrated, having homered only once in May, and without an RBI in his last 10 games (a span during which he has only one extra-base hit).
During that time he also spent five games in the cleanup slot, the first time since 2003 that he’s batted anywhere but third in the lineup.
La Russa, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, responded by saying, “I (expletive) know how to manage.”
On Monday, the Mets got their second angry exchange in a week, when closer Francisco Rodriguez had to be separated from bullpen coach Randy Niemann over an apparent disagreement about how frequently the reliever should be asked both to warm up and appear in games. (Rodriguez heated up on 10 separate occasions during New York’s 20-inning game against St. Louis in April; on Monday he warmed up twice in two innings before closing out the Yankees. Ten of his 21 appearances this season have come in non-save situations.)
The New York Times reported that “the confrontation occurred in full view of some of the fans sitting in right field,” and had to be broken up by other pitchers.
These showdowns seem to be coming in clusters, but they’re hardly unique. Managers and players clash all the time. Here are some of the more extreme examples:
- 1929: White Sox rookie Art Shires—an avocational boxer—beats up his manager, Lena Blackburne, not once, but twice.
- 1969: Minnesota manager Billy Martin pounds star pitcher Dave Boswell in a fight. This is hardly the only time Martin appears on this list.
- 1977: After losing the Rangers’ starting second-base job during spring training, Lenny Randle confronts manger Frank Lucchesi behind the batting cage in Orlando and shatters Lucchesi’s cheekbone with punches. Shortly thereafter, he’s traded to the Mets.
- 1977: The relationship between Martin, by this time at the helm of the Yankees, and Reggie Jackson, devolves into a shouting match in the visitor’s dugout at Fenway Park, on national TV. The pair has to be restrained from going after each other.
- 1980: John Montefusco and Giants manager Dave Bristol go at each other behind closed doors after Montefusco accuses Bristol of having too quick a hook. Montefusco’s eye is blackened.
- 1981: Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog grabs Gary Templeton in the dugout after seeing the player make an obscene gesture to the Busch Stadium crowd, and the two have to be separated. During the off-season, Templeton is traded to San Diego for Ozzie Smith.
- 1985: Billy Martin’s arm is broken by Yankees pitcher Ed Whitson in a fight that moves from hotel bar to lobby to parking lot, and eventually resumes on the second floor, outside Whitson’s room.
- 1992: Reds manager Lou Piniella and Rob Dibble go after each other in the middle of the clubhouse. (Watch it here.)
- 1999: Bobby Bonilla, upset that Mets manager Bobby Valentine doesn’t order retaliation after teammate Robin Ventura is hit by Roger Clemens, confronts Valentine in the dugout. After being sent to the clubhouse, Bonilla rips down the lineup board and hurls it at Valentine’s office.
- 2002: Barry Bonds and Jeff Kent scuffle in the Giants dugout. The team goes on to win the National League pennant.
- 2006: Blue Jays manager John Gibbons and pitcher Ted Lilly have at each other in the clubhouse tunnel, just out of sight of TV cameras.
In the two most recent cases of manager-player discord, all parties hewed the unwritten rule that mandates a minimum of public discord, usually via denials that a problem even exists.
“I was hitting and we got thrown out stealing. I wanted to hit. That’s all it was,” said Pujols.
La Russa took it a step farther, saying, “There wasn’t anything special about (the incident). I didn’t pull him aside. I didn’t talk to him afterwards because he doesn’t do it excessively and I know he’s sincere. There are only two times I confront it. Does it happen excessively? Then I say, ‘That’s enough.’ And if I think it’s insincere.”
And the Mets’ Rodriguez? “We were just fooling around,” he said in the Times. “We were just kidding with each other.”
Of course they were.