In the seventh inning of Friday’s game between Cleveland and Washington, Indians reliever Tony Sipp walked Adam Dunn, the first batter he faced, to load the bases. With that, Cleveland manager Manny Acta popped out of the dugout and signaled for Chris Perez to enter the game.
Sipp, clearly unhappy with the situation, descended the mound, ball in hand, and headed toward the dugout. He had better options.
The pertinent unwritten rule in this situation says that a pitcher must wait for his manager to reach the mound, then hand him the ball before being dismissed. Pitchers who fail to follow this pattern have found themselves in awkward and occasionally hostile situations.
A passage in The Baseball Codes describes Giants reliever Jim Barr, upset at being pulled from a game by manager Frank Robinson in 1983:
Frustrated, Barr didn’t wait for his manager to reach the mound before ﬂipping him the ball—a clear act of insolence in the hard-edged presence of Robinson, who made it clear to his pitchers that they were to hand him the ball as they departed.
Barr planned on storming to the dugout, but was interrupted when Robinson caught the baseball, grabbed the pitcher by the arm as he tried to pass, spun him around, and dragged him back up the hill to await (reliever Greg) Minton’s arrival. Robinson had been the league’s most ﬁery player, and his managerial furnace burned nearly as hot.
As the duo waited for Minton to arrive, Robinson told Barr exactly what he thought of his stunt, poking a ﬁnger into the right-hander’s chest to emphasize his point. . . . On the mound at Shea, it was hard to miss the battle brewing, and the New York fans looked on in delight. All four members of the Giants inﬁeld raced in and surrounded the pair in an attempt to calm things down.
Barr didn’t help matters when he decided that if he wasn’t allowed to leave until Robinson gave him permission, he wouldn’t leave at all. This meant that when Minton arrived at the mound he found two people, Robinson and Barr, standing between himself and the catcher, which made it somewhat difficult to warm up. “It seemed like ﬁve minutes,” said Barr, “even though it was probably only ninety seconds.” Robinson finally led Barr back to the dugout, at which point both pitcher and manager had to be restrained from going after each other.
Unlike Barr, Sipp quickly recognized behavior that needed alteration. Unlike Robinson, Acta didn’t try to physically restrain his player.
All it took was a few steps for Sipp to realize that his manager was waiting for him on the mound, at which point he turned around and passed the ball off, as decorum dictated he should have in the first place.
The manager and pitching coach Tim Belcher sat down with Sipp after the game to discuss the issue and what’s expected of pitchers in that type of situation, but Acta ultimately came to Sipp’s defense.
”Tony’s not really a baseball-crazy guy off the field,” he said in the Akron Beacon Journal. ”He didn’t mean anything by it. . . . But we talked to him and told him it just doesn’t look good, that it gives the impression like, ‘you’re mad at me, even when you’re really not mad at me, and you’re just mad at yourself.’ It’s a part of unwritten baseball etiquette, some of these guys, at times, are just not as in tune with it.”
In six appearances since May 23, Sipp’s ERA has shot from 1.40 to 6.53. It’s pretty clear that Manny Acta is the least of his problems.