The ability to appropriately retaliate is a vital part of a pitcher’s resume, giving his teammates confidence that not only will he offer support should they be thrown at, but that he’ll do his darndest to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
While this is generally considered a positive attribute, last year we learned that in this regard, there can be too much of a good thing.
Vicente Padilla has long been considered baseball’s loosest cannon when it comes to hit batsmen. He drills hitters at will; that he appears to use raw emotion rather than baseball’s Code as his source of motivation makes this a dangerous tack to take.
Padilla spent most of the last four years with the Texas Rangers, where he was an unquestionably valuable member of the rotation, leading the team’s starting pitchers in either wins or winning percentage in two of his three full seasons with the team.
He also led the league in hit batsmen once, and drilled guys with such frequency that his teammates developed a distaste for the practice; Padilla’s recklessness was continually putting them in the crosshairs of retaliatory strikes.
It came to a head for him during a game in June 2009, when he hit Mark Teixeira of the New York Yankees twice. New York’s A.J. Burnett threw a response pitch that nearly hit Nelson Cruz in the head, and Padilla was placed on waivers the following day. It was a clear message; while Padilla wasn’t kicked off the team outright, the process to trade or release him had been initiated. Were he to stay with the Rangers, he needed to change his ways.
On Aug. 5, however, Padilla imploded, in typical fashion. After giving up a two-run homer to A’s outfielder Scott Hairston in the first inning, he drilled Kurt Suzuki two batters later. Sure enough, the A’s retaliated by hitting Michael Young.
“I have a lot of good friends on the Yankees, and they were like, ‘One of you guys is going to get hurt one day,’ ” Young said in the Dallas Morning News after the Teixeira incident. “No one wants to see that happen, obviously, but it’s the nature of the game. A lot of time times we felt like we had a bull’s-eye on our back.”
Three days after the A’s incident, the Rangers designated Padilla for assignment.
The pitcher had apparently burned so many bridges within his own clubhouse that his dismissal led to widespread celebration. General manger Jon Daniels portrayed Padilla as a bad teammate, and received handshakes and congratulations from relieved members of the Rangers when they heard the news. (Among those celebrating was Ian Kinsler, who had been targeted for retaliation in 2006 after Padilla hit White Sox second baseman Alex Cintron.)
The player to offer the greatest level of detail to the press was outfielder Marlon Byrd, who had also played with Padilla in Philadelphia.
“About time,” he said in the Morning News. “It’s absolutely a positive for this team. We have to get rid of the negatives to make a positive, and I believe this is a huge positive for this team. . . . You have to be a good teammate. You have to help teach younger guys the right things. He wasn’t a positive influence on the young guys. You started questioning his character and about how much he cared.”
The primary problem with being publicly frank about a head-hunting former teammate, of course, is the possibility that you’ll end up hitting against him someday.
Just over a week ago, on July 10, Padilla, now with the Dodgers, faced Byrd, now with the Cubs, for the first time since leaving Texas. Needless to say, he drilled him in the back.
This led to another retaliatory cycle, the type of which helped lead to Padilla’s banishment from Texas. Cubs pitcher Andrew Cashner responded by drilling Los Angeles second baseman Blake DeWitt an inning later, and subsequently received high-fives in the dugout, and congratulations in the clubhouse after the game (despite the fact that the Cubs lost, 7-0).
(Afterward, Cashner upheld the Code, claiming in the Chicago Tribune that the pitch to DeWitt “slipped.” Byrd’s praise of Cashner’s “pinpoint accuracy,” however, seems to counteract that.)
It’s a complex tale of intertwined codes, which go to show how one rule can affect another, and another and another.
Primary among them, of course, being to avoid angering pitchers who will be only too delighted to respond.
Update: He wasn’t ejected from the game, but Cashner was eventually fined by the commissioner’s office for his action.