Reluctance to be pulled from a game is the hallmark of any quality starting pitcher, no matter how he’s actually feeling. If he’s tired, or if his stuff isn’t popping like he feels it should, he’s forced to walk the fine line between becoming a detriment to his team and essentially giving up.
Few in baseball want to see perceived cowardice in action from their teammates, even if it’s ultimately for the collective good. Said David Cone about being in that situation: “If you don’t say the right thing, it’s perceived as a lack of heart.”
Mets fans have a lot to grumble about this season, but a lack of heart from R.A. Dickey isn’t part of it. He made that much clear on Sunday.
Having shut out the Dodgers on two hits through five innings, Dickey injured his leg on a follow-through while pitching to the first hitter of the sixth, Russell Martin. (He claimed it was because he landed awkwardly in a hole created by Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw.)
Dickey stayed in the game to retire Martin and the next hitter, Kershaw, both on comebackers to the mound. At that point, however, Mets manager Jerry Manuel opted for caution, and removed the pitcher, mid-frame.
That much is standard procedure. An injury to one of their better pitchers would be devastating to the Mets, and watching Dickey pounce off the mound to field consecutive grounders undoubtedly left Manuel’s head spinning.
It’s how Dickey responded that stood out. In a discussion that lasted the better part of two minutes, the pitcher vociferously lobbied Manuel to stay in the game. When that failed to take, he turned his efforts toward trainer Mike Herbst. (Watch the entire affair here.)
Here’s what Dickey knew: the Mets had used seven pitchers in Saturday’s 13-inning loss to Los Angeles, and another seven in Wednesday’s 14-inning loss to Arizona, and he wanted to protect the bullpen.
Here’s what Dickey didn’t know: Manuel had already made the call for a reliever by the time the pitcher turned to plate umpire Dana DeMuth and said, according to the New York Times, “I’m not going anywhere.”
“It’s frustrating because I felt I let my team down,” said Dickey afterward, in the New York Post.
Manuel’s reply: “He was adamant about staying in the game, but I didn’t feel we could risk a guy like that going down.”
The episode calls to mind a conversation held during Game 4 of the 1977 World Series, when Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda went to the mound to remove his starter, Doug Rau. It’s memorable (and available) because Lasorda was wearing a microphone for the TV broadcast. Also, as Lasorda admitted to one of his coaches in the dugout, his goal was to stall for time and allow reliever Rick Rhoden additional warm-up tosses.
Lasorda made the decision to remove Rau before he even left the bench, but the pitcher, not privy to his manager’s thinking, lobbied to remain in the game—which was exactly what Lasorda didn’t want to hear. (Warning: baseball language—in no way family appropriate—ensues.)
Rau: I feel good, Tommy.
Lasorda: I don’t give a shit you feel good. There’s four motherfucking hits up there. [There were actually only three.]
Rau: They were all fuckin’ hit the opposite way. . . .
Lasorda: I don’t give a fuck.
Rau: Tommy, we got a left-handed hitter. I can strike this mother¬fucker out.
Lasorda: I don’t give a shit, Dougie.
Rau: I want to get out of this myself.
Lasorda: I may be wrong, but that’s my goddamn job.
Rau: I ain’t fuckin’ hurtin’.
Lasorda: I’ll make the fuckin’ decisions here, okay?
Rau: [Tommy John] gave up three runs on the fuckin’ board yesterday.
Lasorda: I don’t give a fuck! Don’t give me any shit, goddamn it! I make the fuckin’ decisions. Keep your fucking mouth shut—I told you.
Second baseman Davey Lopes, interjecting on behalf of the sport’s image: “Hey, hey, hey. This looks bad up here. Just back off the mound. You want to talk about it, talk about it inside.”
Lasorda: We’ll talk about it in my fucking office.
Rau: If I felt bad, then I wouldn’t say nothing.
Lopes: I’m just saying, talk about it inside. This is not the place to be talking about it, okay? That’s all I’m trying to say. I’m just trying to avoid a fucking scene out here, that’s all.
Lasorda: That’s right. It’s fucking great for you to be out here talking to me like that.
Rau: If I didn’t feel good, I wouldn’t say nothing.
Lasorda: I don’t give a shit, Doug. I’m the fucking manager of the fucking team. I gotta make the fucking decisions. And I’ll make them to the fucking best of my ability. They may be the fucking wrong decisions, but I’ll make it. Don’t worry about it. I’ll make the fucking decisions. I gave you the fucking chance to walk out here. I can’t fuck around—we’re down two games to one. If it was yesterday, it’s a different fucking story.
Rau: We got a left-handed hitter coming up, why—
Lasorda: I don’t give a shit! You got three left-handed hitters and they all got hits on you. Rivers, Jackson, and that fucking other guy. That guy who just hit the ball was a left-hander, wasn’t he? [Chris Chambliss, who had doubled, was indeed left-handed.]
Rau: I jammed him. I pitched it on the inside part of the plate. . . .
Lasorda: I don’t give a shit whether you jammed him or not—he didn’t get out. I can’t let you out there in a fucking game like this—I’ve got a fucking job to do. What’s the matter with you?
For what it’s worth, Rau’s tenacity helped earn him an increased role in the Dodgers rotation the following year.
As for R.A. Dickey, his own determination will do doubt help endear him to hard-to-please Mets fans. Still, it should be noted that Hall of Fame manager Sparky Anderson had a rule with his pitchers. “I don’t want to hear you,” he said. “Just give me the ball. I have no desire to hear a pitcher’s feelings, because if something goes wrong I’m the one who’s going to get fired, not the pitcher.”