Brandon Phillips, Don't Call out Opponents in the Press, Fights, Johnny Cueto

A Dark Day for Baseball Etiquette in Cincinnati, Pretty Much All Around

This is what can happen when a player utters even a syllable too many about his opponent. (Though to be fair to the Cardinals, “little bitches” is a full four syllables.)

A day after forgetting to use his inside-the-clubhouse voice when discussing feelings about the St. Louis ballclub with the press—which included referring to them by the above epithet—Cincinnati’s Brandon Phillips stepped to the plate yesterday as the Reds’s first hitter of the game.

Upon entering the batter’s box, he tapped his bat on the shin guards of Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina and plate ump Mark Wegner as a means of greeting.

There’s nothing wrong with this. It’s standard practice for Phillips, meant as nothing but a friendly hello.

At least until he encountered a short-fused catcher who clearly prefers that his team be referred to in terms more genteel than “little bitches.”

“Why are you touching me?” he asked Phillips, as reported in the Cincinnati Enquirer. “You are not my friend, so don’t touch me.”

Phillips had thrown down the gauntlet with his comments, and Molina was only too happy to pick it up. Both teams flooded the field, and the scrum quickly turned into a baseball rarity—a fight in which actual blows were thrown. Managers Dusty Baker and Tony La Russa were ejected. (Watch it here.)

The appropriate response to Phillips and Molina: Grow up a little.

The unwritten rules mandate on-field retaliation only for on-field breaches of etiquette, and nothing more. Phillips ran his mouth, and the Cardinals responded in the best way possible, holding him to a combined 1-for-10 over the ensuing two games, while winning both to move into a tie with Cincinnati in the NL Central.

Molina should have let his comments go, and concentrated on the game, not a silly schoolyard spat. (He did use the confrontation as a bit of personal motivation, hitting a second-inning homer off Johnny Cueto.)

Now, what had been an unendorsed bit of foolishness from a single player has turned into genuine bad blood. It certainly helps make things interesting as the teams battle for the division lead, but these matchups are loaded with motivation based on baseball alone. Watching players act like testosterone-fueled kids does nothing for the purity of a good stretch drive.

* * *

During the course of the festivities, Baker and La Russa got into it, bringing quickly to mind the fact that they haven’t had the smoothest relationship over the years.

When Baker was with the Cubs in 2005, La Russa went public about concerns over Kerry Wood’s inside pitches, which was followed by Cards pitcher Dan Haren hitting his counterpart on the Cubs, Matt Clement.

Baker took it as an attempt at “selling wolf tickets,” or overtly trying to intimidate his team, saying in the Chicago Tribune that “no one intimidates me but my dad and Bob Gibson—and this bully I had in elementary school. But I grew bigger than him, and he stopped bullying me.”

The two eventually met and settled things, but it didn’t take long for their history to bubble to the surface yesterday.

* * *

Another unwritten rule was broken in the middle of the crowd of players, when Cueto, backed up against the backstop by a pile of humanity, opted to kick his way free.

There are rules to any fight; in the Code-driven world of professional baseball, this is especially true. It’s why Izzy Alcantara has gained such notoriety, and why Chan Ho Park’s attempted drop kick of Tim Belcher in 1999 continues to be replayed.

Square up and hit a guy, if you must, but the unwritten rules stipulate that kicking a player as means of attack is less than manly; something even for little bitches, if you will.

Cueto’s spikes landed, apparently repeatedly, on the face of St. Louis catcher Jason LaRue, who suffered a concussion and bruised ribs, and has been ruled out of playing today—and possibly much longer.

“He could have done some real damage (on LaRue),” said Chris Carpenter in the Cincinnati Enquirer. “He got him in the side of his eye, he got him in his nose, he got him in his face. Totally unprofessional. Unbelievable. I’ve never seen anything like that. He got kicked square in the side of the face with spikes. C’mon, give me a break.”

Cueto was on the mound for the Reds yesterday, but batted first with two runners on, and later during a 2-2 game. Neither situation was appropriate for retaliation.

The teams meet again in early September. This time, on-field payback—should that be the route the Cardinals choose to take, and with La Russa at the helm, it’s a good bet—will be entirely appropriate.

Buckle in.

Update (Aug. 12): Cuteo has been suspended for seven games—effectively, two starts—for his part in the brawl. If he knows what’s good for him, he’ll appeal in an effort to delay his punishment until just before the Reds visit St. Louis on Sept. 3.

– Jason

13 thoughts on “A Dark Day for Baseball Etiquette in Cincinnati, Pretty Much All Around

  1. First, love the blog. Would it have been appropriate to send a purpose pitch? To let Phillips know we heard what you said.

    1. I don’ t think so. Except in rare instances, retaliation is generally reserved for on-field Code violations, at least as it pertains to purpose pitches.

      As a middle infielder, however, Phillips now has to be prepared for an array of slides that come with a little extra mustard. I talked about this with longtime second baseman Duane Kuiper today, and he said that was a key factor in his ongoing efforts to stay on the proper side of propriety over the course of his career. He was all too aware of the damage an angry opponent could cause with an angry slide.

      Going forward, I’d guess that’s a much more likely vehicle for the Cardinals to express their displeasure with Phillips than having a pitcher drill him. (It also comes without the downside of putting a runner of Phillips’ caliber on base.)


  2. Brandon Phillips proves that he not only had diarrhea mouth (just says whatever comes to his mind including calling the other team little b’s) but a complete and total jerk. He knew tapping the catcher would cause flames between the teams …and he even touched him twice when the catcher tried to move out of the way for his second tap. I can’t stand those who have diarrhea mouths and I am glad STL proved what men they were on the field by beating the Reds.

    I hope Cueto gets suspended for a LONG TIME! Metal spikes to the face. Looks like assault to me.

    1. I won’t argue that Phillips would be better served to regulate his opinions (or at least who he shares them with), but I don’t think he did anything wrong with his shin-guard tap. If it’s a regular part of his repertoire, then there’s no disrespect intended.

      As for Cueto, he may be suspended, but a more certain fate will come via St. Louis pitchers when the teams meet again in September. With those kicks, he painted a target on his back in indelible ink.


  3. Dusty Baker and Tony Larussa’s bad blood originates from way before the instance you mentioned.
    I fail to understand how you expect Molina to disregard Phillips’ “friendly greeting” after his comments, when we are talking about grown men and a situation in which one disrespects the other and his team and this is all taking place in public. No one would just roll over for something like this.
    Also, if you watch the video again, you will notice that even after Molina let’s Phillips know his “greeting” is not welcome, Phillips taps Molina on the shin guards AGAIN. If that’s not asking for trouble, I don’t know what is.
    However, there will be no more retaliation at Phillips, or Cueto other than making them look stupid at the plate – this is not the way Tony Larussa plays the game and such practices are prohibited in his clubhouse.

    One other thing: you mentioned you were planning on writing a post about Chris Carpenter and Brendan Ryan’s little tunnel adventure. I enjoy your blog very much but I am very disappointed you seem to be jumping on the ESPN bandwaggon regarding this “story”. Let me spare you the research – Chris Carpenter works quickly and doesn’t like any delays in his routine. The game in question was on ESPN, which dictates extra delay between and in the middle of innings. Brendan Ryan has an attention deficit disorder and often requires some guidance as he is scatter-minded. Being unprepared and disrupting Carpenter’s routine was his mistake and Ryan has acknowledged that. The two get along as they always have. Chris Carpenter specifically requests Brendan Ryan be his short stop in all of his starts. So insinuating a bad relationship, as ESPN repeatedly has done, is creating unfounded rumors that don’t do anything for anybody, including your credibility. I hope you reconsider writing that “story”

    1. Thanks, Ellie. The question about Carpenter, however, isn’t about his relationship with Ryan, or what it was he was angry at. Even without the extenuating circumstances you detail, whatever Ryan did was minor.

      It was Carpenter’s upbraiding of a teammate in plain view of television cameras that crossed the line, at least as far as the Code is concerned. Not a huge violation, but a violation nonetheless. If you have something to say that won’t read well to outsiders, do it in the clubhouse or inside the tunnel. Keep private business private.

      Carpenter’s clear frustration on the mound during the course of game action only added to the perception he had already initiated.

      That said, it’s guys like Carpenter (and there aren’t many of them) who can get away with things like that. The guy is emotional and highly competitive, and his teammates — and opponents — seem to understand that, which works to his benefit.

      Thanks for chiming in. I’d love to hear more of your insights should you ever feel so compelled.


      1. Jason, if you are referring to Carpenter expressing frustration in the 7th, his pitch count was low, he wanted to go deeper in the game and he’s always frustrated when he gives up hits. With himself. Ryan’s positioning was called from the dugout.
        As for keeping private business private, the two were in the tunnel. Fact is, if Brendan Ryan had taken one more step into the tunnel, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.
        If you insist that this is a code violation, then it’s on both sides – Carpenter for scolding Ryan, and Ryan for not being prepared but it should not be turned into a character debate and I count on it that you wouldn’t do that.

      2. Ellie — I wasn’t referring to Carpenter’s frustration at all, only his choice of location to express it. The pair was near the mouth of the tunnel, close enough to the field for TV cameras to capture them.

        I don’t believe I’ve knocked Chris Carpenter’s character even a little here (“emotional and highly competitive” is hardly a slam), largely because it has no pertinence to the point I’m trying to make: take clubhouse matters into the clubhouse.

        Just to be clear: There isn’t a team in baseball that wouldn’t love to have this guy pitching for them, even at the expense of an occasional ill-placed discussion with a teammate. Winning clubs need that kind of fire.

        Thanks for checking in.


  4. Interesting follow-up comments relating to the code from Jonny Gomes, a guy who knows his way around a brawl (from Cincinnati Enquirer beat writer John Fay’s blog):

    The Reds privately were pretty much unanimous in their displeasure with Phillips’ comments. But he is a Red.

    “It’s 100 percent defend your guy,” Gomes said, “regardless of what he says or doesn’t say. Once we get in the clubhouse, we can go over some things. But in between the lines with the opponent, we absolutely got to defend our own.”

    Gomes didn’t know what triggered the second outburst that led to the bulk of the brawl.

    “It was kind of hot and heavy,” Gomes said. “We’ve all been in some scuffles growing up, but 25 on 25 is not ideal.”

    Gomes doesn’t blame Cueto for doing what he did.

    “What would have happened if he hadn’t flailed his legs?” Gomes said. “We might be looking at Cueto the one with stitches. We might looking at Cueto with a black eye or broken nose. From what was going on at time. . . he was kicking. If you don’t want to get kicked, don’t be within kicking distance.”

    Also, interesting to see what touched off the big part of the brawl. Seems like things were calm, and then Carpenter says something to Baker that touches off the mini-riot (with Scott Rolen, a friend of Carpenter’s, who had previously been protecting/calming him, going after Carpenter). Carpenter gets too much slack for being an “emotional” guy. I’m admittedly biased as a Reds fan, but I dislike the way Carpenter preens and erupts with temper tantrums…

    1. Robby,

      Terrific stuff for follow-up. Gomes went above and beyond in defending Cueto’s specific actions (“If you don’t want to get kicked, don’t be within kicking distance”), but the general acceptance by the Reds of clearly abhorrent behavior couldn’t more clearly illustrate the point.

      I’ve wondered why Rolen went after Carpenter with such vehemence, but he’s not talking. (Protecting teammates represents one level of the code; recognizing opponents as members of your own fraternity against outsiders is another — especially if one of them is a friend.)

      Great catch. Thanks for weighing in.


    2. That comment by Gomes is ridiculous and ignorant and you have to realize that just because a player is on your team, it doesn’t make him right. Just watch the video in slow motion and you will see both Gomes and Cueto running behind everybody towards Carpenter grabbing and throwing punches at him, kicking and holding him down, while the leader of your Reds clubhouse Scott Rolen is protecting Carpenter by standing between him and his Reds teammates and trying to pull Carp out. Carpenter having a big mouth and dropping an f-bomb on Baker does not justify 25 people going after him. Rolen making a sudden movement towards Carpenter trying to make him quit talking causes the riot, not what Carpenter said. Worse things were said between Dusty and Tony alone.

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