Bringing the Code to Sports Illustrated

Following the media’s love affair with Nyjer Morgan yesterday (and by “love affair,” I mean “incessant coverage of”), I put together a piece for Sports, covering the timeline of events leading up to Wednesday’s brawl.

It’s largely based on the article I first posted here, so there’s little need to double-dip if you’ve already read the first one.

Still, it has a pretty picture. Also, you’ll be one click closer to Joe Posnanski.

– Jason

22 thoughts on “Bringing the Code to Sports Illustrated

  1. A unwritten rule that says a player should stop trying to win the game is invalid nonsense. Stealing bases is Morgan’s job.

    Sports commentators always complain athletes quitting, but apparently it’s mandatory in baseball if your down by whatever the opposing team deems too large.

    1. Again, it’s tactical. The Nats (or any team) have a better shot at recovering from a steep deficit if their runners don’t take chances on the basepaths. Morgan scoring from first after two stolen bases was great, but Washington needed a big inning, featuring a string of hits. Had that happened, Morgan would have scored anyway. Had he been thrown out (which, let’s face it, he’s good at), he would have made it immeasurably more difficult for his team to mount a rally.

      The Code has little to do with this. It’s just good baseball sense.


  2. Jason-

    While I agree with you that he acted like an ass during most of these incidents, I see nothing wrong with his play at home plate against the Marlins. It was a close play that used to be considered “hard nosed” baseball, and would have been applauded 15 years ago. Also, I don’t understand the Marlins complaining about the base stealing. While the Nats should’ve been angered, I agree with Riggleman that the Marlins shouldn’t be dictating the Nats strategy in the 4th inning. I think Morgan was wrong (especially after the brawl), but I don’t see him as the only wrongdoer in this situation.

    P.S. Somebody tell Helms to keep quiet. No one needs to hear what’s on his mind.

    1. What’s at issue with Morgan’s play at the plate wasn’t the hit itself — even the catcher admitted it was clean — but the fact that he did it at all, when virtually all parties agreed that he would have been safe had he slid. Especially after his incident with the Cardinals, it’s not a leap to guess that Morgan had a collision on his mind as he rounded third base, regardless of whether it was in his best interests.

      As it turns out, it wasn’t. He had his collision, and was thrown out.

      As for the Nats’ baserunning strategy, Riggleman’s absolutely right. Nobody in the opposite dugout is allowed an opinion about things like that in the fourth inning — usually. The only strategy Morgan was employing, however, didn’t have to do with getting his team back into the game, but sending a message to the Marlins that their retaliation was meaningless in his eyes.

      It’s the message to which they reacted, and it’s easy to see why.


  3. I have to agree that it was not a good week for Morgan, but to say there isn’t anyone in his corner suggests you are not looking in the right corner. It was a bad week but the culmination was because he stole two bases where he was being held on. It was the 4th inning in a game which did end up being close. His own manager did say that their team had a right to decide when they steal bases. Volstad had already hit 3 hitters on the day, but was still in the game to throw behind Morgan in the 6th. I read one writer mention that Morgan had bitten off more than he could chew by charging the mound on the 6’8″ pitcher, but had the first baseman not come to save his ass along with the entire team to stomp Morgan; Volstad would still be making dentist appointments. I love that the first base coach for the Nationals is called out while various Marlins were seen stomping down on Morgan in the pile and the Marlin catcher can be seen clearly throwing in a cheapshot from outside the pile when ever he caught a glimpse of Morgan. You bet that’s honor and a gentleman’s game. Pick any one of those gentlemen with all that big talk and put them in a ring. Look in the Morgan corner and you will see me, and I suspect a lot of other baseball fans who don’t think any code involving the chickenshit pitcher throwing 80mph at players is worth defending.

    1. Fight propriety is important. If there were cheap shots thrown in the pile, you better believe that Nationals pitchers will address it when the teams next meet, a week from today. It’s a justifiable case for retaliation, although with this amount of bad blood, judging players’ specific motivation for anything they do might be difficult.

      The difference between the players doing it and Pat Listach, is that coaches are expected to be pulling guys off the pile, not diving into the bottom of it.

      There are numerous issues here in which a defense of Morgan can be plausible (even if many people disagree with them): running when he did, charging the mound, even running over Brett Hayes. Each of these items is just as easy to condemn as it is to defend, however (if not more so), and coming as they did on the heels of the rest of his week, it all adds up to one sloppy stew.


  4. I have yet to have anyone sufficiently explain to me how Morgan stealing two bases when his team is down 11 runs is a violation of “The Code”. It makes absolutely no sense. Was he supposed to placidly allow himself to be put out on the next play? And correct me if I’m wrong, but the Marlins were still up 10 runs when they threw at Morgan the second time. Don’t you know if you throw at a guy a second time in one game he’s most likely going to charge the mound? Morgan’s prior behavior was wrong, there’s no arguing about that. But the Marlins need to shoulder a large chunk of the responsibility for the brawl that ensued. And the fans and media need to stop greenlighting other players’ bad behavior just because it’s in retaliation to someone else’s crossing of the line.

    1. Absolutely a valid, defensible opinion. At the same time, the counter-point is equally valid. (I’ve addressed it numerous times over the course of this thread, so won’t go into it again here.)

      What I love about this topic is that both sides can argue superiority for their opinions. When this level of disagreement reaches the field, it’s what helps make the unwritten rules especially fascinating.


      1. If both sides of this argument are equally valid, how could this possibly have been a violation of this silly ‘code’? Perhaps this is a good example of why this ‘code’ is so ridiculous. Baseball has more extensive official rules than any other sport, so it’s outrageous for the players to enforce their own cowboy justice under any circumstances but especially when the health of a player is at risk. Throwing at a batter should result in an immediate ejection from the game. Period. And if the umpire doesn’t eject the pitcher, HE should be suspended by MLB immediately after the game.

      2. My point was that the Code is frequently less black and white than many shades of gray. There are many interpretations of any variety of unwritten rules, which is why Jim Riggleman saw no problem (publicly, anyway) with Morgan stealing those bases, but the Marlins did. They both have defensible points.

        One problem with your insistence on immediate ejection for throwing at a batter is that accidents do happen. The majority of HBPs are unintentional. That would leave an umpire guessing as to pitchers’ motivations, and anybody with just a hint of wildness would be subject to rarely pitching deep into games.

        The Code is self-regulating. It mandates an appropriate way to hit batters when hitting batters is what’s called for, and it allows both sides to reach closure on contentious issues. Without it (such as, say, when an umpire issues warnings too quickly in a game, keeping one side from appropriate retaliation), it ultimately leads to bigger problems down the line.


  5. I really don’t/cannot understand your/the media and MLB’s position on this incident.

    He ran over the Catcher the night before. Legal play? Correct? (being a fan for 30+ years I’ve never heard he should have slid, he would have been safe – The catcher has the ball and is blocking the plate, you can legally roll right over him. I don’t like the rule, but there it is. I’ve seen guys without the ball get smashed.)

    He took the beaning (earned for running over the catcher) and went to first.

    Now you have a problem with a team DOWN ELEVEN runs stealing bases?!?!? Since when? The losing team is supposed to stop trying to score? That is not baseball. (Again in 30+ years I’ve never heard of that one!)

    After another of his teammates is hit, they then throw at him again and he charges the mound. (I would have too. Since when is it okay for a team up 10 runs to throw at guys? I’ve seen lots of guys charge the mound after being thrown at twice. And they get suspend for 5 or 6 games at most.)

    Morgan gets 8? Two or three games more than usual. Granted he taunted the fans. (but he had just been brutally blindsided by the Marlin first baseman.) The marlin firstbaseman who got 5 games should have gotten twice that.

    1. You can’t look at this in a vacuum, when it comes to the suspension. MLB weighed in on the totality of what he did, a pattern of reckless behavior that extended well beyond that night against the Marlins.

      As for Morgan’s takeout of the catcher: Saying he should have slid is hardly a universal proposition. In this case, Hayes was standing to the inside of the plate, and turned just in time to brace for the collision. He wouldn’t have had time to sweep his glove had Morgan slid. The takeout could be taken as a sign of somebody who had violence on the mind, instead of someone who was trying to score in the surest way possible. (Hayes himself, while admitting the play was clean, said that in his opinion, Morgan knew he was going to run into the catcher the moment he rounded third base.)


  6. That Sports Illustrated article is one of the worst pieces of journalism I have ever read. I not sure what your problem is with this kid, or if you were simply looking for some way to promote your book and he was an easy target, but you did a real disservice to that young man. You took some liberties in the end that seemed personal (he should worry whether he’s going to lose his job??)

    Stealing bases in the 4th inning while being held on? Charging the mound when the opposing pitcher thinks he’s playing Duck Hunt? Catcher is blocking the plate holding the ball and he shouldn’t bury him? What are you talking about????

    Sports Illustrated needs to send an apology to that kid. As for you, you just need to stop writing about baseball. Just awful awful stuff.

    1. The guy who did the biggest disservice to Nyjer Morgan wasn’t me, it was Nyjer Morgan. His behavior over recent days has earned him 15 days’ worth of suspension. This is not opinion. This is fact.

      His fourth-inning steals were intended to send a message, and he got angry when the Marlins responded to that message. He took out the catcher on a clean hit that was entirely unnecessary, because he would have been safe had he slid. All this followed games’ worth of bizarre antics.

      And yes, he should be worried about losing his job. This is the big leagues. Teams are intolerant of distracting players who don’t produce, and despite his potential, Morgan’s production right now doesn’t come anywhere close to offsetting this.


  7. “His fourth-inning steals were intended to send a message, and he got angry when the Marlins responded to that message.”

    How dare he try to win the game! Your silly ‘code’ is right- he should have just rolled over and allowed the Marlins to continue to coast to their victory. Shouldn’t your ‘code’ also then provide for throwing at Riggleman for allowing it? I’m sure that it also would allow the Marlins to torch Ted Lerner’s home in retaliation, right? This ‘code’ is just imaginary rules concocted by players, not official rules of the game and as such should be not just ignored by MLB but actively discouraged. Who runs this game anyway?

    1. The point is that Morgan’s steals had nothing to do with winning the game. If that was truly on his mind, good baseball sense — not the unwritten rules, but sound strategy — says to play conservatively when down by a lot, because outs are at a premium.

      Morgan’s steals had everything to do with sending a message. And the Marlins responded to that message.


  8. Great article, and I’ll check out your book. However, I don’t understand what the Marlins’ problem with Morgan stealing the bases was–it’s not like his team was winning, and if the “code” dictates that when you are losing you stop trying, I’ll lose a lot of respect for baseball. It was a classless act for the Marlins’ to try to hit Morgan again just because they weren’t good enough to catch him on the basepaths.

    Seems to me the Marlins’ saw Morgan was in a volatile situation coming into the series and did everything possible to fan the flames (while morgan didn’t exactly resist–home plate collision).

    1. Like I’ve said, the Marlins’ problem with Morgan’s steals weren’t the steals themselves, but the message they sent.

      Were Morgan playing proper tactical baseball, he would have dialed back his aggressiveness with an 11-run deficit. The best way to dig out of a hole is to protect the limited number of outs you have remaining, and running wild does anything but.

      The Marlins objected to the clear message that Morgan sent. Did they have to? Absolutely not. Were they entitled to? Certainly.


  9. Sorry, just read your SI piece today. In it, you say hitting sac flies when up big is a violation. With a man on third, a batter is supposed to try to NOT hit a ball in the air to the outfield? He’s instead supposed to try to strike out, hit a pop-up or roll one straight at an infielder? That cannot be right.

    1. The rule here is pretty much the same as the one regarding scoring from second on a single: If the runner can score standing up, with no play at the plate, it’s acceptable to send him. The RBI and run scored are stats that count toward future contracts, and shouldn’t be withheld.

      If there’s any chance that it’ll be close, however, most coaches will opt to hold the runner out of respect for the opposition.


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