One thing we’ve learned for certain so far this young season: Cubs manager Mike Quade is a fan of the unwritten rules. He gets bothered when they’re broken on his watch, and he’s willing to call out those who diminish their importance or ignore them altogether.
First, it was Brewers skipper Ron Roenicke, who inserted pinch-runner Carlos Gomez into the eighth inning of a game in which his team led 5-0, then watched unapologetically as Gomez stole two bases.
“These unwritten rules—everybody has their own interpretation,” said Quade. Sometimes when interpretations differ, that’s when you run into trouble.”
Funny that “run into to trouble” is the phrase he chose.
Not two weeks later, Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis did literally that when he tried to swipe a base with his team holding an 8-1 lead in the fifth.
This seems like a good place to get into Quade’s notion of differing interpretations. When Gomez ran against the Cubs, his team’s 5-0 lead was considered insufficient by Roenicke to shut down his running game, but the eighth inning is without question an appropriate timeframe to have done so.
When Ellis swiped his base, the criteria were reversed; there’s little argument that an 8-1 lead is well within the boundaries of “safe,” but the fifth inning might be considered a touch early for some managers to call off the dogs.
“I do think I probably need to get a copy of the Milwaukee and L.A. unwritten rules books, too, unless they missed a sign,” said Quade.
As it turns out, that’s precisely what happened. After the game, Ellis and Dodgers manager Don Mattingly both confessed as much; Mattingly said his sign to third-base coach Tim Wallach was “missed” (whatever that actually means), and off went Ellis, possessor of zero prior steals over parts of four big league seasons.
The play was somewhat mitigated by the fact that Ellis was thrown out. It may also have been mitigated when the Dodgers sent Ellis to Triple-A Albuquerque days later.
Still, said Mattingly, “We knew when it happened, we figured they’d be irritated.”
Ellis’ steal brought to mind another Dodgers youngster who stole another base in an inappropriate situation. In the case of Roger Cedeno, however, there was no missed sign. From the Baseball Codes:
In a game in 1996, the Giants trailed Los Angeles 11–2 in the ninth inning, and decided to station ﬁrst baseman Mark Carreon at his normal depth, ignoring the runner at ﬁrst, Roger Cedeno. When Cedeno, just twenty-one years old and in his ﬁrst April as a big-leaguer, saw that nobody was bothering to hold him on, he headed for second—by any interpretation a horrible decision.
As the runner, safe, dusted himself off, Giants third baseman Matt Williams lit into him verbally, as did second baseman Steve Scarsone, left ﬁelder Mel Hall, and manager Dusty Baker. Williams grew so heated that several teammates raced over to restrain him from going after the young Dodgers outﬁelder.
The least happy person on the ﬁeld, however, wasn’t even a member of the Giants—it was Dodgers hitter Eric Karros, who stepped out of the batter’s box in disbelief when Cedeno took off. Karros would have disapproved even as an impartial observer, but as the guy who now had a pissed-off pitcher to deal with, he found his thoughts alternating between anger toward Cedeno and preparing to evade the fastball he felt certain was headed his way. (“I was trying to ﬁgure if I was going to [duck] forward or go back,” said Karros after the game. “It was a 50–50 shot.”) Giants pitcher Doug Creek, however, in a display of egalitarian diplomacy, left Karros unmarked, choosing instead to let the Giants inﬂict whatever retribution they saw ﬁt directly upon Cedeno. (Because it was the ninth inning, nothing happened during that particular game.)
At second base, Scarsone asked Cedeno if he thought it was a full count, and the outﬁelder responded that, no, he was just confused. “If he’s that confused, somebody ought to give him a manual on how to play baseball,” said Baker after the game. “I’ve never seen anybody that confused.”
In the end, it was Karros who saved Cedeno. When he stepped out of the box, as members of the Giants harangued the bewildered baserunner, Karros didn’t simply watch idly—he turned toward the San Francisco bench and informed them that Cedeno had run without a shred of institutional authority, and that Karros himself would ensure that justice was administered once the game ended. Sure enough, as Cedeno sat at his locker after the game, it was obvious to observers that he had been crying. Though the young player refused to comment, it appeared that Karros had been true to his word. “Ignorance and youth really aren’t any excuse,” said Dodgers catcher Mike Piazza, “but we were able to cool things down.”