It started on Wednesday, when Mets second baseman Justin Turner was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded in the 13th inning, driving home the winning run against the A’s. The problem with the play, as far as the A’s were concerned, was that Turner made no effort to avoid the pitch, which barely grazed his jersey. (Watch it here.)
Whether this had any bearing in what happened next is uncertain, but in Turner’s first at-bat Thursday, A’s right-hander Graham Godfrey hit him in the leg—something seen by many in the New York clubhouse as clear retaliation.
There are many problems with this scenario, primary among them being the written rules of the game. Rule 6.08(b)(2) says that a batter takes first base after being hit by a pitch unless he “makes no attempt to avoid being touched by the ball.” Turner rotated his torso—barely—which was apparently enough for plate umpire Fieldin Culbreth. And in a situation like this, if the umpire has no beef, the opposition shouldn’t, either.
Perhaps it was an attempt by new A’s manager Bob Melvin to set a tone with the team. (Unlikely.) Or maybe it was Godfrey, all of three games into his big league career, trying to establish some bona fides in the Oakland clubhouse. (He’s no stranger to hitting guys, having done so 38 times over four-plus minor league seasons.)
Or maybe it was strictly incidental, no more than a case of rookie nerves or a pitch that got away. This is how the Mets treated it, opting to ignore the incident and get on with what would be a 4-1 victory.
One guy, however, was less than pleased. According to ESPN New York, Jeff Wilpon—the team’s COO, and son of owner Fred—took to the team’s clubhouse following the game and admonished his players for their timidity. He said, according to the New York Times, that he would cover pitchers’ fines for such actions. Unlike the ominous tone set by ESPN, the Times called Wilpon’s interaction “playful.”
No matter how he meant it, this is a dangerous road to travel. There’s a reason that modern managers and coaches tend to shy away from directly ordering retaliatory action. They don’t want to be responsible for unforeseen consequences, and they—having all played the game at various professional levels—understand that most big league pitchers understand appropriate retaliatory tactics (and that if they don’t, their teammates will inevitably instruct them in such).
Jeff Wilpon primarily supervises the construction of buildings, in his role as executive vice president of his father’s real estate company. He is not a baseball man, at least to the point at which he has any business ordering his players to do anything on the field. He clearly likes the gunslinger mentality of retaliating for retaliation’s sake, but hasn’t likely considered the negative repercussions. Should the A’s respond to Wilpon’s response, the likely target would shift from Turner to somebody like Jose Reyes or David Wright.
Picture for a moment Reyes getting sidelined for six weeks due to a cracked rib suffered at the wrong end of a retaliatory fastball—disabling him straight through the trade deadline.
Leave retaliation to the pros, Mr. Wilpon. You just put a target on your team, as far as any examination the league might take when it comes to any future bad exchanges of bad blood.
Also realize that in 1998, your manager was suspended while at the helm of the Angels for his part in retaliating against Kansas City after Royals infielder Felix Martinez sucker-punched Anaheim’s Frank Bolick during a game.
Terry Collins is able to recognize retaliation-worthy offenses. Let him. Stay in the owner’s box, where you belong.