To judge by the accusations flying around the major leagues, this is the summer of our discontent.
Players just can’t seem to keep their frustrations to themselves. Despite baseball’s unwritten rules mandating a strict moratorium on talking to the media about interpersonal gripes, there has been a steady stream recently of big league vituperation leaking through the seams.
Last week, Twins southpaw Jose Mijares became the latest in a string of pitchers to call out teammates, venting about the pitch selection offered to him by catcher Joe Mauer after Prince Fielder hit one of his fastballs — the sixth straight one he threw — for a game-winning double.
“I don’t know what was going on with Mauer,” Mijares told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “He never put down the sign for a breaking ball. Never.”
Never mind that manager Ron Gardenhire expected a steady stream of sliders thrown to the Brewers’ slugger; Mijares’ lack of public discretion with his comments was stunning.
Or it would have been had it not been so entirely within this season’s norm.
The year’s most discussed outburst came courtesy of A’s reliever Brian Fuentes, who in late May used the press to question his manager, Bob Geren, about, among other things, “zero” communication with his bullpen. This was less an emotional outburst than a calculated maneuver intended to undermine Geren — and it worked. Soon other players were piling on.
Rockies closer Huston Street, who played under Geren in 2007-08, told the San Francisco Chronicle that the manager was the “least favorite person I have ever encountered in sports.” Geren was fired a less than two weeks later.
Mijares and Fuentes, of course, are only the beginning when it comes to this season’s loose-lipped pitchers. Take the Blue Jays’ Rickey Romero, who recently vented about the lack of run support he’s received.
Or Carlos Zambrano, who called the Cubs “a Triple-A team” and criticized closer Carlos Marmol‘s pitch selection in a game-tying, ninth-inning St. Louis rally that cost Zambrano the victory.
Or Cincinnati’s Edinson Volquez, who ripped the Reds’ offense for its lack of production.
And it hasn’t been limited to pitchers. Florida outfielder Logan Morrison questioned Hanley Ramirez‘s commitment following the shortstop’s belated appearance at Jack McKeon‘s first meeting as Marlins manager.
Elsewhere in the NL East, Chipper Jones publicly questioned teammate Jason Hayward for his stance that he wanted to be entirely healthy before taking the field following a shoulder injury. Jones told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that “there are a bunch of his teammates that are out there playing with discomfort and not healthy, and still going at it.”
Then there’s Mets owner Fred Wilpon, who got in some digs on Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran and David Wright in what was otherwise an expansive and sympathetic piece in The New Yorker.
This is an awful lot of pot stirring from guys who should know better.
“All I can do is just pitch,” Romero told the Toronto Star after giving up a two-run homer to Tim Hudson in a 2-0 loss on June 20. “I can’t worry about the offense and what they do. I’ve always said this at one point we can’t rely on [Jose] Bautista, we can’t rely on [Adam] Lind. We’ve got to get somebody else to step up and get on base and drive them in. These guys are getting pitched around. Everyone’s got to step it up or else we’re not going to be winning ballgames.”
Romero is only 7-7, despite a 2.74 ERA and 96 strikeouts (12th in the AL), largely because Blue Jays hitters have given him 3.6 runs per game, as opposed to 4.75 in starts by everyone else on the staff. Remove his two starts in which Toronto scored a combined 26 runs, and the Jays have averaged 2.3 runs per game for the righthander.
This is reasonable cause for frustration, and the pitcher could have easily unloaded with far more force than he did. He even went on to clarify that his teammates are “all trying.” These are hardly incendiary statements.
None of which matters a bit. Whenever a player — particularly a pitcher — publicly pins blame on his teammates (no matter how gently or justifiably), it rarely ends well.
In 1999, the Chicago Sun Times devoted an entire story to a comparison of the finger-pointing by Cubs pitcher Steve Trachsel and White Sox pitcher Jamie Navarro, who both pitched on Aug. 22 of that year, both lost, and both deflected at least some of the blame. The opinion: Navarro won, by a landslide. “I don’t think I’ve pitched that badly this year,” the righthander said following his 9-4 loss to the Baltimore Orioles. “I can only pitch. I can’t hit for the guys.” What he failed to mention was that he gave up all nine runs, had surrendered seven runs in two of his previous three starts, and sported a 6.19 ERA.
It’s reminiscent of Volquez, whose recent statements about his teammates — “In the last five games, how many runs have we scored?” he asked. “Like 13?” — came immediately after he gave up seven runs (six earned) in 2.2 innings against Cleveland to increase his ERA to 6.35. The Reds were so enamored with his act that they shipped him to Louisville the following day.
Morrison violated an unwritten rule of his own when he called out Ramirez, a player of significantly more stature than himself in terms of tenure, accomplishments and paycheck. According to the Miami Herald, Morrison “ripped” into the Marlins star after Ramirez showed up nearly an hour late to McKeon’s 3:30 p.m. pregame meeting, going so far as to finger the shortstop’s perpetual tardiness as a reason for his .200 batting average. (McKeon responded by benching Ramirez, sending a somewhat less verbose message of his own.)
It’s not the first time that members of the Marlins have grown fed up with Ramirez’s act. Last year, then-manager Fredi Gonzalez and teammate Wes Helms criticized him publicly following an incident in which Ramirez kicked a ball into the corner, then loafed after it as two runners came around to score. Their recriminations had little effect, at least at first.
Things had clearly reached a breaking point for a second-year player like Morrison to strive for clubhouse order at the expense of the team’s most prominent player. Ramirez’s clueless response to the criticism offered echoes of last year, when he told reporters that he “wasn’t late yesterday” because he arrived before the team’s 4:30 stretch, and that he comes in “at 3:30 every day,” despite the fact that he obviously did not. “Everybody knows it wasn’t my fault, so I wasn’t late,” he said cryptically.
Handling the situation with significantly more aplomb was Morrison, who kept his sentiments from the press, refusing to discuss them after they were leaked. “I’d rather have what happened in the clubhouse stay in the clubhouse,” he said, and left it at that. Which is exactly as it should be.
Zambrano got personal with his comments, chiding Marmol for throwing a slider that Ryan Theriot hit for a game-tying double, ignoring the fact that, as Zambrano told Chicago reporters, “Ryan Theriot is not a good fastball hitter.” It was the second straight game in which Marmol coughed up Zambrano’s lead.
Cubs manager Mike Quade did not discipline his pitcher for the remarks, and Marmol has said that he is not perturbed. Still, Zambrano apologized to the closer.
Romero also apologized. Even Fuentes, who got what he wanted in his manager’s dismissal, apologized to Geren for his statements — not the sentiment, but the public nature of their dispersal.
As for Minnesota’s Mijares, prevailing wisdom holds that a middle reliever has little business calling out a league MVP like Mauer, let alone the Twins’ most important player since Kirby Puckett. That fact made Mauer’s follow-up comment, that he called for a fastball — just not a fastball “right down the middle” — all the more amusing.
Then again, Gardenhire wasn’t laughing.
“A lefthander’s got to come in and hopefully spin some pitches …” he said. ” I could leave a right-hander in to throw fastballs.”
If it sounds like he was taking his pitcher’s side, that wasn’t necessarily the case. Gardenhire called pitcher and catcher together for a meeting, during which Mijares apologized to Mauer for his outburst. And in so doing, the skipper cut to the heart of many of the above problems.
“The one thing the manager can do is second-guess the heck out of it because I get second-guessed myself by [the media],” he told the Star-Tribune. “So I can say those things — I would like to see a breaking ball — but the pitcher can’t. If he doesn’t want to throw something, don’t throw it.”
This story originally appeared at Sports Illustrated.com.