Derek Lowe, Dusty Baker, Retaliation

Baker-Lowe Feud Exposes Long-Seated Rift, Hints at Wild Accusations, Spurs Mutomboeque Finger Wag

While people are fixating on Dusty Baker‘s explosive charge that Derek Lowe may have been drinking at the ballpark four years ago, the first thing that jumped out at me from the newly rekindled feud between the two, which has just now grabbed headlines some four years after it allegedly started, was this: Managers still order their pitchers to retaliate?

Apparently, yes.

Sure, most expect to see it when appropriate and applaud when it happens, but from the hundreds of interviews I’ve done on the subject, the overwhelming sentiment is that direct orders in that regard are a thing of bygone eras.

Not according to Baker.

“I told [Reds starter Mat] Latos to buzz [Lowe] and make him feel uncomfortable,” he said to the Cleveland Plain Dealer about a moment in Wednesday’s game.

Come again?

Baker said specifically that while he didn’t order a drilling, he did instruct his pitcher to send an obvious message. Suffice it to say, that message was received. Following Latos’ brushback, Lowe pointed his bat toward the Reds dugout, where he saw Baker wagging his finger at him. (Lowe initially thought it was a signal of denial; Baker corrected him by telling the Plain Dealer that “[Dikembe] Mutombo didn’t shake his finger to say, ‘I didn’t have anything to do with it.’ That means, ‘Don’t mess with me or my team.’ That’s what that means. So he better learn the sign lanugage.”)

Brandon Phillips reacts to drilling.

A half-inning later, Lowe drilled Brandon Phillips in response. (Watch it here.) As an apparently amused Phillips grinned toward his dugout, plate ump Paul Nauert responded by warning both benches.

The origins of this feud are, at this point, pure speculation. Lowe offered only vague details.

“This goes back to my last year with the Dodgers [in 2008],” he said in a Cincinnati Enquirer report. “[Baker] made up some story. A lot of people got involved. People almost got fired over it. You can go ask him right now and he’ll say he has no idea what you’re talking about.”

Baker suggested that Lowe’s drilling of Joey Votto in 2009 was motivated by the mystery circumstance. In response to the pitcher saying he had no respect for him, Baker said this, again from the Enquirer: “Man, I don’t care. A lot of people don’t respect me. He don’t respect himself. The word was whatever he did and said probably there was a good chance he was drinking at the ballpark and he don’t remember what he said or what he did. OK.”

Baker and his team had a chance to retaliate for Votto’s drilling in ’09—Lowe, then with Atlanta, faced the Reds once more that season, and emerged unscathed. (The final score of that follow-up game was 3-1, Cincinnati, a margin perhaps too thin for Baker to be settling scores. Then again, a brushback like Latos ultimately delivered hardly matters in that regard.)

Either because it’s personal and not team-related, or because Lowe handled things sufficiently on his own, there was no follow-up action from the Indians when the teams played on Thursday.

Baker has been known to possess a long memory when it comes to this type of thing; in an interview for The Baseball Codes, he said, “You can’t carry stuff over unless you’ve got a long history with a guy.” This certainly qualifies as long history, but without details there’s little point even in speculating about the cause.

In the end, I keep coming back to the same question: Managers really order retaliation from their pitchers in 2012? Like many of the details in this particular drama, it merits further exploration. Ultimately, of course, we’re only going to find out as much as people are willing to talk about, which has already been more than we’re used to. Stay tuned.

5 thoughts on “Baker-Lowe Feud Exposes Long-Seated Rift, Hints at Wild Accusations, Spurs Mutomboeque Finger Wag

  1. Here, you might find this interesting, from when the Marlins threw at (and then behind) Nyjer Morgan a couple years back:

    “The question is, do we throw at them?” [Nats manager Jim] Riggleman said. “I said, ‘It’s your ballclub, if you want somebody getting thrown at, I’ll order it right now.’ And everybody said, ‘Nah, it’s over. It’s over.’ ”

    The article: So, he did defer to the players, but I remember noting that he talked openly about ordering a hit.

    Two other thoughts came to mind: Ozzie Guillen and that rookie who failed to hit someone; how long ago was that? Also, LaRussa’s Cardinals had a rep for retaliating, yes? Could every pitcher who joined the Cards have suddenly become very interested in Upholding The Code, or were there sometimes orders? From post-game quotes, I’ve surmised that players believed the manager was in charge. I’ve seen more than one opponents say, “You never know what he’s thinking over there” — when, in fact, they clearly think they know EXACTLY what he’s thinking over there.

    Loved your book; love this blog. Great fun. Thanks for providing both. (By the way, I’m glad to see you’ve posted about the Peralta thing; when I see something like that, I start looking for your post on the matter.)

    1. All great points, Scooter. The two managers that come quickly to mind in this regard (or at least should have) are, as you said, La Russa and Guillen. La Russa made a point of acting above the fray, but it’s pretty well established that his pitchers did what he asked them to do. Guillen, far less tactful, talked openly about it. The pitcher you’re thinking of was Sean Tracey, a rookie who — not surprisingly — was sent down two days after failing to hit Hank Blalock, as ordered by Guillen, and was subsequently released. Guillen also tore into a veteran, Jon Garland, later that season, for similarly coming up short where retaliation was concerned. (In both cases, the pitcher against whom Guillen wanted to retaliate was Vicente Padilla.)

      I don’t recall the Riggleman quote, but of the three, that’s the most surprising. La Russa and Guillen are natural outliers; there aren’t many managers like them — for better or worse they definitely don’t reside within the mainstream of their profession. Still, your point raises the possibility that this kind of thing might go on more frequently than one suspects. I still believe the widespread sentiment from the interviews I’ve done that most managers — even those who appreciate retaliation — stop short of ordering it. Still, it could simply be that those who don’t order such strikes are happy to discuss it, while those who do tend to be a bit more reticent.

      1. The funny thing is, the Sox catcher got hit in Both games by Padilla, and surprisingly two pitchers, Both rookie and veteran refused to protect him. In the game Where Tracey was to hit Blalock, A.J. got hit twice, the second time it was a change up he dove into. Tracey asked for his release during the following spring training, and Garland was traded to the Angels the next offseason. Something about A.J. and the top 10 worst teammates in all of professional sports makes sense here.

      2. There’s no shortage of reasons to question Pierzynski as a teammate — as I recall, Brett Tomko referred to him as “a cancer” when they spent time together in San Francisco — but Padilla was at the core of that issue. The guy was among the league leaders in hit batsmen for a number of years (his 17 led the AL in ’06), and he had the reputation of being one of baseball’s top headhunters. Ozzie had little tolerance for that kind of thing, and was willing to go to great lengths to convey that message.

        It’s really too bad about Tracey. It’s difficult to think that the incident somehow didn’t color his career in some way.

      3. Tracey was actually called up two more times that season, and threw a scoreless September. He requested waivers in late Spring of 2007, and has been dealing with an injury he sustained in 2006 that the White Sox ignored. It’s a shame he was treated the way he was. The guy has serious talent, for he was 14-6 in AA in 2005, and was not a September call-up while being a member of the 40 man. He was also a top prospect along with Brandon McCarthy, who is now one of the top starters in the game.

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