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?
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.
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.”)
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.