Brian Schneider retired yesterday. A backup for most of his 13-year career, he was never a star, but saw enough action to make an impression.
The following excerpt from The Baseball Codes was reported primarily because I watched it unfold from the press box at AT&T Park, and was duly amazed. The moment involved Schneider, in the on-deck circle, being drilled by a foul ball and knocked out of the game.
That, in itself, is unusual, but the story surrounding it—including the aftermath—brought increasing levels of intrigue. Schneider was only a bit player, but it bears retelling:
In 2006, the Washington Nationals limped into San Francisco with a MASH unit where their catching corps should have been. Starting catcher Brian Schneider suffered a debilitating lower-back strain in Los Angeles a day earlier, and backup Matt LeCroy had been released eleven days previous. That left only one player on the roster with catching experience—Robert Fick, primarily a ﬁrst baseman who had caught in 132 games over eight previous big-league seasons.
In the fourth inning, however, it all came apart. Fick, on ﬁrst after singling, tore rib cartilage diving back to the bag on a pickoff throw. Had there been another catching option for Nationals manager Frank Robinson, Fick would have come out of the game immediately. As it was, Fick’s injury prevented him from swinging a bat, but he was still able to squat and catch, so he stayed in.
The single had been part of a ﬁve-run rally that gave Washington a 6–1 lead. But after catching the bottom of the fourth, Fick was in such serious pain that Schneider volunteered to come off the bench, bad back and all, to take over. He made it as far as the on-deck circle, where he was preparing to bat in Fick’s spot with two outs in the ﬁfth. Within moments, however, Nationals hitter Damian Jackson lined a foul ball directly into Schneider’s right wrist, giving him injuries in two places and sending him back to the dugout. There was no other option—Fick had to bat for himself. Which leads to a question: What does a hitter do when he can’t swing a bat?
The answer: He bunts. It was Fick’s only alternative, short of watching every pitch he saw. There were two problems, however. One was that Fick pushed his ﬁrst bunt attempt foul, leaving him standing at the plate and awaiting the next pitch from San Francisco starter Noah Lowry. The other was that neither Fick nor anyone else in the Nationals dugout told the Giants what was going on. All Lowry saw was a player bunting after a ﬁve-run rally that broke the game open. He drilled Fick with his next pitch.
“I thought it was unbelievable, ridiculous,” said Lowry. “Sometimes during a game, emotions take over. The emotions were already there, and to add that icing on the cake. . . . There comes a point where you have to draw the line and say, ‘Hey, have respect for me, have respect for the game.’ ”
It wasn’t until afterward that the left-hander found out about Fick’s ribs (the injury was enough to send the would-be catcher to the disabled list the next day) and the various maladies of Washington’s other catchers, and he felt terrible. Had there been some communication—Fick telling Giants catcher Todd Greene about his predicament, and Greene relaying that information to Lowry, perhaps—might it have made a difference?
“Yeah, of course,” said the pitcher. “Knowing he was hurt would have been a completely different story. . . . When I heard about why he was doing it I felt like a jerk. But, not knowing, you just play the game the way you know how to play it.”