The minor leagues exist in part as a proving ground for young players, an off-spotlight platform where they can learn from their mistakes. Baseball fundamentals comprise a significant portion of this learning, but there’s also a place for figuring out the ways of the game—specifically to this item, retaliation, and what is and is not appropriate.
Take, as an example, Palm Beach Cardinals pitcher Brandon Creath. Pitching in the Florida State League (Class-A Advanced) on Sunday, he threw a pitch at the head of Fort Myers Mircale third baseman Miguel Sano. According to Miracle manager Doug Mientkiewicz, the pitch was in response to an incident in Tuesday’s game between the same teams, when Sano hit a seventh-inning grand slam in Fort Myers’ 7-4 win.
“They were running their mouths at him,” Mientkiewicz said in an MiLB.com report. “Miguel hit a grand slam and kinda flipped his bat, and they took it the wrong way. He hit a big home run.”
Mientkiewicz—one of the staunchest Code adherents in the game during his 12 seasons as a big league first baseman—did not appear to be taking issue with the fact that the Cardinals retaliated, but rather how it went down.
“Hit him in the back,” he said. “I won’t like it, but it’s part of the game. Throw at his head and it messes with his future and I have a problem with it. It’s an embarrassment to the game of baseball.”
Sano didn’t take long to offer his own response, homering later in the at-bat. In so doing, however, he set up a situation in which it became clear that Creath wasn’t the only person needing to brush up on his unwritten rulebook. Sano rounded the bases with a flurry of fist-pumps and shouts toward the Palm Beach dugout, and plate ump Fernando Rodriguez ejected him before he reached the plate.
“I think, personally, it’s garbage,” Mientkiewicz said. “[Sano] did nothing wrong. He locks in and hits a home run. That’s what makes him so special.”
(It’s worth noting that two Palm Beach batters had been hit earlier in the game, which Mientkiewicz dismissed as accidental, and incidental to what eventually went down.)
While the most pertinent item here is head-hunting, that rule almost goes without saying. There’s never a valid reason for it, and every ballplayer who doesn’t inherently recognize that will be taught a lesson the moment his ignorance surfaces.
Umpires, however, have a more subtle task. Ball-strike-safe-out is the most prominent part of their job, but they also have a responsibility to understand recent events between the teams for which they’re responsible, in order to help them make informed judgments about whatever it is they’re seeing on the field.
Were Rodriguez up on his facts, he may well have ejected Creath, not Sano, and all of this would have been avoided.