Celebrations, Pandemic Baseball

Friends Don’t Let Friends Showboat

In lieu of actual baseball, I’ll be posting snippets that were cut from The Baseball Codes as a way of amusing myself and, hopefully, you. Today’s theme: showboating and celebrations These old stories help show just how far baseball has come.

Hitting home runs and crashing into catchers and 100-mph fastballs are ferocious things, but baseball is also a goddamned soap opera. For a sport filled with testosterone (both natural and otherwise), the amount of time guys spend on interpersonal drama is astounding. Designation as a professional athlete does not inure one to a well-placed emotional jab. And just like real life, if that jab comes from someone considered to be a close friend, it’s all the more painful. And if it takes time to retaliate for such a jab, then time is taken.

Rick Sutcliffe and Pedro Guerrero first became teammates in 1974, as 18-year-olds in the Dodgers organization, at Single-A Bellingham, Washington. Three years later, both were at Triple-A Albuquerque, as roommates and close friends. “When he didn’t have any money, I used to loan him money,” Sutcliffe told the Chicago Tribune. “I used to loan him my car. He used to ride around town in my car, and that’s how he met his wife.”

They remained friendly after Sutcliffe was traded to Cleveland after the 1981 season, then joined the Cubs in ’84. In 1987, however, things changed. In a game at Wrigley Field, Guerrero crushed a Sutcliffe pitch onto Waveland Avenue for a solo home run. It was hardly damaging, as the Cubs still led, 9-3, but it was Guerrero’s response that got under the pitcher’s skin.

Guerrero stood in the batter’s box and watched his home run until it left the stadium. Then he waved it bye-bye. With his team down by six runs. With his good friend on the mound.

Sutcliffe looked toward the plate in disbelief, shocked that someone he felt so close to could show him up like that. He responded by motioning with his arms and shouting for Guererro to get moving.

“I don’t say nothing to you when you strike my butt out,” Guerreo spat back, and went into less of a home-run trot than a home-run saunter, strolling languidy around the bases as Sutcliffe watched, seething.

“For a friend to embarrass me like that . . . maybe I better re-examine just how good a friend he is,” said Sutcliffe after the game. For his part, Guerrero insisted that there was nothing personal behind his actions, that it was just his style. He even went so far as to say, “I hope he will forget about it.”

Sutcliffe didn’t forget about it.

The two next faced each other 10 months later, in June, 1988, also at Wrigley Field. With runners on first and second, Sutcliffe walked Guerrero on four pitches, aiming the fourth offering just under his chin. “They were roommates in the minor leagues, and Sutcliffe even let him use his car,” said Cubs first baseman Mark Grace, looking back. “He said, ‘Now you’re going to do that to me? Here you go, son.’ ”

Guerrero glowered at the pitcher, stepped slowly from the batter’s box and tossed his bat toward the Dodgers dugout. The two started yelling at each other and then charged, though they were separated by other players before they could connect.

After the game, Sutcliffe was terse. “I ain’t got nothing to say about that,” he said in a Tribune report. “I take care of those things myself. It’s the same old thing.”

Sutcliffe’s message seemed lost on Guerrero. “I don’t know what his problem is,” said the Dodgers star after the game, adding that he’d done nothing to show the pitcher up.

Lesson not learned.

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