Celebrations, Showing Players Up

Javier Baez Is In No Mood For Your Gesticulations, Mr. Pitcher

Baez v Garrett

Turnabout is fair play. The shoe’s on the other foot. Something about geese and ganders. When a player like Javier Baez takes exception to an opponent’s display of emotion on the field, one can’t help but think about such phrases. Also, hypocrisy.

On Saturday, Reds reliever Amir Garrett whiffed Baez to close out the top of the seventh, and grew somewhat animated on his way down the hill, loosing what Cubs manager Joe Maddon later called “a Lion King’s type of roar.”

There is, of course, some history. On May 18, 2017—one day short of one year earlier—Baez touched Garrett for a grand slam at Wrigley Field, and did just a touch of home run pimping.

As is the way of big leaguers, Garrett has a long memory and an overt willingness to respond in kind. Baez didn’t appreciate it. Following his strikeout, he and the pitcher had words, and benches emptied. The surprising part about it is that Baez, the guy behind this:

… and this:

… and oh hell yeah this:

… even took the time to consider his opponent’s reaction.

Baez (and some of his teammates) pointed out after the game that Cubs celebrations are strictly intramural, and not in any way directed at the opposition. So how about Garrett, a guy also known to occasionally show some emotion on the mound? Even if the pitcher’s Lion Kinging was directed at Baez (which it was probably was), there’s plenty of gray area when it comes to Baez’s own roaring. At some point, when a player is simply howling into the wind, it becomes difficult to draw too many distinctions.

Mostly, this seems like protracted frustration drawn quickly to the surface. At the time of the incident, Baez was 2-for-his-last-22, with nine strikeouts. The slugger has hit only .226 since April 26, watching his batting average fall from .310 to .265 in the process, with a meager .410 slugging percentage. He hasn’t drawn a walk since April 11. Suffice it to say that he’s in no mood for these types of shenanigans.

None of that, however, is particularly relevant. Javier Baez has rightly become a prominent face in the Let Ballplayers Celebrate movement, which is predicated on playing with emotion. Even if some of his points about Saturday’s game have merit, the overall optics of a guy like that calling out a response like Garrett’s doesn’t do much to further the cause.

Garrett himself said it perfectly after the game, in a Chicago Tribune report: “You dish it, you have to take it.”

 

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Retaliation

K.C.’s Baltimore Jacks Leave Bundy With Hungry Heart

Bundy jacked

I’d like to recall something that happened a couple weeks ago, which serves as a barometer for where baseball is, in relation to where it used to be.

On May 8, Baltimore starter Dylan Bundy gave up a single to Kansas City’s first batter of the game, then coughed up three straight homers, walked two guys, and gave up another jack. Seven hitters, seven runs and 15 total bases surrendered without recording an out. It was by any measure among the worst performances in baseball history.

The question here: Beyond simply pitching better, should Bundy have done anything differently?

Once, the obvious response would have been for Bundy to knock a hitter or two down—if not drill them outright— somewhere amid that chain of carnage. Some small examples:

  • 1944, St. Louis vs. Cincinnati. Walker Cooper, Whitey Kurowski and Danny Litwhiler hit consecutive homers against Clyde Shoun. Shoun knocked the next batter, Marty Marion, on his backside with an inside pitch.
  • After Cleveland scored three runs in the first inning and eight in the second against three Twins pitchers in 1975, Minnesota reliever Mark Wiley opened the third by drilling Rick Manning in the leg.
  • In 1985, Bob McClure gave up two homers to the A’s in the span of six batters, which struck the southpaw as especially egregious given that both were hit by left-handers. His first pitch sent the next batter, Dave Kingman, sprawling.

There was a point to those reactions beyond simple frustration. If a team is clearly comfortable in the batter’s box—as was the case against Bundy, and in all three examples above—it behooves the pitcher to disrupt the emerging pattern. This doesn’t mandate hitting anybody, of course, so much as making an opponent move his feet to avoid an inside pitch. In two of the above examples, this is precisely what happened. Marion’s at-bat ended with a popup to shortstop, Kingman’s with a popup to short right field. The hitter after Manning, George Hendrick, struck out. Bundy, however, kept pumping strikes, even as those strikes were getting hammered, and the result was self-evident.

Hell, Manning’s manager back in ’75 was the man with the reddest ass in the history of baseball, Frank Robinson. What did he think of Wiley plunking his guy? “When you’re getting your ass kicked, you’ve got to do something like that,” Robinson said in Making of a Manager.

That era has passed. Intentionally placed inside fastballs are frowned upon like never before. It does not even occur to many pitchers that disrupting a hitter’s comfort zone is actually a viable strategy. We saw it last year when the Nationals went deep four times in the span of five batters against Milwaukee. We saw it in 2010, when four straight Diamondbacks homered against Brewers right-hander Dave Bush.

For the clearest distinction between then-and-now responses, look to 1963, when Angels pitcher Paul Foytack gave up four consecutive jacks to Cleveland in a game that inspired a passage cut from the final draft of The Baseball Codes:

In a 1963 game, Foytack, a Los Angeles Angels pitcher in his 10th big league season, allowed consecutive home runs to Cleveland’s Woody Held, Pedro Ramos and Tito Francona. They were the fourth, fifth and sixth homers the right-hander had given up on the day. To make matters worse, Ramos was the opposing pitcher, sported a .107 batting average, and it was his second round-tripper of the game. Foytack had had about enough, and decided to knock down the next batter, rookie Larry Brown. But even that didn’t work out too well.

Foytack’s first offering tailed over the plate, and Brown hit the Indians’ fourth straight homer. It was the first of his career, and made Foytack the first pitcher in major league history to give up back-to-back-to-back-to-back home runs.

“Today,” said Foytack a few years back, “if you throw close to a guy, they want to take you out.”

There’s a lot to be said for this latest, gentlest iteration of baseball. Some of the things that are getting lost, however, are actually pertinent to the playing of quality baseball. 

Unwritten-Rules

More Tweets From Gregg Olson About The Unwritten Rules

A month ago today I posted about Gregg Olson’s Twitter feed (@GreggOlson30), which the former closer was using to compile a list of baseball’s unwritten rules. He’d tweeted 14 of them at that point, and since then has tweeted 15 more. Here are the rest in all their glory, with the occasional addendum from me. (Gregg, if you haven’t yet read The Baseball Codes, it’s right up your alley. DM me and I’ll get you a copy.)

This goes without saying. It didn’t necessarily stop Rob Dibble, of course, or the occasional lunatic who brought a gun into the clubhouse, but those guys weren’t the norm.

With an exception made for Elvis Andrus and Adrian Beltre, this one is solid … though it can also be utilized for nefarious purposes. In a story told by Bill Lee, for example, Orioles shortstop Luis Aparicio took advantage of the sometimes-extreme religious leanings of St. Louis shortstop Julio Gotay by making crosses out of tongue depressors atop second base before an an exhibition game in the early-1960s. Gotay didn’t notice them until the first inning, when, with a runner on first, he fielded a grounder and took the ball to second base himself. Upon spying Aparicio’s handiwork, he let out a shriek and immediately backed away from the play. Both runners ended up safe on what had appeared to be a certain double-play, then scored on an ensuing triple. (“I asked Aparicio if he ever tried that trick again,” Lee wrote in The Wrong Stuff. “He told me no, explaining that he he wanted to save it in case he played against Gotay in a World Series or All-Star game.”)

This one is true all the way down to travel ball. Warmups for tournament games can only take place on the sideline or in the outfield. If there’s a reason for this beyond keeping the dirt pristine till first pitch, I have no idea what it is.

Peeking = bad. Alex Rodriguez liked to do this. Do not imitate Alex Rodriguez.

Unwritten rule #20(a): Do whatever Verlander says.

For generations, veterans used this one to put any big-mouthed rookie in his place. “[Veterans] wouldn’t even speak to you,” said Lefty Grove about his own rookie experience, in Baseball When The Grass Was Real. “They figured you were coming there to take away somebody’s job. I was there about two weeks before they let on they knew I was around—and I’d already won three or four games by then. Oh, boy.” Part of it had to do with earning one’s place in the clubhouse, but part of it was strictly pragmatic: Guys with little life experience are better off absorbing what they can than trying to impart semi-formed opinions. Now that rookies earn more money than some veterans via outlandish signing bonuses , however, and can possess significant star power before ever playing an inning of big league ball, Rule No. 21 is not nearly as germane as it once was.

This is true for meals, for wardrobes, for nights on the town. When catcher Bill Schroeder was a rookie with the Brewers in 1983, he ended up in the hotel bar after a game in Kansas City. The veterans in the room wouldn’t let him pay for a drink all night, so in a token of appreciation, he approached a waitress toward the end of the evening and ordered a reciprocal round for them. Mike Caldwell stood up, asked who had purchased the drinks, and jumped into action. “Caldwell came over to me, and brought all six beers with him,” recalled Schroeder. “He said, ‘You’re not leaving here until you drink all these beers, and don’t you ever pull your wallet out again this year. You are not to buy another beer this season. You’re a rookie, and that’s our job.’ ” Yes, Schroeder finished the beers. No, he didn’t buy another round until 1984.

There’s an entire chapter in The Baseball Codes about mound conference etiquette, which pays specific attention to a moment in which Giants pitcher Jim Barr opted to refute this rule with the one guy least likely to tolerate insubordination: Frank Robinson. (It almost ended up in fisticuffs in the dugout.) In another incident, from 1974 (as detailed in Dynastic, Bombastic, Fantastic), A’s pitcher Vida Blue showed displeasure with manager Alvin Dark by leaving the mound before the skipper even arrived, then flipping the ball into the air as he blew past him. (Blue paid the resulting $250 fine in nickels.)

Hitters going to the batter’s box on the opposite side of the field from their dugout must similarly circle behind the catcher and umpire. The path between pitcher and catcher is sacrosanct territory.

Especially true with a 3-0 count during a blowout.

It goes without saying that the most effective method of communication between batter an umpire (or between catcher and umpire) occurs while the player in question is facing away from the ump, toward the field, in a low-key conversation that goes largely undetected save for those in the immediate vicinity. Umpires who feel shown up in front of a stadium full of people are less likely to be flexible in their opinions about a given subject.

Superstitions, man.

This is along the same lines as a pitcher waiting for his manager on the mound. You got your team into this mess; it’s the least you can do to stick around until one of your teammates gets you out of it.

This is the biggest and most important of all unwritten rules, the one from which most of an esoteric and sometimes baffling code book is derived. Dusty Baker said it best, in my favorite quote from The Baseball Codes: “I honestly believe that what you learn in this game is not yours to possess, but yours to pass on. I believe that, whether it’s equipment, knowledge, or philosophy, that’s the only way the game shall carry on. I believe that you have to talk, communicate, and pass on what was given to you. You can’t harbor it. You can’t run off to the woods and keep it for yourself, because it isn’t yours to keep. And what you teach other guys is the torch you pass. I don’t make this up—it was passed to me.”

Here’s to you, Gregg. Nice work.

Bat Flipping, Evolution of the Unwritten Rules

Hüsker Dön’t: Nebraska Coach Sets Tone For Plate Celebrations

Husker points

For those who can’t stand the acceptance of bat flipping and related celebrations into major league baseball’s mainstream, I give you Darin Erstad.

Erstad, a two-time All-Star over his 14-year big league career, has been head baseball coach at the University of Nebraska since 2011. He is decidedly old school.

So when one of his players, junior infielder Angelo Altavilla, did this against Indiana on Friday …

… Erstad was not happy about it. (As evidenced in the video, neither was Indiana catcher Ryan Fineman.)

Erstad greeted Altavilla in the dugout with no small amount of displeasure—“Don’t do that again,” were his exact words, according to the Lincoln Journal Star—and then pulled him from the game.

Altavilla had been slumping, as had Nebraska, so they had reason to celebrate. Such details did not matter to Erstad.

It’s one thing to accept that players set the tone for Major League Baseball’s unwritten rules. When a critical mass accepts bat flipping as the norm, well, that’s what it is. In college ball, however, there’s an emphasis on learning unlike anything found in the major leagues. NCAA coaches are shaping ballplayers, but, given that only a tiny percentage of the collegiate ranks go pro, they’re also shaping people. And if a guy like Erstad wants to pass along lessons about respect and decorum that his players can take with them into civilian life, more power to him.

Succeeding with grace is in increasingly short supply in this country. Here’s hoping for an infusion of the stuff from Lincoln.

 

 

Collisions, Evolution of the Unwritten Rules

Collision Course: The State Of Baseball, 2018

Dietrich dustup

This is a story about baseball’s rulebook, and also about baseball’s unwritten rulebook. One, it turns out, feeds the other.

Yesterday, Marlins left fielder Derek Dietrich, racing home on a single, was easily beaten by the throw from Cubs right fielder Ben Zobrist. With his only hope at scoring being to dislodge the ball from the catcher, Dietrich plowed into Victor Caratini, just as generations before him have done.

Actually, it was a fair step milder than in previous generations, the collision being mostly arms, not even forceful enough to knock Caratini from his feet. Still, this is the no-contact era of major league baseball, a place where, following Scott Cousins’ takeout of Buster Posey back in 2011, the target on catchers’ backs was institutionally removed. This is a time in which a late slide from Tyler Austin—a slide that once wouldn’t have so much as raised an eyebrow in the opposing dugout—led to fisticuffs in New York.

So, when Dietrich took liberties with Caratini, Caratini responded in kind. The dugouts quickly emptied, and though the most significant moment of the resulting skirmish involved Kris Bryant tickling former teammate Starlin Castro, the event is worthy of exploration.

MLB rule 6.01(i)(1) instructs that any catcher ceding the baseline—standing in front of the plate and relying on a swipe tag to make the putout—is in safe waters: “A runner attempting to score may not deviate from his direct pathway to the plate in order to initiate contact with the catcher (or other player covering home plate), or otherwise initiate an avoidable collision.”

Dietrich did not deviate from his pathway because he did not have to: Caratini was planted firmly atop the line while awaiting the throw—going firmly against Rule 6.01(i)(2), which clarifies that “unless the catcher is in possession of the ball, the catcher cannot block the pathway of the runner as he is attempting to score.”

In this case, it appeared to be unwitting: Upon receiving the ball, Caratini turned to make the requisite swipe tag before realizing that he had overshot his positioning and was reaching into foul territory, away from the plate. He quickly drew his glove back into the runner.

It left Dietrich little choice about contact. The runner’s ensuing shove was purely elective, of course, though it was a far cry from the devastation possible had he opted to lower his shoulder. Dietrich even tried to make nice by tipping his cap to the catcher before Caratini got into his face.

We’re left with this: Victor Caratini is 24 years old and was playing in his 51st big league game. Posey-era rules are all he’s ever known. With little basis from which to understand the rationality of Dietrich’s decision, the catcher reacted angrily at being shoved, and a play that should barely have registered soon bordered on fisticuffs.

The sport’s unwritten rules can be seen in similar light. Take the aforementioned Yankees-Red Sox brawl back in April. On one hand, the Red Sox were overly sensitive about a slide that a generation earlier wouldn’t have drawn much notice. On the other, the slide was clearly outside of baseball’s recently established parameters, and Austin should have been prepared for the response that he received.

Ultimately, neither side had much clue about how to handle what was, before now, a fairly standard baseball situation, and things ended badly. They ended badly because many players no longer understand the intentions behind much of the Code, and react instinctively rather than rationally. It’s what enables sensitivity about the personal nature of an action that is not at all personal.

These are the unintended consequences of the sanitation of the sport. There are clear benefits—fewer collision-based injuries and a decline in retaliatory beanballs—but there are also growing pains. Yesterday’s collision was only one of them, with more certain to follow.

 

 

Deke Appropriately, Deking

Pedro Florimon, Master Magician, Offers Sleight-Of-Hand Clinic to Trea Turner

Florimon deke

Dekes—fielders making runners think that something is happening on the field that’s not actually happening—can be marvelous things.

In baseball’s unwritten rulebook, they are only problematic when they put somebody in danger—primarily in the form of a late phantom tag, laid down when the ball is actually someplace else, forcing a runner into a hurried and awkward slide.

Barring that, however, the play can be a wonder to behold. Take, for example, Philadelphia shortstop Pedro Florimon, who last Saturday retired Trea Turner with some delightful trickery. The Nationals were down 3-1 in the bottom of the ninth inning when Turner drew a leadoff walk and, on the first pitch to the next batter, Matt Wieters, took off for second.

The trouble for Turner was that Wieters popped the ball up to second base. The other trouble for Turner was that he never peeked toward the plate to gauge what was happening. Thus, when Florimon drifted to the bag as if to receive a throw from catcher Andrew Knapp, Turner had little reason to disbelieve that Florimon was actually receiving a throw from catcher Andrew Knapp. The shortstop even punctuated the act by laying a tag upon the unsuspecting baserunner as he stood atop the bag.

Second baseman Cesar Hernandez, meanwhile, was able to complete the easiest double-play of his life, finishing the play while Turner was still in a state of puzzlement at second. (Watch the whole thing here.)

“Usually, I hear the ball off the bat, so a lot of times if I hear it, I’ll look up,” Turner said after the game in a Washington Post report. “I didn’t hear it that time.”

It is the responsibility of every baserunner to have a handle on whatever situation he finds himself in. Failure to glance plateward cost Lonnie Smith in the most famous deke of modern times, in the 1991 World Series, and it cost Turner last weekend.

It’s likely not a mistake he’ll ever make a second time.

 

Everybody Joins a Fight

Love Thy Opponent As Thyself, Because What Else Are Baseball Fights For?

Shields hugs

The Perez-Anderson fracas over the weekend gave us visible evidence of players’ adherence to an unwritten rule that is undisputedly less violable than whatever led to the fracas in the first place: Players shall always take the field during a fight.

This doesn’t mean they have to fight, of course—a self-evident truth given the lack of actual fighting during most baseball dustups. Players can emerge as peacemakers, or even just mill about the back of the scrum, trying to look angry.

Or, as in the case of White Sox pitcher James Shields, they can hop about and offer hugs.

As evidenced in the above video, Shields couldn’t wait to get his paws on Kansas City’s Ian Kennedy. Shields, of course, knows many of the Royals from the two seasons he spent in Kansas City, and was teammates with Kennedy in San Diego—so he used bad blood elsewhere on the field to stage an impromptu reunion (he later hugged up on Mike Moustakas).

Here’s to friendships, through good times and bad (which sometimes occur at the exact same moment).