As if Yankees manager Aaron Boone hasn’t had his fill of his own team’s fans calling for his hide, Tigers fans have now joined the chorus. Boone’s sin: Trying to win a ballgame.
There is, of course, more to the story.
On Wednesday, Miguel Cabrera picked up three hits, bringing his career total to 2,999. On Thursday the slugger was unsuccessful in his first three attempts at reaching the elusive number. For Cabrera’s fourth at-bat, Boone had him intentionally walked. Some people did not like that at all.
At issue was Boone’s perceived lack of respect when it came to letting an icon reach a milestone on his own terms. Trouble is, that’s not the way baseball works. The
Yankees Tigers led 1-0 with two outs and first base open, with a favorable lefty-on-lefty matchup waiting on deck in Austin Meadows. It was the correct move … even if it didn’t work out, given that Meadows doubled to extend Detroit’s advantage.
The move also had precedent.
In 1968, as Don Drysdale was in the midst of compiling his then-record consecutive scoreless-innings streak, he loaded the bases against the Giants with nobody out in the ninth inning. Dodgers manager Walter Alston opted to play his infield at double-play depth, willing to sacrifice a run—and Drysdale’s record—for a pair of outs. Why? LA led 2-0, and those outs were vital. “I wouldn’t have expected anything but that from Walt, who had his priorities in order,” Drysdale said later.
It wasn’t even the first time this kind of thing came up around somebody’s 3,000th hit. After George Brett collected hit number 3,000 hit against the Angels in 1992, action was stopped for five minutes as the future Hall of Famer was mobbed by teammates. As I wrote in The Baseball Codes: “Literally moments after the game resumed, Brett, in the middle of a conversation with ﬁrst baseman Gary Gaetti, was unceremoniously picked off ﬁrst base.”
Jarring? Yes. Practical? Also yes. The Angels trailed by three in the seventh inning, and baserunner removal was paramount on pitcher Tim Fortugno’s mind.
We can even use opposite examples to enforce the point, even within the Yankees vs. Tigers idiom. In September 1968, Denny McLain faced Mickey Mantle, who, nine days from retirement, had been stuck at 534 home runs—tied on the career list with Jimmy Foxx—for nearly a month. McLain wanted to help Mantle climb the ladder. Also from The Baseball Codes:
Before the game, McLain decided to do his hero a favor. Recalled Tigers catcher Jim Price, “Denny told me, ‘Let him hit one.’ ” Price relayed the good news when Mantle stepped into the batter’s box, at which point the Yankees star extended his bat over the plate to indicate just the spot in which he’d like to see a pitch. McLain delivered, and Mantle connected for a homer. Said Price, “Denny stood out there on the mound and clapped.” Mantle had his milestone, and McLain had his joy.
The difference between McLain’s approach and Boone’s? With the season nearly over, the Tigers were comfortably in first place and held a 6-1 lead with nobody on base in the eighth inning. McLain had plenty of leeway to aid Mantle without sacrificing his team’s chance at victory. Such could not be said for the Yankees yesterday.
Hell, it’s not like Boone’s decision even cost Cabrera a chance at 3,000. The guy already had three opportunities during the game, and he’ll get more again today. And tomorrow. And for literally 150 more games through the rest of the season.
As Curt Schilling said after Padres catcher Ben Davis famously broke up his perfect game with a bunt: “The bottom line is, unwritten rules or not, you’re paid to win games. That’s the only reason you’re playing in the big leagues.”