Showmanship Showdown in NLDS: Why Would Anyone Ever Listen To Manny Machado?

To judge by yesterday’s game, Manny Machado, a guy known for overt displays of showmanship, is less tolerant when the other team does it. Or maybe it’s that he approves of bat flips—even the excessive kind, the kind where regular bat flippers go, “Hoooo, that sure was something”—but not when a pitcher gets into the act. Or maybe Machado thinks celebrating his own feat is cool, but Dodgers pitcher Brusdar Graterol celebrating teammate Cody Bellinger is not.

So what’a a little hypocrisy between ex-teammates?

Machado is no stranger to this type of nonsense. Remember when he kept hitting A’s catchers in the head with his backswing, almost certainly with intention, then reacted poorly when the A’s threw at his knees in response? Remember when, while playing for the Dodgers, he rammed into the heel of stretching Brewers first baseman Jesus Aguilar, again almost certainly with intention? Remember when he spiked Dustin Pedroia? Remember when he threw a hissy fit over an entirely ordinary tag? Remember when he tried to trip a catcher circling under a pop-up?

All of which to say is that Machado, a guy with maybe the worst reputation of any big leaguer—in a players’ poll last year, referenced in one of the links above, 65 percent of his colleagues rated him as the dirtiest player in the sport, with the runner-up garnering less than 10 percent—doesn’t have much in the way of moral authority when it comes to this kind of stuff.

That doesn’t keep him from talking, of course.

A recap of last night’s action:

* With the Padres trailing 4-1 in the sixth, Machado hit a leadoff homer, then went all Jose Bautista:

* With the Padres trailing 4-3 in the seventh, two outs and a runner on second, Fernando Tatis Jr. smoked Graterol’s first pitch—a 99-mph sinker—407 feet to center field. Unfortunately for the Padres, center field at Globe Life Field is precisely 407 feet from the plate, and Bellinger made one of the great catches in playoff history.

* In that moment, Graterol went from goat to hero. Tatis was the first hitter he’d faced. He’d already balked the tying run into scoring position. Now he was facing the prospect of surrendering the lead altogether.

When Bellinger came up with the ball, Graterol lost his damn mind.

Let’s give it to the guy. Sure, we haven’t seen anything like this from a pitcher pretty much ever, but the fellow was excited. When Machado was excited earlier in the game, he had a bat to throw. From the mound, Graterol threw the only things available: his cap and his glove.

This was a series-winning celebration, not an I-just-escaped-the-seventh-inning-of-Game-2-by-the-width-of-a-nose-hair celebration. It was more Little League than Major League. It was the kind of thing that you can easily see an opponent getting ticked off over.

Just not Manny Machado. Maybe if it was Eric Hosmer—Tatis’ Code-whisperer back in August—Graterol would have responded differently. But Machado has no right, now or ever, to lecture a fellow player about on-field comportment. Hell, he likely inspired Graterol with his own actions earlier in the game. When Machado, on hand in the on-deck circle, started yelling at the pitcher—a triple “fuck you” followed by “I’ll be waiting for you”—Graterol offered a perfect response: He waved and blew kisses.

Various Dodgers, primarily Max Muncy, emerged to shout Machado back to his dugout, and the confrontation more or less ended there … for the time being. Maybe Machado will be waiting. Maybe some of his teammates are willing to take up the cause. If anything does happen, it’ll probably go down next season, when every inning isn’t quite so fraught.

If so, it’ll be the dumbest fight in baseball history, two guys overreacting to each other’s overreaction on the field. Let the kids play.


Break Out the Camera, MLB, It’s Selfie Time

Last year I talked about a minor leaguer doing push-ups at second base to celebrate a double, and how it fit into the modern landscape of Let the Kids Play.

It was inevitable that, after the league office built a marketing campaign around celebrating players doing celebratory things, the envelope would get pushed. In the link above, it was a kid who didn’t draw much notice given that he was playing in the Single-A Florida State League. Yesterday it was Marcel Ozuna, who carries a somewhat more robust public profile.

Just a couple of years ago, somebody stopping in the middle of his home run trot to take a pantomime selfie, especially during the postseason, would have earned a brushback pitch—at minimum—in future at-bats. When Ozuna did it yesterday (and when half the Braves roster got into the act after Adam Duvall homered three batters later) … well, we’ll have to wait until next season for a response from the vanquished Reds, but anything they offer beyond a shrug of the shoulders will be a surprise.

Really, what else could we expect? This surely isn’t what baseball had in mind when it officially blessed on-field celebrations, but they must have known that when the outlandish becomes normalized, players will search for the next extreme. Now we have touchdown dances mid-trot.

Within that context, it’s difficult to argue with Ozuna. Or with Fernando Tatis … or Manny Machado … or Luis Robert … or Tatis AGAIN, all of whom did some celebrating of their own yesterday.

These guys and the rest of their cohorts are bringing life to the sport, and there’s lots of benefit to that. If an angry Reds pitcher decides to exact some revenge on Ozuna next season, or a member of the Cardinals takes some issue with Tatis today, we’ll deal with that fallout then. Chances are, they’ve already forgotten everything, in which case baseball will get along just fine.

It’s the possibility that a pitcher hasn’t forgotten that would throw the entire machine off kilter. Because how does baseball as an institution handle somebody feeling disrespected by a celebration that the league itself has tacitly endorsed? Suspension has always been the discipline of of choice (with the latest example coming just last week, against Robert’s White Sox), but the inherent tension between old-school pitchers behaving in traditional ways, and the new-school mentality telling them to just get over it, is not going away. (To be fair, some pitchers fully embrace swag of their own.)

MLB, of course, could easily legislate this level of celebration out of existence if that was truly its concern. But it’s not. The league likes the attention, not to mention that there’s nothing inherently bad about guys getting their fun on.

Which leaves the holdout ranks of red-asses to adapt or get suspended. Something will eventually give, it’s just a matter of when.

Celebrations, Home run pimping, Veteran Status

Young Blood Heroic, Old Man Stoic, Dodgers Up In Arms About The Result

Occasionally, Let the Kids Play can be as simple as actually letting the kids play. Fernando Tatis Jr. doing heroics for the Padres is a perfect example of this. Who among mainstream viewers cares what the count was when he swung?

Yesterday gave us another homer-hitting Padre with his own dose of controversy, and in so doing presented reason to explore some depths of baseball’s unwritten rules.

The Padre in question is Trent Grisham, and the homer in question came off of LA’s Clayton Kershaw, and tied the game in the sixth inning. The behavior in question was a pretty profound pimp job, which led to significant jawing between Grisham and the Dodgers bench while Grisham was still rounding the bases.

First, some scene setting. The Padres are chasing LA in the National League West, having won 11 of their last 13 to reduce a six-game deficit to 2.5 going into last night. Also, the Dodgers are really good. While they’ve been winning the last seven NL West titles, the Padres have finished last three times and next-to-last twice over the past five years, finishing an average of 27 games back.

So yeah, they’re excited.

And yeah, when they tie a game with a huge homer against a future Hall of Famer, they’re excited.

And yeah, when it’s a 23-year-old who has never in his life had so monumental a hit, he’s excited.

And he’s allowed to be.

Based on how Grisham exhibited that excitement, however, the Dodgers thought otherwise.

After his swing, Grisham stood near the batter’s box (as home run hitters will do), but instead of admiring his handiwork he turned toward the home dugout and exulted with his teammates. It took him nearly 10 seconds to reach first base.

Some Dodgers took exception to this, raising enough ruckus in their own dugout that Grisham acknowledged it as he rounded third. Perhaps in response, he bounded atop home plate with both feet, raising the temperature to the point that plate ump Mark Ripperger warned the Dodgers to remain in their dugout.

”They wanted me to run and that was really about it,” Grisham said after the game in the San Diego Union-Tribune. “They told me to get going a little sooner. That was it.”

Except that wasn’t it.

After the game, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said this: ”I don’t mind guys admiring a homer. Certainly it’s a big game, big hit. Really like the player. But I just felt that to kind of overstay at home, certainly against a guy like Clayton, who’s got the respect of everyone in the big leagues and what he’s done in this game, I just took exception to that. I think there’s a certain respect you give a guy if you homer against him.”

Once again, we’re faced with dissonance from an old-school sport being forced into a new-school box. Roberts has plenty of ground on which to base his argument. Throughout baseball history, respect is an earned commodity, achieved over time through one’s play, behavior and character. By that measure, there’s nobody more respected in the modern game than Kershaw. For a second-year player—who was 12 years old when Kershaw made his big league debut, it should be pointed out—to style in the batter’s box after besting so venerated an opponent is, in many eyes, wrong.

An example of this mentality was recounted in The Baseball Codes:

Admiring one’s own longball isn’t all that sets pitchers off. When Phillies rookie Jimmy Rollins flipped his bat after hitting a home run off St. Louis reliever Steve Kline in 2001, the Cardinals pitcher went ballis­tic, screaming as he followed Rollins around the bases. “I called him every name in the book, tried to get him to fight,” said Kline. The pitcher stopped only upon reaching Philadelphia third baseman Scott Rolen, who was moving into the on-deck circle and alleviated the situation by assuring him that members of the Phillies would take care of it internally.

“That’s fucking Little League shit,” said Kline after the game. “If you’re going to flip the bat, I’m going to flip your helmet next time. You’re a rookie, you respect this game for a while. . . . There’s a code. He should know better than that.”

Hell, it can even happen within the fabric of one’s own team. Take a story former AL MVP Al Rosen told me:

“I played behind Kenny Keltner, and when I went to spring training, the only time in the batting cage I got good pitches to hit was if there were other rookies there. The older guys were protecting Keltner. You had 10 swings or five swings—set by whoever was head cheese on the ballclub—and if you had five swings you didn’t get a good ball to hit. None of those older pitchers were going to get the ball in there so you could hit one hard. So you would struggle. All of a sudden a guy decides he’s going to start working on a split-finger or he’s going to start working on his slider. …

“You’d have to ask one of the coaches to hit you ground balls, and every time I walked out there, Keltner would show up and he would want to take ground balls. So I would go to the outfield and shag. It was a message: “Don’t mess with my position.”

Rosen’s solution was not to knock Keltner down a notch, but to show up hours early with other young players and run their own BP sessions.

For his part, Kershaw held no public animosity against Grisham, saying in an MLB.com report: “I’m not going to worry about their team. Let him do what he wants.”

This is what it’s come down to, then. In civil society, we expect youngsters to defer to their elders. The intern in an office does not speak to the CEO as if he or she were a peer. Baseball once hewed tightly to this norm, but, as with many areas of the American landscape, norms are falling away in increasingly rapid fashion.

Baseball, though, has long held itself as different than other sports—slower, more deliberate. Behavior that would fly elsewhere had no place on a ballfield.

That, though, is changing, spurred no doubt by the rapidity with which baseball’s popularity has been surpassed by the NFL and NBA. Let the Kids Play is a direct result, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

But for those like Dave Roberts—hardly a hard-liner about anything, but with a firm sense of right and wrong—yielding their position is a difficult task. They’re going to have to, though, and soon. This is the new face of baseball—hopefully, say the folks in the marketing department, for the better.  


Well, That’s A Celebration We Haven’t Seen Before

Now that we’re in the full throes of Let the Kids Play, the kids are playing more than ever. On one hand, we have Fernando Tatis Jr. swinging 3-0 for a late-game, blowout grand slam, which seemed to coalesce public opinion about just how ludicrous some of baseball’s unwritten rules can be.

On the other hand, Tatis was actually playing the game. MLB’s marketing slogan was, at the time of its release, geared more toward allowing a greater degree of celebration into the game. Bat flips and whatnot.

It is in that vein that we bring you Trevor Bauer, who celebrated a strikeout on Monday by pretending to open a beer on the mound. Bauer has long been outspoken about his support for emotional displays on the field, be they from pitchers or hitters. This, though, was so much more than that.

Prior to his pantomime, Bauer wrote the word “BUDS” on the back on the mound with his toe. What did it all mean?

It started on Aug. 14, when the Reds tweeted about Sonny Gray setting a team record with 45 strikeouts over his first five starts. Bauer’s succinct response in accepting a challenge: “Hold my beer.”

That was all it took. Because we live in a marketing-driven world and because Bauer is extremely online, Budweiser replied accordingly.

The guess here is that Bauer would have engaged with far less provocation. As it was, he jumped all over this corporate offering.

This, then, is how we end up with “BUDS” on the back of the mound …

… and with Bauer opening an imaginary beer to celebrate his 46th strikeout over five starts. (By game’s end, Bauer would have eight whiffs, and 49 on the season.

As it happened, his opponent that day was the Milwaukee Brewers. Could they be mad? Probably, but given that the pitcher’s pantomime had everything to do with Budweiser and nothing to do with them, it’s difficult to see this going much further. (No sign yet of actual Cincinnati Buds beer cans, as far as I can tell.)

Let the kids play. Then let them drink. Sometimes at the same time.

Update 8/27: The Buds have arrived.

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.

Celebrations, Pandemic Baseball

‘Hey Bat Boy, Come Get Oliver’

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.

After St. Louis catcher Gene Oliver hit a long home run against Don Drysdale at Dodger Stadium, he watched the ball for a beat longer than usual, then compounded the mistake by saying, loud enough for Drysdale to hear, “Hey, bat boy, come get the bat.”

In Oliver’s next at-bat, Drysdale drilled him hard enough to buckle the hitter to the dirt. As the St. Louis trainer tended to the wounded player, Drysdale shouted, “Hey bat boy, come get Oliver.”

Celebrations, Pandemic Baseball

Fair Or Foul, Take Your Base

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.

Outfielder Darrin Jackson: “I’ve got an interesting story from 1988. At that time, Goose Gossage (I’m giving you names here because it was a learning experience) was closing for us with the Chicago Cubs.

One of the unwritten rules you learn the tough way as a rookie is, when you hit a ball off a veteran like Goose Gossage, either fair or foul, if it’s going to be way out of there, you don’t stand there watching it. You don’t stand there and say, “Is it fair or is it foul, fair or foul … oh, it’s foul.”

That’s bad luck for you as a young hitter, because someone like Goose Gossage is standing right there staring at you while you watch the ball. If it’s that close, you run. Well, that’s what Ron Gant [then in his rookie season, with Atlanta] did, and Ron Gant didn’t run. The next pitch was in his ribs. That was definitely a learning experience for Ron Gant, I would have to say.

If it’s foul by 100 feet, you stand there, that’s fine. Admire a foul strike. But when it’s on the border, veterans will frown upon it, especially if it’s some young kid standing there watching the ball. Run the bases.

Celebrations, Pandemic Baseball

Jim Palmer Is Not A Six-Gun Kind Of Guy

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.

Jim Palmer: “You never want to show up guys. My best story is the last year I won 20 games [1978]. I had hurt my elbow, and I went from something like 12-4 to 13-12, and I had seven more starts. I had to win them all to win 20, and back then it was a big thing to win 20 games. [It was actually 1977, Palmer’s second-to-last 20-win season. He was 13-11 on Aug. 26, and won seven of his last eight starts, with one no-decision, to finish 20-11.]

“I was going for number 19 in Cleveland on a Saturday afternoon. Football season had started. It was late September, and I was pitching against Dennis Eckersley, who was a starter at the time. Dennis is striking guys out, and then shooting them [with his extended fingers] and blowing the end of the pistol. Our guys aren’t happy. In baseball, if you’re a pitcher, your job is to get hitters out, and if you’re a hitter it’s to get hits. You don’t celebrate your own feats. But here he is, he’s blowing them off the field.

“It’s a 1-1 ballgame, bottom of the eighth, and I load the bases with nobody out: A leadoff hit, a couple of bunts, DeCinces falls down, I slip, because it’s a horrible ballpark anyway, and now it’s football season and it’s wet. The bases are loaded, and I’ve got Andre Thornton, their No. 1 RBI guy coming up, then Bruce Bochte, who hit .300 four straight years, and Rico Carty, who’d had hit .366 and led the NL in hitting about three years earlier.

“I didn’t know how to get Thornton out. He was a great low-ball hitter, but an out-over-the-plate fastball hitter, too. I throw him a first pitch up and in, and he pops up to Mark Belanger.

“I get 2-2 on Bochte and he keeps fouling balls off. Then he strikes out on a high fastball. I said, “Jeez, I might have a chance to get out of this.

“Rico Carty comes up. Rico always used to talk to you. He’s not as bad as Cliff Johnson, who if you pitched him in—because he couldn’t hit the ball in—he’d growl, “Hey, keep on comin’ in there. You’re gonna pay!” He was just trying to talk you out of throwing it where he couldn’t hit it.

“I’d thrown Rico a slider low and away earlier in the year, and he hit it about 440 feet to right center for a home run. I’m thinking, “It’s 1-1 and I have a chance to get out of this, then we have Murray and Singleton and the heart of our order in the top of the ninth.” I’ve only got one more start coming up, so I’ve got to get Carty out somehow. I throw him a high fastball, and he takes it! He never took those. Ball one. Throw him another one, ball two. He always swung at those pitches.

“The wind is blowing out a little bit, and the fences are in that year—they used to move them in and out depending on what type of offensive year they wanted to have. I figure that I can’t throw him a slider because he hit that for a home run earlier in the year, so I’ll take a little off my fastball and hope he gets out in front. I throw him a fastball about thigh-high down and away, and he hits it off the end of the bat to center field. The wind’s blowing out, and Bumbry goes back … and back … and back. Al wasn’t a real big guy, probably 5-foot-8, and he jumps and catches it right where it would have either gone off the top of the wall, or over it. It was as close as I’ve ever come to throwing a grand slam, but Bumbry caught it.

“We come up to hit. Here’s Eckersley, he’d probably struck out 10 or 11 [12, actually], pulled those six-shooters out a lot on the day, and guys are still trying to beat him. Singleton and Murray hit two of the longest home runs I’ve ever seen, back-to-back, and we end up winning 4-1.

“The next day I see Dennis in the outfield, and I said “Dennis. I know you’re young, and I know you speak “Eckinese,” as we used to call it, and I hope you understand how great a future you have … but when you strike a guy out, pretend it’s an accident and go on to the next guy. These guys want to beat you bad enough, especially when you’re a little bit brash. There’s an arrogance there. It’s all right to be good, and it’s all right to have a lot of self-confidence, but let everybody else toot your horn for you. When you strike people out, get the ball and just walk off the field.”

Celebrations, Pandemic Baseball

‘Challenge Me, My Ass.’

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.

“After what Reggie [Jackson] did tonight, all the mustard in the world couldn’t cover him. He hit a single to right, and as he rounded first, he gave one of his stares at [Angels right fielder Lyman] Bostock as if to say, ‘Go ahead, challenge me, motherfucker.’ Bang, Bostock fired the ball in and picked him off first base. Challenge me, my ass.”

—Sparky Lyle, The Bronx Zoo

Celebrations, Pandemic Baseball

Do As Curt Schilling Does, If Not As His Teammates Do

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.

Curt Schilling in the Boston Herald in 2006, talking about how he approaches showboating hitters in light of the fact that his Red Sox team, featuring guys like David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez, was itself known for similar acts: 

“People should not just assume that if guys on your team do it, then you shouldn’t care if guys on other teams do it. What the guys on my team do at the plate has no relevance to when I’m on the mound. I don’t show hitters up, and I don’t expect hitters to ever show me up. How I feel about a hitter and what he does at the plate against me is the only thing I factor into the equation. If it bothers you, you have a forum to take care of the problem.”