Brian Fuentes, Clubhouse Etiquette, Don't Call Out Teammates in the Press, Edinson Volquez, Fred Wilpon, The Baseball Codes

You Talk Too Much: The Fine Art of Complaining Your Way into the Doghouse

Edinson Volquez, in a moment of not saying anything.

It’s been a bad week for baseball types to talk, with every talker doing his darndest to deflect blame that he incontrovertibly deserves.

In Cincinnati, Edinson Volquez continued his season-long meltdown on Sunday by giving up seven runs to Cleveland over 2 2/3 innings. The right-hander has a 6.35 ERA and leads the National League with 38 walks.

Volquez’s problem, according to Volquez: the Reds’ offense.

“Everybody has to step up, start to score some runs,” he said in the Cincinnati Enquirer. “In the last five games, how many runs have we scored? Like 13? That’s not the way we were playing last year. We’re better than that.”

This is a terrific way to further alienate teammates who are already undoubtedly upset with the pitcher’s inability to keep Cincinnati in games. It’s even more infuriating than Gaylord Perry’s habit of physically showing frustration on the mound when his teammates made errors behind him in the field. At least Perry took the blame when he deserved it. Plus–unlike Volquez–he was a winner.

Cincinnati’s response was swift; on Monday, Volquez was optioned to Louisville. It was a dramatic move–the right-hander was their opening day starter, a former All-Star who went 17-6 in 2008. Of course, the guy has long battled maturity issues, being kicked by the Rangers all the way down to Single-A from the big leagues in 2007, shortly before they shipped him to Cincinnati (in exchange for Josh Hamilton).

If Volquez jeopardized his own spot in a major league clubhouse, Brian Fuentes jeopardized that of his manager. After Oakland’s interim closer gave up the lead yesterday against the Angels, he used his time in front of the post-game media to light into Bob Geren.

As with Volquez, it was primarily a matter of frustration. Fuentes has picked up losses in four straight appearances; his seven on the season already stand as a career high. He’s on pace to lose more games than any reliever in history.

At issue: how Fuentes has been used. He hasn’t had a save opportunity since May 8, coming primarily into tie games as of late. It happened again on Monday, when Fuentes walked one of the two hitters he faced before being pulled in favor of Michael Wuertz, who promptly let his inherited runner score, tagging Fuentes with the loss.

MLB.com’s Jane Lee posted the entire transcript of the reliever’s bluster:

What did you think of the situation you were placed in tonight?

It’s surprising yet not surprising all at the same time.

How do you feel with the way the manager has handled you as a reliever?
Pretty poorly.

How much communication do you have with him?
Zero.

Why is it pretty poorly?
There’s just no communication. Two games, on the road, bring the closer in a tied game, with no previous discussions of doing so. And then, tonight, in the seventh inning, I get up. I haven’t stretched, I haven’t prepared myself. If there was some communication beforehand I would be ready to come into the game  – which I was, when I came into the game, I was ready. Just lack of communication. I don’t think anybody really knows which direction he’s headed.

How much different is this compared to past managers?
It’s a pretty drastic difference.

What goes through your mind when the phone rings in the seventh tonight?
I thought he misspoke. I thought it was some sort of miscommunication, but he said, ‘No, you’re up,’ so I got up and cranked it up. You can’t try to guess along with them. Very unpredictable.

At the beginning of the season, did he tell you that you were the closer?
Yes, from get go, I’ve been closing.

In regards to communication, is that something that ought to change?
It should. It’s not my decision. I can’t predict the future. If he decides to take that step, then there will be communication. If not, I’ll make sure I’m ready from the first.

Does there need to be a “clear the air” meeting?
Some people might think so. At this point I have nothing to say.

Has this been boiling up or is it just recent?
Just recent, really. I think the games in San Francisco were some unorthodox managing. I thought it was maybe the National league thing, that maybe that had something to do with it, but tonight was pretty unbelievable.

“Unbelievable” is an appropriate term. Fuentes has some validity with his points, but going public with them makes him look like a half-bit pitcher searching desperately for excuses. In the process, he completely undermined his manager and potentially damaged team chemistry. Today saw calls for Geren to resign, and questions have been raised about how the team will communicate moving forward.

This is a lot of damage for a pitcher who has been with the A’s for all of two months to inflict over the course of a five-minute interview.

The Reds sent Volquez to the minors. Fuentes doesn’t have to worry about that, but his position in the bullpen is certainly in danger. (Geren said that would have been the case even had Fuentes kept his mouth shut.) A’s closer Andrew Bailey is due back soon from the DL, and the return to health of Joey Devine and Josh Outman makes Fuentes expendable; shuffling him out of sight until he can be dealt to a contender should not be too difficult. (Fuentes came back tonight, and, without backing down from his statements, apologized to Geren—assumedly for the public nature of his discourse.)

* * *

Most noteworthy of all talkers was Mets owner Fred Wilpon, who set New York atwitter as soon as the New Yorker published Jeffrey Toobin’s profile of him. Amid what is otherwise a sympathetic story, Wilpon spent a few choice paragraphs disparaging his players. Jose Reyes, he said, will never get “Carl Crawford money” when he hits free agency after this season, because he’s too frequently injured. (The direct quote: “He’s had everything wrong with him.”)

Carlos Beltran was given a seven-year, $119 million deal by “some schmuck” (that would be Wilpon referring to himself), which the owner has come to regret. David Wright, he said, while a very good player, is not a superstar.

And the team as a whole: “Shitty.”

Yikes. In one brutal volley, Wilpon inadvertently undermined his financial recovery from the Bernie Maddoff fallout, at least as far as the Mets are concerned. (This despite the fact that, like Fuentes, Wilpon probably didn’t say anything that was inaccurate). He’s not going to re-sign Reyes, that much is now clear; what leverage the Mets held in trade talks regarding their shortstop has been radically diminished. Beltran, too, is on the trading block, but what kind of bargaining position will the Mets be in after their owner proclaimed the center fielder to be “sixty-five to seventy percent of what he was?” Will Wright—or any other player, for that matter—want to stick around a dysfunctional ballclub once free agency comes calling?

Most of all, Wilpon wants to sell part of the team, which may be harder to do after he’s publically acknowledged that it’s shitty. Not to mention that whoever buys in would have to defer to a proven loose cannon.

Other players on all three teams—the Reds, A’s and Mets—have done a good job avoiding additional conflict, opting against saying anything to further inflame their situations. Dennis Eckersley, however, let loose on Fuentes during an interview on the A’s flagship radio station (as tweeted by Chronicle columnist John Shea and compiled by Hardball Talk). Eck was talking about Fuentes, but conceptually he could have be referring to any one of the three:

“Weak. If you fail, you fail. You don’t throw the manager under the bus.  . . . He makes a ton of money, and he’s not the greatest closer in the universe. So zip it … It makes him look bad. It just does. At the same time, it doesn’t show a lot of respect for the manager … If I’m the manager, he’s in my office. If that was La Russa, are you kidding me? He’d chop my head off. I would make a formal apology … Geren’s got to do something.”

Geren does have to do something. As do the Reds (Volquez can’t stay in the minors forever) and the Mets.

All that’s left to figure out is what.

Update: Wilpon has apologized to the Mets, via conference call.

Update 2: For Geren, the piling on has officially begun. The latest: Huston Street weighed in on his ex-manager’s shortcomings from Colorado. Plus, a tale about Mike Sweeney not getting along with the guy, which really doesn’t look good considering that if there was a Nicest Man in the History of Baseball Award, it’d likely go to Sweeney. Unless the A’s experience extraordinary success into October, the chances of Geren returning next year are at this point minimal. If he makes it even that long.

– Jason

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Alex Johnson, Chico Ruiz, Clubhouse Etiquette

NBA Gun Talk Has Predecessor in MLB

Even with the details in dispute, rumors that Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittenton pulled guns on each other in the Washington Wizards’ locker room are disturbing. It’s easy (and incorrect) to dismiss the incident as indicative of NBA culture — partly because it’s happened in baseball, too.

The following is an excerpt from another chapter that didn’t make the final cut of The Baseball Codes, largely because there wasn’t too much more to say on the subject, but mostly because “don’t pull guns on people” is an unwritten rule of life, not just the major leagues.

It happened in 1971, and involved Alex Johnson and Chico Ruiz, teammates on the California Angels. Ruiz, claimed Johnson, threatened him in a gun within the confines of the clubhouse.

* * *

For his part, Johnson was no stranger to clubhouse violence. He scrapped with a variety of teammates, among the most notable of which was a drawn-out brawl with Angels outfielder Ken Berry. Another time, teammate Clyde Wright had to be restrained after threatening to hit Johnson with a stool. Johnson and Ruiz, however, had been close friends for years, ever since their two-year stint together on the Cincinnati Reds in the late-1960s. They were tight enough for Johnson to ask Ruiz to act as godfather to his daughter, Jennifer.

But in 1971, for reasons his teammates could never discern, Ruiz became a target for Johnson’s barbs. It was a regular occurrence around the Angels locker room that year to hear Johnson berating Ruiz with profanity and insults.

The two had both served as pinch-hitters the night of June 13, and were alone in the clubhouse at the time of the alleged incident. And with nobody to corroborate his story and Ruiz denying everything, an already disgruntled media turned even further against Johnson. One fed-up teammate said that if Ruiz did have a gun, his only mistake was not pulling the trigger. Shortly thereafter, Los Angeles Times columnist John Hall wrote that at least three players were “carrying guns and several others are known to have hidden knives — to use as protection in case of fights among themselves.”

Chico Ruiz

Three months later, Johnson was suspended from the team (owing less to his accusation against Ruiz and more to an additional string of belligerent encounters with teammates and a consistent failure to hustle). At a grievance hearing to challenge the suspension, Angels general manager Dick Walsh finally admitted that Ruiz had, indeed, waved a pistol at Johnson after both had been removed from the game in question, a revelation that served mostly to lend yet another level of dysfunction to the team’s clubhouse.

Ultimately, things didn’t go well for either man. Johnson was traded to the Indians after the season, and Ruiz, after being released during the winter, drove his car into a sign pole in the early morning hours of Feb. 9, 1972, and was killed immediately.

Few ballplayers turned up amid the mourners at his funeral. Johnson was one of them.

– Jason