David Wright, Deke Appropriately, George Brett, Robinson Cano

All-Star Deke

It wasn’t much heralded during the All-Star Game broadcast, but Robinson Cano pulled off a potentially instrumental play in the fifth inning. With nobody out and David Wright taking off from first base on a steal attempt, Twins catcher Joe Mauer threw the ball well over Cano’s head, and into center field.

Cano, however, even in mid-leap, managed to put his glove down in an effort to throw Wright off the scent of what had really taken place.

It worked. By the time Wright located the baseball, it was far too late for him to take third. Sure enough, Wright failed to score in the inning. (Watch it here. The play happens at the :37 mark.)

The deke (short for “decoy”) is an integral part of infield play. Fielders act as if the ball is somewhere it’s not, and runners grow confused. The most famous deke in history was Chuck Knoblauch‘s fake-out of Lonnie Smith in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series, which kept Smith from going to third and likely saved a run (and the game, and series) for the Twins.

Lesser-known examples happen all the time. A few years ago, White Sox shortstop Juan Uribe acted as if a base hit was actually a foul ball, and was so convincing that the base runner returned to first base—and was thrown out.

“It’s a gentleman’s game at times, but if you don’t have your head on your shoulders, things can happen,” said Frank Thomas, who made the tag at first for Chicago.

There is a potential downside. Had Wright gone into a late slide because of Cano’s machinations (not a real possibility in this instance, since he was going to slide anyway), he could have injured himself. Take an example from The Baseball Codes:

A number of players have been injured by ill-timed or unnecessary dekes, which leads to an unwritten rule about when it is and isn’t appropriate to use the maneuver. Infielders throwing down phantom tags at the last possible moment can cause awkward slides, and the potential for damage is very real. “If a guy is stealing, you don’t pretend the throw is coming,” said second baseman Craig Grebeck. “If he’s coming in standing up and you all of a sudden look like the catcher is throwing the ball, a late slide can tear up an ankle or a knee.”

That’s exactly what happened to Gene Clines in 1973. Clines, a fourth-year outfielder with the Pirates, was on first base in a game against San Diego; with a full count on the hitter, he took off for second. The pitch was taken for ball four, but instead of simply strolling to second, Clines— who never peeked homeward to assess the situation—proceeded full speed ahead. Padres shortstop Derrell Thomas waited until Clines was nearly atop the base, then inexplicably threw his glove down as if a late throw were about to arrive. Clines, flustered, went into a hurried slide and badly injured his ankle. “That play right there cost me a lot of time,” he said, still angry at the thought more than three decades later. “I never fully recovered for the rest of that year.” Clines, batting .291 going into the game, missed three weeks, and hit just .227 in the two months thereafter.

All in all, a well-timed—and well-executed—deke is an under-appreciated thing of beauty.

There’s more than one reason, after all, that Robinson Cano is an All-Star.

– Jason

Brian Bruney, Chad Curtis, Clubhouse Hierarchy, David Cone, Dickie Noles, Francisco Rodriguez, George Brett, Jim Gray

Youth Speaks . . . But Should It?

Looking back on last week’s Alex RodriguezDallas Braden incident—specifically the part in which some people are questioning whether a young pitcher like Braden has any business calling out a superstar—inspired a consideration of similar incidents. They’re all unique, but together they serve to comprise a small section of the Code.

Brian Bruney v. Francisco Rodriguez, 2009

Cause: After a Mets error led Rodriguez to his first blown save of the season, Yankees reliever Bruney said, “I’ve never seen anything like that. I have, but in high school. It couldn’t happen to a better guy on the mound, either. He’s got a tired act. . . . I just don’t like watching the guy pitch. I think it’s embarrassing.”

Retort: “I don’t know who he is,” said Rodriguez in a CBS report. “He hasn’t pitched a whole season and has always been on the DL, that’s all I know. If it was somebody big, I might pay attention, but somebody like that, it doesn’t bother me. If that message comes out from somebody big like Mariano [Rivera], somebody who is big and is good at what he does, I’d respect it.”

Result: Bruney tried to apologize to Rodriguez the following day, which only served to antagonize K-Rod further. Instead, Bruney got his message across through the media, saying, “Obviously, I probably shouldn’t have said what I said. I made that mistake and I’m moving on.” He didn’t realize it at the time, but he said that literally; after the season, he was traded to Washington.

Verdict: K-Rod is indeed exuberant after closing out games, and it probably rubs guys the wrong way. Bruney, with one save during his four-year tenure with the Yankees, was not the player to mention it.

Chad Curtis vs. Jim Gray, 1999 World Series

Cause: A day earlier, Gray had relentlessly questioned Pete Rose on the air about the prospects of coming clean about his gambling, with vehemence that many critics felt went too far. When Gray tried to interview New York’s Curtis following his game-winning home run in Game 3, the outfielder responded, “We kind of decided, because of what happened with Pete, we’re not going to talk out here on the field.”

Result: Curtis was not, in fact, speaking for the team; no such decision had ever been reached in a team-wide forum. “He might have talked to a couple of his buddies around his locker and said, ‘Hey, let’s not talk to Jim Gray tonight,’ and that’ certainly his prerogative,” said Yankees pitcher David Cone. “But I thought he was out of line in speaking on behalf of the team. I didn’t approve of his actions at all.”

After the incident the team did meet, where it was established by the roster’s stars—who did not count Curtis among their ranks—that no policy regarding Gray would be forthcoming, and that Curtis’ statement had been unacceptable. “Pete Rose is a big boy and he can take care of himself—we don’t need to be his protector,” said Cone. “We’re here in the World Series and we are the story. Our fans want to hear about the Yankees, they don’t want to hear about Pete Rose.”

Verdict: An established Yankee such as Paul O’Neill, Joe Girardi or Cone could likely have gotten away with it, even without first consulting the rest of the clubhouse. (There might have been internal repercussions had such a thing happened, but they certainly wouldn’t have been made public.) Curtis had one more at-bat as a Yankee, and in the off-season was traded to Texas for spare parts.

Dickie Noles vs. George Brett, 1980 World Series

Cause: Noles, 23, and in just his second big-league season, came on in relief of Phillies starter Larry Christenson, who had been battered by Kansas City, in the first inning of Game 4. With Philadelphia on the ropes, Noles did something to right the ship: He knocked down George Brett. Brett—coming off an MVP season in which he had batted .390—had been thrown at before, but not on a stage like this, and certainly not by somebody with so little name recognition as Dickie Noles.

Result: While the Royals’ pitching staff failed to respond in kind, Kansas City’s potent-to-that-point offense immediately went cold, scoring only four more runs during the Series’ remaining 22 innings. The Phillies won in six.

Verdict: Noles youth in the face of Brett’s star power made the act absolutely audacious, and all the more powerful. That he got away with it was largely thanks to Pete Rose, who raced over from first base to immediately back his pitcher, essentially challenging the Royals bench on his behalf. It’s not often that a greenhorn can get away with flipping one of the game’s greats, but Noles pulled it off.

– Jason