Bat Flipping, Don't Call out Opponents in the Press

Hurdle Frustrated by Baez’s Frustration, Word Battle Ensues

Baez flips

And here I was, thinking that the new world order had been firmly established. The Puig-ization of baseball, wherein players can more freely express themselves on the field—usually in the form of bat flips—had already taken hold when the Puerto Rico team showed us exactly how much fun that kind of thing could be during their second-place run in last year’s World Baseball Classic.

As it happened, the second baseman for Puerto Rico, Javier Baez, also plays for the Chicago Cubs. Last week, he went a bit homer-crazy against Pittsburgh, hitting four longballs across the series’ first two games. That wasn’t what set off Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, however, so much as the second baseman’s response to popping up with a runner in scoring position—which itself included a bat flip. It was borne out of frustration, of course, after which Baez made scant effort to run toward first. (Watch what little of it was captured in the telecast here.)

Hurdle was peeved enough to address it the following day, not only as pertained to Baez, but to the Cubs organization as a whole. Among his comments, as reported by the Athletic:

“When a player does something out of line, there are one or two guys who go to him right away and say, ‘Hey, we don’t do that here. What are you thinking when you do that? Do you know what that looks like?’ ” Hurdle said. “Sometimes, guys don’t understand what it looks like. Usually, you’ve only got to show them once or twice what it looks like and they really don’t want to be that guy anymore. . . .

“Where is the respect for the game? [Baez] has hit four homers in two days. Does that mean you can take your bat and throw it 15-20 feet in the air when you pop up, like you should have hit your fifth home run? I would bet that men went over and talked to him, because I believe they’ve got a group there that speaks truth to power.” . . .

“There is entitlement all over the world. Sometimes, when you have a skill, you can feel special and you don’t get what it looks like. Most of the time here, we try to show our players what it looks that. And that’s usually enough.”

As it happened, members of the Cubs—reliever Pedro Strop, in particular—did pull Baez aside for a little dugout chat. We know this because Baez admitted to it while apologizing publicly for his actions after the game.

“You know what I really got out of today and what I learned?” he told reporters, as reported by NBC Chicago. “How ugly I looked when I got out today on that fly ball. I tossed the bat really high, I didn’t run to first base. One of my teammates came up to me, and he said it in a good way, and he said, ‘You learn from it.’ After I hit that fly ball and tossed the bat really high, I was kind of mad about it. Not because of the fly ball, just the way I looked for the kids and everybody that follows me. That’s not a good look. So I learned that from today.”

Hurdle is entitled to his opinion. He’s an old-school guy, a former catcher who learned to play the game under a structure wherein deviation from the norm constitutes something other than “the right way.” Every one of his sentiments was valid, but in making them public, the manager ignored another of baseball’s unwritten rules: Keep personal spats out of the media. Instead, Hurdle teed up Maddon for an all-time response, as part of a 17-minute media session prior to the following day’s game. The Cubs skipper, via the Athletic:

“It reveals you more than it reveals the person you’re talking about. I’ve always believed that. So whenever you want to be hypercritical of somebody, just understand you’re pretty much revealing yourself and what your beliefs are more than you are being critical or evaluating somebody. Because you have not spent one second in that person’s skin. . . .

“It’s just like people making decisions about Strop based on [the way he’s] sporting his hat, or Fernando Rodney. I think most of the time when you hear commentary—critical commentary—it’s really pretty much self-evaluation. It’s about what you believe. It’s about your judgmental component.

“I thought Javy did a great job in his response. I was very proud of him, actually. Like I said the other day, first of all, I didn’t see him throwing the bats. I missed that completely. But we’ve talked about it. His response and the fact that he owned up to it, my God, what else could you possibly want out of one of your guys?” . . .

“I did not see it coming at all. Clint and I have had a great relationship. I’ve known him for many, many years. I don’t really understand why he did what he did. You’d probably maybe want to delve into that a little bit more deeply on his side.

“But I do believe in not interfering with other groups. I’ve commented post-fights. Maybe I’ve incited a few things when it came to things I didn’t like on the field, when it came to injury or throwing at somebody. I’ve had commentary and I don’t deny that I have.

“But to try to disseminate exactly what I think about a guy on another team based on superficial reasons, I’ll never go there. I don’t know the guy enough. I’m not in the clubhouse with him. I don’t have these conversations. I don’t know what kind of a teammate he is. I don’t know any of that stuff, so I would really be hesitant.”

The modern era presents a different landscape than the one in which Hurdle rose through baseball’s ranks. Look-at-me moments across American sports began in earnest with the 24-hour news cycle, and have been driven into the relative stratosphere by a player’s ability to garner hundreds of thousands of follows and likes on social media, where it can literally pay to have a presence.

There’s also the fact that Hispanic influence in Major League Baseball is strong and getting stronger. Nothing I’ve seen has indicated bias on Hurdle’s part, but the Athletic’s Patrick Mooney made an interesting point as pertains to the Pittsburgh manager: “Let’s be honest: Anthony Rizzo and Jon Lester are great players who sometimes show bad body language and we don’t hear about how they’re not showing proper respect for the game.”

In light of Hurdle’s “entitlement all over the world” comment, this rings especially true.

So where do we go from here? Ideally, everybody learns to keep things in perspective, and move along as innocuously as possible. Javier Baez has already started to do just that.

“To be honest, I got a lot of things I can say right now,” he said via Yahoo, in response to Hurdle’s comments, “but I don’t control what’s out there, what people talk about me. I’m just gonna keep playing my game.”

 

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Don't Call out Opponents in the Press, Retaliation

Pham, Bam, Thank You Ma’am: Cards Slugger Upset Over Cub Comments, HBP (Maybe Not in That Order)

Phammed

Losing to the Cubs offers indignities aplenty for St. Louis.

Yielding the pennant-clinching victory to Chicago, as the Cardinals did on Wednesday, is downright mortifying. Doing so at home only makes the suffering worse. Having what seemed like half the stadium cheering for the visitors was downright brutal.

Hearing Ben Zobrist talk beforehand about how the Cubs “intend to clinch there” and how “it’s going to be very satisfying” was enough to make at least one player angry.

Cardinals outfielder Tommy Pham was especially pointed in his response to Zobrist’s comments. “He better not ask me how I’m doing on the field,” Pham told reporters. “I don’t want to be his friend. He said he’s going to come here and pop bottles or all that stuff. Don’t say hi to me on the field then.”

It would have been easier to brush aside as surface drama had Pham not been drilled in the ribs on Tuesday, then talked after the game about how “it was definitely on purpose.” The HBP had less to do with his comments, he said, than with Kris Bryant being drilled earlier in the game by a Carlos Martinez fastball that approached 100 mph. (The only thing keeping him from charging the mound, Pham said in a CBS report, was that “I don’t make enough money right now to face a suspension.”

 

He might be right about the motivation. Pham himself had hit a monster homer an inning earlier to give St. Louis a 5-1 lead, and when Bryant came up, two were out with a runner at third. Avoiding the reigning NL MVP with a base open is rarely a bad option.

Then again, Bryant was hit with a 2-2 pitch, which brought Anthony Rizzo to the plate. Moreover, Martinez was all over the place. The pitch before the one that drilled Bryant went wild, allowing Mike Freeman to advance. Then Martinez walked Rizzo to load the bases. Then he walked Wilson Contreras to bring home a run.

The teams played yesterday with little drama beyond Chicago’s champagne celebration (as Zobrist had predicted). With St. Louis battling for the NL’s final wild-card spot, nothing funky should go down when the teams meet tonight for the final time this season, except maybe in the case of a blowout.

Still, drama sure is fun.

[H/T: Christopher C.]

Don't Call out Opponents in the Press

Rays, Red Sox Bring Battle Online

Red Sox-RaysIn June, the Red Sox and Rays got into it when John Lackey drilled Matt Joyce.

Last year they got into it when Franklin Morales drilled Luke Scott (among multiple confrontations during a long Memorial Day weekend).

During the decade spanning 2000 to 2010, they were involved in a series of skirmishes significant enough to merit an entire section in The Baseball Codes.

At least yesterday the hostilities were limited to Twitter.

It started with a blown call—Daniel Nava appeared to score what would have been the tying run on a sacrifice fly with two outs in the eighth, but was called out at the plate by umpire Jerry Meals—a decision that helped Tampa Bay to a 2-1 victory over the Red Sox in Boston. The win pushed the Rays into first place by half a game.

Afterward, the team’s official Twitter feed got into the action.

Rays tweet

Not willing to be outdone, the Red Sox shot right back.

Red Sox tweet

Welcome to retaliation in the digital age.

Update (7-31): Reader RoadDogRuss alerts me that this wasn’t the first digital tweaking between the teams.  (The tweet, of course, refers to this incident.)

(H/T Bleacher Report)

Don't Call out Opponents in the Press

Oakland’s One Clap is One Too Many for Some Members of the Yankees

When one plays for the Yankees, who not so long ago were cruising toward the playoffs but who suddenly find themselves desperately trying to keep the Orioles at bay, one can get touchy during the course of getting one’s butt kicked by the team with the American League’s lowest payroll.

At least Eric Chavez did. After New York’s 10-9 win in 14 innings at Yankee Stadium Saturday, he told the New York Post that, following each of Oakland’s three homers in the 13th inning, A’s players partook in some “orchestrated clapping, chanting,” which Chavez described as “high school-ish,” “pretty unprofessional” and something “that crossed the line.”

The antics were described in the San Jose Mercury News:

The routine the A’s did is based on the Randy Moss-related “One Clap” song and video clip that was all the rage on YouTube. Gomes often played that song during spring training, and he said the A’s have done the routine all season in the clubhouse and on the team bus.

Somebody yells “One Clap!” and teammates respond with a clap.

The reason it should not have troubled Chavez, said Jonny Gomes, “is it happened in our dugout. It didn’t happen between the lines.” (To judge by the TV replays, which are far from comprehensive, it’s difficult to discern anything objectionable happening in the A’s dugout on the first, second or third home runs of the inning.)

For Chavez to get riled about such a thing is a tad ironic. When he was a young player with the A’s—playing the Yankees, no less—he learned a difficult lesson about speaking out a bit too quickly about the opposing nine.

From The Baseball Codes:

Nearly as innocent were the comments made by A’s third baseman Eric Chavez before his team faced the Yankees in Game 5 of the 2000 ALDS. Responding to a press-conference question about his opponents, who had won the previous two titles, Chavez talked about how great the Yankees had been in recent years, what a terrific job they’d done, and how difficult it was to win as consistently as they had. He also added that they’d “won enough times,” and that it would be okay for somebody else to play in the World Series for a change. Chavez was twenty-two years old, wide-eyed and hopeful. There was nothing malicious in his tone.

Unfortunately for the A’s, the press conference at which Chavez was speaking was being broadcast live on the Oakland Coliseum scoreboard for early-arriving fans. Also watching were the Yankees, on the field for batting practice. “So he’s dropping the past tense on us? Did you see that?” spat third baseman Scott Brosius from the batting cage. One New York player after another—Derek Jeter, Paul O’Neill, Bernie Williams— took Chavez’s comments and blew them up further. The Yankees hardly needed additional motivation, but now they had it. Their first three hitters of the game reached base, four batters in they had the lead, and by the end of the frame it was 6–0. The A’s were in a hole from which they could not climb out before they even had a chance to bat.

How one feels about this apparently depends on the dugout in which one happens to sit. The day after Oakland’s one-clap hysteria, Nick Swisher responded by hitting a home run for New York, then lingering for a beat in the batter’s box to admire it. (Watch it here.) Asked about it in the Post, he said, “Like Jonny Gomes says, what’s the hurry?”

C.J. Wilson, Don't Call out Opponents in the Press, Mike Napoli, Retaliation, The Baseball Codes

For a Good Time, Please Don’t Call Mike Napoli

Wilson and Napoli during happier times.

Usually, pitchers can unbunch their panties via well-placed fastballs aimed at or near the player responsible for said bunching. It’s time-honored and it’s effective and, if it’s executed properly, it allows adequate venting with no long-term damage.

The long-term nature of the damage Mike Napoli suffered yesterday is up for debate, but there’s little question that he’ll be feeling this particular pinch far longer than he would a baseball to the thigh.

Napoli apparently riled pitcher and former teammate C.J. Wilson by saying, upon Wilson’s signing with Anaheim during the off-season, that he was looking forward to taking the left-hander deep.

Were Wilson truly miffed, he could have called Napolito talk it over. Were he baseball miffed, he could have drilled him the next time the two faced each other. Wilson, however, appears to have been more provoked than angry, gladly looking for an excuse to execute what can only in baseball and frat-house circles qualify as a “prank.”

He tweeted Napoli’s phone number. (That’s what Wilson considers a prank? No, this is a prank.)

Sure, there’s long been a place for off-field retaliation in baseball. Before there was Twitter, Ty Cobb and Buck Herzog fought in Cobb’s hotel room, some hours after Cobb had spiked the second baseman during a game. In this modern age of mass communication, however, it seems that one can do far worse deeds digitally than with one’s fists.

Wilson’s prank—again, we use the term loosely—may have been marginally appropriate had he and Napoli possessed a relationship strong enough to sustain such shenanigans. Napoli, however, told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that this is not the case.

“I don’t even know why he did it,” he said. “You don’t do that. I am not taking it as a prank. You know, I haven’t even talked to him since the end of last season. We don’t have that type of relationship.”

So Napoli has to deal with the inconvenience of getting a new phone number. Wilson has to defend himself from the outraged masses. And the rest of us get to consider what may yet happen when these guys meet during the regular season (never mind the two spring training contests left between the teams, on March 24 and 25).

– Jason

Brandon Phillips, Don't Call out Opponents in the Press, Fights, Johnny Cueto

A Dark Day for Baseball Etiquette in Cincinnati, Pretty Much All Around

This is what can happen when a player utters even a syllable too many about his opponent. (Though to be fair to the Cardinals, “little bitches” is a full four syllables.)

A day after forgetting to use his inside-the-clubhouse voice when discussing feelings about the St. Louis ballclub with the press—which included referring to them by the above epithet—Cincinnati’s Brandon Phillips stepped to the plate yesterday as the Reds’s first hitter of the game.

Upon entering the batter’s box, he tapped his bat on the shin guards of Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina and plate ump Mark Wegner as a means of greeting.

There’s nothing wrong with this. It’s standard practice for Phillips, meant as nothing but a friendly hello.

At least until he encountered a short-fused catcher who clearly prefers that his team be referred to in terms more genteel than “little bitches.”

“Why are you touching me?” he asked Phillips, as reported in the Cincinnati Enquirer. “You are not my friend, so don’t touch me.”

Phillips had thrown down the gauntlet with his comments, and Molina was only too happy to pick it up. Both teams flooded the field, and the scrum quickly turned into a baseball rarity—a fight in which actual blows were thrown. Managers Dusty Baker and Tony La Russa were ejected. (Watch it here.)

The appropriate response to Phillips and Molina: Grow up a little.

The unwritten rules mandate on-field retaliation only for on-field breaches of etiquette, and nothing more. Phillips ran his mouth, and the Cardinals responded in the best way possible, holding him to a combined 1-for-10 over the ensuing two games, while winning both to move into a tie with Cincinnati in the NL Central.

Molina should have let his comments go, and concentrated on the game, not a silly schoolyard spat. (He did use the confrontation as a bit of personal motivation, hitting a second-inning homer off Johnny Cueto.)

Now, what had been an unendorsed bit of foolishness from a single player has turned into genuine bad blood. It certainly helps make things interesting as the teams battle for the division lead, but these matchups are loaded with motivation based on baseball alone. Watching players act like testosterone-fueled kids does nothing for the purity of a good stretch drive.

* * *

During the course of the festivities, Baker and La Russa got into it, bringing quickly to mind the fact that they haven’t had the smoothest relationship over the years.

When Baker was with the Cubs in 2005, La Russa went public about concerns over Kerry Wood’s inside pitches, which was followed by Cards pitcher Dan Haren hitting his counterpart on the Cubs, Matt Clement.

Baker took it as an attempt at “selling wolf tickets,” or overtly trying to intimidate his team, saying in the Chicago Tribune that “no one intimidates me but my dad and Bob Gibson—and this bully I had in elementary school. But I grew bigger than him, and he stopped bullying me.”

The two eventually met and settled things, but it didn’t take long for their history to bubble to the surface yesterday.

* * *

Another unwritten rule was broken in the middle of the crowd of players, when Cueto, backed up against the backstop by a pile of humanity, opted to kick his way free.

There are rules to any fight; in the Code-driven world of professional baseball, this is especially true. It’s why Izzy Alcantara has gained such notoriety, and why Chan Ho Park’s attempted drop kick of Tim Belcher in 1999 continues to be replayed.

Square up and hit a guy, if you must, but the unwritten rules stipulate that kicking a player as means of attack is less than manly; something even for little bitches, if you will.

Cueto’s spikes landed, apparently repeatedly, on the face of St. Louis catcher Jason LaRue, who suffered a concussion and bruised ribs, and has been ruled out of playing today—and possibly much longer.

“He could have done some real damage (on LaRue),” said Chris Carpenter in the Cincinnati Enquirer. “He got him in the side of his eye, he got him in his nose, he got him in his face. Totally unprofessional. Unbelievable. I’ve never seen anything like that. He got kicked square in the side of the face with spikes. C’mon, give me a break.”

Cueto was on the mound for the Reds yesterday, but batted first with two runners on, and later during a 2-2 game. Neither situation was appropriate for retaliation.

The teams meet again in early September. This time, on-field payback—should that be the route the Cardinals choose to take, and with La Russa at the helm, it’s a good bet—will be entirely appropriate.

Buckle in.

Update (Aug. 12): Cuteo has been suspended for seven games—effectively, two starts—for his part in the brawl. If he knows what’s good for him, he’ll appeal in an effort to delay his punishment until just before the Reds visit St. Louis on Sept. 3.

– Jason

Brandon Phillips, Don't Call out Opponents in the Press

Phillips: Cardinals are ‘Little Bitches’; Cardinals: 7-3 Victory

If Brandon Phillips’ isn’t Jonathan Sanchez’s newest favorite person, he should be.

Sanchez, the Giants’ No. 4 starter, let his mouth run loose on Sunday, when he guaranteed that his team would sweep its upcoming three-game series against San Diego and win the National League West.

Confidence is great, but braggadocio is rarely appreciated by one’s opponent. But just as pundits were beginning to dig into the concept of how to let sleeping dogs lie, Phillips laid down a distraction of such gravity that Sanchez may as well have forgotten how to speak English, for all the attention he’s getting.

Turns out that Phillips doesn’t like the Cardinals. Like, even a little. Despite missing a recent game after fouling a ball off his leg, he was geared up for Cincinnati’s showdown with its NL Central rivals.

His full quote, as reported by Hal McCoy of the Dayton Daily News:

“I’d play against these guys with one leg. We have to beat these guys. I hate the Cardinals. All they do is bitch and moan about everything, all of them, they’re little bitches, all of ’em.

“I really hate the Cardinals. Compared to the Cardinals, I love the Chicago Cubs. Let me make this clear: I hate the Cardinals.”

  • Fact: Phillips is a fun-loving guy.
  • Fact: Phillips is a bit of a loose cannon.
  • Probable fact: Phillips was merely joking around, and said what he did facetiously, in a light-hearted moment.
  • Indisputable fact: None of that matters.

Earlier this season, Phillips claimed he meant no disrespect to the Washington Nationals when he beat his chest after scoring a run. It made no difference; he still got drilled in response.

Similar retaliation for Phillips’ recent statement is unlikely—his on-field act in Washington was met with an on-field response; this is a different matter entirely. Still, that hardly means the incident is over.

When David Cone publicly called out Dodgers pitcher Jay Howell in the 1988 NLCS, the Dodgers responded with a wave of bench jockeying so vicious that a rattled Cone lasted just two innings into his Game 2 start. (The story is outlined here, within the context of Carlos Zambrano’s calling out A’s pitcher Jerry Blevins earlier this season.)

Yesterday, the Cardinals let their pitching do their talking, as Phillips went 0-for-5 and struck out to end a 7-3 St. Louis victory that cut Cincinnati’s lead in the division to a single game.

Tony La Russa also got involved. Just as Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda amplified Cone’s quote to motivate his team in 1988, La Russa did his part to give Phillips’ statement some legs.

“We win the right way and we lose the right way,” he told reporters. “We’ve received a lot of compliments over the years that when we lose we tip our caps and when we win we keep our mouths shut. That’s my comment.”

Given a moment to think it over, however—in the post-game shower, no less—La Russa flagged down reporters and added this:

“I don’t think that will go over well in his own clubhouse. Phillips is ripping his teammates — Scott Rolen, Miguel Cairo, Russ Springer, Jim Edmonds—all the ex-Cardinals over there. He isn’t talking about this year. He is talking about the way we’ve always played and those guys are old Cardinals. Tell him he’s ripping his own teammates because they are all old Cardinals.”

If that’s the case, he’s doubly ripping the former Reds—Ryan Franklin, Jason LaRue, Kyle Lohse, Felipe Lopez, Aaron Miles and Dennys Reyes—in the St. Louis dugout.

The most vocal any Cardinals player got in response was to point to Phillips’ performance on the day, and reiterate that the game is played on the field, not in the media.

“I didn’t know we had bad blood,” Skip Schumaker said in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “They can talk. And we’ll leave our comments to ourselves.”

It’s reminiscent of a similar dispute in 1972, when Angels pitcher Clyde Wright decided to talk about defending AL Cy Young and MVP winner Vida Blue, immediately after besting him in a 3-1 victory.

“Why should I be up for him?” Wright is quoted as saying in Ron Bergman’s book, Mustache Gang. “He’s just another pitcher now. I’m 8-3 and he’s 1-4. I can get up for the A’s, but not for Vida Blue. He doesn’t look as aggressive as before. You can see it in his eyes. He ran out to the mound, sure, but we all do that now.”

Blue’s response came eight days later, when he gave up a single run over nine innings to top Wright and the Angels. It was only then that he offered an opinion about what Wright had said.

“I don’t think Clyde Wright looked as aggressive as before,” Blue said after the game. “He ran out to the mound, but we all do that now. I can get up for the Angels, but not for Clyde Wright. What’s he now—8-4? I’m 2-4, but I’d say this even if I were 24-4.”

The Cardinals hardly needed motivation from Brandon Phillips to win the NL Central; how they perform down the stretch will be independent of anything he did or could say. (The same holds true for the Padres, in regard to Jonathan Sanchez.)

If they do pull it out, however, one sentiment pertaining to his statement will be irrefutably true: It didn’t hurt anybody but Cincinnati.

Update (Aug. 10): Talking about it today, Phillips didn’t back down, essentially saying that he said his piece, and now he just wants to win.

Reds manager Dusty Baker in McCoy’s column in the Dayton Daily News:  “You prefer that they don’t say that, but everybody refers to the freedom of speech and then you say things and get in trouble for it. I talked to him about it and it just puts a little more pressure on him to play better personally.”

– Jason