The big news out of Washington at the trade deadline was that the Nationals opted against shipping Bryce Harper out of town for the final two months of his contract. The small news was that they traded reliever Brandon Kintzler—a 33-year-old with a 15-16 record over parts of nine seasons—to the Chicago Cubs in exchange for a low-ceiling pitcher in Single-A.
More interesting than the trade itself is why it was made.
According to the Washington Post, Kintzler became a persona non grata around Nationals Park after speaking to the media about what came to be described as a “dysfunctional” Washington clubhouse. (What he actually said, or even whether he even said it, is less important than the team’s feelings about the situation.)
“The clubhouse is a mess,” said one source, whose account was corroborated by three others who spoke to Yahoo Sports on the condition of anonymity out of fear the organization would punish them for speaking publicly. While the sources pinpointed a number of causes for the internal acrimony, they agreed that it was not purely a function of the Nationals’ underachievement but something that has festered throughout the season.
Never mind that at least four people—the source and three corroborators—spoke to Passan. Kintzler seems to have been fingered as the fall guy.
The internal reaction to this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. A sign that has hung in many big league clubhouses over the years reads: “What you see here, what you do here, what you say here, let it stay here.” Excommunicating those who choose to ignore it is nothing new.
“Players who are foolish enough to discuss what went on in a closed clubhouse meeting, or reveal that two players almost killed each other after the game, often turn up on other teams the next year,” wrote former pitcher and coach Tom House in his 1989 book, The Jock’s Itch. “That kind of behavior just isn’t acceptable. You must be loyal to your teammates, even though you may hate every last one of them.”
The notion is pervasive. For just one example, in 2011, White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, who had led the franchise to its first championship since 1917, looked on as his son spilled a variety of clubhouse secrets via Twitter. Guillen didn’t make it through the ensuing season, and apart from an aborted run in Miami in 2012, hasn’t managed since.
“Everybody wants to know what the team meeting was about,” said Dusty Baker. “Well, that’s the team meeting. If you are on the team, we’ll tell you. It’s not being anti-press, it’s not being secretive, it’s just how it is.”
Washington’s party line is that the team has a stout back end of the bullpen even without Kintzler, and wants to give a shot to rookie Wander Suero. Maybe this is the case. Then again, GM Mike Rizzo also said this:
While Rizzo says "loose lips sink ships" isn't a fair characterization, he did say "we want players who care about the name on the front of the jersey more than the name on the back of the jersey. That's a demand that I make of them…if we don’t get that, then we have an issue."
The connective tissue between these moves, other than that both players pitched for the Nationals, was that they were both seen as expendable. Nats closer Shawn Doolilttle may be the least likely guy in the league to throw his glove in such a manner, but if he did, or if he’d leaked things to the press, you’d better believe that the team would give him every opportunity to make things right.
Kintzler and Kelley are not on that level. And when it comes time to shake things up on an underperforming roster, they’re just the type of players who can be easily thrown into the line of fire.
The Washington Nationals had themselves a time on the basepaths yesterday, stealing seven bases in a 6-1 victory over the Cubs without being caught. Major league steals leader Trea Turner swiped four. (Watch all seven here.)
While this might ordinarily be an opportunity for some introspection, catcher Miguel Montero was having none of it. After the game, he said this, in an ESPN report:
“That’s the reason they were running left and right today, because [starting pitcher Jake Arrieta, against whom every base was stolen] was slow to the plate. Simple as that. It’s a shame it’s my fault because I didn’t throw anyone out. It really sucked, because the stolen bases go on me. But when you really look at it, the pitcher doesn’t give me any time, so yeah, ‘Miggy can’t throw anyone out,’ but my pitchers don’t hold anyone on.”
Montero is frustrated, and rightfully so. Arrieta is tied for the NL lead in stolen bases allowed, with 15 this season, and ranked fifth with 23 last year. His outing was the latest example of ongoing issues when it comes to the Cubs holding runners close. Still, it doesn’t much explain the fact that starting catcher Wilson Contreras has thrown out 34 percent of attempted thieves—well above the 28-percent league average—while Montero (whose pop time of 2.11 seconds is the second-worst in baseball) has thrown out just one of 31.
An aging backup catcher singling out a Cy Young winner as a source of blame is never a good look. By denying his own responsibility in the matter, Montero did himself no favors when it comes to his clubhouse standing.
Sure enough, Anthony Rizzo went on the radio this morning and confirmed as much.
Rizzo on Miggy's comments: "When you point fingers you're a selfish player. We have another catcher that throws everyone out."
The Cubs confirmed it further shortly thereafter, in even more concrete terms. They cut Montero.
Examples of this type of tone-deaf behavior can be found throughout baseball history, and they rarely end well. (We won’t even count the finger-pointing of former White Sox pitcher Jamie Navarro, which came in such abundance that in 1999 the Chicago Sun-Times once devoted an entire feature story to it.)
In the ninth inning of Game 1 of the 1939 World Series, Cincinnati right fielder Ival Goodman couldn’t catch up with a ball that fell for a triple, which led to the winning run scoring for the Yankees. After the game, Paul Derringer—the pitcher who gave it up—lit into the fielder. “If you got no guts, get out of there,” he screamed. “That was the most gutless effort I’ve ever seen.” The words sparked a clubhouse fistfight between the two, recalled Bill Werber in Memories of a Ballplayer. New York went on to sweep the Reds.
Against Houston in 1968, Willie Mays took off from first base on a single to left field by Jim Ray Hart. Expecting Mays to stop at second, Astros left fielder Dick Simpson took his time getting to the ball—a window that Mays exploited by racing through to third. Cutoff man Bob Aspromonte couldn’t believe it, fielding the throw and turning to glare toward Simpson in disbelief. This was in some ways even more damaging than slagging his teammate to the press; Mays saw another opening and didn’t slow down, motoring home from first on an error-free single.
In 2001, the Detroit Tigers called a clubhouse meeting to address the fact that not everybody joined a fight spurred when Kansas City’s Mike Sweeney charged the mound after being drilled by Jeff Weaver. The reason more Tigers didn’t have the pitcher’s back: Weaver had recently and publicly expressed dissatisfaction with the run support he’d received during starts. “When you’ve only got two or three guys fighting behind you, it kind of irks you the wrong way,” the pitcher said afterward in the Detroit Free Press.
Ain’t that the truth. Just ask Miguel Montero, should he ever make it back to a big league clubhouse.
Research for my next book, about the OaklandA’s dynasty of the 1970s, to be published by Houghton Mifflin in 2015, has turned up boundless examples of unwritten rules from that bygone era. The latest concerns an intramural spat among the Boston Red Sox, and illustrates the idea that its usually a good idea for ballplayers to measure their comments to the media. From the Associated Press, Aug. 9, 1972:
Carlton Fisk is leading the Red Sox in home runs and batting average, and was a member of the American League All-Star team.
The Springfield Union quoted the 24-year-old catcher as saying that teammates Reggie Smith and Carl Yastrzemski have not been hustling, nor have they demonstrated any leadership abilities. The story was picked up by the wire services and blown up by the Boston press.
The Union article quoted Fisk as saying, “(Yastrzemski and Smith) don’t realize the effect they have on the club as a whole. When they aren’t as aggressive in the outfield or when they don’t show desire, the whole team droops.”
“I was severely misunderstood,” Fisk said last night before the Red Sox defeated the Indians, 4-1.
“I guess it’s a lesson to learn,” the easy-going catcher said. “But you have to learn the hard way, I guess. Maybe I’m too naive, I don’t know. I just won’t say anything to anybody anymore. I’m completely disenchanted. The story made it sound malicious when it wasn’t meant that way. I told Carl and Reggie it wasn’t meant like it appeared in the paper.”
Fisk, Smith and Yastrzemski met with manager Eddie Kasko for a 10-minute closed-door session before the game to straighten things out.
“As far as all parties are concerned, it’s a dead issue,” Kasko said. “Fisk explained that he was misquoted and misinterpreted and that he didn’t mean things the way they came out. The explanation was satisfactory to both Smith and Yastrzemski. Both of them know what kind of a kid this is. They know he’s not the type to go popping off.”
Smith was asked about the problem. “There’s no problem,” Smith said. “There never was any problem to begin with.”
Maybe not, but Smith was in no laughing mood after the game. He read an article in a Boston newspaper that said Fisk was correct in his remarks about the two high-priced outfielders. Smith finished reading the article, violently flung the paper across the clubhouse and stormed into the trainer’s room.
Fisk’s comments marked the second time in a little more than a year that Yastrzemski and Smith have been criticized by fellow teammates. Last year in New York, Billy Conigliaro blasted both outfielders, saying they were babied by management. Conigliaro was traded after the season, but the Red Sox were loaded with outfielders then. All-Star catchers are a little harder to find.
It wasn’t, of course. Youkilis appears merely to be scuffling, not mentally checked out, and Valentine was just popping off, as he’s known to do.
Still, the sentiment holds. Yesterday, it might have held in the visitors’ clubhouse at Tropicana Field, where Torii Hunter alluded to the press that some people may have some problems with Angels manager Mike Scioscia.
With Los Angeles in last place, having just lost their third in a row and sixth of their last eight, Hunter handed a barely veiled reference to the Los Angeles Times. “I don’t think we believe we’re trying that hard,” he said. “We’re just going through the motions. We have to do what we’re capable of doing. That’s everybody, not just the players.”
Scioscia is a pretty clear target for the phrase, “not just the players.” What did Hunter mean? The Times’ Mike DiGiovanna led his story with it:
Not only are the Angels not hitting, they’re not stealing bases, bunting, executing hit-and-run plays and pushing the envelope offensively, all trademarks of Mike Scioscia-managed teams.
They’re not scratching and clawing or sacrificing themselves enough for the team, and those deficiencies, as well as an inability to hit in the clutch, were evident again Wednesday night . . .
DiGiovanna’s guess was that Hunter was referring specifically to Sciocia’s failure to have Macier Izturis bunt Hunter and Vernon Wells over, after they led off the second with singles. Izturis ended up flying to left, and both runners were eventually stranded.
Asked if the game could have changed with some early execution, Hunter said, “You mean if we bunted in the second? What can we do? All we do is play the game.”
Whatever was said by Angels players today, one thing is clear: By this point in his career, Scioscia has earned the right to be above public scrutiny by his players, frustrated as they may be. Hunter is one of the few in the game who can get away with something like that, owing to his own reputation and veteran status. Still, it speaks to some serious fractures among the ranks, which is just what today’s meeting was designed to address.
Such is the nature of this kind of thing that it did not present early returns. The Angels scored only three runs against Tampa Bay Thursday, and lost, 4-3, on a game-ending, two-run homer by Brandon Allen.
(DiGiovanna weighed in on Sciocia’s in-game machinations with a ninth-inning tweet —”Unconventional move by #Angels MRG… and I like it. For a change”—after reliever Scott Downs opened the frame instead of closer Jordan Walden, with the Angels holding a one-run lead. Walden came in after Downs retired Matt Joyce. Two batters later, the game was over.)
These are the kinds of things that happen on losing ballclubs—especially those predicted by many to reach the World Series. Still, it’s only April, and nobody knows how much time is left in the season better than a roster full of veterans. Now we’ll see how much longer they can keep their mouths shut.
To judge by the accusations flying around the major leagues, this is the summer of our discontent.
Players just can’t seem to keep their frustrations to themselves. Despite baseball’s unwritten rules mandating a strict moratorium on talking to the media about interpersonal gripes, there has been a steady stream recently of big league vituperation leaking through the seams.
Last week, Twins southpaw Jose Mijares became the latest in a string of pitchers to call out teammates, venting about the pitch selection offered to him by catcher Joe Mauer after Prince Fielder hit one of his fastballs — the sixth straight one he threw — for a game-winning double.
“I don’t know what was going on with Mauer,” Mijares told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “He never put down the sign for a breaking ball. Never.”
Never mind that manager Ron Gardenhire expected a steady stream of sliders thrown to the Brewers’ slugger; Mijares’ lack of public discretion with his comments was stunning.
Or it would have been had it not been so entirely within this season’s norm.
The year’s most discussed outburst came courtesy of A’s reliever Brian Fuentes, who in late May used the press to question his manager, Bob Geren, about, among other things, “zero” communication with his bullpen. This was less an emotional outburst than a calculated maneuver intended to undermine Geren — and it worked. Soon other players were piling on.
Rockies closer Huston Street, who played under Geren in 2007-08, told the San Francisco Chronicle that the manager was the “least favorite person I have ever encountered in sports.” Geren was fired a less than two weeks later.
Mijares and Fuentes, of course, are only the beginning when it comes to this season’s loose-lipped pitchers. Take the Blue Jays’ Rickey Romero, who recently vented about the lack of run support he’s received.
Or Carlos Zambrano, who called the Cubs “a Triple-A team” and criticized closer Carlos Marmol‘s pitch selection in a game-tying, ninth-inning St. Louis rally that cost Zambrano the victory.
Or Cincinnati’s Edinson Volquez, who ripped the Reds’ offense for its lack of production.
And it hasn’t been limited to pitchers. Florida outfielder Logan Morrison questioned Hanley Ramirez‘s commitment following the shortstop’s belated appearance at Jack McKeon‘s first meeting as Marlins manager.
Elsewhere in the NL East, Chipper Jones publicly questioned teammate Jason Hayward for his stance that he wanted to be entirely healthy before taking the field following a shoulder injury. Jones told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that “there are a bunch of his teammates that are out there playing with discomfort and not healthy, and still going at it.”
Then there’s Mets owner Fred Wilpon, who got in some digs on Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran and David Wright in what was otherwise an expansive and sympathetic piece in The New Yorker.
This is an awful lot of pot stirring from guys who should know better.
“All I can do is just pitch,” Romero told the Toronto Star after giving up a two-run homer to Tim Hudson in a 2-0 loss on June 20. “I can’t worry about the offense and what they do. I’ve always said this at one point we can’t rely on [Jose] Bautista, we can’t rely on [Adam] Lind. We’ve got to get somebody else to step up and get on base and drive them in. These guys are getting pitched around. Everyone’s got to step it up or else we’re not going to be winning ballgames.”
Romero is only 7-7, despite a 2.74 ERA and 96 strikeouts (12th in the AL), largely because Blue Jays hitters have given him 3.6 runs per game, as opposed to 4.75 in starts by everyone else on the staff. Remove his two starts in which Toronto scored a combined 26 runs, and the Jays have averaged 2.3 runs per game for the righthander.
This is reasonable cause for frustration, and the pitcher could have easily unloaded with far more force than he did. He even went on to clarify that his teammates are “all trying.” These are hardly incendiary statements.
None of which matters a bit. Whenever a player — particularly a pitcher — publicly pins blame on his teammates (no matter how gently or justifiably), it rarely ends well.
In 1999, the Chicago Sun Times devoted an entire story to a comparison of the finger-pointing by Cubs pitcher Steve Trachsel and White Sox pitcher Jamie Navarro, who both pitched on Aug. 22 of that year, both lost, and both deflected at least some of the blame. The opinion: Navarro won, by a landslide. “I don’t think I’ve pitched that badly this year,” the righthander said following his 9-4 loss to the Baltimore Orioles. “I can only pitch. I can’t hit for the guys.” What he failed to mention was that he gave up all nine runs, had surrendered seven runs in two of his previous three starts, and sported a 6.19 ERA.
It’s reminiscent of Volquez, whose recent statements about his teammates — “In the last five games, how many runs have we scored?” he asked. “Like 13?” — came immediately after he gave up seven runs (six earned) in 2.2 innings against Cleveland to increase his ERA to 6.35. The Reds were so enamored with his act that they shipped him to Louisville the following day.
Morrison violated an unwritten rule of his own when he called out Ramirez, a player of significantly more stature than himself in terms of tenure, accomplishments and paycheck. According to the Miami Herald, Morrison “ripped” into the Marlins star after Ramirez showed up nearly an hour late to McKeon’s 3:30 p.m. pregame meeting, going so far as to finger the shortstop’s perpetual tardiness as a reason for his .200 batting average. (McKeon responded by benching Ramirez, sending a somewhat less verbose message of his own.)
It’s not the first time that members of the Marlins have grown fed up with Ramirez’s act. Last year, then-manager Fredi Gonzalez and teammate Wes Helms criticized him publicly following an incident in which Ramirez kicked a ball into the corner, then loafed after it as two runners came around to score. Their recriminations had little effect, at least at first.
Things had clearly reached a breaking point for a second-year player like Morrison to strive for clubhouse order at the expense of the team’s most prominent player. Ramirez’s clueless response to the criticism offered echoes of last year, when he told reporters that he “wasn’t late yesterday” because he arrived before the team’s 4:30 stretch, and that he comes in “at 3:30 every day,” despite the fact that he obviously did not. “Everybody knows it wasn’t my fault, so I wasn’t late,” he said cryptically.
Handling the situation with significantly more aplomb was Morrison, who kept his sentiments from the press, refusing to discuss them after they were leaked. “I’d rather have what happened in the clubhouse stay in the clubhouse,” he said, and left it at that. Which is exactly as it should be.
Zambrano got personal with his comments, chiding Marmol for throwing a slider that Ryan Theriot hit for a game-tying double, ignoring the fact that, as Zambrano told Chicago reporters, “Ryan Theriot is not a good fastball hitter.” It was the second straight game in which Marmol coughed up Zambrano’s lead.
Cubs manager Mike Quade did not discipline his pitcher for the remarks, and Marmol has said that he is not perturbed. Still, Zambrano apologized to the closer.
Romero also apologized. Even Fuentes, who got what he wanted in his manager’s dismissal, apologized to Geren for his statements — not the sentiment, but the public nature of their dispersal.
As for Minnesota’s Mijares, prevailing wisdom holds that a middle reliever has little business calling out a league MVP like Mauer, let alone the Twins’ most important player since Kirby Puckett. That fact made Mauer’s follow-up comment, that he called for a fastball — just not a fastball “right down the middle” — all the more amusing.
Then again, Gardenhire wasn’t laughing.
“A lefthander’s got to come in and hopefully spin some pitches …” he said. ” I could leave a right-hander in to throw fastballs.”
If it sounds like he was taking his pitcher’s side, that wasn’t necessarily the case. Gardenhire called pitcher and catcher together for a meeting, during which Mijares apologized to Mauer for his outburst. And in so doing, the skipper cut to the heart of many of the above problems.
“The one thing the manager can do is second-guess the heck out of it because I get second-guessed myself by [the media],” he told the Star-Tribune. “So I can say those things — I would like to see a breaking ball — but the pitcher can’t. If he doesn’t want to throw something, don’t throw it.”
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.
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?
How much communication do you have with him?
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.
Update 2: For Geren, the piling on has officially begun. The latest: Huston Streetweighed 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.
We got a Code twofer this weekend, with on-field actions drawing a response that is itself governed by baseball’s unwritten rules.
It started with Tigers closer Jose Valverde, whose antics atop a pitcher’s mound are well established. He spins, spits, hops, jumps and pumps his fists at regular intervals. It’s an ongoing display that has earned its own Facebook fan page, but still doesn’t seem to bother the likes of Nick Swisher and Mark Teixeira, who claimed after facing him last week that they had bigger things to worry about than Valverde’s body language. (Watch his routine against the Yankees here.)
Not everyone in baseball agrees.
Arizona catcher Miguel Montero decided on Friday that he had seen enough of Valverde’s act, following the right-hander’s celebratory gesticulations during and after shutting down the Diamondbacks in the ninth inning. (This included a strikeout of Montero, after which Valverde bent over, then hopped off the mound.)
“He’s a (bleeping bleep),” Montero told the Arizona Republic after the game. “The way he acts, it’s not right, you know?”
Montero’s knowledge, of course, goes deeper than being insulted on the field. The two were D-Backs teammates in 2007, and for the handful of games that Montero was in the big leagues in ’06.
“You’ve got to be professional,” added Montero. “I’ve always felt that way, and I’ve always told him. That’s the way he is. I guess he thinks it’s right, but I don’t care.”
He also added that Valverde didn’t have the “kind of brain” to be smart enough to throw three straight splitters to strike him out.
Children are taught that two wrongs don’t make a right, but in this case, Montero adding a public lambasting of his opponent to said opponent’s initial theatrics made for some quality entertainment.
That’s because by the end of the weekend, Valverde shot back.
“Tell Montero he’s a freaking rookie and I can do whatever I want to,” Valverde said in Sunday’s Arizona Republic. “Tell him that. Put it in the papers. If he wants to do something, tell him to come to my locker and let me know. I never liked Montero. He’s a (bleeping) piece of (bleep). Tell Montero he has two years (in the majors) and I have eight.”
Montero responded quickly, saying that “it doesn’t matter if he’s got eight years. I don’t think he’s got eight years because he got sent down seven or eight times. That really doesn’t count. When you get sent down your major league service stops counting. He got called up in ’02 and he got sent down in ’02 and ’03 and ’04 and ’05 and ’06. I guess this year he was a free agent so that let me know he got six years. In four out of six years he’s given up 100 runs a year. He’s only had two good years in his career. So what? He’s still a (bleep) to me.”
These are baseball players, of course, not mathematicians. Montero is in his fourth season, and, reported the Republic, only one of Valverde’s minor league stints from 2003-06 was due to demotion, rather than to injury rehab assignments.
During his initial blast, Montero said that at the earliest possibility against Valverde, he was “going to pimp it”—assumedly talking about showboating at the plate to a similar degree that Valverde does on the mound.
This would have been an appropriate response. Taking one’s beef to the press: not so much.
When a young player runs afoul of the unwritten rules, he’ll likely be taken aside by his manager or a veteran teammate for an explanation of proper behavior.
Should that fail, they bring in the big guns.
In the case of the Florida Marlins and Hanley Ramirez, that means Andre Dawson and Tony Perez, both of whom serve as special assistants to the club.
According to the Miami Herald, Dawson, an eight-time All Star and the NL MVP in 1987, began by telling Ramirez that “it’s time to get your act together,” calling him “immature” and adding that the player owes his teammates an apology.”
Perez, a Hall of Famer, followed with a similar message, this time in Spanish.
In the clubhouse before the team’s game in St. Louis, Ramirez circulated among the players and offered apologies both for the play that got him into hot water in the first place, and his follow-up comments, which were less than kind to both teammates and manager Fredi Gonzalez.
In this case, an apology—about which Wes Helms said in the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel, “He felt bad and you could tell”—is not so different than a retaliatory fastball. The latter is a tool used to settle an on-field score, allowing both teams to close the book on a bad situation and move forward, fresh. The former is its verbal equivalent, albeit from a conciliatory perspective.
For an example of what can happen should an apology fail to arrive after such a situation, look back to the Yankees in 1977, when Reggie Jackson announced his arrival in New York by proclaiming in Sport magazine that “I’m the straw that stirs the drink,” and that team captain Thurman Munson “can only stir it bad.”
“I don’t think some of the guys have forgiven him for that to this day,” wrote reliever Sparky Lyle in The Bronx Zoo. “Why did he have to do it? . . . If he had kept his mouth shut, he could have done everything he had wanted to do. . . . When he tried to nail Thurman, that was going too far.”
Jackson never apologized—not publicly, anyway—and it ended up costing him in myriad ways. “It was every moment of every day,” he told Sports Illustrated in 1980. “It was a coldness in the clubhouse, a coldness on the field, a coldness from the stands. Every day. Every day. I don’t want it on my mind; I don’t want those scars.”
With a single step, Ramirez was able to avoid all that.
“It means a lot to do what he did, because now we can lay it down,” said Helms. “That’s always going to be on your mind unless it’s taken care of. He did the right thing.”
As if booting the ball, then loafing after it wasn’t bad enough. As if being pulled from the game and publicly chastised by your manager wasn’t enough. As if your own teammates piling on, saying that they need to see more from you wasn’t enough.
Apparently, Hanley Ramirez wants more.
Baseball has a Code to enforce respect. Publicly, this happens almost exclusively between opposing teams. Not this time.
After pulling Ramirez from a game for egregiously loafing after a ball, Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez went against the grain in calling out his star player in the press—although it’s easy to suspect that was one of his final options, not his first.
At that point, to use a baseball term, Ramirez blew the save.
Tuesday, he became a verbal pyromaniac, throwing incendiary quote atop incendiary quote. A sampling, taken from the Palm Beach Post:
On taking time to get past the situation: “For what?
On his manager: “Who’s that?”
On his plans to apologize: “To who?” One of your teammates suggested an apology might be good if you did that. “Do what?” Apologize. “For what?”
On “dogging it” on the field: “We got a lot of people dogging it after ground balls. They don’t apologize.”
Various teammates, most notably Wes Helms, have spoken about the need for Ramirez to step it up at this time. The sheer amount of insider comments of the type that are almost universally kept behind closed clubhouse doors is astounding. It’s a public intervention.
For his part, Gonzalez continued to push the impression that messages sent through the media are the only ones Ramirez receives.
“I think he needs to talk to his teammates a little bit,” he told the Post. “Whatever feelings he has for me are fine and dandy. We don’t have to get along but I think he needs to get along with the 24 other guys on his team and when that happens we’ll run him back in there. If he sets his ego aside, I think it will be good.”
Is he or isn’t he injured? Does he or doesn’t he care? The questions rage in South Florida after Marlins shortstop Hanley Ramirez accidentally kicked a baseball 100 feet into the left-field corner yesterday, then lazed after it while two runners scored.
Ramirez had fouled a ball off his left ankle an inning earlier, which may have hindered his efforts .
His manager, Fredi Gonzalez, didn’t buy it. “Whether he’s hurt or not hurt or whatever it was, we felt the effort wasn’t there that we wanted,” he told the Palm Beach Post. “There are 24 guys out there, busting their butts. (Watch the replay here.)
The only appearance the concept of hustling makes in the unwritten rulebook is that it’s always expected, although players can earn a variety of Code-based exemptions, most of which have to do with star treatment. (The number of times Barry Bonds humped it down to first on a ground ball over the final five years of his career can probably be counted on one hand.)
More pertinent to the Code is something Gonzalez followed closely—the rule mandating that, with the exception of pitchers or in the case of injury or a double-switch, a player should never be removed from a game in the middle of an inning.
Gonzalez waited until Ramirez returned to the dugout after the frame. With just a few words of discussion, he then sent him to the clubhouse, inserting Brian Barden in his place.
Ramirez insisted that he was slowed by the injury, not a lack of effort. “That was,” he said in an MLB.com report, “the hardest I could go after the ball.”
Had Gonzalez opted to act sooner, he wouldn’t have set precedent. In 1969, Mets manager Gil Hodges pulled left fielder Cleon Jones in the middle of an inning after a lackadaisical effort, not unlike that from Ramirez.
In the Mets’ case, however, there were other mitigating factors. Jones had been playing on a sore hamstring on a muddy field; his entire team was likely beaten down by the fact that to that point in the day—late in the second game of a double-header—New York had been outscored by the Astros, 24-3. The play in question came on Houston’s sixth hit of the inning, in addition to two walks.
When Hodges emerged from the dugout, however—hands in pockets, head down—he first appeared to be headed toward the mound. Then he veered toward shortstop, then toward Jones in left. (This led to speculation that he merely got lost on his way to speak to pitcher Nolan Ryan.) Upon reaching Jones, Hodges put his arm around the left fielder, and they returned to the dugout together.
Although Hodges clearly violated an unwritten rule with the move, he upheld another one after the game, pinning his decision on Jones’ injury and saving personal blame for a closed-door meeting with the player.
Forty-one years later, Gonzalez did not follow suit. He had a message for Ramirez, and he delivered it through the media. A sampling of his comments, taken from the Post:
“We expect an effort from 25 guys on this team, when that doesn’t happen, we’ve got to do something.”
On the prospect of further discipline: “You need more embarrassment other than being taken out of a major league game?”
“You guys call (Ramirez) a marquee guy. I’ve got 25 guys all wearing the same uniform. All with the Marlins insignia on the front. If anybody did it, not just the one guy.”
In case that wasn’t enough, Gonzalez held up as paragons two members of the team whose efforts he felt were exemplary:
“I told [Ramirez] that he needed to go inside. We’re going to run Barden out there, who has a sprained ankle, by the way. He battled for eight innings with a sprained ankle. Probably killing him. But that’s the effort we’re looking at as an organization, as a team. That’s that.”
“Cody Ross got hit with a ball, 95 mph. It wasn’t thrown any less. He stayed in the game, and he’s making diving plays and dialing. There are some injuries there.”
This sort of verbal sortie is not undertaken by a manager noticing for the first time that his best player has failed to give a sufficient effort. This is a tactic taken by a manger who, having tried (and apparently failed) to reinforce this value with said star player, has given up the ghost and opened up whatever avenues of attack he finds at his disposal.
(Gonzalez’s opinion was backed up, albeit more tactfully, by veteran Wes Helms, who told MLB.com, “A lot of guys, coaches, staff have told Hanley. With his talent, he definitely needs to be the leader of this team. Mentally. Vocally. Everything. For me, to be a leader of the team, you have to lead by example. . . . It’s the way you handle yourself. That’s the way a true leader is. He definitely has the play to be a leader, but you want him to lead by example.” Translation: Step it up, Hanley.)
Gonzalez was clearly frustrated. He was also wrong. Now he has a disgruntled superstar on his hands, and a roster full of players who might be wondering whether he might do the same to them should things turn sour.
While Gonzalez is a capable manger, it didn’t take long for Ramirez to home in on his primary weakness in regard to player relations: “He doesn’t understand (playing hurt)—he never played in the big leagues,” Ramirez, who is signed through 2014, told the Post.
Ramirez also refused to apologize, saying, “We got a lot of people dogging it after ground balls. They don’t apologize.”
Perhaps it would have come to this anyway, even without Gonzalez’s public displays of frustration. Media scrutiny, however, rarely improves caustic situations.
After Hodges publicly backed Jones after the incident in ’69, the Mets went 45-19 through the end of the season, and won the World Series.
The Marlins, on the other hand, are officially on the cusp of team-wide disruption. Expect a closed-door meeting soon.
Update: Ramirez didn’t do much to help his cause with his comments the next day.
Update II: Ramirez apologizes, the Marlins move on.