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.