Don't Cross the Pitcher's Mound, Infield Etiquette

Play Ball! … no, wait … okay, Play Ball!


Clayton Kershaw called it “disrespectful,” but really it was more thoughtless than anything.

The lefthander was preparing to pitch to the first batter of yesterday’s game against Colorado, Charlie Blackmon, when plate ump Quinn Wolcott put up his hand to pause the action. Rockies starter Tyler Anderson had taken some extra warmup tosses in the bullpen and was slowly walking back to the dugout along the sideline. Wolcott wanted the field cleared before the game began.

Kershaw couldn’t believe it. He lifted his palms in disbelief, then paced his way off the back of the mound, standing in the infield grass, arms akimbo, while Anderson departed.

“That was one of the more disrespectful things I’ve been a part of in a game,” the pitcher said after the game. “I really didn’t appreciate that. The game starts at 7:10. It started at 7:10 here for a long time. Just go around or finish earlier. That wasn’t appreciated, for sure. Not going to say any more—I’ll get in trouble.”

If it seems like a high-strung reaction for a few seconds’ worth of delay, it might be—but it’s justified. Kershaw, like most great pitchers, is a creature of focus and timing. When he’s in the process of going through routines both mental and physical to begin a game, any interruption can present a derailment. Sure enough, the first three Rockies reached base, on a walk and two singles. Kershaw denied that Anderson’s sojourn had anything to do with it, and, after surrendering only one run in getting out of the jam, he settled down to give up only four hits and one run over the next six, striking out 10 in the process.

At issue is a ballplayer’s territory, and how decorum prevents opponents from encroaching upon it. Hitters, for example, never walk between the pitcher and the catcher en route to the batter’s box. When necessary, they walk around, behind the umpire. It’s an easy thing to overlook from the grandstand, but the sanctity of the space is inviolable. That path belongs to the pitcher, at least while he’s holding a baseball, and everybody understands it.

When Alex Rodriguez trod atop the mound on his way back to the dugout after flying out in 2010, the pitcher he crossed, Oakland’s Dallas Braden, gave him an earful. At the time, people wondered what the problem was, but for anyone paying attention the answer was obvious—the pitcher’s mound is sacred, and any invasion is insufficiently deferential to the guy trying to do his job there.

(Sidenote: I covered that very topic in The Baseball Codes, for a chapter that was cut prior to printing for space considerations. In it, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts—a Giants outfielder when I talked to him—said, “That’s his office, his domain To run across it is disrespectful.”)

Anderson denied intent, telling reporters that he “didn’t mean any disrespect” and that he was surprised that Wolcott didn’t allow the game to begin. But the delay interfered with Kershaw’s process, whatever it may have been. The pitcher was within his rights to be annoyed.

Kershaw expended 27 pitches in that first inning, which was almost certainly a factor in his failure to reach the eighth. That might have been one reason for his postgame rant. Even more so, I’m guessing, was Anderson’s simple lack of etiquette. The guess here is that retaliation of any sort will be unnecessary—we’ll never see something like that again from a Rockies pitcher, at least not at Dodger Stadium.



Dallas Braden, Don't Cross the Pitcher's Mound

Braden, Protector of the Code, Hangs ‘Em Up

Dallas Braden SIDallas Braden gave up the ghost today, accepting that there is nothing left in his injured shoulder to help him recapture major league success, and called it a career. Based on my personal interactions with the guy—and there were many, including extensive talks for multiple features like this one—I can report that he was truly thoughtful, one of the good guys in a clubhouse full of good guys. (He remains the only active player to whom I have given a copy of The Baseball Codes.)

His primary epitaph will be the perfect game he threw against the Yankees Rays on Mother’s Day, 2010 (especially poignant, given that his grandmother, who raised him after his own mother passed, was in the stands). I will remember him best, however, for calling out Alex Rodriguez for an unwritten rules violation so obscure that because few people had ever heard of it, Braden was widely branded as some sort of arrogant nut.

This being my beat, however, I had heard of it, and understood exactly what the pitcher was trying to say.

In honor of a career too short, here’s the original post. Read it here, or click through to find links to the eight follow-up items at the bottom.

Alex Rodriguez is one of two types of player: A guy who’s profoundly ignorant of much of the Code, or a guy who actively disdains it.

This is someone who has been caught peeking at catchers’ signs, and who, as a baserunner, tries to distract fielders when they’re camped under fly balls.

Today in Oakland, with Rodriguez on first base, Robinson Cano hit a foul ball so high that A-Rod had time to round second and get partway to third before it landed. Rather than going back the way he came, however, Rodriguez cut straight across the diamond and directly across the pitcher’s mound.

It’s a direct violation of one of the lesser unwritten rules, and A’s pitcher Dallas Braden noticed.

After the inning ended, Braden lit into A-Rod on the field, eventually being greeted by a dismissive wave from the superstar. “I was dumbfounded that someone of his status would let that slip his mind,” Braden told Jeff Fletcher of FanHouse after the game. “He understands that. I was just trying to convey to him that I’m still out there. The ball is in my hand. That’s my pitcher’s mound. If he wants to run across the pitcher’s mound, tell him to do laps in the bullpen.”

It’s a rule that’s been around a long time.

“That mound is the pitcher’s home, his office, and he doesn’t want anyone trampling over it,” said longtime outfielder Dave Collins. Luis Gonzalez called the mound “the Twilight Zone,” describing it as something to stay away from.

Like any rule, a small handful of guys go out of their way to crap on it, if only to be annoying. It shouldn’t surprise anybody that A.J. Pierzynski is one of those players. According to multiple sources, he makes a habit of the practice, coming close enough to the pitcher to brush him on his way back to the base or the dugout.

“He’s gotten hit a few times because of it,” said Tim Raines, Pierzynski’s former coach with the White Sox. “He’s been hit more than once.”

“You’re always going to run across some guy who will fly out, round first, and cut as close as he can to you, just to either mutter something under his breath, just to piss you off as a pitcher,” said Jamie Quirk. “He’s gonna get as close as he can to you; he won’t bump you, but he’ll try to piss you off.”

Is Rodriguez that kind of guy? It’s difficult to tell. The evidence against him, however, certainly does nothing to help his case.

As a side note, the incident in question brought the game’s unwritten rules into the forefront of the national consciousness only months after The Baseball Codes came out, culminating in the No. 34 spot overall in Amazon’s sales rankings shortly thereafter. For that alone, I’m grateful.

Don't Cross the Pitcher's Mound

Evidence Proves that A-Rod Wasn’t Alone

So somebody came up with evidence of a ballplayer other than Alex Rodriguez running across the mound during a game.

The Fleer Sticker Project dug into the telecast of Game 1 of the 1971 World Series between the Pirates and Orioles, and found Baltimore outfielder Don Buford—who’d just been thrown out at first—returning to the home clubhouse on the third-base side by way of the pitcher’s mound.

Pittsburgh’s pitcher was Dock Ellis, who was known to go to extremes (such as setting out to drill every batter he faced in a 1974 game against Cincinnati) to prove a point, but who never crowed particularly loudly about respect on the ballfield. (Heck, the guy wore curlers on the field despite widespread derision, simply because his straightened follicles provided a better means to harvest sweat when he wanted to load up a baseball.)

A-Rod defenders point to this as proof that their guy was hardly the first to do such a thing, but they’re essentially shooting themselves in the foot.

It was already clear that Rodriguez isn’t alone in this particular proclivity; this blog has already listed A.J. Pierzynski as another player who makes a habit of the act.

But the fact that one has to go back to 1971 to find photographic evidence of somebody doing it says more about the irregularity with which this sort of thing happens than any number of essays decrying Rodriguez’s audacity.

From the Fleer Sticker Project

– Jason

Alex Rodriguez, Dallas Braden, Don't Cross the Pitcher's Mound

Braden Still Talking

A’s pitcher Dallas Braden sat down with our old pal, Comcast SportsNet Bay Area’s Mychael Urban, to answer just a few more questions about the A-Rod incident.

As usual, he pulls no punches. The chance to see and hear his response (rather than reading a transcript of it) offers better insight into what he’s actually thinking.

For some reason, WordPress doesn’t like Comcast’s embed code. Which means you’ll have to go to their site to see the clip.

– Jason

Don't Cross the Pitcher's Mound

The Crazy Week that Was, Thanks to A-Rod and Braden

It’s been a few days now, and it’s clear that the A-Rod/Braden incident has brought baseball’s unwritten rules more prominently into the spotlight than at any point in recent memory. It was a perfect storm: a superstar who’s already recognized for his willingness to disrespect opponents; an outspoken pitcher who’s able (and, more importantly, willing) to string together verbal zinger after verbal zinger in response; and an obscure piece of code, which, while a clear part of the unwritten rulebook, has fallen into sufficient disuse for many people within the game to have never heard of it.

Just in case you’re not certain just how much attention the incident garnered, a partial list of coverage can be found here.

Similarly, The Baseball Codes received considerable mention. A number of people took yours truly to task for my opinion that A-Rod was absolutely in the wrong—virtually all of them New Yorkers. (A sampling from the comments for the Q&A I did for the New York Times: “Jason Turbow is a Non-Entity who is trying to make a name for himself by hanging on the coat-tails of Alex albeit in a parasitic way. . . Jason Turbow is a guys with handful of nothings. The guy is a born Loser”; “How the heck is Jason Turbow and who made him gatekeeper of what is legit baseball activity?”; and “This guy’s clear contempt for A-Rod erases any kind of credibility he may have had.”

Oddly, the location-neutral references to myself and The Baseball Codes on USA Today’s Daily Pitch blog and the Huffington Post drew nearly unanimous sentiment against A-Rod.  (The Charlotte Observer hadn’t garnered any response, pro or con, when this posted.)

I’ve been doing a steady stream of radio interviews with stations across the country to discuss the subject (which is nice for both myself and the book), but even more important is the attention being paid to the Code itself. A week ago, only a small percentage of major leaguers even knew the rule barring non-pitchers from crossing the mound; today, each of them have likely discussed that and many others, both with teammates and those outside the clubhouse.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer came up with a list of unwritten rules, for baseball and several other sports. Sports Illustrated’s Joe Posnanski wrote his own list, amid a longer post on his personal blog during the course of which he admitted to having never heard the rule barring players from crossing the mound.

He has now. And so has everybody else.

– Jason

Alex Rodriguez, Dallas Braden, Don't Cross the Pitcher's Mound

Point-Counterpoint on the A-Rod/Braden Affair

Allen Barra, the author of a number of great baseball books, who has been praised within the pages of this very blog, saw fit to disagree with my opinions on the Alex Rodriguez/Dallas Braden affair via the Village Voice blog.

One of the reasons I take such delight in the A-Rod/Braden incident is that there are cogent and reasonable arguments to be made on both sides. I’ll stick firmly to my guns, but I can hardly fault those who disagree (at least those like Barra, who disagree coherently).

Exactly whose space is the pitcher’s mound anyway — I mean, when there isn’t a play in progress,” asks Barra in his blog post. “Whose space in baseball is inviolate? Braden is quoted in the New York Times saying, ‘I don’t go out over there and run laps at third base … I stay away.’ Now, as long as Rodriguez isn’t taking fielding practice or a throw around the horn, why would he give a flip what Braden did at third base?

The answer is simple: it’s Braden’s mound. And once he completes his inning’s work, it’s C.C. Sabathia’s mound. The pitcher’s mound is unlike any other space on a baseball diamond. Pitchers use it to literally survey the field from their vantage on high. Braden’s taken some flack for calling the mound the center of the universe, but that’s exactly what he was taught. It’s the point of origin for every play on a baseball diamond, a notion that can, for those who care to run this deep, lend a sacredness to it.

Agree or disagree with Braden, he lives as he preaches. “When I’m running across the back side of the field, I don’t ever run across home plate,” he told me this afternoon. “I don’t ever run on the catcher’s dirt, especially after the field is dragged. That’s not my area. It’s just little things, showing respect for the guys who prepared the field. Respect for the guys who go out and play on that field. Respect for the guys who are going to be busting their ass behind you on that field. Make it nice and clean for them. They’re the ones out there working on it—not you. If you’re a pitcher, stay on the mound.”

This serves to address Barra’s next point:

Precisely what standard is it that Braden is holding himself to?” he writes. “As an American League pitcher, he doesn’t even have to bat or run the bases, so he never comes in contact with fielder’s space. Does Braden, for instance, figure he would be violating A-Rod’s ‘space’ by throwing a pitch up and in that moved him out of the batter’s box? If the mound is Braden’s space, why isn’t the box A-Rod’s?

The difference is that a pitcher’s job description includes influencing batters’ strategy and positioning by moving them off the plate, as the pitcher sees fit. This is a function of pitching. A more appropriate comparison would have Braden walking over to smudge the lines of the batter’s box with his cleat while Rodriguez stood there, waiting. This, of course, would be ludicrous—a clear violation of the hitter’s space.

See where I’m going with this?

Part of Barra’s dilemma is that, despite an intricate knowledge of baseball, he (like many of his colleagues) hadn’t heard of the rule before this incident. “Where is this ‘unwritten rule’ that says you can’t cross the pitcher’s mound when running back to first from third?,” he wrote. “Rodriguez has 2181 big leagues games, and apparently he didn’t know it. Myself, I could have sworn I’ve seen that happen a thousand times over the years, and I’ve never seen a pitcher complain about it, much less throw a fit, or heard that there was an ‘unwritten rule’ to that effect.”

To be fair, I hadn’t heard of the rule either before I started researching this book. Suffice it to say that I’ve learned a few things over the last four years. A small sampling of opinions:

  • Bert Blyleven: “I used to really get pissed if a guy flew out, say, and he came back and stepped on my mound. I used to say something to some of the hitters. Just don’t run on my mound. That was my mound that day.”
  • Jamie Quirk: “Stay clear of the mound. It’s his area; don’t try to run across it or toward him. Just go back to your dugout and stay clear. That’s just courtesy of doing things the right way.”
  • Dave Roberts: “That’s his office, his domain. To run across it is disrespectful.”
  • Jim Price: “I’ve seen that happen, and then there was retaliation.”
  • Bob Gibson: “(Steve) Carlton and I shared one pet peeve relating to the office (the term Carlton used to refer to the mound). We hated when hitters crossed behind it on their way back to the dugout. We took down names.” (From Stranger to the Game.)
  • This is just a small sampling, but it makes my point. Of course, these guys played in the 1960s and ’70s (save for Roberts—the one who stole the key base for Boston in ’04, not his older big-league namesakes), which illustrates the increasingly quaint nature of this particular rule. Quaintness, however, does not equal extinction. Braden made sure of that on Thursday. Who knows—perhaps he’ll even spark a renaissance.

    Barra’s final point is actually one I agree with, at least in part. “Wasn’t Dallas Braden breaking some kind of unwritten rule by screaming from the mound like a nut both during and after the inning?” he asked.

    Well, yes. It was clearly an over-reaction, although not egregiously so. A-Rod carries the reputation of a guy who takes certain strange liberties on a baseball diamond, a fact that automatically sets some guys on edge. When those liberties infringe on a pitcher’s perceived territory, in the process diminishing the level of respect he demands as a professional, tempers can flare. Braden might have lost his cool after the inning, but he certainly didn’t on the mound. Three pitches after Rodriguez’s indiscretion, Braden elicited a double-play grounder from Robinson Cano to end the frame, and went on to pick up his third win of the season in a 4-2 contest.

    I’ll leave the closing statement to somebody who knows a thing or two about the unwritten rules, Tony La Russa.

    “I think the toughness of the pitcher,” he said, “determines whether he will enforce that rule about the mound.”

    Under that definition, Dallas Braden is one tough bastard.

    – Jason

    Alex Rodriguez, Dallas Braden, Don't Cross the Pitcher's Mound

    A-Rod to Braden: ‘You Talkin’ to Me?’

    In the substrata of yesterday’s blowup between Alex Rodriguez and A’s pitcher Dallas Braden—spurred when A-Rod crossed over the mound on his way back to first base after a foul ball—is the question about whether Braden even has the stature to challenge Rodriguez. (It’s been spurred in part by Rodriguez’s own comments: “I’ve never quite heard that, especially from a guy that has a handful of wins in his career. I thought he was talking to somebody else.”)

    A reader of this blog commented, “Regardless of whether there is some unwritten rule . . . Braden’s reaction was over the top. Besides, doesn’t it break the unwritten rule that young players give deference to veterans superstars(?)”

    There’s a valid point to this. Baseball is a game of hierarchy, from locker assignments to seating charts on team transportation to what a guy can get away with on the field. Without question, a lesser player trying to replicate the self-glorifying admiration provided by Barry Bonds for his own home runs would quickly be beaten down, be it physically or psychically—likely from the opposition and his own teammates.

    And when a star’s path crosses that of a lesser player, Darwinism almost inevitably wins out: the big fish eats the little one.

    Except here. I’ve been exchanging e-mail about the topic with FanHouse’s Jeff Fletcher (who’s been giving this incident a good deal ofquality attention); I wrote this to him last night:

    In general, there is a hierarchical structure to this type of thing. It’s partly what made Dickie Noles‘ flipping of George Brett in the ’80 World Series (remember that?) so brazen—unless a pitcher is a superstar himself, he has no business intentionally knocking down one of the five best third basemen of all time . . . and Noles wasn’t even a veteran, let alone a star.

    But that standard doesn’t really apply here.

    Noles’ move was all about intimidation and striking a tone. Braden’s motivation was strictly territorial. He made the point himself after the game, saying, “I don’t care if I’m Cy Young or the 25th man on a roster; if I’ve got the ball in my hand and I’m out there on that mound, that’s not your mound.”

    And he’s right. The stature of those who hold real estate is less important than the fact that they hold it at all. That Braden went so far as to equate A-Rod’s move not just with personal disrespect, but disrespect for the entire A’s organization, also says a lot. It probably wasn’t even intentional, but Braden just gave his team the best pep talk it could ever hope for: We’re every bit as good as the Yankees, and they will not walk over us, literally or figuratively.

    I might have a problem with a young hothead trying to intimidate a star, but that isn’t this. Braden wants only what’s rightfully his, and he has every right to do so.

    Some across the blogosphere have portrayed Braden as an insolent punk, but as someone who has had many conversations with the guy, I can say that he’s one of the most thoughtful people in the game—a player who gets it in a sport where many people don’t.

    Just because A-Rod didn’t know the rule doesn’t wipe it out of existence. Braden does know the rule, and is holding A-Rod to no less exacting a standard than he holds himself.

    – Jason