Bat Flipping, David Ortiz, The Baseball Codes, Unwritten-Rules

David Ortiz: Maybe Not the Best Spokesman for His Own Damn Point of View

Ortiz flip

David Ortiz took on the haters yesterday in the pages of the Boston Globe. It should come as no surprise, since the guy’s proclamations were the same as they ever were. To wit:

  • Flipping a bat is his right as a hitter.
  • He doesn’t make a big deal of it when a pitcher pumps a fist after striking him out.
  • Shut up.

On two of those counts, anyway, he is correct. He’s also correct in his assertion that such expression is more at home in the modern game than ever before. When Ortiz started flipping bats back in the late-1990s, baseball’s landscape was far less tolerant of such displays than it is today, but the guy has officially worked himself into the mainstream … or worked the mainstream around himself.*

It’s in his rationalization of the process that Ortiz goes off the rails.

Start with this:

“Respect? Respect my [expletive]. I don’t have to respect nobody when I’m between those two lines. I’m trying to beat everybody when I’m between those two lines. This ain’t no crying. There’s no, ‘Let me be concerned about taking you deep.’ No.”

While Ortiz subsequently affirmed a willingness to respect his opponents as people, he couldn’t have landed further from the point.

As the father and coach of two ballplaying preteens, I emphasize respect for the opposition as emphatically as I do proper mechanics. Just yesterday, one of my son’s teammates, a 7-year-old, pitched his first-ever inning in Little League, and struck out the side. When he returned to the dugout, however, the first thing he heard from his father, another coach on the team, was about his habit of repeatedly pumping his fist after throwing strikes.

Argue with the approach if you’d like, but not with the underlying message that respect on a ballfield is paramount.

In the big leagues, of course, players have spent the last decade separating actions like bat flips and fist pumps from the concept of respect. It’s all about me, Ortiz and players like him insist, not about him or them. They’re not showing anybody up, they say, so much as celebrating their own actions.

That credo, however, leaves plenty of wiggle room for respect. The moment that bat-flipping became accepted major league practice was the moment that it could no longer be seen as disrespectful.

With his sentiments in the Globe, however, Ortiz kicked the entire house of cards to the ground. I’ve come to accept that bat flipping and the like are now part of the professional sport. When they become not about a player’s own greatness, but the lack of same from the opposition, though, it’s a bridge too far. Perhaps this is not what Ortiz was intending to convey, but the phrase “I don’t have to respect nobody” seems pretty clear-cut.

He also said this:

“Whenever somebody criticizes a power hitter for what we do after we hit a home run, I consider that person someone who is not able to hit a homer ever in his life. Look at who criticizes the power hitters in the game and what we do. It’s either a pitcher or somebody that never played the game. Think about it. You don’t know that feeling. You don’t know what it takes to hit a homer off a guy who throws 95 miles per hour. You don’t know anything about it. And if you don’t know anything about it, [shut up]. [Shut up]. Seriously. If you don’t know anything about it, [shut up], because that is another level.”

While Ortiz’s “Respect my ass” proclamation is ridiculous, his if-you-didn’t-play-your-opinion-doesn’t-count cliché is simply tired. Sportswriters spend more time considering the game than most players, and many die-hard fans spend even more time at it than the guys in the press box. Having never laced up spikes as a professional hardly invalidates their opinions.

Even more glaring was Ortiz’s claim that a vast number of his colleagues—pitchers—be similarly marginalized. If he really wanted to find a prominent position player who’s hit plenty of home runs and disagrees with much of what he says, he wouldn’t have to look far.

There was more.

“When a power hitter does a bat flip, you don’t hurt nobody. If I hit a homer, did a bat flip, threw it in the stands and break a couple of people’s heads, I understand. But that’s not what it is,” he added. “When you see a pitcher do a fist pump when they strike out any one of us, or jumping on the mound, I don’t see anybody talking about that. Nobody’s talking about that.”

 

Hmm.

Does Ortiz really think that pitchers acting like assholes do not get noticed?

Ultimately, he sounded less like somebody elucidating his right to self-expression, and more like somebody trying to bluster his way through an argument in which he does not fully believe. He’d have had me with the simple notion that he likes to celebrate after doing something good. The abundance of overt and misguided rationalization, however, has little benefit for anybody.

In Ortiz’s defense, at least one of his statements is incontrovertibly correct. “This ain’t no old school,” he said in closing. “This is what it is in today’s day. You pull yourself together and get people out, or you pull yourself together and you go home. That’s what it is.”

* Reggie Jackson is frequently cited—including by Ortiz during his diatribe—as the guy who all but invented the home run pimp. Actually, it was Harmon Killebrew, a guy who Jackson himself credits with breaking that particular ground. Similarly, for all the credit/infamy (depending on your point of view) given to Yasiel Puig for popularizing the bat flip, we should not lose sight of Ortiz’s importance in setting that particular standard.

 

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Swinging 3-0, The Baseball Codes

Wayback Machine: Dealing With Code Violations in a Bygone Era

Darrel ThomasIn researching a project unrelated to baseball’s unwritten rules, I came across an item that was too good to not share.

May 25, 1979: In the sixth inning of a game against the Reds, Dodgers second baseman Davey Lopes drilled a three-run homer. Trouble was, the Dodgers led by 12 runs at the time, and he swung at a 3-0 pitch to hit it. The blast gave Los Angeles a 17-2 lead.

This, of course, was a clear violation of the unwritten rules. From The Baseball Codes:

The last thing a pitcher wants to do with his team down by a wide margin late in the game is walk batters, which not only suggests unnecessary nibbling but extends a game that players want to end quickly. When a count gets to 3-0 … it’s a near-certainty that the ensuing pitch will be a fastball down the middle. The unwritten rulebook does not equivocate at this moment, prohibit­ing hitters in such situations not just from swinging hard, but from swing­ing at all.

There’s also the factor of rubbing it in while running up the score. In the modern game, of course, such actions are no longer universally seen as an unequivocal sign of disrespect. Baseball is entertainment, the thinking goes, and nothing is more entertaining than a well-struck ball. The rule still exists, but more players than ever opt out of recognizing it.

In 1979, however, such was not the case. Two innings after Lopes’ homer, Cincinnati reliever Dave Tomlin fed him four straight inside pitches. None of them connected, but after the fourth, Lopes, irate, threw his bat into the air and hollered toward the mound.

It was enough to draw players from both dugouts, even as Lopes angrily stalked toward first base. No fight appeared forthcoming until Dodgers utilityman Derrel Thomas—a perpetual wild card when it came to baseball propriety—decided to take a swing at Cincinnati’s Rick Auerbach, spurring numerous scuffles. This, far more than Lopes’ action, spurred the Reds to action.

Before the next day’s game, Cincinnati players decided to draw names of the Dodgers out of a hat, representing their assignments in the eventuality of another fight.

Every slip of paper said the same thing: Derrel Thomas.

(Thomas started the following day in center field, without incident.)

 

Don't Play Aggressively with a Big Lead, Jayson Werth, Swinging 3-0

Some Leads are Insurmountable; Others are Insurmountable Only for the Cubs

Opinions about when it is and isn’t appropriate to play aggressively—stealing bases, say, or swinging 3-0—vary widely. When you’re the Chicago Cubs and are in the midst of getting pummeled, repeatedly, by the best team in the National League, it only makes sense that sensitivities might be a bit raw.

The game in question was the capper following three straight Nationals victories over Chicago, by a cumulative score of 22-7—“one of the biggest butt-whippings” Cubs manager Dale Sveum said he’d ever received. Ultimately, it served mainly to add misery to a season which at that point had the Cubs on pace to lose 102 games.

In the series’ fourth game, on Thursday, it took only four innings for Washington to build another substantial lead, 7-2, so when Jayson Werth swung at a 3-0 pitch with the bases loaded and two outs in the fifth, it was enough to officially drive Cubs bench coach Jamie Quirk into an extreme state of annoyance.

From the dugout, he started “screaming out obscenities” toward Washington third-base coach Bo Porter, according to umpire Jerry Layne in the Chicago Tribune, a situation the umpire felt “was inappropriate” and “caused everything.”

“Everything” began with Porter approaching the Chicago bench and screaming right back at Quirk. That escalated to both dugouts emptying onto the field. (Watch it here.)

“You’re up 7-2,” said Cubs catcher Steve Clevenger. “You don’t swing 3-0.”

There’s truth to the statement, but its timing is straight out of the 1960s. The last time the fifth inning was utilized as a yardstick for when to stifle an attack, it was a pitcher’s league. They were the days of Sandy Koufax and Bob Gibson, long before offenses exploded in a spate of expanded rosters and juiced balls and tiny ballparks and BALCO-fueled hitters. Today, the fifth inning sounds downright quaint.

Then again, this is the Cubs. The line for when to call off the dogs is malleable, depending on a team’s bench and bullpen, the freshness of its starting pitcher, the state of its offense. With the Cubs, for whom a two-run deficit might seem like an unbridgeable chasm, perhaps five runs, and only four innings to score them, is a  lot.

We’ve already established that their emotions are raw, which explains why reliever Lendy Castillo threw at Bryce Harper to lead off the the sixth. That set Harper off on his own shouting jag, and the dugouts emptied again. (Watch it here.)

Harper nailed it in his postgame comments, saying in the Tribune, “I’d be pretty ticked off if I was getting my teeth kicked in all week, too.”

Nationals manager Davey Johnson proved to be tone deaf earlier this season when it came to a different facet of the game’s propriety, but on this particular issue he was pretty much spot-on.

“We’re in a pennant race, we’re going to swing 3-0, we’re going to do everything,” he said in the Washington Post. “We ain’t stopping trying to score runs. Certainly a five-run lead at that time is nothing. I think it was the bench coach’s frustration in us handing it to them for a couple days. If they want to quit competing and forfeit, then fine. But we’re going to keep competing. I don’t know why they’re getting on about swinging 3-0. Their first baseman [Anthony Rizzo] swung 3-0 in the first inning. What’s the difference with the bases loaded in the fifth with only a five-run lead and two outs?”

At this point in the game’s history, not much. “Only” a five-run lead is exactly that, even against the Cubs. One would hope that next time they display a bit more pride.

Don't Play Aggressively with a Big Lead, Swinging 3-0

Mike Cameron: Code Over Glory

Mike Cameron gets congratulated after his fourth homer on the day.

We got word Sunday that Mike Cameron was retiring after 17 seasons of largely productive baseball. He hit 278 home runs during that span, four of them in a single game (watch the glory here). A four-homer day is noteworthy for many reasons, of course, but it turns out the Code was involved in this one.

It was recounted in the original draft of The Baseball Codes, but the passage was cut for space considerations. In honor of Cameron, here it is:

On May 4, 2002, Seattle’s Mike Cameron stepped to the plate in the top of the ninth inning with two on, nobody out and his team leading the Chicago White Sox, 15-4. When reliever Mike Porzio started him off with three straight balls, Cameron knew just what to do—his manager, Lou Piniella, was a stickler for the unwritten rules and had taught his players well.

Cameron watched the fourth pitch split the plate for a called strike. It didn’t even occur to him that he’d already hit four home runs on the day, and couldn’t have asked for a pitch served up more nicely to give him a record fifth. As Cameron proved, however, should players let it, the Code even trumps history.

– Jason

David Ortiz, David Ortiz, Don't Showboat, Don't Play Aggressively with a Big Lead, Everybody Joins a Fight, Swinging 3-0

Pride, Punches and Papi: Things to do when Your Team is Getting Hammered

David Ortiz charged the mound on Friday. What he thought he was doing was putting an end to some half-baked intimidation tactics from Orioles pitcher Kevin Gregg. What he actually did, however, held significantly more interest. With one inspired charge the guy tore open baseball’s unwritten rulebook, giving us a good look inside; before the game was done, the Red Sox and Orioles touched on no fewer than five distinct sections of the Code.

To recap: Boston hammered the O’s for eight first-inning runs, highlighted by Ortiz’s three-run homer. By the time Ortiz batted in the eighth, the score was 10-3. Gregg—Baltimore’s closer, in the game to get some reps—threw three inside fastballs to him, two of which forced Ortiz to jump backward.

After the third, Ortiz took a few steps toward the mound, pointing and shouting. Dugouts emptied, but no punches were thrown. Once order was restored and the at-bat resumed, Ortiz popped up Gregg’s next pitch to right field. As he ambled toward first, Gregg lit into him verbally, inspiring Papi to cut short his trot in favor of a sprint toward the mound. (Watch it here.)

Enter the unwritten rules.

When your pitching staff can’t seem to slow down the opposition, make things uncomfortable. Boston had abused Baltimore pitchers to that point, scoring 20 runs over two games. (It was part of a five-game streak in which the Orioles gave up 10 or more runs four times.) A pitcher can hardly be blamed for trying to gum up a roll like that.

What’s unknown is whether Gregg requested entry into the game specifically for this purpose. As it was, the right-hander did everything by the book. Drilling a hitter for his team’s success is usually unnecessary. The pitcher’s job in such a situation is to move a hitter’s feet, make him uncomfortable, get him out of his groove. Gregg wanted Ortiz to think about something other than hitting another homer, and in that regard he was wildly successful.

“I take offense to every run scored off every one of our pitchers . . .” Gregg said after the game, in an AP report. “You get tired of getting your butt kicked every night when you come in here, and I’m going to stick up for what’s ours and try to get the plate back.”

This leads to a corollary rule, exhibited here on a purely theoretical basis owing to the fact that Gregg probably wasn’t trying to hit Ortiz (but presented in case he was):

Hitting a guy intentionally is harder than it looks. “As a pitcher, your preparation and your mechanics all prepare you to throw the ball to a spot, usually to the catcher’s glove, and that’s where your focus is,” said former pitcher Shawn Estes, who famously missed Roger Clemens while trying to retaliate for the Rocket’s shenanigans against Mike Piazza in the 2000 World Series. “Well, it’s tough to take your focus off that and try to hit a moving object. . . . It’s not as easy as it looks.”

If Gregg missed his target—three times—he wouldn’t have been the first to do so.

Other pieces of the Code in question on Friday:

Don’t swing at a 3-0 pitch with a big lead late in the game. The fastball that Ortiz popped up came on a 3-0 count, with his team holding a seven-run in the eighth. That’s domain in which a pitcher unequivocally expects a freebie. (With such a lead, say the baseball Gods and Kevin Gregg, it’s the least a hitter can do.) “It’s 3-0, they’re up seven, and I think there are some ethics to this game and guidelines that you have to stay within,” Gregg said in the Boston Herald.

There’s little question that the pitcher was sending a message with his inside fastballs. With that swing, Ortiz sent one of his own.

Run to first base like you care. This is where things got sticky. Ortiz, clearly unhappy to have hit a short fly ball, took a few sad steps toward first before starting to trot. Had Gregg not been predisposed to friskiness, it’s unlikely he would have taken umbrage. But keyed up as he was after Ortiz’s 3-0 swing, the slight delay provided all the provocation necessary for the right-hander to profanely urge Papi to step it up.

Plate ump Mike Estabrook tossed Gregg immediately, but it wasn’t enough to keep Ortiz from turning and charging. He ended up throwing several punches (none of which connected), and benches again cleared. Ejections (primarily Ortiz and Gregg) followed.

Everybody joins a fight. This is a no-brainer. From The Baseball Codes: “Most of the Code is about respect for the opponent, but this rule is about respecting teammates. It’s the most basic of sacrifices, and the fact that the majority of baseball fights don’t involve much actual fighting is almost incidental; it’s a matter of loyalty that can’t be ignored. Hall of Famer Ernie Banks called a player’s failure to join a fight ‘the ultimate violation of being a teammate.’ ”

On Friday, Boston’s Josh Reddick took this rule to an extreme. He was on third base when Ortiz hit the ball, and tagged up. Once hostilities erupted, however, he headed for the mound rather than the plate. That was enough for the umpires to declare him to be the third out of the inning.

As if to take things a step further, Red Sox infielder Marco Scutaro—all 5-foot-10 of him—was the first guy to reach Gregg (6-foot-6, 230 pounds), and as such was tasked with trying to slow the big fella down. It can only be seen for a moment in the game footage, but Gregg offers an inadvertently impressive show of strength, tossing around a clinging Scutaro basically by waving his arm.

We could also get into the concept of waiting for retribution, as Sunday’s series finale featured three HBPs and one near-HBP, most of which were likely unintentional. (It was Red Sox pitcher Kyle Weiland’s first big league start, and neither of his hit batsmen bore any hallmarks of intention; also fitting that bill was Orioles pitcher Jeremy Guthrie, who hit Kevin Youkilis with a changeup.) If there was a message pitch, it came from Mike Gonzalez, who in the sixth threw a fastball behind Ortiz.

After that, though, all remained quiet. Gregg had his say, Ortiz had his own, each club followed up and everybody moved on. Wildness has its time, but so too does order. It’s the Code at work, and it’s a beautiful thing.

Don't Play Aggressively with a Big Lead, Swinging 3-0

The Differences Between Spring Training and the Regular Season Sometimes aren’t so Different After All

Buck Showalter: Not a fan of the 3-0 swing.

As March draws to a close, it’s a good time to ponder the meaning of spring training games.

They exist to help players prepare for the season, that much is obvious. But what of their actual function? Because they don’t count, they’re handled differently than other contests.

Managers regularly empty their benches with steady streams of substitutions. Pitchers don’t fret about poor outings—at least early on—under the hypothesis that they’re working out winter kinks; if they feel like throwing 10 curveballs in a row then by gorum that’s what they’ll do, regardless of what hitters are doing to those curveballs.

But still, they are games. And games are played with certain elemental consistencies.

The last two weeks have seen separate incidents that bring to the fore the question “What’s appropriate in spring training and what’s not?” Both, coincidentally, involved catchers for the Orioles.

On March 15, Pittsburgh’s Andrew McCutchen tried to score from first on a hit by Baltimore’s Matt Diaz, but was tagged out when Matt Wieters blocked the plate, forcing McCuthen into his shin guards.

“I don’t know what (Wieters) was thinking,” McCutchen said afterward in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “It’s spring training. We’re not trying to get hurt. I wasn’t expecting that much contact. I’m OK, though.”

It harkens back to Pete Rose bowling over Ray Fosse in the 1970 All-Star Game. How much is too much when it comes to hard-nosed baseball during the course of an exhibition?

In this case, however, it was McCutchen himself initiating the contact; Weiters did nothing more than react precisely as a catcher should—protecting both himself and the baseball.

As Yahoo’s Kevin Kaduk observed, “Why did McCutchen slide if he was uninterested in making contact? There’s two bangs in a bang-bang play and McCutchen could have easily withheld one by simply peeling off if he felt the run wasn’t that important in the whole scheme of things.”

On Monday, another Baltimore catcher, Jake Fox—who leads the Grapefruit League with 10 home runs—showed that he’s not much afraid to take his hacks, regardless of the circumstances. With runners on second and third and nobody out in the eighth inning—and his team holding a 13-3 lead against the Tigers—Fox swung 3-0.

One of the clearest-cut sections of baseball’s unwritten rulebook mandates that when one’s team holds a big lead late in a game, one does not, as a hitter, swing at a 3-0 pitch. We’ve gone over it in this space before, but the prevailing notion holds that any pitcher in the wrong end of a blowout game is not on the most solid of footing to begin with. With that in mind, and because the last thing a manger wants to see with his team down by double digits (or something close to it) is a bubble reliever trying to get fine, the next pitch is almost certain to be a fastball down the heart of the plate.

Because of this, hitters are expected to back off and give the pitcher sufficient leeway with which to regain his footing.

Were this the regular season, Fox’s actions would have drawn unequivocal ire, but did the fact that they came in a spring training game affect things? Jake Fox is a journeyman, has played for three teams since 2007, and last year was the first in which he logged no time in the minors. While his prodigious display of power this March has all but locked up a roster spot, one can never be too careful, right? The more numbers he puts up, the better his chances of earning a real payday.

Then again, he was facing a minor leaguer in Chance Ruffin. And regardless of circumstance, proper etiquette is proper etiquette. Ruffin was wearing a big league uniform and facing a big league hitter, and deserves an according level of respect. As does the game itself.

Two people who agree were Jim Leyland and Buck Showalter. Once Fox walked, Leyland raced to the top step of the dugout and berated him for his transgression.

Showalter took things a step farther, yanking off his hat and enumerating at high volume to those in the dugout the ways in which Fox had soiled the reputation of the game. He then sent in a pinch-runner, and made sure to meet Fox in the dugout, where he then unloaded on him. Wrote Jeff Zrebiec of the Baltimore Sun, “It apparently wasn’t the first time this spring where Fox ignored a clear take situation.”

If Leyland feels that there’s a lesson to be taught here, it shouldn’t take long—Baltimore and Detroit meet in the teams’ second series of the season, starting April 4.

– Jason