Category Archives: Don't Showboat

How to Deal With Meathead Pitchers 101, or: Retaliation Without Communication Builds Aggravation

fernandez-fumes

The headlines for yesterday’s action concern the clearing of the benches and the placement of fastballs near hitters’ heads. The intrigue, however, lies in the ability of a player or team to communicate, and what an effective approach in that regard might bring.

First, though, some details.

On its own, the eye-level inside fastball thrown by Atlanta’s Julio Teheran to Jose Fernandez in the fifth inning Wednesday was not enough to draw anger. Fernandez shrugged it off, literally, as he flashed a these-things-happen expression toward the mound.

But maybe Teheran meant to do it. Back in July, a three-game Braves-Marlins series saw eight HBPs, four by each team. (Oddly, two players absorbed seven of those plunkings—Miami left fielder Derek Dietrich was hit four times, Atlanta catcher Tyler Flowers three.)

Three of the HBPs Miami doled out came in the final game. Did that mean something?

Maybe that’s why Teheran drilled Martin Prado an inning later. (Or maybe he was just terrible. Prado was one of five batters Teheran faced in the sixth, four of whom scored before the pitcher was pulled.)

Still, if Atlanta was so hell-bent on response, wouldn’t the opening game of the current series, which took place on Monday, been a better place for it—especially when the Braves found themselves with a 7-0 lead in the third inning?

So if Teheran was looking for trouble, and if he failed to connect with Fernandez, and if he intended to hit Prado … well, it would be tough to fault the Marlins for taking issue. Which they did.

The bottom of the sixth presented Fernandez a perfect opportunity—bases empty with two outs—to respond. The guy at the plate, Nick Markakis, had already homered and flied out deep to right field. Somehow, after Teheran’s head-shot in the fifth and plunking of Prado in the sixth, warnings had not yet been issued.

Fernandez plunked Markakis in the backside. Agree or disagree with this as baseball methodology, things should have ended there. Somebody had been drilled from each team. It was time to move on.

But then—with plate ump Marvin Hudson still having failed to issue warnings—reliever Jose Ramirez became the second Atlanta pitcher of the day to throw at Fernandez’s head. It was a clear warning shot, sailing well behind the pitcher, but traveled 95 mph at eye level. (Watch it all here.)

A livid Fernandez took steps toward the mound and benches emptied, but no punches were thrown.

After the game, Fernandez did not hold back.

“Like everybody knows, I’m not known for hitting people,” he said in a Miami Herald report. “If you think it’s on purpose, and you want to hit me, go ahead. Hit me. I don’t mind getting hit. That’s part of the game. But you don’t throw at somebody’s head because I have a family.”

Not knowing whether July’s HBP-fest factored into any of this, and in advance of the team’s four-game series later this month, the question remains: Are things now settled? To that end, Fernandez must be given abundant credit: At the tail end of the dustup, before players returned to their dugouts, he tracked down Markakis and made sure they were square.

“I told him ‘Hey, man. I throw you one of the best breaking balls that I have, and you hit it out,’ ” he recounted after the game in an MLB.com report. “ ‘I threw you another one and you hit the [stuffing] out of it. That second at-bat, I threw some good fastballs in, he was late on it. Jam. Jam. I was hoping, 2-0, throw a fastball in, he hits a popup to second base. Obviously, that was not the case. The ball slipped out of my hands, and I hit him.”

By every indication, Markakis accepted this explanation.

Fernandez has done this kind of thing before, to great effect. Then, however, he had clearly been in the wrong during the leadup. Now he himself was aggrieved, and nonetheless took steps to right the ship.

Baseball’s unwritten rules have abundant critics, many of whom offer sensible critiques. If more players handled their business like Fernandez, however, all the what-ifs enumerated above—every possible cause for motivation that leads players and public alike to wonder whether a given inside pitch was intended to be there—would be mitigated. Plays would be plays, not displays, and everybody could spend more time focusing on the game rather than on perceived anger and the ensuing response.

As it turns out, effective communication works. Nice job, Jose Fernandez.

Update 9-19: Ramirez suspended three games.

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Filed under Communication, Jose Fernandez, Retaliation

Does Anybody Even Know What Baseball’s Unwritten Rules Are, Anymore?

We’ll get to questions about propriety and merit and the very nature of baseball’s unwritten rules in good time.

First, though, why’d the Rangers wait so long to do it?

Before the season started, the enduring questions regarding the rivalry between Texas and the Blue Jays had to do with the Rangers’ response to Jose Bautista’s world-beating bat flip during the teams’ ALDS showdown last October, and whether retaliation was imminent.

Matters seemed to be settled after the teams went an entire series at Toronto’s Rogers Centre in early May without so much as a peep. In the series finale, Bautista came to bat—twice—with his team leading 11-1. Let sit for a moment whether retaliation was even merited; if ever there was a place to enact it, it was right there, with no concern about an extra baserunner affecting the game’s outcome.

Bautista emerged unscathed. That should have closed the book on the incident. Should have, but didn’t.

On Sunday, Rangers reliever Matt Bush—making only his second big league appearance after a decade-long career nosedive—may have been trying to earn credibility points with his new teammates when he planted a fastball into Bautista’s ribcage.

It makes little sense why that pitch would bear any degree of intent. Texas had its chances back in Toronto. Bush was not with the Rangers at the time of Bautista’s perceived slight. The score was 7-6, and Bautista, leading off the top of the eighth, represented the tying run. And yet.

It was the final meeting of the season between the teams, and likely Bautista’s final at-bat of the game. Drilling him then left virtually no chance for recourse. “To me, it was gutless,” said Jays manager John Gibbons afterward, in an ESPN report. “The other 29 teams, they come at you right away, but to wait until the end, it just sort of tells you something.”

At that point, Bautista’s primary tool was the one he ended up using: a message-laden slide.

Forced to run by Justin Smoak’s grounder, Bautista launched himself late, at the legs of second baseman Rougned Odor. It was textbook, Bautista landing on the base instead of in front of it, undercutting Odor’s feet. According to the Code, it was clean—spikes down and centered. A million guys have made a million similar retaliatory slides over the years, the vast majority of which have been accepted by the opposition as nothing more than the price of doing business.

We are, however, in a new era, even beyond the rise of the Let’s Make Baseball Fun Again generation. It is a time of basepath sanity, where fielders’ safety is the subject of rulebook legislation. Bautista’s slide had nothing to do with fielders’ safety.

It probably didn’t matter either way to Odor, who would likely have come up swinging, regardless.

The rest of the story involves details, mostly:

  • Bautista absorbed a solid right hook from Odor, definitely in the 99th percentile of effective baseball punches, but still managed to keep his feet.
  • It turns out that Odor is quietly (or not so quietly) one of the premiere red-asses in the game.
  • Ejections for Bautista, Odor, Josh Donaldson, and Rangers coach Steve Bueschele.
  • Bush was allowed to remain in the game, but when asked afterward about the pitch in question, offered a telling no-comment.
  • Toronto exacted retaliation of its own in the bottom half of the inning with the time-tested tactic of drilling Bautista’s counterpart on the Rangers, Prince Fielder. Again the benches emptied, though no punches were thrown.
  • Subsequent ejections for Toronto pitcher Jesse Chavez and coach DeMarlo Hale.

In the aftermath of it all, we’re left with numerous questions. Most pertinent to this space has to do with the unwritten rules themselves. Although Bautista’s slide fell well within the boundaries of traditional Code tactics, it’s difficult to tell anymore whether traditional Code tactics—especially as they pertain to takeout slides—are even viable. Before, it was primarily middle infielders who didn’t appreciate them. Now, the league office has officially taken steps to legislate them out of the game. This likely means that baserunners are going to have to find new methods of conveying their grievances … or, more pragmatically, will have to learn to get over their grievances more quietly.

There’s also a bit of hypocrisy at hand. In the game’s aftermath, Bautista unloaded with both barrels at Rangers management, saying in the Toronto Star that “It shows a little bit of the apparent lack of leadership that they have over there when it comes to playing baseball the right way.”

Only last October, Bautista himself sparked a play-the-right-way controversy, only then he was on the other side of the debate, baseball traditionalists decrying his bat flip and its ensuing acclaim. To play both sides like that—to demand propriety only when it suits you—seems disingenuous.

There is, however, more to it. “Baseball plays are supposed to be taken care of by baseball plays,” Bautista also said yesterday. And he’s correct. A bat flip is not a baseball play. Drilling a batter is. So is taking out a fielder. The latest version of the Code mandates that non-baseball plays are largely exempt from retaliation. This is not what happened on Sunday.

Perhaps we’re facing another sea change with all of this, which is something we won’t know until we see players’ responses to coming contentions. Water has a way of finding its level.

Ultimately, amid the philosophical hand-wringing, we’re left with one primary concrete question: Why’d the Rangers wait so long to do it?

Update (5/17): Odor’s been clipped for eight games and outed as a hypocrite.

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Filed under Basepath Retaliation, Jose Bautista, Retaliation, Uncategorized

Bautista Proves that Grudge Homers are the Best Kind of Homers

With Yasiel Puig’s renunciation of bat flipping dominating the early-season talk about the subject, there’s another function of the tactic that has been largely overlooked—one that is less Look at me and more Look at yourself. It was illustrated to perfection on Tuesday by Jose Bautista.

With the Blue Jays leading 11-4 in the seventh inning, Baltimore right-hander Jason Garcia threw a fastball just behind the slugger, perhaps in response to the teams’ April 12 meeting in which Bautista homered off of Darren O’Day, then skipped toward first base. Garcia’s shot came so close that plate ump Mark Carlson warned both benches about further hostilities.

On the fifth pitch of the at-bat, Bautista connected for his fourth home run of the season, a mammoth shot that scored Josh Donaldson ahead of him. Its no-doubt-about-it nature allowed the slugger to stand in the box and admire it before insouciantly flipping his bat away in disgust. It was a pure, cold message for Garcia. You want to play, he effectively asked the pitcher? This is how you play. (Watch it here.)

As he rounded the bases, Bautista got an earful from Orioles infielders, primarily Steve Pearce and Ryan Flaherty. He responded in kind. As he crossed the plate he took a moment to stare down the Baltimore bench.

Things grew further heated as Bautista trotted to his position at the start of the next inning. Baltimore center fielder Adam Jones began hollering from alongside the dugout, at which point Bautista furiously pointed behind his back, reminding the Orioles how the whole thing started. (Watch it here.)

If anything, Bautista has proven adept at finishing things in a way that effectively gets under the skin of the opposition. His homer-‘n-skip act came in response to O’Day doing something similar after striking him out in 2013. His homer-‘n-pimp act came after Garcia’s near miss. The Orioles could barely stand either one.

Whether they take further action is yet to be seen, but if we judge the situation by what’s already happened, Baltimore’s response is almost beside the point. It seems certain that Bautista will get the last word.

[Gif via Baltimore Sports Report]

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Oh Dear, Oh My

Oh my, oh dear.

[H/T Deadspin]

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Whether ’tis Nobler in the Mind to Suffer the Slings and Arrows of Outrageous Fortune, or Just to Act Like an A-Hole Closer

Pujols arrowAt his very best, Fernando Rodney is ludicrous. His pre-scripted bow-and-arrow routine following saves—during which he pulls an imaginary arrow from an imaginary quiver and shoots it with his imaginary bow—is one of the sorriest sights in the sport. He says he does it for the fans, but is there a bigger cry for attention in the big leagues? More pertinently, is anybody short of those who would be cheering for him anyway entertained by his hack act?

Still, it’s easy enough to ignore. He does it after games have ended, when people are either celebrating or walking somberly off the field. On Sunday, however, Rodney took things a step farther, bow-and-arrowing not toward his usual spot in center field, but toward the Angels dugout (or, he said, the fans sitting above) … and not at the end of the ninth inning, but after protecting a one-run lead at the end of the eighth. In so doing, he broke new ground in the art of closer show-boatery.

Suffice it to say that the Angels weren’t pleased. “He woke up our dugout,” said Grant Green in an MLB.com report.

When Rodney came back out for the ninth, Mike Trout greeted him by drawing a walk, then scored the tying run on Albert Pujols’ follow-up double. Pujols responded by shooting an imaginary arrow at Trout, and Trout returned fire right back at Pujols. It was as fine an in-your-face moment as can be found on a big league diamond short of actual game play. (Two singles and two intentional walks later, the Angels took care of that, too, with a walk-off, 6-5 victory, courtesy of Green’s game-ending single. Rodney did not reach for his quiver again at that point.)

It must be accepted that closers have their shtick. Sergio Romo does a little dance. Rafael Soriano untucks his shirt. Jose Valverde just kind of loses his mind. One time, Aroldis Chapman even rolled. It goes all the way back to Brad “The Animal” Leslie’s crazed yelps following saves in the early 1980s.

Closer to the Rodney situation was when Brian Wilson did his typical arms-crossed-point-to-the-sky move against the Dodgers in 2009, after which Los Angeles third baseman Casey Blake mocked him for it in the dugout … then took it back when he found out it was a tribute to Wilson’s late father. If you’re going to do it on the field, however, it’s gonna be in play.

All of which is a leadup to some simple advice: If as a closer you’re going to act like a goon, save it until the game’s actually finished.

 

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Go-Go Gone-Gone: Gomez Pimps, Explodes Over Tongue Lashing

CarGo

Pimping is a ballplayer’s prerogative. But if one chooses to style in the batter’s box after hitting a long fly ball, one must be prepared should the opposition cry foul. (One must also make sure the ball leaves the ballpark.)

Oh, Carlos. Did Brian McCann teach you nothing?

In the third inning at Pittsburgh yesterday, Milwaukee outfielder Carlos Gomez sent a ball to deepest center field. Thinking it gone, he flipped his bat and trotted to first, picking up speed only upon seeing his drive bounce off the fence. By that time, of course, he was rounding first base. Because he’s fast, and because the ball caromed away from a leaping Andrew McCutchen, Gomez still made it to third without much trouble.

It’s after he reached third that the trouble started.

Pirates pitcher Gerrit Cole, backing up the play, had some words for Gomez as he walked back to the mound. Rather than absorbing them and moving on, however, Gomez stalked toward Cole, shouting all the while. When the Pirates bench emptied in response, he started swinging at anybody wearing a yellow cap. (Watch it here.)

Said Cole in an MLB.com report: “I grabbed the ball from [third baseman Josh] Harrison and I said, ‘If you’re going to hit a home run, you can watch it. If you’re going to hit a fly ball to center field, don’t watch it.’ ”

Gomez got pushed to the ground in the melee. Pirates outfielder Travis Snider—the first one out of the dugout—ended up with a cut on his face after being hit by Milwaukee’s Martin Maldonado (an attack upon an unaware player, to judge by the reaction in the Pittsburgh clubhouse after the game, which the Pirates did not appear inclined to forget).

In the immediate aftermath, the first thing to pop to mind was Gomez’s confrontation last year with McCann, then the Braves catcher. Earlier, Gomez had been drilled by Atlanta pitcher Paul Maholm, and subsequently didn’t just pimp a homer—he shouted at Maholm all the way around the bases. If you don’t remember McCann’s wild reaction, it’s worth reading about, here.

(You can go even farther back, to 2010, to see Gomez acting similarly against the Twins. At least the guy’s consistent.)

It is the right of Cole and every other pitcher to offer verbal warnings to those who they feel are showing them up. It is Gomez’s right to respond in kind—verbally—which is what he insists he was doing, right up to the point that the Pirates’ dugout emptied.

“[Cole tells] me something, I tell him something back, everything is normal, I talk to the umpire,” Gomez said. “And then Snider comes like a superhero and tries to throw punches at everybody. I just tried to protect myself.”

Judging by the videotape, however, Gomez appears to have thrown the first punch … not to mention the part where he approached Cole rather than shouting from his station upon third. One can hardly fault the Pirates for responding to a guy charging their pitcher, even he did it in slow motion.

(Amid it all, Gomez broke another unwritten rule—not just of baseball, but of life: Throwing the first punch when surrounded by friends of the guy you’re swinging at rarely ends well for you. Aside from his third base coach, Gomez was encircled by Pirates at the time of the incident.)

If nothing else, Gomez reinforced a notion that had become apparent during last year’s incident with McMann: It’s not too tough to get inside his head. Yesterday, all it took were a few stern words from Cole, and Gomez over-reacted himself right into an ejection. This would matter less if Gomez was a marginal player, but the guy is a centerpiece of his team’s offense.

Getting his goat is now officially on the table as a legitimate strategy; don’t be surprised to see it enacted once the games really start do matter down the stretch.

 

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Filed under Bat tossing, Carlos Gomez, Don't Showboat

Wayback Machine: Pimping on the Farm, Circa 1994

Via Deadspin this afternoon, a long-lost clip of what may be the most audacious home run pimping in this history of home run pimps  (or at least that which has been captured on video).

Behold, Rich Aude of the Buffalo Bisons.

In his defense: It was a game-winner, in his home ballpark. To his detriment: Everything else.

According to the Buffalo News, the pitcher, Bob Wishnevski of the Springfield Redbirds, exacted revenge two months later, drilling Aude in the back.  

The first baseman went on to appear in 62 games over parts of three seasons with the Pirates. He apparently got his act together, because he was never hit by a pitch at the big league level.

 

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