Don't Showboat, Jose Fernandez

Fernandez Ends Splendid Season with Awful Day, Ends Awful Day With Splendid Response

Fernandez homersIt’s been a long time since we’ve seen a player melt down so thoroughly in so short a time, but Jose Fernandez put on a show on Wednesday.

But for every instance that inspired reminders of the 21-year-old’s immaturity, he managed to recover as well as any player could hope to following a display such as his.

A small accounting:

  • Top of the fifth inning: Justin Upton blasts a ball to center field, which is tracked down by Justin Ruggiano. From the mound, Fernandez is all smiles.
  • Top of the sixth: Atlanta’s Evan Gattis responds after hitting a 96-mph fastball into the left field bleachers by admiring it for a moment while briefly staring down the pitcher. Fernandez notices. (Watch it here.)
  • Two hitters later, Chris Johnson and Fernandez exchange words after Johnson flies out to center field.
  • Bottom of the sixth: Fernandez blasts a nearly 400-foot drive off Braves left-hander Mike Minor for his first career homer, flips his bat away and—ostensibly in response to Gattis—stands to admire it. This is not an innocent would-be slugger in awe of his own unexpected power; the move is intended to disrespect the Braves, who take it precisely that way.
  • Fernandez begins an exceedingly slow trip around the bases—28.58 seconds, according to Tater Trot Tracker. (It would likely be among the five slowest in baseball this year if David Ortiz had taken up a profession other than baseball.) Minor stared him down much of the way.
  • As he rounds third—Johnson’s position—Fernandez spits toward the base.
  • When Fernandez crosses the plate, Braves catcher Brian McCann informs him of the ways in which he has behaved badly. “You’re a kid and you’re in the big leagues and you need to do what big leaguers do,” Fernandez recalled him saying in an MLB.com report. The players go nearly nose to nose.
  • Johnson sprints in from third (making you-talk-too-much motions with his hand), and the benches and bullpens empty.
  • In the aftermath, Fernandez paces the dugout, smiling. (Watch it all here.)

It’s easy to quibble about overreaction and the unnecessary sensitivity of ballplayers, but there’s no mistaking the fact that messages of disrespect were delivered from both parties, and received as intended—none louder than Fernandez’s. That it came from a rookie only served to amplify things.

At this point, of course, Fernandez must be given credit for attempting to pacify the situation almost as soon as it came to a head, telling McCann during their confrontation that, “I’m sorry, the game got the best of me,” he recalled after the game in an MLB.com report.

“[McCann] was talking to me as a friend, or a dad, teaching a kid,” he said. “That’s how I felt.”

Fernandez later said that he was embarrassed by his actions, saying “it’s something that can’t happen. It’s not good for baseball.”

The incident also illustrated the importance of quality leadership, particularly on the part of Marlins manager Mike Redmond.  “Tonight showed some immaturity on Jose’s part …” he said. “He got caught up in the emotions, but I’m not happy. It really ruined the night for me. I know that will never happen again. … We respect the game.”

Redmond took things a step further, making sure that Fernandez’s actions did not carry over. A meeting was set up in a hallway underneath Marlins Park, where Fernandez apologized personally to McCann and Minor.

This is unusual in baseball circles, but hardly precedent-setting. In 2006, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire led Torii Hunter across the ballpark to apologize to Red Sox brass for swinging hard at a 3-0 pitch while the Twins held an 8-1, eighth-inning lead.

Unlike the Fernandez situation, there was no disrespect intended on Hunter’s part. Precisely like the Fernandez situation, it did not matter—perception is everything. From The Baseball Codes:

After the game, Gardenhire took the outfielder to the visitors’ club­house to speak to Red Sox manager Terry Francona, trying to wipe away the potential for hard feelings. To abide by the unwritten rule that bars opposing players from the locker room, the meeting took place in a rear laundry room in the bowels of the Metrodome. There Hunter informed both managers that he had swung out of inattention, not disrespect.

“We wanted to make sure [Francona] understood,” said Gardenhire. “I went there to let him know that I know the game too. It’s a manager’s responsibility when a player swings 3-0 to make sure the player under­stands that. I wanted him to know we didn’t give a sign for him to swing away, that Torii just made a mistake. I thought that it was good for Torii to explain it to him, so I took him over.”

“You see those types of things and you know it’s being taken care of internally,” said Red Sox pitching coach Al Nipper about the Hunter incident. “You say, Hey, it’s an honest mistake, it wasn’t something intentional, where the guy’s trying to show you up. We all make mistakes in this game.”

Fernandez’s mistake was considerably more profound, but his reaction was appropriate.

“I feel I don’t deserve to be here, because this isn’t high school no more,” he said after the game. “This is a professional game, and we should be professional players. I think that never should happen. I’m embarrassed, and hopefully that will never happen again.”

Wednesday was the final start of Fernandez’s season, with his team enforcing an innings limit on his young arm. The guy will probably go on to win Rookie of the Year, but, starting with his confrontation with McCann, he’s already begun to display the maturity of a veteran.

Bat tossing, Rookie Etiquette, Wil Myers

Flipping Out: Myers Makes the Most of His Sixth Career Homer

Myers flip
Click image for GIF.

From The Baseball Codes:

When Phillies rookie Jimmy Rollins flipped his bat after hitting a home run off St. Louis reliever Steve Kline in 2001, the Cardinals pitcher went ballis­tic, screaming as he followed Rollins around the bases. “I called him every name in the book, tried to get him to fight,” said Kline. The pitcher stopped only upon reaching Philadelphia third baseman Scott Rolen, who was moving into the on-deck circle and alleviated the situation by assuring him that members of the Phillies would take care of it internally.

I bring this up because of Wil Myers’ reaction to the first of two home runs he hit Sunday against Yankees starter Phil Hughes. There’s no mistaking the rookie’s bravado, and the fact that he did it against a seven-year vet struggling to find his way in the game certainly didn’t help matters. (It’s also not the first time for him.)

The Yankees opted against making it a public issue, but place Kline’s commentary after Rollins’ blast—which was only the third of his career—within the mainstream:

“That’s fucking Little League shit. If you’re going to flip the bat, I’m going to flip your helmet next time. You’re a rookie, you respect this game for a while. . . . There’s a code. He should know better than that.”

Kline never responded from the mound, because he faced Rollins only five more times over the course of his career, all with the game on the line. The Yankees visit Tampa Bay in late August. The convictions of New York’s pitching staff will be made apparent then.

Myers flip II

Don't Showboat

Today’s Lesson in Minor League Etiquette: Don’t Pimp if You Play for the Twins

Miguel Sano
Miguel Sano

Regardless of how you feel about baseball’s unwritten rules—and there are many who decry the eye-for-an-eye mentality of retaliatory HBPs—it is difficult to quibble with the sentiment at their core: enforcement of respect on a baseball diamond. Respect for one’s opponents. Respect for one’s teammates. Respect for the game.

In this regard, the Twins are proving to be an exemplary organization.

Big league ballclubs tolerate flashy displays by their players all the time, because picking one’s battles becomes an increasingly relevant pursuit when it comes to emotionally fragile superstars who are locked into multiyear deals. This leaves it up to the opposition to settle the score. Hence, the aforementioned retaliatory HBPs.

The period before these players reach multimillionaire status, however, presents a fertile time during which to instill appropriate work habits. Which the Twins appear to be doing.

On Tuesday, for example, Miguel Sano, playing for the team’s Double-A club in New Britain, hit a long home run, then watched it, then settled into a glacial home run trot that saw him take 29 seconds to round the bases. He did it against a Portland pitcher, Bobby Lanigan, who had until only recently been his teammate.

It was not the first time that Sano, the third-ranked overall prospect in the minor leagues according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press, has encountered such trouble. In April, he hit a grand slam while playing for Single-A Fort Meyers, then overtly flipped his bat. Later in the game, the opposing pitcher threw a fastball at his head in response. Sano reacted to that message with more of the same, homering during the at-bat, then pumping his fist and shouting toward his team’s dugout.

It seems that the Twins have seen enough. Sano was pulled from the game following his display against Portland, and has not seen the field since.

“Just a normal player-development decision,” said Twins farm director Brad Steil in the Pioneer Press. “We have discipline for all sorts of things that we do. This is one of them. He’s not going to play for a few games.”

Critics can decry the concept of retaliatory pitches ad nauseum, but if every organization approached things as proactively as the Twins have handled this situation, there would be far less call for them in the first place.

Update (7/28): After four games, he’s back.

(H/T Hardball Talk.)

Don't Showboat, Juan Guzman, Retaliation

Guzman Takes a Spin Down the Line, Giants Respond

Guzman drilleOn Tuesday, Jesus Guzman belted an eighth-inning, two-run, pinch-hit homer against Giants reliever Jeremy Affeldt to give the Padres a 4-3 lead. This excited him.

He watched the blast. He walked down the line. He held his bat. Eleven steps from the plate he spun 180 degrees, still moving toward first, and, with his back to the pitcher, bellowed toward his teammates in the first-base dugout.

Clearly, the Giants were not amused. How clear became evident during Guzman’s first at-bat on Wednesday, when Madison Bumgarner threw his first pitch waist-high and behind the batter. Guzman shouted toward the mound and pointed his bat at Bumgarner, all while taking the slow steps of a man with no intention of trading punches. (Bumgarner, however, veritably tore down the mound to establish a closer confrontation, and was restrained by on-deck hitter Yasmani Grandal and plate ump Tony Randazzo.)

Although dugouts emptied, each bench was warned and order was quickly restored. (Watch it all here.)

“I was enjoying the home run with my teammates,” Guzman said of his Tuesday night blast, in an MLB.com report. “I wasn’t trying to be disrespectful of their team.”

That may well be true, but even the greenest big leaguer, let alone a guy with four years’ experience—who, by the way, came up with the Giants in 2009 and was a teammate of Affeldt’s—should realize that such a display will almost inevitably be taken poorly.

Bumgarner’s response—a warning shot across the bow, as it were—got the point across: Think for a moment before doing something like that against us again. (Bumgarner, for his part, left his postgame response to the phrase, “There’s no need to comment on that.”)

Ultimately, however, it was Guzman who held the retaliatory trump card. Leading off the seventh against Bumgarner in a 1-1 game, he crushed a home run deep down the left field line. (Watch it here.)

This time he faced the appropriate direction, and ran every step of the way.

Don't Showboat, Jordany Valdespin

Valde-spun: Mets Players Fed Up With Hothead Teammate

Valdespin IVWhen Jordany Valdespin went full pimp after hitting a meaningless late-game homer last week that served merely to pull the Mets to within a 7-2 deficit of Pittsburgh, it was clear that the Pirates were not pleased—as evidenced by Bryan Morris drilling Valdespin the following day.

Turns out his his own teammates didn’t much care for it, either.

“I couldn’t believe he did that,” Mets reliever LaTroy Hawkins told USA Today’s Bob Nightengale. “We were all dumbfounded. It was a bonehead thing to do. And to do that against [pitcher] Jose Contreras? [Contreras] is old enough to be his father, and one of the nicest guys in the world.”

This, it seems, was only the beginning of the problem. As was quickly evidenced by the ensuing firestorm of Valdespin’s angry tweets and Mets fans wondering why New York pitchers never responded to Morris’s blow—how Valdespin’s teammates didn’t have his back, as it were—the idea of protecting a teammate who doesn’t deserve protection became all too real.

During the reporting for The Baseball Codes, current Brewers manager Ron Roenicke put it this way: “You’ve got [a guy], who is doing stuff that you are not happy about, and now he gets hit because of it. You’re sitting here going, ‘I don’t want to fight for him. He deserves what he gets.’ And I think that came into play a lot. ‘Hey, he deserves to get hit, let him handle it.’ ”

Hawkins put it similarly for the Mets, about Valdespin.

“What were we supposed to do there?” he said. “We were down six runs, he hits a home run and he acts like it’s a walk-off. This isn’t Little League. What, now we’re supposed to get into a fight for that? We’re supposed to throw at somebody because he did a bonehead thing? Now, if they throw at him for no reason, that’s a different story. We protect our team. But to do what he did put us in a bad spot, a real bad spot.”

This is a public statement made by a veteran player as a last resort, the kind of thing a guy says only after every other effort to reach his teammate has failed. It’s a measure of desperation, of being fearful that Valdespin’s actions could put an innocent Met in an opponent’s crosshairs, or put put a pitcher in the unenviable position of defending actions that deserve no defense. But Hawkins didn’t stop there.

“He showed absolutely no respect,” he went on to say. “If you’re going to pimp it, you’re going to suffer the consequences. I have no problem defending my teammates, but some things, you just can’t defend against. He’s created a lot of unnecessary tension around here.”

According to Nightengale, Hawkins wasn’t alone in his feelings.

Outfielder Marlon Byrd: “The Pirates did what you were supposed to do.”

Manager Terry Collins: “We’re getting beat 7-1 with a 12-year veteran on the mound. Come on. I don’t care what the fans think. This is the big leagues. It’s a big-man’s game. I told him, ‘Look, it’s not about you. It’s about us. It’s about the team. We’re all trying to teach you a lesson here.’

David Wright called the entire incident “stupid.”

The harshest criticism, however, came from Hawkins, a 40-year-old who over 19 big league seasons has played for 10 teams. If anybody in baseball has earned the mantle of having seen it all, he is the guy.

“Sometimes you have to look yourself in the mirror,” he said. “[Valdespin] has got to ask himself, ‘What can I do to gain the respect back from my teammates?’ And he’s got to come up with that answer on his own. For some reason, he doesn’t want to do things the right way. He wants to do it the hard way. Hopefully, he’ll figure it out, because he’s got a chance to be a damn good ballplayer.”

Operation Public Shaming is officially underway. Never has a passing down of the Code been on more blatant display.

Bat tossing, Don't Showboat

Look at Me, Bitches. Oh, Wait. Look Someplace Else. Anyplace Else. Please, for the Love of God, Look Away.

Bat flip IA good bat flip will typically raise some eyebrows in the opposing dugout, and may put the flipper on the wrong end of an angry pitcher’s crosshairs. (See Jordany Valdespin, just last week.)

Recently, however, Jeon Jun-Woo of the Korean Baseball League’s Lotte Giants gave us one more very important lesson. If you’re going to primp like an arrogant ass, you better make damn sure you have something worth primping for.

With one out in the ninth, Jeon unloaded for what he thought was a game-tying homer. He tossed his bat, with relish. He pointed, first toward the sky, then toward a dugout (though it’s not clear whether it was filled with teammates or opponents).

No matter. The ball was caught at the warning track and Jeon, visibly stunned, stumbled back to his bench. (Watch it here.)

Not sure how they handle such things in Korea, but had he been in the U.S. it’s pretty certain that the reception he received from his teammates—biting and protracted—would have been far more painful than anything an opponent could deliver.

Bat tossing, Don't Showboat, Retaliation

Valdespin Pimps, is Plunked by Pittsburgh, Pouts

Valdespin 3Jordany Valdespin likes it flashy. The guy who made waves last year for comportment unbecoming of a rookie was at it again on Friday, hitting a second-deck homer at Citi Field, watching it, watching it some more, slowly sauntering toward first while dismissively flipping his bat, and only then settling into his home run trot.

The blast came in the ninth inning and served only to bring the Mets to within a 7-2 deficit against Pittsburgh. This may not have mattered when it came to the Pirates’ disdain for Valdespin’s display … but it sure didn’t help.

“When you hit the ball, you got to enjoy your hit,” Valdespin told the New York Daily News afterward. “Every time I hit the ball, homer or something, I enjoy that. Every hit, I’m enjoying, my family’s enjoying, my friends enjoying.”

Enjoyment, of course, comes at a cost. An evening of slurping whiskey sours can lead to dry heaves the next morning. An evening of pimping one’s meaningless homer can lead to Bryan Morris throwing a 94-MPH fastball into your arm the following day. (Watch it all here.)

Prior to Saturday’s game, Mets manager Terry Collins professed no idea of what was in store for Valdespin, although he told the New York Daily News that “fifteen years ago, the answer would’ve been yes [Pittsburgh would have thrown at Valdespin in retaliation]. … A lot of teams have long memories.”

To judge by his actions, however, Collins seemed certain of Pittsburgh’s response. He  inserted the targeted 25-year-old as a pinch-hitter with two outs in the seventh inning of a game in which the Mets trailed, 10-1—almost certainly to allow the Pirates a chance to respond directly, enabling both teams to move on without this particular dark cloud overhead.

When it happened, nobody in the Mets dugout appeared to take much issue (unlike Pittsburgh’s bench, which offered Morris hearty congratulations). Valdespin himself, however, was disgusted. He loitered near the plate (though he made no semblance of a move toward the mound) and sauntered slowly toward first. Afterward, he threw a fit in the dugout, hurling his helmet into a corner.

“Whether you like it or not, it’s just the way it is now,” David Wright told the Daily News, after Valdespin’s pimp, but before Pittsburgh’s retaliation. “I’d probably prefer a different way, but each guy has their own individual thing. I’m always with the theory that you don’t want to show anyone up. With that said, it is done a lot by a lot of people, not just by one individual.”

It is safe to assume that Wright is speaking for the team on this point. Valdespin has been causing organizational headaches since he was a minor leaguer—including issues with teammates at Single-A Savannah that led to a two-month exile in extended spring training, and a benching by Binghamton manager Wally Backman for a “lack of intensity,” according to a Metro WNY report.)

It is of particular organizational concern because situations like Friday’s can put Valdespin’s teammates in the crosshairs. (Because Valdespin did not start Saturday’s game, speculation had Wright becoming Pittsburgh’s target in his absence.)

In Newsday, David Lennon wrote that “Not once Saturday did any of the Mets say they don’t like to see one of their own get hit by a pitch—on purpose, no less. The discussion mostly involved talk about lessons learned and growing pains.” Collins was quoted as saying that “if nothing else, he grew by it, and that’s the most beneficial thing that could happen.”

In the New York Post, Wright soft-pedaled the message that, for Valdespin, “toning some of it down might be appropriate.”

Many in the sports world decry this form of baseball justice as unnecessary and brutal. Many of these same voices also bemoan the modern sporting landscape as having become too ego-focused, with too many look-at-me, eye-rolling moments to palate.

No matter how one feels about it, the dance done by the Mets and Pirates over the weekend is the best hope for professional American sports in this regard, a system of players keeping each other in check—no league mandates or threatened fines involved.  The game is to be played pride and respect, and players themselves ensure that this is so.

Whether Valdespin changes his behavior going forward is no sure thing. In 2011, his manager at Triple-A Buffalo, Tim Teuffel, said this about the outfielder: “Sometimes he looks at the ball when he hits it, doesn’t run as fast as his body will allow him. But I think he’s going to learn how to play the game a little bit more up here.”

For some people, information takes time to sink in. The lesson has been delivered; what Valdespin does with it is up to him. 

 

Don't Showboat, Hanley Ramirez

I See You, Too: Ramirez’s Antics Earn Notice

Thursday, the Dodgers should have known better when it came to dealing with umpires during their game against the Pirates. They didn’t, and it cost them.

In the fourth inning of that same game, Hanley Ramirez homered off of A.J. Burnett. Shortly after rounding second base, he made his by-now-patented “I See You” hand gesture—circles with the index finger and thumb of each hand, placed over his eyes like glasses—aimed at the Los Angeles dugout. (Watch it here.)

His sight line, of course, happened to pass close enough to the pitcher’s mound for one of two possibilities: Burnett misunderstood his intention and took the gesture personally, or the pitcher felt that an opposing player had no business participating in bush-league shenanigans while rounding the bases, intention be damned.

In either case, he’d have been correct.

“If you’re going to hit a homer, act like you’ve hit one before,” Burnett told reporters after the game. “The first batter, [James] Loney, hit one, was very professional about it. Ran hard the whole way.”

Ramirez concocted “I See You” as an update to the “Lo Viste” hand gesture he used in Florida, in which members of the Marlins hold a sideways V made with the index and middle fingers over their eyes (as seen here in a different environment.)

“When I got to the Dodgers, I did ‘Lo Viste’ for [former teammate Emilio] Bonifacio a couple times and it was cool,” Ramirez said in a Miami Herald report. “But then I spoke with [Dodgers shortstop]  Dee Gordon and he said, ‘Let’s do something different. You’re no longer in Miami.’ That’s when we tried to do something new and came up with this. It’s all for fun.”

At least until it ticks off a member of the opposition.

“That’s Hanley,” Ramirez’s former manager, Ozzie Guillen, said in an ESPN.com report. “[If] Hanley hit a home run down by 30 runs, he would pimp it. That’s the way he is . . . It surprised me A.J. didn’t drill him.”

Sure enough, Burnett faced Ramirez with two outs and the bases empty in the sixth, with the Pirates holding an 8-4 lead. There would not be a more opportune moment to make whatever statement he felt necessary, but he did not act.

Then again, Burnett also passed up a similar opportunity earlier this season, despite pointing toward the Reds dugout as a means of warning that just such a thing was imminent after Andrew McCutchen was drilled by Aroldis Chapman, and Josh Harrison was hit, then berated, by Mike Leake the next day.

Reaction, of course, is not the focal point of this subject. That would be “I See You,” which is cute and which keeps things loose and which builds morale on a team in a pennant race. All of this is beneficial. To break it out on the field, in game action, while facing an opposing pitcher, however, is nothing short of inane.

Ramirez left Florida in late July in dubious standing with many of his former teammates. Getting any of his new teammates drilled for an ill-considered on-field decision won’t do much to earn him new friends in Los Angeles.

Don't Showboat, Melky Cabrera

Take That, Atlanta: Cabrera Seizes Every Opportunity to Remind Braves That He’s on His Game

Memories can be long when it comes to failures of the past, and old bitterness sometimes dies hard. There’s little question after Wednesday night’s Giants-Braves game that Melky Cabrera harbors some old bitterness.

He never found his groove during his lone season in Atlanta, in 2010, receiving scant affection from fans, media and the organization itself. Of course, much of it was deserved—he showed up out of shape, hit only four home runs, finished eighth among team regulars with a .255 batting average, and dead last in OBP, slugging and OPS. He feuded with manager Bobby Cox, and the team released him after the season.

When Cabrera returned to Atlanta for the first time since then this week, he wasted few opportunities to make his feelings known. On Tuesday, he gestured (some say rudely) toward fans in the left field bleachers after catching a fly ball, and acted as if he would toss balls to the stands before reversing course and holding on to them. He spent some time admiring his home run off of Mike Minor on Wednesday. (Tater Trot Tracker listed it as the day’s fifth slowest circuit, out of 39.) With Jason Heyward at second on Wednesday, Cabrera caught a flyball and waved at him with his glove as if urging him to test the outfielder’s arm. When Brandon Crawford hit what turned out to be the game-winning homer in the 11th inning on Wednesday, Cabrera left the dugout and skipped up the warning track.

Things had built to such a degree that after he and Gregor Blanco scored on Blanco’s 11th-inning home run Wednesday (shortly following Crawford’s), their standard pelvis-thrusting celebration was taken by many to be inflammatory.

The Braves noticed all of it.

In the eighth inning Wednesday, reliever Eric O’Flaherty threw a high, inside fastball to Carbrera, knocking him to the ground. The gesture elicited a smile from the outfielder.

“That’s Melky, and that’s why he’s not here anymore,” Chipper Jones told the Atlanta Journal Contstitution after the game. “He got a little happy when Blanco hit the home run. It won’t be forgotten.”

(Jones got his own measure of revenge when, after homering in the 11th, he took even longer than Cabrera to round the bases.)

Speculation had Tim Hudson, starting Thursday for the Braves, offering further retaliation, but the score was close throughout, and Cabrera ended up going 2-for-3 with a walk without being hit.

For his part, Cabrera claimed to CSN Bay Area (through interpreter Angel Pagan) that it was all in good fun.

“Just trying to play hard baseball,” he said. “Sometimes when the adrenaline is really high, something might happen. It’s not trying to embarrass anybody. It’s just trying to play hard and competitive.”

Difficult as that may be to believe, Giants manager Bruce Bochy defended his player—although some of it was clearly lip service.

“I don’t think Melky means to [taunt],” he told the San Jose Mercury News. “I’m not into trying to show up other clubs and the guys know it. If you know Melky, he’s quiet and goes about his business. It was more about having fun.”

It’s true that Cabrera has been nothing but quiet and professional to this point in his San Francisco tenure, but it’s tough to mistake much of what he did at Turner Field as anything to do with “having fun.”

Atlanta visits the Giants in late August. Mark your calendars.