Aroldis Chapman, Don't Showboat

Stop, Drop and Roll: Chapman’s Tumble Has Folks Talking

The evolution of self-congratulation in baseball has been long and storied. Reggie Jackson lingering in the batter’s box.  Barry Bonds’s twirls and Sammy Sosa’s bunny hops en route to first base. Earlier this season we had Yoenis Cespedes, who in his third major league game took some liberties while watching a mammoth shot off of Seattle’s Jason Vargas.

It’s that last one that holds the most relevance to today’s story, which features another recent Cuban émigré, in possession of perhaps not the firmest grasp of baseball mores, celebrating his own achievement with a literally over-the-top display that was well-received by neither opponents nor teammates.

When Aroldis Chapman tumbles, people pay attention.

After closing out a 4-3 victory over Milwaukee on Tuesday, Chapman celebrated by doing a double somersault toward the plate. The guy was delighted after getting back on track following consecutive blown saves and an 11.37 ERA over his previous seven outings, and his display of exuberance was unlike any baseball had yet seen. (Watch it here.)

It’s unlikely that Chapman intended to show up the Brewers, but there’s little gray area in baseball when it comes to this sort of thing; rarely is an example of unnecessary showboating so blatant.

“It’s about professionalism . . .” Joey Votto told the Cincinnati Enquirer. “It’s just not how you do things.”

Chapman, of course, has a bit of history when it comes to making curious decisions. There’s the ticket for driving nearly 100 mph with a suspended license. There’s the stripper girlfriend who may or may not have been involved with robbing his hotel room. Both are the mark of a young guy who hasn’t yet achieved full maturity. So, for that matter, is his tumble off the mound. One difference: The first two don’t inspire opposing pitchers to drill him.

Actually, since closers rarely bat, should the Brewers opt to take his celebration the wrong way it’ll likely be one of Chapman’s teammates who ends up paying for his mistake. Which is why members of the Cincinnati clubhouse were so quick to pile on following the game.

“We don’t play like that,” said manager Dusty Baker in an MLB.com report, adding in the Enquirer that “it’ ain’t no joke,” and that “it won’t happen again, ever.”

“You can’t be doing that,” said catcher Ryan Hanigan. Votto, Jay Bruce and pitching coach Bryan Price spoke with Chapman after the game. From John Paul Morosi’s report: “By the time Chapman returned to the clubhouse, the smile he wore on the field was gone. He rested his forehead on a bat as he sat silently at his locker. He declined comment through a team official, saying he was not ‘mentally ready’ to take questions from the media.”

This was important. It told the Brewers that, regardless of how they might respond the following day, the Cincinnati organization was on top of the matter. That kind of thing can make a difference, as evidenced by the fact that Wednesday’s game featured no hit batters. That could have been due to the fact that the score was too close to chance retaliation until the ninth, or that Brewers manager Ron Roenicke spent parts of three seasons as Baker’s teammate on the Dodgers, and understands how his counterpart feels about this kind of thing. Or maybe it’s just that Milwaukee has considerable recent history with its own displays of showboating.

Still, some comfort can be taken from knowing that a situation has been handled; Baker has seen it first-hand. From The Baseball Codes:

In a game in 1996, the Giants trailed Los Angeles 11–2 in the ninth inning, and decided to station first baseman Mark Carreon at his normal depth, ignoring the runner at first, Roger Cedeno. When Cedeno, just twenty-one years old and in his first April as a big-leaguer, saw that nobody was bothering to hold him on, he headed for second—by any interpretation a horrible decision.

As the runner, safe, dusted himself off, Giants third baseman Matt Williams lit into him verbally, as did second baseman Steve Scarsone, left fielder Mel Hall, and manager Dusty Baker. Williams grew so heated that several teammates raced over to restrain him from going after the young Dodgers outfielder. . . .

At second base, Scarsone asked Cedeno if he thought it was a full count, and the outfielder responded that, no, he was just confused. “If he’s that confused, somebody ought to give him a manual on how to play baseball,” said Baker after the game. “I’ve never seen anybody that con­fused.”

In the end, it was Eric Karros [who had been up to bat when this all went down] who saved Cedeno. When he stepped out of the box, as members of the Giants harangued the bewildered baserunner, Karros didn’t simply watch idly—he turned toward the San Francisco bench and informed them that Cedeno had run without a shred of insti­tutional authority, and that Karros himself would ensure that justice was administered once the game ended. Sure enough, as Cedeno sat at his locker after the game, it was obvious to observers that he had been crying. Though the young player refused to comment, it appeared that Karros had been true to his word. “Ignorance and youth really aren’t any excuse,” said Dodgers catcher Mike Piazza, “but we were able to cool things down.”

If there’s any ongoing resentment toward Chapman among the Brewers, we likely won’t know it until July 20, shortly after the All-Star Game, when the teams meet in Cincinnati. (Then again, if rosters hold, Votto and Ryan Braun will have all kinds of time to discuss the situation as members of the National League squad.)

Unlikely as the eventuality may be, should the Brewers decide to retaliate, and they do it in appropriate fashion, it would be shocking to hear a peep of protest from Baker.

Don't Showboat, Foreign players, Yoenes Cespedes, Yoenes Cespedes

Watch and Learn: Cespedes’ First Code Lesson

Last weekend brought us this season’s first incident of a foreign player being brought quickly up to speed with this country’s baseball mores. It also brought us the lesson that reticence doesn’t always count for a whole lot.

The student: Oakland outfielder Yoenes Cespedes, who on Friday pummeled a Jason Vargas fastball 462 feet, the ball landing above the luxury suites in left-center field at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum—a blast impressive enough to inspire the hitter to stand and watch it fly. (Watch it here.)

The teacher: Seattle’s Felix Hernandez, who drilled Cespedes the following day. First base was open, and the Mariners led 7-0 at the time.

Deserving or not, this was a lesson that Cespedes—a recent immigrant from Cuba—did not require. The guy had played in all of three major league games when he went deep, and seemed to quickly recognize his error.

“I followed the ball, but I don’t like that to do that again,” he said in the San Francisco Chronicle, following Friday’s game. “I come from Cuba, where it’s a little less quality games, so we do that. But here I don’t want to do that.”

That didn’t seem to matter to Hernandez. Although the right-hander denied it, Cespedes said he was “100 percent for sure” that the drilling was intentional, according to the San Jose Mercury News.

In the end, it doesn’t much matter. The lesson was sent, intentional or not, and the American League’s early home run leader came away just a bit wiser.

– Jason

Appropriate Retaliation, Carlos Guillen, Jered Weaver, Retaliation

How Not to Retaliate, No Matter How Much a Guy Deserves it, Anaheim Edition

Yesterday’s Jered WeaverCarlos Guillen histrionics seemed to mesmerize the nation. I wrote about it for Sports Illustrated.com, tying it in to last week’s Carlos CarrascoBilly Butler fiasco. Both had the same trigger—a player watching a home run longer than the pitcher would have liked—and wildly inappropriate retaliation: head-high fastballs. (Watch Weaver-Guillen here.)

Also included: A quick roundup of other Code violations recently in the news.

Click over to SI for a nicely formatted version and a full-color photograph of Weaver and Guillen. Or, if you’re lazy, just scroll down.

– Jason

Jered, meet Carlos. Carlos, Jered.

Insult me once, shame on you. Insult me twice, duck and cover.

In Detroit on Sunday, Angels pitcher Jered Weaver took matters into his own hands after two incidents of Tigers showboating after hitting home runs. Weaver stewed after Magglio Ordoñez paused to admire his two-run homer in the third, going so far as to say something to Miguel Cabrera about it after retiring him for the inning’s third out.

Whatever message Cabrera relayed in the Detroit dugout did not earn Weaver the respect to which he felt entitled. In fact, it had the opposite effect. In the seventh inning, Carlos Guillen watched his blast for several beats, flipped his bat, then made glaring eye contact with Weaver as he took five slow steps toward first followed by two sideways hops. Only then did he start his trot — by which point he was already halfway up the line.

“I’ve never done that before like that,” Guillen said in an MLB.com report. “The way he reacted to Magglio, he’s my teammate. We’re a team.”

Weaver immediately began shouting at Guillen and home plate umpire Hunter Wendelstedt quickly stepped in and warned both benches against retaliation.

Weaver wasted little time ignoring him. The guy can’t be faulted much for wanting to take care of things quickly; he had already thrown 110 pitches and wasn’t going to be in the game much longer no matter what happened. The message he sent with his very next pitch, however, was anything but perfect. If Ordoñez and Guillen violated baseball’s unwritten rules with their increasingly provocative displays of showmanship, Weaver one-upped them with a 92-mph fastball aimed at the head of Alex Avila.

That Avila ducked under it was beneficial not just for himself, but for Weaver as well. Had the pitch connected, one of the AL’s top Cy Young candidates would now be bearing a label he might never be able to shed.

The move was all the more quizzical considering that just two days earlier, nearly identical circumstances precipitated nearly identical results — and a similar outcry against the pitcher.

The hitter was Kansas City’s Melky Cabrera, who after launching a grand slam off Indians starter Carlos Carrasco, watched it sail before he ran. Carrasco, already on the line for seven runs in 3 1/3 innings, threw his next pitch at — and over — the head of Billy Butler.

Carrasco was ejected and benches emptied. Royals outfielder Jeff Francoeur could be seen gesturing angrily toward his hip as he yelled at Carrasco, indicating where the pitch should have gone.

“I understand the game,” Francoeur told the Cleveland Plain-Dealer. “If he thought [Cabrera] pimped the home run, fine. Hit [Butler] in the side. Don’t hit him in the head. That’s why I was yelling at him.”

Francoeur was spot on. Several Royals, including Butler himself, said that an appropriately placed retaliatory pitch would have raised nary a hackle on their bench. Instead, Carrasco is now a marked man.

The same can be said for Weaver. The Angels and Tigers won’t see each other again this season unless they meet in the playoffs. The next time they do, however, Weaver will have to do some explaining to his teammates should Detroit pitchers decide that his action merits further response.

*****

Weaver and the Tigers’ twin showmen weren’t the only ones taking a run at the unwritten rulebook during the course of Sunday’s game. Justin Verlander was in the middle of a no-hitter when Erick Aybar led off the eighth inning with a bunt.

There are situations in which the unwritten rules forbid such a display. Had the Tigers’ 3-0 lead been a few runs greater, Aybar’s endeavor would have been universally assailed by Code adherents. As it was, even as he brought the tying run into the on-deck circle, he still surprised many.

The concept holds that a no-hitter deserves nothing less than a hitter’s best effort to break it up. In many cases, bunting does not qualify.

The best-known instance of this came in 2001, when Padres catcher Ben Davis ruined Curt Schilling’s perfect game with a bunt single in the eighth inning. Part of the reason Diamondbacks manager Bob Brenly was so vocally upset about the play is that bunting for hits was not part of Davis’ offensive repertoire; the one against Schilling was the first of his career.

Aybar, however, has 41 bunt hits since the beginning of the 2009 season. Not to mention the fact that he didn’t actually break up the no-hitter, as Verlander was charged with a throwing error on the play. Three batters later, Macier Itzuris punctured Verlander’s balloon by singling — on a full swing.

If Verlander is upset with anybody, it should be Guillen. The Code stipulates that nothing should change when a pitcher is racing toward perfection. There are many ways to view this rule, but one of the pitcher’s own teammates intentionally initiating bad blood with the opposition and disrupting the flow of the game is inexcusable.

Guillen likely hasn’t heard the last of this from the Angels. If he’s lucky, he won’t hear it from within his own clubhouse, as well.

Elsewhere in the unwritten rules:

• In Boston, John Lackey continues to lead the league in on-field gesticulations made in response to mistakes by his fielders. Spurred primarily by two miscues from shortstop Marco Scutaro — one of which was charged an error — Lackey alternately pounded his glove and threw his hands into the air as he gave up three first-inning runs to Tampa Bay on July 16.

• Also in Boston, Red Sox reliever Alfredo Aceves hit Kansas City’s Billy Butler on July 26 — possibly in response to a brushback pitch thrown to Dustin Pedroia earlier in the game; or possibly because Butler had homered, doubled and singled in the game. It also could have been unintentional. No matter; Blake Wood then drilled Adrian Gonzalez in apparent retaliation, both benches were warned and everybody went on their merry way. (Well, Boston went on its merry way in a 13-9 victory, in which Royals outfielder Mitch Maier was forced to take the mound.)

• In Florida, Mr. Marlin himself, Jeff Conine (currently a special assistant to the team president) said on the radio that Hanley Ramirez doesn’t play as hard as he should, and if it was up to Conine he’d probably trade the shortstop. Five days later Ramirez shot back in the Miami Herald, calling Conine “chicken” for not saying it to his face, and proclaiming that he would “make it to the Hall of Fame being in a Marlins uniform.”

• In Kansas City, Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar was on the business end of a hard slide by Tampa Bay’s Sam Fuld, and ended up taking spikes to the shin. “That’s a dirty slide, man,” he told the Kansas City Star.

• In Atlanta, Journal-Constitution columnist Mark Bradley recalled the time the retired former Braves ace Greg Maddux waited through parts of two seasons before he could retaliate against then-Diamondbacks pitcher Andy Benes.

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 Showboat

Hey, Pitcher: Bryce Harper Sends his Love

At this point, the minor leagues are a mixed bag for Bryce Harper. On one hand, he has to deal with long bus rides and crappy clubhouse food.

On the other hand, accounts of the firestorm he ignited yesterday by blowing a kiss to the pitcher who had just served him up a home run are inevitably concluded with a caveat along the lines of, “It’s the minor leagues; this is all part of the learning process.”

(Of course, were he in the majors, the video of his little discrepancy wouldn’t be embeddable, and thus watched across countless Web pages this morning.)

After Harper smacked his homer against Greensboro’s Zach Neal, he stood in the box, then slowly—slooooowly—walked up the line as he watched it clear the fence. That alone would have earned him a drilling at the big league level, but as he crossed the plate he upped the ante, turning his head toward Neal and puckering his lips.

It was stupid. It was juvenile. But ultimately those caveats were right: it is what the minor leagues are for. Harper is 18 years old. His actions indicated neither class nor respect, but those things are not necessarily inherent in teenaged humans.

Duane Kuiper was on the radio in San Francisco yesterday, before this story broke, talking about the MLB draft. Had he signed a pro contract straight out of high school, he said, moving from his family’s Wisconsin farm directly to the minor leagues, he would have ended up right back on that farm inside of two seasons. Some kids are ready at that age to make such leap, but by his own admission, Kuiper (who ultimately graduated from Southern Illinois University) of was not one of them.

Harper might not be one of them, either. Going back to the farm, however, is not an option. The $9.9 million contract he signed has placed him higher on the food chain than peers and coaches alike. He was on the cover of Sports Illustrated at age 16, and has had his ass kissed on a fairly consistent basis for the bulk of his teenage life. This is not his fault (nor is it even necessarily a bad thing), but it hardly encourages appropriate development of socialization skills.

He’s clearly aware that a quick ascension to the big leagues is all but assured, no matter how boorish his behavior.

Greensboro’s response—in Harper’s next at-bat he was backed up by an inside fastball—had about as much teeth as anything else the guy will face as long as he’s the biggest fish (by a wide margin) in a comparatively small pond. He will become socialized some day—when veterans whose status and contracts exceed his own put him in his place.

“At some point the game itself, the competition on the field, is going to have to figure out a way to police this young man,” said Mike Schmidt on SportsCenter. “If indeed his manager won’t, the game will end up taking care of it.”

That’s the way of the Code. Until Harper reaches the big leagues, however, let’s see him for what he is: a clueless 18-year-old who deserves a chance to figure things out.

– Jason

Update (June 8): Oh, my. Now there’s this.

Bat tossing, Don't Showboat, Josh Beckett, Luke Scott

Scott Flips Bat, Beckett Flips Out

With all the recent flap about Felipe Lopez’s bat flip against the White Sox, it seems worth pointing out that he’s not the only guy doing such things this season.

Last week, Orioles outfielder Luke Scott tossed his bat with considerable verve after hitting a monster home run against Josh Beckett. This may have gone unnoticed had Beckett not tried to shout him down in the aftermath, then gotten into an argument with the umpire over it.

(Unfortunately, MLB.com’s video cuts away before the bat flip on every single replay.)

After the inning, Beckett was approached by plate ump Fieldin Culbreth, which culminated in an animated conversation during which the pitcher gestured toward the Orioles dugout. One possibility: Culbreth was warning him against retaliation. (If so, it worked; Beckett faced Scott once more in the game, retiring him on a fly ball.)

For a guy so clearly perturbed, Beckett wasn’t much in the mood after the game to deconstruct the moment with reporters.

“What is this, TMZ?” he said. “I thought we were talking about a baseball game. You want to know about bat flips and talking to umpires. I think, why don’t we just stick to the game.”

It’s a fair enough tactic. If Beckett expressed sufficient outrage it’d be all the easier to pin him with the drilling for which Scott seems destined. The one clue Beckett offered up to the press: “These things have a way of working themselves out.”

The teams next meet May 16.

– Jason

Don't Showboat, Jose Bautista, Retaliation

Bautista’s Game-Winning Homer Conveys Message, then he Conveys it Again

Jose Bautista’s first home run Monday meant little on its own, save for being the slugger’s major league-leading 39th of the season.

His second home run Monday meant a lot more, at least to him.

The difference: What happened in between.

That would be the sixth-inning fastball that Yankees starter Ivan Nova sent spinning toward—and ultimately over—Bautista’s head.

The hitter took it as a response to his earlier bomb. Nova was more likely just wild, considering that it was his first start as a big leaguer. Bautista had words for the right-hander as he approached the mound, Nova didn’t back down at all and benches and bullpens quickly emptied onto the field.

Although no punches were thrown, the incident served as a prelude for an interesting response from Bautista after he hit another home run, in the eighth.

Baseball will tolerate a degree of showboating, so long as it’s in response to a Code violation. Bautista’s reaction to his second home run (the eventual game-winner, hit off of reliever David Robertson) started with a bat flip in conjunction with a glare toward the mound. It ended with one of the slowest home-run trots in the big leagues this season, and some fist pumping upon reaching the plate. (Watch it here.)

In addition is the notion that rookies must be tested, which, admitted Bautista, is what motivated his sixth-inning outburst, at least in part.

“I was just trying to see what kind of reaction I was going to get from him,” he said in the Bergen Record. “I was surprised to see he was pretty defiant. He was walking up toward me and flashing his hands up and started yelling.”

Part of Bautista’s motivation was to use Nova’s response to gauge intent. Despite the pitcher’s repeated assertion (in Spanish) that “I don’t want to hit you,” that, said Bautista, was “when I felt that the pitch was intentional.”

Bautista might have already been angry at a Toronto Star columnist who suggested that his power surge might be artificially fueled, using exactly zero pieces of evidence to back up his claim. (Bautista denied everything.)

Blue Jays fans can only hope that he continues to take out his anger on baseballs across the league.

– Jason

Don't Showboat, Don't Call out Opponents in the Press, Jose Valverde, Miguel Montero

War of Words Brews in Motown Following Valverde’s Dramatics

Valverde in action, back when he was with the Diamondbacks.

We got a Code twofer this weekend, with on-field actions drawing a response that is itself governed by baseball’s unwritten rules.

It started with Tigers closer Jose Valverde, whose antics atop a pitcher’s mound are well established. He spins, spits, hops, jumps and pumps his fists at regular intervals. It’s an ongoing display that has earned its own Facebook fan page, but still doesn’t seem to bother the likes of Nick Swisher and Mark Teixeira, who claimed after facing him last week that they had bigger things to worry about than Valverde’s body language. (Watch his routine against the Yankees here.)

Not everyone in baseball agrees.

Arizona catcher Miguel Montero decided on Friday that he had seen enough of Valverde’s act, following the right-hander’s celebratory gesticulations during and after shutting down the Diamondbacks in the ninth inning. (This included a strikeout of Montero, after which Valverde bent over, then hopped off the mound.)

“He’s a (bleeping bleep),” Montero told the Arizona Republic after the game. “The way he acts, it’s not right, you know?”

Montero’s knowledge, of course, goes deeper than being insulted on the field. The two were D-Backs teammates in 2007, and for the handful of games that Montero was in the big leagues in ’06.

“You’ve got to be professional,” added Montero. “I’ve always felt that way, and I’ve always told him. That’s the way he is. I guess he thinks it’s right, but I don’t care.”

He also added that Valverde didn’t have the “kind of brain” to be smart enough to throw three straight splitters to strike him out.

Children are taught that two wrongs don’t make a right, but in this case, Montero adding a public lambasting of his opponent to said opponent’s initial theatrics made for some quality entertainment.

That’s because by the end of the weekend, Valverde shot back.

“Tell Montero he’s a freaking rookie and I can do whatever I want to,” Valverde said in Sunday’s Arizona Republic. “Tell him that. Put it in the papers. If he wants to do something, tell him to come to my locker and let me know. I never liked Montero. He’s a (bleeping) piece of (bleep). Tell Montero he has two years (in the majors) and I have eight.”

Montero responded quickly, saying that “it doesn’t matter if he’s got eight years. I don’t think he’s got eight years because he got sent down seven or eight times. That really doesn’t count. When you get sent down your major league service stops counting. He got called up in ’02 and he got sent down in ’02 and ’03 and ’04 and ’05 and ’06. I guess this year he was a free agent so that let me know he got six years. In four out of six years he’s given up 100 runs a year. He’s only had two good years in his career. So what? He’s still a (bleep) to me.”

These are baseball players, of course, not mathematicians. Montero is in his fourth season, and, reported the Republic, only one of Valverde’s minor league stints from 2003-06 was due to demotion, rather than to injury rehab assignments.

During his initial blast, Montero said that at the earliest possibility against Valverde, he was “going to pimp it”—assumedly talking about showboating at the plate to a similar degree that Valverde does on the mound.

This would have been an appropriate response. Taking one’s beef to the press: not so much.

But entertaining. Always entertaining.

– Jason

Brandon Phillips, Don't Showboat, Miguel Batista

Phillips Preens, Nats Respond

The Code was at work Saturday in Washington—and it worked perfectly.

There was Cincinnati’s Brandon Phillips, pounding his chest in the eighth inning after dislodging the ball from Nationals catcher Wil Nieves on a play at the plate, the run he scored extending his team’s lead to 5-1.

There was Washington reliever Miguel Batista the following inning, placing a 93 mph fastball into Phillips’ ribs.

There was Phillips, failing even to flinch before jogging to first base without so much as acknowledging what had just happened. (Watch it here.)

Situation ignited, situation handled, situation resolved.

While telling reporters after the game that he plays with excitement, and that he didn’t see anything wrong with his actions, Phillips made sure to add that “if people think I did something wrong, I apologize to whoever thinks so. . . . They did their job and I did mine. Lesson learned.”

In the other clubhouse, Batista—who was ejected by umpire Joe West after hitting Phillips—held up his end of the bargain by denying all intent.

“No, just playing baseball,” he said in the Washington Post, when asked if he had meant to hit Phillips. “Everybody knows Phillips, you got to go way in and way out . . . and that one got away. I mean, he knows he did wrong. He got booed by the fans, so we’re here to win. We’re not here to be fine with everybody who do wrong against us. . . . If it looks suspicious, (West) has the right to throw me out, but he was the only one that thought it was intentional. ”

Batista would have benefitted from coordinating stories with his catcher.

“I think everybody in the ballpark kind of knew that that was going to happen,” Nieves told the Post. “So he got hit, and I thought he got hit where he was supposed to. Not in the head. Obviously, we don’t play like that. Miguel hit him in a good spot.”

“I’m pretty sure he knew he did it wrong,” he added. “Hopefully. And hopefully he won’t do it again.”

– Jason

Carlos Gomez, Don't Showboat

Gomez Flips, Trips, Quips – and Ultimately Slips out of Trouble

As has long been trumpeted in this space, the unwritten rules are less about on-field actions than the meaning behind those actions. It’s why something as innocuous as a stolen base can serve to enrage an entire roster should it occur at an inopportune moment.

The inverse is also true. Should a ballplayer do something that by most indicators is viewed as disrespectful, he can get away with it if the opposition understands where he’s coming from.

So it went last week with Milwaukee’s Carlos Gomez, who actually hit a trifecta of sorts in a game against the Twins.

He hit a monster home run, then admired it.

Then he flipped his bat—which clipped Minnesota catcher Joe Mauer’s wrist on the way down—and threw up his hands in victory.

Mauer waited for Gomez to circle the bases, then mentioned to him that he might want to be more careful in the future. Gomez—without even bothering to turn around, threw up his arms and, back to his opponent, gave Mauer wiggly fingered jazz hands, indicating that he wanted no part of whatever it was the catcher was trying to convey. (Watch it here.)

All of this for a home run that came while his team was trailing, 15-0.

None of this was even remotely okay. Gomez, however, had some things working in his favor.

Most immediately was the fact that he spent the previous two seasons in Minnesota, which gave the Twins a long taste of his exuberance in such situations. He even paid a visit to the opposing clubhouse before the game, to greet manager Ron Gardenhire and his former teammates.

Because they’d seen his act before, they knew it was not personal. (They also knew that he’d just come off the disabled list, and was especially excited to forge a strong start.)

“Just one of those moments that we know Go-Go can have every once in a while,” said Gardenhire in the Associated Press report. “He was excited, and it just happened.”

“We played with him the last couple years, that’s the type of player he is,” Twins starter Nick Blackburn told MLB.com. “It made me mad, but I shouldn’t be getting mad at stuff like that. I’m sure everyone on his team also knew he shouldn’t have done it, but that’s the type of guy he is. He gets so caught up in the moment.”

Even more importantly, Gomez recognized what he did, nearly as soon as he did it. Upon returning to the dugout, he was informed by teammate Joe Inglett that Mauer was offering words of caution, not talking smack.

Gomez regretted his actions immediately. After the game he offered blanket apologies for his actions.

“I didn’t even know the bat was going to hit him,” he said. “I’ll say again: I didn’t try to do this. . . . I had a good night, but you have to be more professional.”

MLB.com quoted him as saying, “Right now, I feel bad because Blackburn is one of the good friends I’ve got over there. I apologized because I don’t want to try to show him up.”

Gomez also addressed the notion of getting drilled the following day, adding, “I’m going to take it like a man because I know I did [something] bad.”

That might have been enough to get him off the hook; he wasn’t hit by a pitch for the remainder of the series.

– Jason