Aaron Rowand, Don't Showboat, Los Angeles Dodgers, Manny Ramirez, Retaliation, San Francisco Giants, Vicente Padilla

Padilla, Ramirez, Dodgers Get off Scott-Free Against Giants

In September, Prince Fielder did his bowling-pin routine against the Giants. The next time they faced him, this spring, Fielder was drilled in response.

The Dodgers, apparently, are held to a significantly lower standard.

On Friday, Los Angeles right-hander Vicente Padilla broke Aaron Rowand‘s cheek with a pitch, sending him to the disabled list. To judge by the reaction from the Giants pitching staff—no Dodgers player was hit in response during any point of the three-game series—Fielder’s dance was the more offensive of the two items.

Two days later, in the series finale, Manny Ramirez drilled an eighth-inning, pinch-hit, two-run homer to put his team up, 2-1. The slugger then acknowledged the delirious fans with a curtain call—while Sergio Romo was in the process of pitching to the next hitter.

“Manny being Manny” is a popular refrain around baseball when attempting to describe Ramirez. It’s essentially shorthand for “the guy does what he wants,” which is itself shorthand for “the man is so totally self-absorbed that he doesn’t care how he comes across to the rest of the planet.”

Ramirez’s actions, of course, did nothing more than offend. Padilla’s recklessness cost the Giants their leadoff hitter, with the potential for much greater damage. Padilla swears it was unintentional, and by the Giants’ reaction (or lack thereof), they appear to believe it, too.

This doesn’t change the fact that Padilla is, without exception, the game’s premier head-hunter. He led the American League with 17 hit batsmen in 2006, has finished among the top five in the category four times and was in the top 10 once. He currently leads the National League with three.

(Remember Sean Tracey, the White Sox rookie who was first chewed out, then banished by manager Ozzie Guillen when he failed to drill Hank Blalock in 2006? That Blalock was targeted in the first place was because Padilla [then with the Rangers] had already nailed Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski. Twice. [A week later, White Sox pitcher Jon Garland received his own tongue-lashing from Guillen when he failed to respond after a teammate was hit . . . again by Padilla.])

If Padilla has a defense, it goes like this: The guy hadn’t made it out of the fifth inning in either of his prior starts this season; drilling Rowand (itself in the fifth inning) came after Padilla had already given up three hits, a walk and two runs in the frame, and served to load the bases. If he wasn’t officially on the ropes, he couldn’t have gotten any closer.

Padilla came to bat again in the game, and wasn’t hit. Ramirez’s act Sunday came during a 2-1 game—far too close to even consider retaliation.

The Giants next play the Dodgers in late June. San Francisco will know two things going into that series: Ramirez’s act was laden with more than enough disrespect to merit retaliation. And whether or not Padilla intended to injure Rowand, he thought so little of the incident that he failed to place a call and check up on his victim—itself an unwritten rule in situations like this.

Rowand should be back on the field by then, and like it or not, his opinion will count when it comes to the Giants’ reaction. For now, we can only wait and see what that will be.

– Jason

Don't Showboat

Kendry Morales: ‘I Didn’t Know how the System Here Works’

In this week’s Sports Illustrated, a profile of Angels first baseman Kendry Morales describes the player’s reaction after hitting a long home run in A-ball, on his first professional swing after defecting from Cuba.

The ball cleared the scoreboard before Morales made a move toward first base. “He threw the bat down on top of home plate and watched it go, did a real circus trip around the bases,” says (Angels Scouting Director Eddie) Bane. “I remember Bruce Hines, our minor league coordinator at the time, said, ‘Uh-oh, we’re in trouble here.’ ”

In Cuba, Morales explains, fans expect a slugger to put on a show. But in the U.S. such displays tend to get someone beaned. “Well, not me, but the guy behind me,” Morales says with a chuckle. “I was adjusting. I didn’t know how the system here works.”

Looking at the Code through an international lens can be fascinating. In Latin America, ballplayers are allowed far more leeway when it comes to on-field self-expression than they are in the U.S. In Japan, the Code is so firm — and so stacked against foreigners — that many Americans who play there experience a significant degree of culture shock. (For the ultimate look at the subject, check out “You Gotta Have Wa,” by Robert Whiting.)

During the process of researching The Baseball Codes, we pursued the question of whether the recent influx of Asian players to the major leagues, on top of the already established population of players from Latin America, could serve to alter the unwritten rules.

Aside from the occasional flashy Dominican who points to his heritage as explanation for his unbridled on-field enthusiasm (Carlos Perez, anybody?), the answer is resounding: It hasn’t changed a thing. We interviewed any number of players who made the jump from foreign leagues to America (as well as several Americans who made the reverse trip), and to a man they said it was a struggle to adapt to Code-based expectations.

(Most interesting for me in this regard was Mac Suzuki, who was born and raised in Japan but who learned baseball in the U.S. He returned to Japan after his six-year big league career, and struggled with their rigid set of expectations. Despite knowing as little about Japanese clubhouse customs as any of his American counterparts, he was granted none of the leeway they received, because he looked and talked just like his teammates. It was trying, and he eventually returned to the U.S. for a comeback attempt.)

Kendry Morales learned. They all learn, if they’re here long enough. Bud Selig and Co. might want to make baseball more of an international game, but the unwritten rules of the major leagues are purely American.

– Jason

Darryl Strawberry, Don't Showboat, Retaliation

If Darryl Can Handle Al Nipper, He Can Certainly Handle Trump

The cast for the upcoming season 3 of Celebrity Apprentice was recently announced, and Darryl Strawberry is among the contestants.

Straw, of course, hopes to avoid many of the same conflicts that got him in repeated trouble over the course of his 17-season career. One thing’s certain: If he inspires boardroom attacks like he inspired ballpark attacks, things likely won’t go well.

Need an example? A passage deleted from the final edit of The Baseball Codes has more:

* * *

There are many reasons a pitcher may have to postpone punishment he’s dying to deliver. It’s often a matter of game situation; regardless of how inherently a pitcher feels an opponent deserves a fastball to the ribs, it’s simply not going to happen in the late innings of a close game, especially if it moves a runner into scoring position. If response to personal vendettas could hurt their teams, most pitchers are happy to handle business another day, another series—or, if it comes down to it, another season.

“How long do you wait?” asked one big-league manager. “As long as it takes. If it takes a month, you wait a month. If it’s the last game of a series and you’re not going to see that club again for awhile, you wait.”

Take Game 7 of the 1986 World Series, when Darryl Strawberry of the New York Mets hit a mammoth home run off Boston’s Al Nipper, the ball caroming off the center-field scoreboard at Shea Stadium. Strawberry proceeded to take one of the slowest home run trots in the history of postseason play, a deed that was unequivocally intended to send a message. That the message was more likely meant for Mets manager Davey Johnson—who pulled Strawberry from Game 6 in a late-game double-switch, outraging his volatile superstar—didn’t matter a bit to Nipper, who barely tried to hide his contempt for the moment and the player behind it.

Strawberry described the moment in his book, Darryl: “Okay, so I put it in his face when I pounded that homer in game seven and then took—what was it?—five or so minutes to walk around the bases while the fans went crazy. It was my first Series, my first Series game-winner, and my last home run of 1986. So maybe I wasn’t cool about it. But then I’m not always Mr. Cool.”

With that in mind, when the Mets and Red Sox next met—in St. Petersburg the following spring—it wasn’t much of a secret that Nipper sought payback. The ballpark was packed with media members from New York and Boston who weren’t so much hoping for fireworks as expecting them. This was the era before interleague play, and Nipper knew he wouldn’t get the chance to face Strawberry during the regular season.

With his first pitch, Nipper hit Strawberry on the right hip. It was hardly a blazing fastball, and, in proper retribution fashion, connected well below the shoulders. Still, it was enough to incite the batter to charge the mound, leading players from both teams to flood the field.

“There are times when, yes, you send a message and go, okay, we’re getting you right now, we’re letting everyone know,“ said Nipper. “And there are times when everyone knows you’re going to get him.”

(In fact, Nipper did get to face Strawberry again, as a member of the Chicago Cubs in 1988. In three at-bats, Strawberry was intentionally walked, reached on an error and, in his third at-bat . . . was hit by Nipper in the calf. This time Strawberry merely glared at the mound before taking his base.)

– Jason

Don't Showboat, Jimmy Rollins, Steve Kline, Unwritten-Rules

As a Rookie, Rollins had Lessons to Learn

The Phillies picked up Jimmy Rollins’ option for 2011 Sunday, handing him $8.5 million to stick around for an extra year. Before he was an MVP, however, Rollins learned a hard lesson about the unwritten rules.

In the eighth inning of a May game against St. Louis during Rollins’ first spring as a big leaguer, the Cardinals brought in lefty Steve Kline to face him. The Phillies led 2-0, and it was Kline’s job to keep the deficit from escalating. It took him all of three pitches, however, before Rollins clubbed a two-run homer to double his team’s lead.

As he started off toward first, however, Rollins flipped his bat high into the air.

That was all it took to send Kline into a tizzy. As Rollins rounded the bases, the pitcher shadowed him with every step, screaming all the while. “I called him every name in the book, tried to get him to fight,” Kline told me. “He hit it pretty well, and I was upset about it. That’s what I was taught — not to be shown up. I don’t strike him out and fucking do a cartwheel on the mound.”

The pitcher stopped only when he reached Philadelphia third baseman Scott Rolen, who alleviated the situation by assuring him that members of the Phillies would take care of the situation internally.

“That’s fucking Little League shit,” said Kline after the game. “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.”

That’s one part of the story. Kline recounted the details to me in 2007, six years after it happened. When asked if it was forgotten history by that point, the pitcher said coldly, “It’s not forgotten.”

Kline faced Rollins five more times after that at-bat, always in games closer than three runs; never once did he consider prioritizing personal revenge over potential victory. The pitcher retired a few months after we spoke, having gone unrequited in his on-field payback — which probably means that it’s still not forgotten.

As baseball sage Andy Van Slyke said of batter’s box showmanship, “You’re not making money to dance, you’re making money to hit home runs.”

– Jason