Considering that the majority of baseball’s unwritten rules have to do with showing respect on the field, and considering that inside fastballs are the response of choice for too many pitchers should said respect insufficiently materialize, what Trevor Bauer did yesterday was downright delightful.
Consider: After Chicago’s Avisail Garcia yapped at the pitcher upon fouling off a curveball, Bauer yapped right back. There was nothing inciting to his conversation, just a public urging for the hitter to step back into the box, the better to settle things like men. Once the battle was won, Bauer concluded with a dismissive point toward the dugout.
He likes to run his mouth. You start sitting there talking, ‘Oh, they don’t throw me fastballs. Why do they just throw me breaking balls?’ He’s said it before. Not sure he knows that the rules of this game say you can throw whatever pitch you want. He started yapping at me. I threw him a first-pitch slider. He fouled it off, stared right at me, said something while he was nodding his head, like I’m right on you or something. I told him, ‘If you’re that confident, step back in the box. Let’s go. Get back in the box. And then he fouled off a pitch—another one that he should have hit. It was right down the middle and he missed it. And then he looked at me and started nodding again. So I threw him a curveball. He swung and missed. I decided to remind him of the rules of the game. Three strikes, you’re out. You can go sit back in the dugout. To his credit, he took it like a champ. He put his head down, he shut his mouth and he walked himself back to the dugout. Good for him.
The upshot: Victors—especially those who didn’t fire the first shot—get to dictate terms. There’s no shame in not being able to hit Trevor Bauer’s curveball. If that’s the case, however, don’t go out there and act like you can.
Whether or not one agrees with their implementation, the underlying nature of baseball’s unwritten rules—respect each other and the game at large—is difficult to quibble with. We saw one of its most basic elements yesterday, courtesy of Anthony Rizzo.
In an at-bat earlier in the game, Chicago’s first baseman had incorrectly assumed ball four from Pedro Baez, but as he was heading toward first base plate ump Angel Hernandez informed him that, no, it was actually a strike.
There’s no indication that Hernandez was upset with Rizzo, but the hitter took it upon himself during his next at-bat, when the game paused for a mound conference, to make sure everything was square between himself and Hernandez. Watch for yourself:
On one hand, there’s self-preservation involved in the strategy. The more an umpire likes a player—or, more pertinently, the less he doesn’t like a player—the better the chances that close calls will go that player’s way. More important, however, is the basic decency of the gesture. There was a chance that Hernandez read something in Rizzo’s actions that Rizzo did not intend, so Rizzo took care of it as soon as he could.
“I don’t like showing up the umpires,” he said after the game. “They’re out here working their tails off 162 like we are. … I just let him know that, hey, my fault there. I probably should have waited a little longer and not just assumed that it was a ball.”
Turns out that a little bit of introspection suits ballplayers nicely.
At one end of baseball’s unwritten-rules spectrum, angry pitchers try to justify their desire to throw baseballs at hitters. At the other end, celebration-minded batters ignore the Code entirely while seeing how high they can flip their bats.
On Friday, Brewers manager Craig Counsell broke new ground among their ranks, and not in a good way.
Start with the details. In a game against Arizona, Milwaukee second baseman Orlando Arcia, making only his third major league appearance, collected his first hit as a big leaguer—an RBI single to right field. So far, so good.
When the ball was returned to the infield, however, Arcia’s counterpart, D’Backs second baseman Jean Segura—the man who Milwaukee traded in January, in part to clear space for Arcia—took note of the moment and tossed the ball into the Brewers dugout for safekeeping. It was a nice, anticipatory gesture on behalf of a young player, and prevented the Brewers from having to waste time by halting play and requesting the ball themselves.
Counsell’s reaction was pure bush league. He protested to the umpiring crew that Segura removed the ball from play without first calling for a time stoppage. The umps agreed, Arcia was awarded two extra bases, and Segura was tagged with a thoroughly unearned error. (Watch it here.)
“I get it,” said Counsell after the game in an MLB.com report, “but you have to wait.”
In soccer, players’ code dictates that the ball be intentionally kicked out of bounds when an opponent goes down with a legitimate injury, nullifying an unearned extra-man advantage. In cycling, a race leader who has suffered a mechanical breakdown or other stroke of bad fortune will frequently be granted some slack by his pursuers. Yes, these things aid the opposition, but they also maintain honor.
Where the hell does honor fit into Counsell’s game plan? His move was less gamesmanship—taking advantage of a chink in the system—than sheer, calorie-free bravura, emotional junk food that, while giving his team a slight advantage, diminished himself and the game at large. As a player, Counsell made something of a habit of stealing bases while his team held big leads late in games, so maybe this is just business as usual for him.
Leaving the play alone—letting his ex-player, Segura, do something nice for his current one, Arcia—wouldn’t have drawn notice, because it would have been expected. By calling out a letter-of-the-law violation, however, Counsell painted himself as petty and self-involved.
Ultimately, Arcia was stranded at third base, and Arizona won, 3-2, on a bases-loaded walk, in 11 innings.
Could have been the baseball gods sending Counsell a message.
The learning curve of minor league baseball isn’t just about good footwork and how to recognize a slider out of the pitcher’s hand. A reasonable factor in minor league development involves learning how to play the game in ways that have nothing to do with actually playing the game.
On Friday, Albuquerque Isotopes shortstop Erisbel Arruebarrena hit his first Pacific Coast League home run, against the Reno Aces. The catch: the three-run shot turned an 8-0 game into an 11-0 game, and Arruebarrena pimped it like he was David Ortiz on Valium, taking an astounding 32 seconds to round the bases (by my imprecise stopwatch, based on the announcer’s call, owing to the video feed showing something else when Arruebarrena crossed the plate. Watch it here). According to Tater Tot Tracker, Ortiz’s slowest circuit this season is 33.39 seconds on April 9, but that’s his only one—the only one—to come in over 32.
Arruebarrena could actually stand to pick up a pointer or two from Ortiz in the ways of the home run pimp. Papi homered against the Rays on Sunday, offered a bat flip that was significant even by his own expansive standards, then took his usual glacial trip around the bases. (At 29.3 seconds, it was his sixth-slowest of the season, and the ninth-slowest overall this year; watch it here.) Rays starter Chris Archer said after the game in a Tampa Tribune report, “I don’t know what makes him think he can showboat the way he does and then nobody retaliate, nobody look at him in a funny way, nobody pitch him inside,” and that “he feels like he’s bigger than the game. He feels like the show is all about him.”
Ortiz’s ready response: “He’s not the right guy to be saying that, I think. He’s got two days in the league, and to be [whining] and complaining about stuff like that … what else?”
Boom. Get some time in the game, Chris Archer, and then come see me. Ortiz has earned leeway via nine All-Star selections and five top-5 MVP finishes. He hit more homers in 2006 than Chris Archer has career starts. This is precisely what baseball’s hierarchy looks like.
Moving back to the minors: Arrubebarrena signed a five-year, $25 million deal with the Dodgers out of Cuba in the off-season, and said that he was like countryman Yasiel Puig when it came to flair. Unlike Puig, however, the shortstop has not yet earned his right to pimp at will, at least in the eyes of his opponents. Also worth noting: Puig does not crack this year’s 10 slowest trots. Arruebarrena is not David Ortiz (not yet, anyway), and doing something like that in so pronounced a blowout is certain to elicit a response. Apparently, he had no idea about the mechanics of it all.
Reno did respond, as baseball teams have always responded: A message pitch to Arruebarrena during his first at-bat the following day, a high-and-tight number that had him ducking out of the way. He went on to strike out during the at-bat, during which time he committed the first of his mistakes: He got mad over standard procedure, executed responsibly, initiated by his own action that was far beyond the gray area of acceptability.
After the strikeout, catcher Blake Lalli apparently brushed Arruebarrena during the process of throwing the ball around the horn, and the batter got angry. The batter started jawing. The batter shoved Lalli and threw his helmet at another advancing member of the Aces. This is where Arruebarrena committed the second of his mistakes: When Aces players came a’charging, the shortstop ran, first around the back of the quickly forming scrum, then backpedaling to better keep his eyes on the two Aces in pursuit. That didn’t work, of course—he was quickly blindsided by a third Reno player, and all hell broke loose.
Arruebarrena’s third and biggest mistake of the day is a life lesson worth noting by all of us: Never start a fight you’re not willing to finish. And unless 20 yards’ worth of backpedal means something different in Havana than it means in Nevada, Arruebarrena wanted nothing to do with fisticuffs. One thing the shortstop must learn when it comes to baseball in this country is that flair is more acceptable than it ever has been, thanks to guys like Puig, but there must be substance behind it. Ortiz has earned it through a Hall-of-Fame career. Puig started earning it his very first week in the big leagues, when he was willing to throw down during a game in which he earlier had gotten drilled in the face.
It’s all a matter of building respect among teammates before asking them to raise fists on your behalf, and opponents before expecting that they’ll overlook your knuckleheaded, offensive behavior. To judge by his actions on Friday, Arruebarrena still has a lot to learn.