Everybody Joins a Fight

Love Thy Opponent As Thyself, Because What Else Are Baseball Fights For?

Shields hugs

The Perez-Anderson fracas over the weekend gave us visible evidence of players’ adherence to an unwritten rule that is undisputedly less violable than whatever led to the fracas in the first place: Players shall always take the field during a fight.

This doesn’t mean they have to fight, of course—a self-evident truth given the lack of actual fighting during most baseball dustups. Players can emerge as peacemakers, or even just mill about the back of the scrum, trying to look angry.

Or, as in the case of White Sox pitcher James Shields, they can hop about and offer hugs.

As evidenced in the above video, Shields couldn’t wait to get his paws on Kansas City’s Ian Kennedy. Shields, of course, knows many of the Royals from the two seasons he spent in Kansas City, and was teammates with Kennedy in San Diego—so he used bad blood elsewhere on the field to stage an impromptu reunion (he later hugged up on Mike Moustakas).

Here’s to friendships, through good times and bad (which sometimes occur at the exact same moment).

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.

Chase Utley, Everybody Joins a Fight, Jeremy Affeldt, Jonathan Sanchez, Unwritten-Rules

Sanchez Steamed at Utley’s Toss; Affeldt Stays Put During Fight

There was finally some Code-based action in the post-season Saturday, in San Francisco’s Game 6 clincher over the Phillies. It’s about time; these playoffs had been entirely too sedate.

It started when Giants lefty Jonathan Sanchez drilled Chase Utley in the shoulder blade. It was clearly unintentional—there was already a man on first and nobody out in a 2-2 game—but that wasn’t the issue.

The ball bounced off Utley and up the line toward first base. The hitter, moving in that direction, caught in on a hop and tossed it back to the mound.

This did not sit well with Sanchez. He yelled, “That’s bullshit,” at the startled runner, to which Utley quizzically replied, “What’s bullshit?”

Within moments, both benches had emptied. (Watch it here.)

At issue for Sanchez:  disrespect from Utley.

“You don’t throw the ball back to the pitcher,” he said in an ESPN report. “You’re a professional. You don’t do that. And when he did it, he had this smile on his face, this look that said, ‘You’re nothing.’ And I didn’t like that at all. So I told him.”

There is, of course, the fact that Sanchez was struggling and clearly frustrated, and, if not looking for a confrontation, at least prone to embracing one.

Utley might have been telling Sanchez, “You can’t hurt me.” He might have been saying, “Here’s what I think about you and your tactics.” He might not have intended anything at all, and was simply returning the baseball he unexpectedly held to its place of origin. Not only did he not attempt to stare down the pitcher as he tossed the ball, he barely looked in his direction.

We don’t know what he meant, because he isn’t talking. “It’s just part of the game,” he told Jeff Fletcher of FanHouse. “You’ll have to ask (Sanchez).”

No matter the answer, there’s little doubt that Sanchez over-reacted. His was the response of a pitcher clearly on the ropes, with little left to lose. Although it’s improbable, the notion arose that he might be trying to get both himself and Utley tossed from the game, because he wasn’t going to last long, anyway. (Although Sanchez didn’t know it at the time, Bruce Bochy had already started toward the mound to remove the pitcher when the bad blood started to go down.)

Should Utley have reacted as he did? Probably not. Were his actions meritorious of the response they received? Absolutely not. The pitcher, in that situation, should have without question risen above such a level of perceived slight.

Clearly, Sanchez was not on his game, in pretty much any capacity.

* * *

As Sanchez was having his mini-meltdown on the mound, another suspect Code violation took place on the opposite side of the field.

As the benches emptied to surround the would-be combatants, the bullpens followed. The Giants’ pen, a level above Philadelphia’s, put San Francisco’s relievers a few steps behind their counterparts in the race to the field. One of them never made it at all.

Jeremy Affeldt, who had begun warming up moments earlier, made a move to join his teammates. Instead, bullpen coach Mark Gardner grabbed him, and issued an order.

“He said, ‘You stay here. You need to lock it in right now,’ ” Affeldt told the San Francisco Chronicle. ” ‘We’ve got a long game ahead of us, and you need to stay focused.’ ”

So the lefty stayed put, much to the delight of Phillies fans, who derided him for his failure to join the on-field scrum. He entered the game when the field cleared, and threw two scoreless innings—including working out of the two-on, no-out jam he inherited from Sanchez.

This is the only instance on record I’ve encountered of a player able to avoid any negative clubhouse repercussions for failing to join his teammates in an altercation.

It couldn’t have been more appropriate.

– Jason

Articles, Everybody Joins a Fight

The Unwritten Rules of Baseball Fights

The media rarely expresses fascination with baseball’s unwritten rules with quite the same fervor as it does shortly following a Code-based incident. Thus, 41,600 results for a Google search of “Nyjer Morgan” and “unwritten rules.”

Some, however, even manage to look beyond the momentary fireworks to examine the bigger picture.

Such was the case with ESPN’s Patrick Hruby, who last week discussed the unwritten rules for baseball fights. For a 500-word summary, he pretty much nailed it.

The main Code tenets upon which he touches:

Everyone fights
Key statement: “Unless you’re playing clubhouse cards with Bobby Bonilla and Rickey Henderson, on-field attendance is mandatory.”
Key thesis: “More people means more grabbing, pulling, pushing and holding each other back in a big, harmless sea of sunflower seed-spitting humanity; by contrast, nobody leaving the dugout would mean hitter versus pitcher, unrestrained, exchanging dangerous blow after dangerous blow. In essence, a hockey fight.”
Baseball Codes tie-in: Chapter 22: Everybody Joins a Fight

Look angry
Key statement: “True pros know that the safe dissipation of bad baseball blood is a lot like an ancient scapegoat rite. Ya gotta honor appearances.”
Key thesis: Hruby brings up a moment that was also touched upon in The Baseball Codes, involving Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez. From TBC: “Derek Jeter once took heat from teammate Chad Curtis for laughing with Seattle’s Alex Rodriguez as the field cleared after a fight between the Yankees and the Mariners in 1999. The pair’s main mistake wasn’t joking around instead of fighting—it was failing to look more serious as they did so.”

Hruby also touches on some tenets that have been raised in recent baseball fights. From the Reds-Cardinals fight in which Johnny Cueto donned his kickboxing cleats:

Keep it clean
Key statement: “Baseball players have bats. They also wear spikes. Two things you almost never see in basebrawls? Stickwork and stomping.”

And from the Nyjer Morgan-Florida Marlins fight:

Coaches fight at their peril
Key statement: “For every Pat Listach, the Nationals third base coach who pinned Marlins pitcher Chris Volstad in the brawl Tuesday night, there’s a Don Zimmer.”

Good stuff.

– Jason