Intra-Team Fights

Rat, Racoon Or Bad Blood: Who Cares? The Mets Won

If one is to believe Francisco Lindor and Jeff McNeil, a four-legged invader found its way into the tunnel behind the Mets dugout at Citi Field on Friday night. Whether it was a rat or a raccoon continues to be a matter of speculation … at least among those who believe Lindor and McNeil.

Why this had to be addressed at all was that in the bottom of the seventh inning New York’s bench virtually emptied, players racing to the stairs to see whatever was happening below. This did not escape the attention of the TV broadcast.

What was happening below, of course, is up for debate.

Despite Lindor smiling through his description of the incident (it was a rat, he said), and McNeil doing similarly (might have been a raccoon), there is ample reason to believe that they’re both full of hooey.

Only moments earlier, Arizona’s Nick Ahmed had hit a ground ball up the middle, with Lindor and McNeil—the shortstop and second baseman, respectively—pausing in deference to the other before Lindor finally corralled it. By then, however, it was too late to get the runner. Something had gone wrong, a detail confirmed after the game by Mets manager Luis Rojas, when he said in a New York Post report, that “It’s happened a couple times where they both go into the same lane and they have to put on the brakes and the ball gets through.”

Despite Lindor faulting himself to reporters and McNeil calling it a miscommunication, it seems likely that emotions grew heated as soon as the inning ended, at which point the pair took their argument to a location hidden from view.

Coming up with alternative storylines is a time-tested method for diverting attention from intra-team squabbles. This very topic is covered in the introduction to The Baseball Codes:

That potential for discord exists within a clubhouse is hardly a secret—any group of twenty-five guys that spends as much time together as does a baseball team is bound to have conflicts—nor is it a secret that any leaks from within spell open season for the media. For proof of this, one has only to look at the rare instance when tempers boil over in the open, such as Jeff Kent pushing Barry Bonds in the Giants dugout, or Darryl Strawberry and Keith Hernandez coming to blows in front of a phalanx of reporters during Mets spring training. Stories deconstructing team strife followed each of those incidents for weeks; years after combat­ants have put their differences aside the press continues to look at any rec­onciliation with skepticism.

Among the stories recounted in the book is a 1973 hotel-room brawl between Davey John­son, then a star second baseman for the Atlanta Braves, and his manager, Hall of Famer Eddie Matthews.

The way Johnson tells it, after an initial verbal disagreement the manager invited him into his room and chal­lenged him to a fight. Johnson, reluctant at first, changed his mind when Matthews wound up for a roundhouse punch, then knocked the older man down. Matthews charged back, and as the sounds of the scrape flooded the hallway, players converged on the scene. In the process of breaking things up, several peacemakers were soon bearing welts of their own.

“The next day at the ballpark we looked like we had just returned from the Revolutionary War,” wrote pitcher Tom House (a member of the team, who, true to the code of silence, left all names out of his published account). “Every­body had at least one black eye, puffed-up lips, scraped elbows, and sore hands. It had been a real knockdown battle.”

This was something that couldn’t be hidden from the press. Matthews called the team together, and as a unit they came up with a story about a game that got carried away, in which guys took good-natured beatings. Flimsy? Maybe. Accepted? Absolutely.

“You can ask Hank Aaron and others on that team,” Johnson said, laughing. “Eddie said his biggest regret [in his baseball career] was not having it out with me again. That one never got out. It never made the papers.”

That Lindor and McNeil did their best to give similar treatment to whatever happened in that tunnel was not appreciated by Mets GM Zack Scott. At least not enough for him to support the ruse.

“You’d have to ask the players that, why they chose to handle it that way,” he said in the Post. “It’s definitely not how I’d go. … The best way to handle these things is be as transparent as you can be without divulging things that people don’t want out there, to address it, to hit things head on. I’m not saying that to criticize what the players did [Friday] night. Wouldn’t be my recommendation, and no one in the organization would make that recommendation to handle it that way, but what’s what they chose to do for whatever reason.”

Well, the reason is obvious. Its utility might be dubious—especially with messaging from team brass running counter to that from players—but things seem to have settled down since that point. Lindor homered just moments after the “rat sighting,” and New York beat the D’Backs 5-4 in 10 innings. Then the Mets won both of the weekend games to put them at 16-13 and one game up in the National League East.  

They already have a faux hitting coach. Maybe the Mets should thank their faux rat for their recent win streak, as well.

Fights, Intra-Team Fights

Mariners Confrontation Nothing New In Clubhouse Annals

Reggie 'n Billy

Given the clubhouse confrontation between teammates Dee Gordon and Jean Segura in Seattle earlier this week—apparently over a dropped flyball in a game the Mariners eventually won—it’s only appropriate to reference the greatest group of brawlers that baseball has ever seen, for whom I hold a particular affinity (and for which this post is in no way related to the fact that the paperback was just released on Monday).

I’ve already disseminated, via Deadspin, the passage from Dynastic, Bombastic, Fantastic detailing Reggie Jackson’s 1972 fight with Mike Epstein. So here’s a different fight story about the Swingin’ A’s, from the book, about the culmination of a weeks-long feud between Jackson and outfielder Billy North in 1974:

Jackson spent the afternoon of June 5 at a hotel in downtown Detroit with NBA players Archie Clark, Charlie Scott and Lucius Allen. There are at least two versions of what happened next. In one, a lady called for one of the basketball players, and when she found out that Reggie was there, asked to speak to him. She was North’s girlfriend (or ex-girlfriend), who may or may not have been an airline stewardess, and, having heard that he and Reggie weren’t getting along, took the opportunity to prod Jackson for details. In another version the girl came on to Reggie at a bar some weeks earlier when North was not around, only to be rebuffed by the ballplayer. Both versions were told by Jackson at different times.

The way North reacted, there may well have been a third option. He arrived at Tiger Stadium a bit later than the rest of the team, already afire. At that point, the clubhouse—a tiny space, with lockers consisting of mesh metal frames sticking out at right angles from the white-tiled wall every three feet or so—was sedate. The scant area in the middle of the room contained a table where the team’s regular bridge players—Holtzman, Fingers, Green and Knowles—were mid-game. Ray Fosse sat nearby, looking on. Reggie, naked save for a towel, entered the clubhouse from the adjacent trainer’s room just as North arrived. The center fielder started in on him as soon as he walked through the doorway. “Superstar, my ass!” he shouted, striding toward Jackson. “You’re a fucking jerk, you know that?” When North got close enough, he reared back and punched Reggie in the face, twice. Jackson was stunned, but absorbed the blows without falling. Then he lowered his shoulder and charged. “It was surreal, like, ‘Is this shit really happening?’ ” said Herb Washington, who, having spent the afternoon with an increasingly irritated North, had a good idea of what was about to go down.

North and Jackson scuffled up one side of the room and down the other, ultimately falling hard to the concrete floor. The men playing bridge in the center of the room looked up disinterestedly and returned to their card game. “I had a slam bid I wanted to play, and damned if people were fighting,” said Green. “I still played it.” Fingers was even more blasé, saying, “They’re just going to fight later anyway if we break it up now.”

That meant that the only peacemakers on the scene were Blue Moon Odom and Vida Blue (the same Odom and Blue who nearly fought each other in the same clubhouse following a playoff game two seasons earlier). With Blue scheduled to pitch that night, collateral damage became a real concern, so Fosse jumped up to help. By that time North was on top of Jackson. Blue pulled on North, Fosse pulled on Blue, and everybody fell backward, Fosse crashing into a locker divider on his way down.

Everything stopped. Fosse shakily picked himself up. Jackson and North scrambled to their feet, took some deep breaths, and eyed each other warily. The peace lasted about three minutes, until North began shouting (according to Reggie), “You know damn well what this is about! You’re trying to steal my girl from me is what this is about!”

Reggie did his best to settle his teammate. “Hey man, I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about,” he said. “I talked to a girl … that’s all. I didn’t ask her for a date. I didn’t ask for anything. I don’t want anything from her. I don’t want your girl. I don’t want anything from you.”

The only reason Reggie didn’t want her, taunted North, was because his sexual proclivities did not lean toward her gender. Jackson flashed and, still naked, went after him again. Again the pair stumbled across the floor. Reggie clipped a locker with his shoulder and fell awkwardly, and North leapt atop him and began swinging.

Across the room, Bando looked at Tenace. “What are you doing?” he said.

“What do you mean, what am I doing?” asked Tenace.

“Why are we letting it go on like this?” asked Bando.

“Did you see what happened to the last guy who tried to break it up?” said Tenace, referring to the still-woozy Fosse. “I ain’t going to be a stinking statistic.”

“Get over here,” said Bando, pulling his teammate toward the players. Bando grabbed North, Tenace grabbed Reggie. Alou, Campaneris and Washington raced in for damage control.

Once the fisticuffs ended, Jackson decamped to find ice for his aching shoulder and North stomped off to change into his uniform. Bando looked around and clapped his hands in mock satisfaction. “Well, that’s it,” he said. “We’re definitely going to win big tonight.”

The A’s did win that night, 9-1 over the Tigers, but Jackson hurt his shoulder in the scuffle, precipitating a protracted slump. Hurt even worse was catcher Ray Fosse, who in an effort to break things up injured two vertebrae and ended up missing most of the rest of the season.

By all accounts, things weren’t that bad between Gordon and Segura in Seattle (or between broadcasters Mario Impemba and Rod Allen in Detroit).

Then again, the A’s went on to win the World Series that year, something that seems decidedly unlikely for the Mariners or Tigers.

Intra-Team Fights

Can’t We Just All Get Along?

It’s rare to see open displays of animosity between managers and players. Not that it doesn’t happen; there are all types in baseball and not everybody gets along. This sort of tiff, however, almost inevitably takes place behind closed doors. It’s one of the manager’s duties, after all, to promote a peaceful clubhouse environment—if not in fact than at least in perception.

Suddenly, however, we’ve been awash in such incidents.

It started last week with the open and ongoing feud between Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez and shortstop Hanley Ramirez. It continued three days later when Mets skipper Jerry Manuel pulled John Maine from a game after only five pitches, causing his pitcher to openly rebel in the dugout.

To those episodes, we now add two more.

On Saturday, Albert Pujols went at it in the dugout with St. Louis manager Tony La Russa, after Ryan Ludwick was caught stealing for the final out of the eighth inning, leaving Pujols standing at the plate. It was lose-lose for the slugger; had Ludwick been safe, first base would have opened and Pujols would almost inevitably have drawn an intentional walk.

The slugger flipped both bat and helmet as he returned to the bench, then knocked two trays of gum against the wall. He’s clearly frustrated, having homered only once in May, and without an RBI in his last 10 games (a span during which he has only one extra-base hit).

During that time he also spent five games in the cleanup slot, the first time since 2003 that he’s batted anywhere but third in the lineup.

La Russa, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, responded by saying, “I (expletive) know how to manage.”

On Monday, the Mets got their second angry exchange in a week, when closer Francisco Rodriguez had to be separated from bullpen coach Randy Niemann over an apparent disagreement about how frequently the reliever should be asked both to warm up and appear in games. (Rodriguez heated up on 10 separate occasions during New York’s 20-inning game against St. Louis in April; on Monday he warmed up twice in two innings before closing out the Yankees. Ten of his 21 appearances this season have come in non-save situations.)

The New York Times reported that “the confrontation occurred in full view of some of the fans sitting in right field,” and had to be broken up by other pitchers.

These showdowns seem to be coming in clusters, but they’re hardly unique. Managers and players clash all the time. Here are some of the more extreme examples:

  • 1929: White Sox rookie Art Shires—an avocational boxer—beats up his manager, Lena Blackburne, not once, but twice.
  • 1969: Minnesota manager Billy Martin pounds star pitcher Dave Boswell in a fight. This is hardly the only time Martin appears on this list.
  • 1977: After losing the Rangers’ starting second-base job during spring training, Lenny Randle confronts manger Frank Lucchesi behind the batting cage in Orlando and shatters Lucchesi’s cheekbone with punches. Shortly thereafter, he’s traded to the Mets.
  • 1977: The relationship between Martin, by this time at the helm of the Yankees, and Reggie Jackson, devolves into a shouting match in the visitor’s dugout at Fenway Park, on national TV. The pair has to be restrained from going after each other.
  • 1980: John Montefusco and Giants manager Dave Bristol go at each other behind closed doors after Montefusco accuses Bristol of having too quick a hook. Montefusco’s eye is blackened.
  • 1981: Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog grabs Gary Templeton in the dugout after seeing the player make an obscene gesture to the Busch Stadium crowd, and the two have to be separated. During the off-season, Templeton is traded to San Diego for Ozzie Smith.
  • 1985: Billy Martin’s arm is broken by Yankees pitcher Ed Whitson in a fight that moves from hotel bar to lobby to parking lot, and eventually resumes on the second floor, outside Whitson’s room.
  • 1992: Reds manager Lou Piniella and Rob Dibble go after each other in the middle of the clubhouse. (Watch it here.)
  • 1999: Bobby Bonilla, upset that Mets manager Bobby Valentine doesn’t order retaliation after teammate Robin Ventura is hit by Roger Clemens, confronts Valentine in the dugout. After being sent to the clubhouse, Bonilla rips down the lineup board and hurls it at Valentine’s office.
  • 2002: Barry Bonds and Jeff Kent scuffle in the Giants dugout. The team goes on to win the National League pennant.
  • 2006: Blue Jays manager John Gibbons and pitcher Ted Lilly have at each other in the clubhouse tunnel, just out of sight of TV cameras.

In the two most recent cases of manager-player discord, all parties hewed the unwritten rule that mandates a minimum of public discord, usually via denials that a problem even exists.

“I was hitting and we got thrown out stealing. I wanted to hit. That’s all it was,” said Pujols.

La Russa took it a step farther, saying, “There wasn’t anything special about (the incident). I didn’t pull him aside. I didn’t talk to him afterwards because he doesn’t do it excessively and I know he’s sincere. There are only two times I confront it. Does it happen excessively? Then I say, ‘That’s enough.’ And if I think it’s insincere.”

And the Mets’ Rodriguez? “We were just fooling around,” he said in the Times. “We were just kidding with each other.”

Of course they were.

– Jason