Mound Conference Etiquette

After Campaign From Catcher, Dusty Defers, Says Greinke’s His Guy

Notable from yesterday’s ALCS game was Dusty Baker’s mound visit to Zack Greinke. It was the sixth inning, runners were on first and second with one out, and Randy Arozarena—about the hottest hitter in baseball over the past month, including a homer against Greinke earlier in the game—was coming to the plate as the tying run. Astros closer Ryan Pressly was in the bullpen, warmed up and ready to go.

What happened at that point was not what people expected. Catcher Martin Maldonado told Baker that Greinke still looked good and that he thought the right-hander could get out of the jam. It worked. Baker left Greinke in.

“Maldy was adamant about, ‘He can get this guy,’ ” said the manager afterwawrd, in an report. “I said ‘OK, you got it then.’ This is the ballgame right here. It was more old school, doing the right thing that I thought was right. And we came out ahead.”

This is unusual in the modern game, where most managers have their minds made up—have already signaled to the bullpen—before they reach the mound. It brings up the underappreciated topic of mound conference etiquette, to which a chapter is devoted in The Baseball Codes.

Much of the topic concerns respect between pitcher and manager, which can be in short supply when a hot-headed hurler disagrees with the decision to remove him from the game. Balls are flipped into the air rather than handed off, threats are leveled and feelings get scuffed. We’ve covered that kind of thing in this space before. That’s the opposite of what happened with the Astros yesterday.

More akin, though not quite specific, given that Greinke remained silent while Maldonado lobbied on his behalf, is the idea that when a manager asks how a pitcher feels, the pitcher lies. This is less true than ever in the modern era of bullpenning, but not so long ago, rare was the pitcher who failed to lobby about staying in the game. From The Baseball Codes (which, it should be noted, came out in 2010):

Even if the pitcher is clearly spent, his shoulder, elbow, or hip shooting pain with every pitch, he’ll insist to his last breath that he can still get the job done. “They’re starting pitchers,” said Tony La Russa. “They need to be heroes.”

“If you don’t say the right thing it’s perceived as a lack of heart,” said pitcher David Cone, who admitted to deceiving manager Joe Torre about his condition during a mound conference in the sixth inning of Game 3 of the 1996 World Series. (Cone insisted he was fine, stayed in the game, and, despite increasing fatigue, willed his way out of a jam.) “All guys worth their salt do it,” he said. “That’s why it’s hard for a manager to go out there. They know that in the heat of battle it’s hard to get straight answers from a pitcher.”

“When [Cone] lied to me, he had to make it the truth,” said Torre. “He just had to find a way to get it done, and that’s what separates those guys. That’s what matters.”

It’s the same section of the Code that prevents players from missing games for all but the most serious injuries. Anything less than an unflinch­ing desire to compete—or at least the appearance of such—is perceived as weakness of character. It’s a fine line walked by athletes, and especially star players; even though staying in a game at limited capacity might hurt one’s team, asking out when it counts is tantamount to surrender. Few in baseball want to see perceived cowardice in action from their teammates, even if it’s ultimately for the collective good.

Beyond pitcher removal, a primary function of mound visits involves the manager or coach offering a pep talk or bit of strategy. This only goes so far. Even a century ago, pitchers bristled at the thought. Take it from Rube Bressler, a pitcher from 1914 to 1920 (and an outfielder/first baseman for a dozen years thereafter), who discussed the idea in The Glory of Their Times:

“Those conferences out there on the mound really get me. The pitcher knows he’s in a jam. What can they say to him? They just remind him of it, that’s all. Having pitched and played first base both, I know what they do. The catcher and the infielders run over to you and pick up your rosin bag, like they never saw one in their life before, and all they say is, ‘Bear down, buddy, you’ll get out of this. Just bear down and work hard. You can do it.’ Then they give you a quick pat on the rear end and run back as far as they can get out of the line of fire.

“Now just what do you learn from that? You already had a vague feeling that things weren’t going just right. To tell the truth, you knew darned well that you were in a heck of a jam. And you’ve been bearing down, and you’ve been working hard. All it does is make you even more worried than you already were, which was plenty. There are mighty few pitchers who can survive those conferences on the mound, take it from me.”

A more contemporary account comes from 1993 AL Cy Young winner Jack McDowell, who in the very first interview I did for The Baseball Codes explained a mound encounter he once had with a coach.

I had walked the first two guys on something like eight pitches, and [pitching coach Don Rowe] comes out and says, ‘Now, the pitching plan …’ ” he said. “They had an actual pitching plan with the White Sox that year, and it was to throw two of the first three pitches for strikes. I’m thinking to myself, ‘I’m trying to fucking throw one pitch for a strike, one, tell me how to throw one for a strike, Don. I know I’m supposed to throw two of the first three for strikes.’ Jesus.”

So did it help?

“Hell, no, it didn’t help. I’ll call time out and go back and read my 50-page manual on how to pitch. Shit.”

When it comes to the Astros, Maldonado’s lobbying yesterday may ultimately have been helpful for nobody more than Greinke himself. “I thought it was nice having some guys have confidence in you,” the pitcher said after the game. That was good.”

After Baker’s visit, the right-hander struck out Arozarena and, after an infield hit loaded the bases, Mike Brosseau to escape the jam.

Confidence can be everything.

Mound Conference Etiquette

The Waiting Game: or What to Do When Approached on the Mound by a Manager, in One Easy Step

Kendrick cardKyle Kendrick was frustrated on Saturday. He was pitching well right into the sixth, had helped his team to a 5-1 lead. Then, after a Buster Posey leadoff single, Pablo Sandoval popped up for what should have been the inning’s first out. But the ball fell between Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, at which point Utley tried to flip the ball to second for the force … which would have worked, had his throw not pulled Jimmy Rollins off the bag.

The next batter, Michael Morse, doubled home a run, and Ryne Sandberg came out to the mound for a chat. Kendrick, with little interest in conversation, did not wait for his manager, storming off to the dugout while Sandberg was en route, handing him the ball as they passed.

If the basis of the Code is respect, waiting for one’s manager to reach the mound is a baseball bedrock, even if the pitcher doesn’t agree with the decision to make a change. Especially if a pitcher doesn’t agree with his decision to make a change. Put differently: a red-assed pitcher irked by a hitter digging into the batter’s box is following a narrow band of his precedent-setting forebears, but a manager angry at being abandoned by his pitcher in front of a stadium full of people is directly in line with every guy who’s ever managed in the big leagues.

Seems like a decent segue into the A’s. As some of you know, I’m under contract to write a book about Oakland’s teams of the early 1970s (somewhat breaking news: the story is so large, with so many pieces, that the publication has been moved back to 2016 so I have the space to tell the story in the way it deserves to be told), and this story falls right in line with an incident from 40 years ago.

In 1974, Alvin Dark took over as manager of the two-time defending champions, and in the early going, his methodology was not well received by his players. In particular, Dark had a problem with pitcher management, frequently giving his starters early hooks that ended up backfiring when the bullpen blew some sizeable leads. The most egregious of these instances came in the season’s third game, when Dark was still trying to figure out his roster. He yanked Vida Blue two batters into the fifth inning, with Oakland leading Texas, 5-1. Rollie Fingers allowed both runners to score, and Blue became ineligible for the victory since he had not gone the requisite five frames. From that moment on, Blue held some pretty serious antipathy against Dark.

Fast forward to mid-July. Blue was pitching well enough, entering the fifth inning in New York with a 3-1 lead. But even as the pitcher began to struggle, Dark wanted to let him finish the inning, to become the pitcher of record. But Vida imploded, with four hits and two walks turning Oakland’s lead into a 6-4 deficit. Dark had to pull him with two outs in the frame to stem further damage. When he approached the mound, however, Blue walked straight past him and tossed the ball backward. Dark let it drop onto the ground. It was as insolent a move as could be imagined from a player who had just coughed up a lead. Not only that, but it was the second time in recent history that an A’s pitcher had done it; after the first time, by Ken Holtzman, the manger threatened a $250 fine for any subsequent miscreants.

When the team arrived at Shea Stadium for a doubleheader the following day (New York was a one-ballpark town while Yankee Stadium was undergoing renovations), the manager called them together. It had been precisely 100 days since the season opener, and Dark finally had had enough. They sat in a semicircle in the locker room, while the manager stood in the middle. He usually liked to pace when he addressed a group like this, but this time he stayed in one spot. He did not shout and he did not curse. More impactfully, for the first time that anyone could remember, the uber-religious Dark did not quote the bible even once.

“I’ve never been more disappointed in a group of young men in my life,” he said, according to his book, When in Doubt, Fire the Manager. “I’ve never been more disappointed in a team of world champions. If being a world champion makes you act the way some of you are acting, no thank you. I don’t care to be one.”

“Vida, you and I are even now,” he said. “I screwed you out of a game your first start of the season, and I was never more sorry in my life. But we’re even now. I left you out there yesterday, trying to get you a win, and I’m the one who suffers. You degraded the position of manager. Not me, the position, by acting like a bush kid.” Dark confirmed the $250 fine, and said that it would cost $500 if it happened again. He didn’t want to play catch with his pitchers when he removed them from games, he said.

The Phillies don’t have quite as much drama in their clubhouse as those A’s did—nobody has quite as much drama in their clubhouse as those A’s—but the lesson holds. Afterward, Sandberg labeled Kendricks’ action as no big deal (although he did see fit to talk to the pitcher about it on Sunday), and Kendrick confessed to letting the pressure get to him. “I didn’t handle it right,” he said in a CSN Philadelphia report.

Kendrick is barely hanging on with a 5-11 record and 4.90 ERA, and has plenty of reason to be frustrated. All in all, however, this seems like a decent learning experience for the eight-year vet and the rookie manager, both in the nature of comportment, and how to handle oneself should things break down.

For another example of the concept, this one featuring Frank Robinson and discussed in The Baseball Codes, click here.

[H/T Hardball Talk.]

Clayton Kershaw, Don Mattingly, Mound Conference Etiquette, Retaliation, Unwritten-Rules

Kershaw Upholds Unwritten Rule While Mattingly Breaks Written One

A nearly unprecedented comingling of rules both written and unwritten descended upon Dodger Stadium on Tuesday, as inside pitches inspired retaliatory strikes, one pitcher was ejected for drilling an opponent and another was tossed because his manager mucked up the rulebook.

It all might have started in April, at least according to Dodgers manager Joe Torre. That was when Los Angeles head-hunter Vicente Padilla broke Aaron Rowand’s cheek with a fastball, knocking him out of action for more than two weeks.

Thus, when Tim Lincecum knocked Matt Kemp down with an inside pitch on Tuesday, and followed that up by drilling him, it was easy to draw conclusions about retaliation. (Kemp certainly did, taking several steps toward the mound before being redirected by umpire Adrian Johnson.)

Never mind that Lincecum had a chance to respond as the Giants starter the day after Padilla’s deed, more than three months ago, or that the Giants have faced the Dodgers six times since the incident without drilling anybody.

There’s also the fact that Lincecum was unusually terrible, lasting just 4 2/3 innings, missing the strike zone on seven of his first eight pitches, giving up five runs and throwing about the worst pitch humanly possible.

Still, when Giants reliever Denny Bautista twice came well inside to Russell Martin in the sixth, the Dodgers took it extremely personally. (Bench coach Bob Schaefer was ejected for the vociferous nature of his protestations.)

Despite a warning leveled by Johnson after Lincecum plunked Kemp, Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw drilled the next batter he faced, Rowand, in the hip, earning ejections for himself and Torre. (Watch the chain of events here.)

“When Kemp took a few steps toward Timmy, that made no sense because obviously Tim was struggling and wasn’t trying to hit him,” wrote Giants outfielder Aubrey Huff on his blog. “We were all a little jumpy right there, waiting to see what was going to happen. And Bautista definitely wasn’t trying to hit Russell Martin. . . . Now, I imagine, it’s all over and done with. They got their retaliation shot in, and that’s it.”

(Kershaw received a five-game suspension for his actions, while Torre and Schaefer were docked a game each.)

This left Dodgers coach Don Mattingly in charge of the team.

Los Angeles closer Jonathan Broxton came on in the ninth to protect a 5-4 lead, and promptly loaded the bases with one out. Mattingly visited the mound to inform members of the infield where he wanted them positioned. After he turned to leave, however, first baseman James Loney asked another question. Mattingly returned to address it, before heading to the dugout. (Watch it here.)

The issue: This constituted two visits, something not allowed in the same inning under rule 8.06 of the Official Baseball Rules, which stipulates that a mound visit begins when a manager or coach crosses the foul line, and ends when he departs from the 18-foot diameter of the mound.

“I really just went out to let the infield know we were going to play back,” said Mattingly in the Los Angeles Times. “[Hitter Andres] Torres could run. And the corners were basically pretty much going home. After I did that, I turned to walk away and James [Loney] said something, and I kind of turned around. I didn’t realize I was even off the dirt, but obviously I was.’’

Umpire Johnson shouted, “No, no, no. You can’t go back,” and Giants manager Bruce Bochy pounced. The umpires informed Mattingly that according to the rulebook, Broxton would have to leave the game. That left George Sherrill, having not received adequate time to warm up, to enter the game virtually cold.

He promptly gave up a two-run double to Torres that proved to be the difference in the game.

The umpires could have afforded Sherrill as many warm-up tosses as he wanted, but had the power to cut him off after eight—which they did. It was a detrimental decision from the Dodgers’ point of view, but at least it hewed to the rulebook.

Ejecting Broxton: not so much.

Rule 8.06 was codified in 1967, in an effort to minimize mound visits and speed up games. Because relief pitchers must face at least one hitter per appearance, an adjunct to the rule keeps managers from circumventing it by using back-to-back mound visits to remove a pitcher and improve matchup possibilities. It does this by stating that the manager will be ejected for the action, as will the pitcher, but only after he faces the guy at the plate.

(The umps should not even have ejected Mattingly, writes Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle, because they didn’t adequately warn him against a second visit, as stipulated by the rules.)

Bochy knew about all of this, having invoked the rule in 2006 as manager of the Padres (also against Los Angeles). That time it was properly carried out, with Dodgers pitcher Brad Penny remaining in the game to face the hitter.

“I think that’s the craziest win we’ve had all season,” said Giants reliever Jeremy Affeldt, who picked up the save, in the San Francisco Chronicle. “I’m sure we’ll put our heads on our pillows and smile.”

As will those of us who pay attention to this kind of thing. The written rules managed to bite the Dodgers on Tuesday; the teams next meet in San Francisco on July 30, at which point we’ll see if there’s a need for rules of the unwritten variety.

– Jason

Manny Acta, Mound Conference Etiquette, Tony Sipp

Forget Godot; Wait for Your Manager

Tony Sipp

In the seventh inning of Friday’s game between Cleveland and Washington, Indians reliever Tony Sipp walked Adam Dunn, the first batter he faced, to load the bases. With that, Cleveland manager Manny Acta popped out of the dugout and signaled for Chris Perez to enter the game.

Sipp, clearly unhappy with the situation, descended the mound, ball in hand, and headed toward the dugout. He had better options.

The pertinent unwritten rule in this situation says that a pitcher must wait for his manager to reach the mound, then hand him the ball before being dismissed. Pitchers who fail to follow this pattern have found themselves in awkward and occasionally hostile situations.

A passage in The Baseball Codes describes Giants reliever Jim Barr, upset at being pulled from a game by manager Frank Robinson in 1983:

Frustrated, Barr didn’t wait for his manager to reach the mound before flipping him the ball—a clear act of insolence in the hard-edged presence of Robinson, who made it clear to his pitchers that they were to hand him the ball as they departed.

Barr planned on storming to the dugout, but was interrupted when Robinson caught the baseball, grabbed the pitcher by the arm as he tried to pass, spun him around, and dragged him back up the hill to await (reliever Greg) Minton’s arrival. Robinson had been the league’s most fiery player, and his managerial furnace burned nearly as hot.

As the duo waited for Minton to arrive, Robinson told Barr exactly what he thought of his stunt, poking a finger into the right-hander’s chest to emphasize his point. . . . On the mound at Shea, it was hard to miss the battle brewing, and the New York fans looked on in delight. All four members of the Giants infield raced in and surrounded the pair in an attempt to calm things down.

Barr didn’t help matters when he decided that if he wasn’t allowed to leave until Robinson gave him permission, he wouldn’t leave at all. This meant that when Minton arrived at the mound he found two people, Robinson and Barr, standing between himself and the catcher, which made it somewhat difficult to warm up. “It seemed like five minutes,” said Barr, “even though it was probably only ninety seconds.” Robinson finally led Barr back to the dugout, at which point both pitcher and manager had to be restrained from going after each other.

Unlike Barr, Sipp quickly recognized behavior that needed alteration. Unlike Robinson, Acta didn’t try to physically restrain his player.

All it took was a few steps for Sipp to realize that his manager was waiting for him on the mound, at which point he turned around and passed the ball off, as decorum dictated he should have in the first place.

The manager and pitching coach Tim Belcher sat down with Sipp after the game to discuss the issue and what’s expected of pitchers in that type of situation, but Acta ultimately came to Sipp’s defense.

”Tony’s not really a baseball-crazy guy off the field,” he said in the Akron Beacon Journal. ”He didn’t mean anything by it. . . . But we talked to him and told him it just doesn’t look good, that it gives the impression like, ‘you’re mad at me, even when you’re really not mad at me, and you’re just mad at yourself.’ It’s a part of unwritten baseball etiquette, some of these guys, at times, are just not as in tune with it.”

In six appearances since May 23, Sipp’s ERA has shot from 1.40 to 6.53. It’s pretty clear that Manny Acta is the least of his problems.

– Jason