Cheating, Houston Astros, Los Angeles Dodgers, No-Hitter Etiquette, Pine Tar

Did Fiers Cheat? Should Anyone Care?

Fiers glove

Mike Fiers’ no-hitter on Friday was as notable for his opponents’ reactions as for the event itself. Any no-hitter offers a significant degree of intrigue, but this one gained steam when the television broadcast appeared to show a shiny substance on Fiers’ glove in the ninth inning, assumed to be pine tar.

Rather than bemoan their fate at the hands of a possible cheater, however, the Dodgers took the appropriate path, issuing credit where it was due and downplaying any semblance of controversy.

“I don’t want to take anything away from his night,” Carl Crawford told the Los Angeles Times. Don Mattingly said, “I think it sounds like you’re whining if you look at it and talk about it,” and added (without accusation) that pine tar use is more or less accepted unless it’s “blatantly obvious.” (Fiers, for his part, denied everything.)

Regardless of whether Fiers was using a banned substance, those in the Los Angeles clubhouse know that they have pitchers among their own ranks who do that very thing—as does every club in baseball. And if every club does it, it’s not such a catastrophe. And if it’s not such a catastrophe, why paint it as such? Mattingly respected Fiers’ feat for what it was, exactly as he should have done.

Well played, Dodgers.

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Andrew McCutchen, Jack Taschner, Los Angeles Dodgers, Pittsburgh Pirates, Ramon Ortiz, Retaliation, The Baseball Codes, Zach Duke

Additional Thoughts on the Zach Duke Non-Incident

The lack of retaliation by Pirates pitcher Zach Duke when it was so clearly mandated has raised some interesting questions. For example, why didn’t Pirates manager John Russell—who by multiple accounts was enraged at Duke’s inaction—simply order his pitcher to get the job done?

Once, this would have been a no-brainer. In the 1940s, Leo Durocher was known to leave hundred-dollar bills in the locker of Whitlow Wyatt as a reward when the pitcher threw at players’ heads. Numerous opponents recall longtime manager Gene Mauch shouting for his pitcher to “spin his helmet.”

Heck, when Casey Stengel managed the Boston Braves, he was once so upset when one of his rookie pitchers—appearing in just his second big-league game—failed to retaliate according to expectations that he sent the guy back to the minors. It was four more years before Warren Spahn returned to the big leagues (although the U.S. Army also had something to do with his delay), a turn of events that Stengel later called the biggest blunder he ever made as a manager.

Modern managers, though, are different. Now that players constitute multi-million-dollar investments, nobody wants to take responsibility should a fastball go awry.

Pitchers are occasionally encouraged in vague terms (“Do what you have to do”), but rare is the order to actually drill somebody.

(One noteworthy exception to this trend is Ozzie Guillen, who ordered his own rookie pitcher, Sean Tracey, to hit a batter in 2006. When, like Spahn, Tracey failed to carry out his manager’s wishes, he was, like Spahn, banished to the minors.)

Instead, pitchers are expected to understand this responsibility. Should a young player fail to appropriately read a situation, a good talking-to will usually do the trick. For a veteran like Duke, however, significantly more is expected.

Another question involves the window of opportunity. Duke had the chance to directly retaliate against the pitcher who twice threw at McCutchen—Ramon Ortiz came to the plate for the first time this season in the sixth inning—and didn’t do anything about it.

The following inning, when Pirates reliever Jack Taschner sent a ball behind the head of the first hitter he faced, Andre Ethier, it was a clear message sent.

So is the case closed, especially if Ortiz manages to hit against the Pirates again? The vagaries of scheduling make this a mostly moot point; as of May 2, the Pirates and Dodgers had faced each other six times, and will not meet again until 2011. (We’re putting our money on them failing to square off in October.)

Not that it would have mattered. Duke had his chance and completely whiffed; Taschner got a measure of revenge with his message pitch, even though he didn’t actually hit anybody.

If the Pirates respond next season, it will open old wounds in a hurry. As in the wrong as the Dodgers were in this instance, Pittsburgh would be just as guilty if they choose to pursue this into 2011—and the smart money’s on them staying far, far away from even the appearance of vengeance.

That is, unless Zach Duke decides he has something to prove.

– Jason

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