Chris Carpenter, Nyjer Morgan, Retaliation, Tony La Russa

Tony La Russa Proves Again that his Memory is Better than Ours

Tony La Russa | SD Dirk/Flickr

Last season, Nyjer Morgan suffered one of the most protracted on-field meltdowns in recent baseball history, shifting his public perception from that of a garrulous, personable guy to somebody in genuine need of psychiatric help over the course of about two very rough weeks.

He’s learning this spring that repercussions can carry, and that a little reputation can take a player a long way. Sometimes in the wrong direction.

Monday, the Washington outfielder ran into Albert Pujols while trying to beat out a fifth-inning bunt against the Cardinals. It was hardly his fault that the throw from Cardinals catcher Gerald Laird tailed into him, forcing Pujols into contact, but the lasting image was of the all-everything first baseman trying to shake his wrist loose after the play, sufficiently dinged to elicit a visit by a trainer. (Pujols stayed in the game.)

Morgan’s true problem on the day, if it was really his problem at all, came from Tony La Russa.

It dates back to last August, when Morgan went out of his way to run into Cardinals catcher Bryan Anderson (one of the earlier incidents in the aforementioned meltdown).

In a way, La Russa is a bit like Gaylord Perry. Perry played up his reputation as a greaseballer, fidgeting and wiping all over his body before each pitch, with the understanding that getting hitters to think he was loading up a baseball was nearly as valuable as actually doing so.

Similarly, La Russa revels in his reputation as a staunch defender of baseball decency, someone who will unflinchingly order his pitchers to retaliate in the name of on-field justice. Whether or not he actually does it is almost beside the point; whenever a Cardinals pitcher drills an opponent in any circumstance that can be even loosely construed as retaliatory, questions immediately emerge as to La Russa’s intentions. And any energy the other team expends stewing about the St. Louis manager is energy they’re not focusing on the game before them.

Which is a long way of saying that when Chris Carpenter hit Laynce Nix later in the frame, La Russa was quickly fingered as a prime source of inspiration.

Washington starter Livan Hernandez wasted no time settling the score, drilling Colby Rasmus in the bottom of the inning. La Russa, reported Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post, “seemed to be glaring at the Nats’ dugout as Rasmus made his way to first.”

(Swayed perhaps by the low-key vibe of spring training, Hernandez violated a key unwritten rule in admitting the intent of his pitch to reporters after the game. Expect retribution of the official variety—suspension and/or fine—soon.)

Because La Russa is in charge of the Cardinals (or so we suspect, as far as this particular incident is concerned), St. Louis reliever Miguel Batista hit Ian Desmond in the back two innings later. (Batista actually retired Morgan before drilling Desmond, perhaps indicating that La Russa’s book on Morgan is finally closed.)

This was the tipping point.

Desmond had words, first for catcher Tony Cruz, then, upon reaching first, for Batista. Benches emptied, led by none other than Morgan (who was restrained by Nationals coach Trent Jewett). Nationals manager Jim Riggleman had to be held back when he approached La Russa with malice. Ultimately, no punches were thrown.

“There was no question in my mind that Batista was going to hit somebody,” said Riggleman after the game, in an AP report.

In a fascinating subplot that plays right into La Russa’s intrigue, Kilgore posited that Batista, on the bubble for a roster spot, “may have made the team” with his actions.

Apparently more savvy about this sort of thing than Livan Hernandez, both La Russa and Carpenter denied intent after the game.

“It’s the same story—it happens to us, it happens to them,” said La Russa after the game, in a very La Russa-like this-stuff-has-been-around-forever denial. “You get hit, you think it’s intentional. They hit you, it was accidental. It’s been 100 years of this stuff. It’s not going to go any farther. That’s it.”

One more unwritten rule was violated during the scrum, when it was pointed out that Carpenter—already in the clubhouse when the benches cleared—did not join his teammates on the field. He was in the process of talking to Brian Feldman from KMOV in St. Louis when the incident went down. Feldman reported the following:

Mar. 21, 3:18 p.m. -Was in the clubhouse talking to Carpenter when the benches cleared on the field. Batista was thrown out of the game for hitting a Nationals player…says he was told they believed he did it on purpose. It’s unclear whether he did or not.

Mar. 21, 3:20 p.m. -That beaning from Batista was in retaliation to Rasmus getting hit earlier. Apparently Tony was not happy at all when that happened. So its possible he told Batista to do it…but that’s anyone’s guess.

For his part, Carpenter claimed that once he understood the severity of the situation (including, according to the AP, hearing that “Washington players and coaches blamed him for igniting the fireworks and were questioning why he wasn’t on the field”), he beelined to the dugout.

“The most idiotic thing was that it was a spring training game. It was stupid,” he said. “If they think it’s my fault, I’ll go out there. I didn’t hit Laynce Nix on purpose.”

The quote of the day came from Desmond, who was a teammate of Batista in Washington last season.

“Yeah, it was intentional, but I mean Miggy throws like Miss Iowa,” he said with a laugh—a not-so-subtle reference to the flap Batista stirred last year with comments about the Hawkeye state’s beauty queen. “We were really trying to keep the fans around. Once (Albert) Pujols came out of the game and (Chris) Carpenter came out of the game we knew they were going to leave so we decided to add a little entertainment.”

The true entertainment value will be calculated next time these teams meet, on April 19.

– Jason

Bill Hall, Cole Hamels, Nyjer Morgan, Retaliation

Spring: A Time of Hope—and Retaliation

Nyjer Morgan, at the height of last year's problems.

Spring training is a grand old time for pitchers to let off some steam. Be they perturbed by an event from the game in front of them or harboring long memories from seasons past, the allure of repercussion-free retaliation (who cares if runs score during an exhibition game?) is felt at least a few times each season.

Look no farther than this week’s matchup between Cole Hamels and Bill Hall.

Hall, now with the Astros, was unhappy that Hamels appeared to be quick-pitching him, throwing the ball before he was fully ready. (How this tactic would help Hamels prepare for the regular season, I’m not sure.)

So Hall stepped out in an effort to slow Hamels. The pitcher’s response was to send his next offering inside, which was sufficient to send Hall from zero to boiling. According to the Houston Chronicle, he had to be restrained by plate ump Laz Diaz.

After the game, Hall called Hamels a “marked man”—not so much, he explained later, as it pertains to the left-hander’s physical wellbeing, but to the on-field respect he receives. Translation: Expect Hall to show Hamels up at the earliest available opportunity.

From the Chronicle:

I don’t know if he was mad because he gave up a homer (to Carlos Lee in the previous at-bat) or if he was mad because the umpire gave me time. But I’m not going to let him speed-pitch me. Obviously, he threw a pitch in, and I’m not going to let him disrespect me either. He kind of said something that I didn’t like too much. It’s over with. He’s definitely a marked man for me now, so when I do some damage off him, I’m going to let him know I did some damage off him. I can guarantee that.

I don’t feel like I do a lot of things to have pitchers mad at me for doing things on the field. I feel like I play the game the right way. But if you disrespect me, I’m going to do my best to disrespect you back. Obviously not in a way to disrespect the game, but obviously I’m going to let him know when I face him.

Well, okay. Houston opens with three games at Philadelphia, starting April 1. With Hamels scheduled to be Philadelphia’s No. 4 starter, however, Hall will likely have to wait until September—September!—for a chance to disrespect him back.

Elsewhere in the Grapefruit League, Nyjer Morgan was hit by Ricky Nolasco and wasted no time in accusing the pitcher of intent. Then again, after Morgan’s protracted saga against the Marlins last season—partial tally: he separated the shoulder of catcher Brett Hayes in a play at the plate; he reacted to being hit the following day by stealing two bases with his team down big (as clear an insult to the Marlins as could be delivered); he charged the mound when he was hit again later in retaliation for the stolen bases—one could hardly blame Nolasco.

Again, this is spring training—a time when many of these sorts of grudges get handled like this.

Rather than go on a near-meltdown-level tirade like last season, however, Morgan should be commended for his level-headed approach this time around. Instead of getting bothered, he stole second, advanced to third, then scored. (Watch the drilling here.)


“No question, without a doubt,” said Morgan when asked if he felt Nolasco hit him on purpose Sunday. “It’s obvious because of what happened last year. Obviously, they haven’t turned the page. But I’m going to be a stronger player, better person. I’m not going to react to it. I felt better by going out there and being able to steal that bag, getting myself over to third and generating a run. I felt more satisfied after that than staring at him and putting on my mean mug.”

The “mean mug,” of course, is a time-tested part of on-field intimidation. It’s what Morgan does with the rest of his body that truly counts.

He’s off to a good start.

Update: Yahoo’s David Brown recently spoke to Florida’s Logan Morrison for his Answer Man column. Included in the conversation was the following exchange:

DB: Can there be peace between the Marlins and Nyjer Morgan?

LoMo: Yeah, absolutely there can be. You want me to expound on that?

DB: Please.

LoMo: Just don’t steal second base and third down by 10 runs.

DB: He was just fighting for that run. Trying to get back into the game.

LoMo: You could call it that.

DB: Nobody overreacted?

LoMo: I’m going to say everybody overreacted. … But … there’s baseball etiquette and baseball rules that need to be followed and they weren’t followed.

Update 2: Nolasco continues to deny intent.

– Jason

Nyjer Morgan, Retaliation

Morgan Not Exactly Repentant

With a near-certain suspension in his future on the heels of a litany of on-field malfeasance this week, Nyjer Morgan didn’t exactly back down.

“Everyone kind of blew it out of proportion and put it on Morgan,” he told “I knocked down the catcher, I took my dose and everybody is blowing it way out of proportion, which I don’t understand. I guess baseball isn’t used to seeing this anymore—good old-fashioned hard-nose baseball.”

While he has a point—his reaction to getting hit by Marlins starter Chris Volstad, in retaliation for bowling over catcher Brett Hayes, was entirely appropriate—but Morgan is overlooking the other basic tenets of this tale.

As a player on a rampage—instigating two home-plate collisions, one wildly inappropriate, the other mildly so; two separate incidents involving fans, one of which earned him a seven-day suspension; a public rebuke from his manager and an ensuing spat; and initiating an all-hands fight on the field, after which he emerged faux-triumphantly, arms raised and shirt torn, even though he had taken more abuse than anybody—Morgan has a lot to be introspective about.

Focusing on the one thing he did last week that wasn’t offensive isn’t the way to go about it.

Suspension looming.

– Jason

Chris Volstad, Fights, Nyjer Morgan, Retaliation, Running Into the Catcher

It Really Hasn’t Been a Good Week for Nyjer Morgan

There has to be a wager involved with this, somehow. Why else would a major league player attempt to go from zero-to-Alex Rodriguez in a bizarre and misguided weeklong quest to become baseball’s Most Hated Player?

World, meet Nyjer Morgan. You might not have known him in mid-August, but you certainly do now.

Over the last seven days, he’s gotten into it with fans, his own manager and various members of the opposition, both as the player delivering punishment and the one receiving it.

Had he paid a lick of attention to baseball’s unwritten rules along the way, virtually all of it could have been avoided.

He’s in today’s news for yesterday’s fight, but Morgan’s slide began on Aug. 25, when he threw a ball into the stands in Philadelphia. Some say he threw it to the fans, some say he threw it at the fans. Morgan claims it was a big misunderstanding (a tack corroborated by at least one member of the crowd), but the league quickly levied a suspension for his actions, which is currently under appeal. (The piece of Code he ignored: Never engage with hecklers. It rarely ends well.)

On Aug. 27, Morgan got picked off base in the eighth inning of a close game against St. Louis, which proved particularly costly when the batter, Willie Harris, subsequently hit a home run. The Nationals lost, 4-2. Morgan was confronted after the game by Nationals manager Jim Riggleman, and dropped from leadoff to eighth in the batting order.

His response: The following day, he attempted to level Cardinals catcher Bryan Anderson in a play at the plate, despite the fact that Anderson had his back to the play and was moving in the opposite direction. Morgan was so focused on his target that he veered away from the plate to make contact, and in fact never scored. (Code: Run into catchers only when a slide would lead to a likely out. Even more importantly, never let personal vendettas get in the way of your team’s success.)

Riggleman was angry enough about it to call his player out in public, after apologizing to both Anderson and Tony La Russa. Morgan, he said, as reported by Nationals Daily News, did an “unprofessional thing,” and, indicating that lessons would be learned, “you’ll never see it again” from him. (The manager wasn’t quite accurate on this point.)

Riggleman then benched Morgan for the series finale, under the auspices that he had become too prominent a target to safely take the field.

On Aug. 30, Morgan responded to Riggleman. “I guess he perceived it as some nasty play with the intentions of trying to hurt somebody before coming to me and asking me about the situation, which was very unacceptable,” he told the Washington Post. “But on my half, I’m not going to go ahead and throw fuel on the fire. I’m going to try to be as professional as I can about the situation.”

It’s frequently the case, of course, that when players feel the need to proclaim the fact that they’re being “professional,” they’re actually anything but. (Code violation: Never call out your manager in public.)

In fact, Morgan cited the unwritten rules in his own defense, saying that Riggleman “just basically did a cardinal sin. You don’t blast your player in the papers.” (This is true, unless the player’s behavior has deteriorated to the point where the manager feels he has few other options. )

It didn’t take long for Morgan to stir further controversy. In the 10th inning of a scoreless game on Aug. 31, he ran into Marlins catcher Brett Hayes with enough force to place him on the disabled list for the remainder of the season with an injured shoulder. While Morgan didn’t go out of his way to reach his target this time, consensus held that he would have been safe—with the winning run, no less—had he slid. (See previous Code citation about running into catchers. The Marlins won it with a run in the bottom of the frame.)

In light of Morgan’s previous indiscretion with a catcher, the play seemed like the act of a guy hoping for someone to try to knock the chip off his shoulder. (Watch it here.)

When he took the field for the bottom of the inning, Morgan again got into it with fans, this time being caught on tape cussing them out. (See previous unwritten-rule citation regarding fan interactions.)

Any one of these things can constitute a distraction in the clubhouse. The sum of them, especially coming as they did in the span of a week, reads like the linescore of a borderline sociopath.

Which brings us to yesterday’s firestorm.

Morgan was hit in the fourth inning by Marlins starter Chris Volstad—clear retaliation for his treatment of Hayes the day before. Not content to let it end there, Morgan subsequently stole second and third on the next two pitches, while his team trailed by 11 runs in the fourth inning.

This is a clear violation of the unwritten rules, although under ordinary circumstances, a player’s own teammates care more about him staying put in that type of situation than does the opposition. Morgan’s steals, however, were an unequivocal message to the Marlins, conveying that he neither appreciated their treatment of him, nor respected their right to do what they did. (Code: If you send a message to the other team, expect one in return.)

“That was garbage,” he told reporters after the game. “That’s just bad baseball. It’s only the fourth inning. If they’re going to hold me on, I’m going to roll out. The circumstances were kind of out of whack, but the game was too early. It was only the fourth inning. If it happened again, I’d do it again. It’s one of those things where I’m a hard-nosed player. I’m grimey. And I just wanted to go out there and try to protect myself. I didn’t want to get outside the box. There’s bit a little bit of controversy surrounding the kid lately. But it’s just one of things.”

That’s one way to look at it. Another way is that “the kid” essentially gave the Marlins little choice but to reinforce their point. Which they did, when Volstad threw a pitch behind him two innings later.

“I think that’s the only reason we tried to go after him a second time,” said Marlins third baseman Wes Helms in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. “Since he stole the bases, I think it pumped us up a little more and got to Volstad a little bit. . . . I cannot stand when a guy shows somebody up or show the integrity of the game up to the fans or whatever. There’s just no place in baseball for that. In my opinion, you’re going to get what’s coming to you if you do that. Tonight, it was time we had to show him we weren’t going to put up with the way he was treating us, but also with the way he was trying to take bases down 10 runs. After he got hit, you know why he did it. . . . I can’t really say anything good about a guy that doesn’t play the game the right way and doesn’t play for the integrity of the game.”

It’s not like Morgan needed to further prove a willingness to put his personal agenda ahead of the integrity of the game, but he did. After Volstad’s pitch sailed behind him, Morgan charged the mound, and a rarity in baseball occurred—a fight that involved actual fighting.

The Marlins—particularly first baseman Gaby Sanchez—couldn’t wait to get their hands on Morgan, and players quickly piled up near the mound. (Watch it here.)

Other accounts offer copious details of the fight. One pertinent example doesn’t even involve Morgan, but third base coach Pat Listach, who was among the first people in the scrum. Baseball’s Code mandates that fighting is left to the players, with coaches and managers serving to fill the role of peacemakers. That was clearly not Listach’s intent, and he may well be disciplined by the league for his actions.

Should Morgan be given any sort of pass in this situation, it’s for the fact that his response to being drilled—the stealing of back-to-back bases—fell within the boundaries of reason; as he said, it was only the fourth inning and the Marlins were holding him on, which is frequently taken as a tacit green light for eager baserunners.

Also, even more importantly, the Marlins took their shot earlier in the game. Between Morgan’s steals and the injury to his catcher, Volstad can hardly be blamed for wanting to get in another blow—but Morgan’s assumption that it was one too many is not unreasonable. In the middle of the fight, Riggleman could be seen mouthing the words “one time” to Florida manager Edwin Rodriguez, indicating the number of retaliatory attempts to which he felt the Marlins were entitled. (“We decide when we run,” said Riggleman in the Sun-Sentinel. “The Florida Marlins will not decide when we run.”)

“I understand they had to get me back a little bit,” said Morgan in the Post. “It’s part of the game. . . . I guess they took it the wrong way. He hit me the first time, so be it. But he hit two other of our guys?” (Volstad did indeed hit three batters on the day.) “Alright, cool. But then he whips another one behind me, we got to go. I’m just sticking up for myself and just defending my teammates. I’m just going out there and doing what I have to do.”

Doing what he had to do, of course, is up for interpretation. Saying that there’s a case to be made for Morgan’s viewpoint on the incidents leading up to the fight does nothing to discourage the sentiment that the guy has been wildly, unassailably, dangerously out of line for the better part of a week.

Guys like Manny Ramirez and Alex Rodriguez can flaunt the unwritten rules at their discretion; their jobs are safe, so long as they continue to produce.

When it’s a leadoff hitter with a .317 OBP, who led the league in being caught stealing last year and is on the way to doing it again, the margins are considerably tighter.

Watch out, Nyjer Morgan. There aren’t many people in your corner right about now.

– Jason

Update: Gaby Sanchez now says that the Marlins were not “really holding (Morgan) on,” prior to his fourth-inning stolen bases. For what it’s worth.

Update (9-03-10): MLB has ruled. Morgan will be suspended for eight games, in addition to the seven that had already been handed out (which is currently under appeal). Also suspended were, from the Marlins, Volstad (six games), pitcher Alex Sanabia (who must have done some heavy and unnecessary hitting in the scrum, for five), Sanchez (three), Edwin Rodriguez (one). Pitcher Jose Veras was fined.

Suspended from the Nationals were pitcher Doug Slaten (probably for furthering tensions by hitting Sanchez in response to the first baseman’s clothesline tackle of Morgan to begin the fight) and Listach (three games each), and Jim Riggleman (two games). Riggleman and Listach also were fined.

Update (9-16-10): Morgan’s suspension was reduced to eight games.