By almost every account, Vicente Padilla’s beaning of Adrian Beltre yesterday was an accident. (Watch it here.) It came in the eighth inning of a 1-1 game, with an 0-2 count and a runner at third. But when a guy has made a career not just of drilling batters—he’s now hit 108 over his 14-year career, third-most of any active pitcher and tied for 64th all-time—but hitting them in the head, one can’t help but think negative thoughts.
Padilla was suspended in 2005 after drilling Vlad Guerrero, then brushing him back in a later at-bat, then drilling Juan Rivera after warnings had been issued—all within a span of two innings. He was suspended again in 2007 for throwing at Nick Swisher. He broke Aaron Rowand’s face with a pitch in 2010.
“I’ve seen him hit people that aren’t even a threat,” said one opponent in 2010. “You get a small, scrawny guy up at the plate and he’ll throw at him just for the hell of it. That’s how he pitches. That’s how he is.”
This is the guy who earned applause from Marlon Byrd when he was released by the Rangers in 2009—and Byrd was his teammate. The release, in fact, came about largely because of Texas players’ demands that Padilla hit fewer opponents, as the tactic frequently ended up members of the Rangers being drilled in response.
Case in point: That June, Padilla hit former teammate Mark Teixeira twice. The first response was Teixeira (cleanly) wiping out Elvis Andrus at second base (“setting off a celebration in the Yankee dugout” according to the New York Daily News). The second was A.J. Burnett coming very up and very in on Nelson Cruz.
Said Teixeria after that game:
The first two at-bats of my career [against Padilla in 2005, when the right-hander was with Philadelphia], I hit home runs. Third at-bat, I got hit. And every time I’ve faced him since there have been balls near my head, near my body. We were teammates for two years. I remember getting hit a lot because he was hitting other players.
Teixera went so far as to ask the pitcher to knock off that kind of behavior. Padilla’s response, according to the first baseman: “Nothing.”
That August, following an intervention by Rangers brass along those same lines, Padilla, facing the A’s, responded to a Scott Hairston homer by hitting Kurt Suzuki. After the A’s retaliated by drilling Michael Young, Padilla was seen laughing on the bench. He was designated for assignment within days.
It’s hardly a stretch to think that no pitcher has been universally less-liked since Padilla came into the league in 1999. All of which is a long way of saying that when it comes to the Code, retaliation is sometimes called for even in response to unintentional actions—but when it comes to Vicente Padilla, it seems merely to be a matter of course.
That Beltre appears to be in fine shape is good news, but probably has no bearing on whatever is to follow. Red Sox and Rangers meet again tonight. Stay tuned.
The ability to appropriately retaliate is a vital part of a pitcher’s resume, giving his teammates confidence that not only will he offer support should they be thrown at, but that he’ll do his darndest to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
While this is generally considered a positive attribute, last year we learned that in this regard, there can be too much of a good thing.
Vicente Padilla has long been considered baseball’s loosest cannon when it comes to hit batsmen. He drills hitters at will; that he appears to use raw emotion rather than baseball’s Code as his source of motivation makes this a dangerous tack to take.
Padilla spent most of the last four years with the Texas Rangers, where he was an unquestionably valuable member of the rotation, leading the team’s starting pitchers in either wins or winning percentage in two of his three full seasons with the team.
He also led the league in hit batsmen once, and drilled guys with such frequency that his teammates developed a distaste for the practice; Padilla’s recklessness was continually putting them in the crosshairs of retaliatory strikes.
It came to a head for him during a game in June 2009, when he hit Mark Teixeira of the New York Yankees twice. New York’s A.J. Burnett threw a response pitch that nearly hit Nelson Cruz in the head, and Padilla was placed on waivers the following day. It was a clear message; while Padilla wasn’t kicked off the team outright, the process to trade or release him had been initiated. Were he to stay with the Rangers, he needed to change his ways.
On Aug. 5, however, Padilla imploded, in typical fashion. After giving up a two-run homer to A’s outfielder Scott Hairston in the first inning, he drilled Kurt Suzuki two batters later. Sure enough, the A’s retaliated by hitting Michael Young.
“I have a lot of good friends on the Yankees, and they were like, ‘One of you guys is going to get hurt one day,’ ” Young said in the Dallas Morning News after the Teixeira incident. “No one wants to see that happen, obviously, but it’s the nature of the game. A lot of time times we felt like we had a bull’s-eye on our back.”
Three days after the A’s incident, the Rangers designated Padilla for assignment.
The pitcher had apparently burned so many bridges within his own clubhouse that his dismissal led to widespread celebration. General manger Jon Daniels portrayed Padilla as a bad teammate, and received handshakes and congratulations from relieved members of the Rangers when they heard the news. (Among those celebrating was Ian Kinsler, who had been targeted for retaliation in 2006 after Padilla hit White Sox second baseman Alex Cintron.)
The player to offer the greatest level of detail to the press was outfielder Marlon Byrd, who had also played with Padilla in Philadelphia.
“About time,” he said in the Morning News. “It’s absolutely a positive for this team. We have to get rid of the negatives to make a positive, and I believe this is a huge positive for this team. . . . You have to be a good teammate. You have to help teach younger guys the right things. He wasn’t a positive influence on the young guys. You started questioning his character and about how much he cared.”
The primary problem with being publicly frank about a head-hunting former teammate, of course, is the possibility that you’ll end up hitting against him someday.
Just over a week ago, on July 10, Padilla, now with the Dodgers, faced Byrd, now with the Cubs, for the first time since leaving Texas. Needless to say, he drilled him in the back.
This led to another retaliatory cycle, the type of which helped lead to Padilla’s banishment from Texas. Cubs pitcher Andrew Cashner responded by drilling Los Angeles second baseman Blake DeWitt an inning later, and subsequently received high-fives in the dugout, and congratulations in the clubhouse after the game (despite the fact that the Cubs lost, 7-0).
(Afterward, Cashner upheld the Code, claiming in the Chicago Tribune that the pitch to DeWitt “slipped.” Byrd’s praise of Cashner’s “pinpoint accuracy,” however, seems to counteract that.)
It’s a complex tale of intertwined codes, which go to show how one rule can affect another, and another and another.
Primary among them, of course, being to avoid angering pitchers who will be only too delighted to respond.
On April 16, Dodgers right-hander Vicente Padillabroke Aaron Rowand’s face with a pitch, putting him out of action for two weeks. Some feel that a hit batsman, even an unintentionally hit one, merits retaliation, because points must be proved about topics such as willingness to take whatever it is an opponent wishes to dish out, or not.
Padilla’s strike may well have been unintentional, but that doesn’t alter the fact that he holds the distinction of being the game’s preeminent headhunter. That, by itself, is reason enough for suspicion.
The Giants had an opportunity to retaliate that day. Padilla came to bat the very next inning, Los Angeles led 9-2 at the time and there were two outs in the inning. A perfect set-up.
Instead of drilling Padilla, however, Giants reliever Waldis Joaquin pitched to him, getting him to ground out to end the fifth inning. Dodgers manager Joe Torre pinch-hit for Padilla the next time he was scheduled to bat.
Discussion around the Bay Area mounted a number of theories as to why the Giants chose not to retaliate. It could have been that Joaquin, just 23 years old and with fewer than 15 innings of big league experience, simply didn’t know any better, and hadn’t received specific instructions.
It could have been that the Giants’ braintrust wanted some time to assess the situation, knowing that they’d have other chances during the season to attack their nemesis.
To complicate matters, Padilla broke an unwritten rule after the fact by failing to call over to the Giants dugout to check on the guy he’d seriously injured. By itself, said some, that was justification for a retaliatory pitch the next time San Francisco saw him.
Well, San Francisco saw him yesterday for the first time since the incident and … nothing.
Padilla’s first two at-bats came with a runner on base and nobody out; the score was 0-0 the first time, and the Dodgers led 2-0 the second. Giants starter Jonathan Sanchez can hardly be faulted for his desire to minimize the damage each inning, rather than extend it.
When Padilla came up in the seventh, however, the Dodgers led 5-1. Giants reliever Santiago Casilla apparently attempted to send a message, throwing a fastball behind Padilla that failed to hit him. The intent behind the pitch—whether he wanted to hit him, or to send a message at all—is unknown, as Casilla stuck to the Code afterward, blaming the pitch’s location on a faulty “delivery point.”
It was enough, however, for umpire Tom Hallion to warn both benches, and put an end to Casilla’s endeavor. Padilla skated unscathed, eventually striking out. If there was a message sent, it was a mild one. After the game, Rowand refused to discuss anything that had to do with Padilla.
Interestingly, this exchange signaled a pattern—not with the Giants, but with Padilla himself. It was Padilla, after all, who instigated the series of events that led to White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen berating rookie pitcher Sean Tracey on the Comisky Park mound in 2006.
From The Baseball Codes:
Guillen quickly identiﬁed Texas’s Hank Blalock as a target for retaliation after Padilla twice hit Chicago catcher A. J. Pierzynski during a game. That was the plan, anyway. Filling the space between conception and execution, however, was Guillen’s choice of executioner: rookie Sean Tracey.
The right-hander had appeared in all of two big-league games to that point and was understandably nervous. Even under optimal circumstances he didn’t have terriﬁc control, having led the Carolina League in wild pitches two years earlier, while hitting twenty-three batters. When Tracey was suddenly inserted into a game at Arlington Stadium with orders to drill the twentieth major-league hitter he’d ever faced, it was hardly because he was the best man for the job. To Guillen, Tracey was simply an expendable commodity, a reliever whose potential ejection wouldn’t much hurt the team, especially trailing 5–0, as the Sox were at the time.
If the manager knew his baseball history, he might have realized that precedent had already been set in this regard. In 1942, Boston Braves manager Casey Stengel, wanting to get even with the Brooklyn Dodgers for stealing his signs, ordered his own rookie pitcher—greener even than Tracey, appearing in just his second big-league game—to hit Dodgers shortstop Pee Wee Reese. Faced with an assassin’s assignment, the nervous lefty tried three times to hit Reese, and three times he missed. The following day, a fuming Stengel shipped him back to the minors, an action he would later call his biggest mistake as a manager. It would be four more years before Warren Spahn returned to the big leagues (a span extended by his service in World War II), by which point he was better prepared to handle the rigors that came with his promotion.
The same probably won’t be said about Sean Tracey. When the right-hander’s ﬁrst pitch to Blalock ran high and tight but missed the mark, Tracey did what he’d been taught in the minors, sending his next pitch to the outside corner in order to avoid suspicion. Blalock tipped it foul. When Tracey’s third effort was also fouled back, for strike two, the pitcher altered his strategy and decided to go after the out, not the batter.
According to his manager, it was the wrong decision. After Blalock grounded out on the ﬁfth pitch of the at-bat, Guillen stormed to the mound and angrily yanked Tracey from the game. He didn’t let up after they returned to the dugout, berating the twenty-ﬁve-year-old in front of both his teammates and a television audience. With nowhere to hide, Tracey sat on the bench and pulled his jersey up over his head, doing his best to disappear in plain sight. Two days later, without making another appearance, he was returned to the minor leagues, and during the off¬season was released.
In his previous game, Tracey had hit a batter without trying to, said Tim Raines, Chicago’s bench coach, “so we ﬁgured it’d be easy for him to hit a guy if he was trying. . . . But it’s much harder than it looks. I think it’s harder knowing you’re going to hit a guy. And if the target knows you’re trying to hit him, he’s going to be loose in the box. It’s not something you’re taught. You can’t practice hitting a guy.”
Ultimately, Tracey shouldered the responsibility for his actions, saying he “learned from it,” but the lesson was lost on his more tenured teammate, Jon Garland, a seven-year veteran en route to his second consecutive eighteen-win season. Before Padilla’s next start against the White Sox, Guillen launched a pre-emptive verbal sortie, positing to members of the media that if the Rangers right-hander hit any Chicago player, retribution would be fast and decisive. His exact words: “If Padilla hits somebody, believe me, we’re going to do something about it. That’s a guarantee. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but something’s going to happen. Make sure [the Rangers] know it, too.” Padilla did, in fact, hit Chicago shortstop Alex Cintron in the third inning, at which point it didn’t take much predictive power to see that a member of the Texas lineup would soon be going down. The smart money was on the following inning’s leadoff hitter, second baseman Ian Kinsler.
The smart money was correct, but the payoff left something to be desired. Garland’s ﬁrst pitch sailed behind Kinsler, a mark clearly missed. Plate umpire Randy Marsh, well versed in the history between the clubs, opted against issuing a warning, effectively granting Garland a second chance. The pitcher didn’t exactly seize the opportunity, putting his next pitch in nearly the same place as the ﬁrst. At this point, Marsh had no choice—warnings were issued and hostilities were, willingly or not, ceased. Guillen rushed to the mound for a vigorous discussion about the merits of teammate protection. Kinsler ultimately walked, and after the inning Guillen reprised his dugout undressing of Sean Tracey, spewing invective while Garland listened and the White Sox batted. “I make it clear, I won’t wait for two months or until I see you in spring training or until I see you next year,” Guillen told reporters the following day. “When you get it done, you get something done right away. If it didn’t happen that day, we get over it and move on.”
As Raines said, however, it’s not as easy as it looks. A designated driller carries the expectations of twenty-four guys, plus coaches, plus fans. If he tends to internalize things the task can become difﬁcult, with the neces¬sary steps to intentionally hitting someone growing surprisingly involved.
Santiago Casilla can attest to that much.
San Francisco next sees the Dodgers on July 19. The Code says that the Giants had their shot, and they blew it, so the slate should be wiped clean. That’s not always the way things work, however.
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 Padillabroke 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.