Jordan Smith, Rookie Etiquette

How to Make an Inauspicious Outing Even Worse, No. 762

By most measures, Jordan Smith has had a fine rookie season for the Cincinnati Reds. He’s compiled a 3.32 ERA in 37.1 innings out of the bullpen, with 22 strikeouts against only nine walks. He’s even racked up a save.

On Monday, however, he learned a valuable lesson in rookie comportment.

In what was by far his worst appearance as a big leaguer—and probably his worst appearance ever—Smith threw nine pitches to two batters, only one of which was a strike. After walking the second man, he was removed by manager Dusty Baker.

Which is pretty much where things fell apart. On his way off the field, Smith decided to have a chat about the strike zone with plate ump John Hirschbeck.

At this point he would have been well served to observe the first rule of rookiedom (generally more valid in years past than today, but still rock-solid when it comes to umpires): Don’t speak unless spoken to.

Words led to shouting; shouting led to ejection. (Watch it here.)

With his display of ill temper, Smith undoubtedly made it more difficult for himself the next time he sees Hirschbeck. Much like veteran players, many umps like to test rookies, just a little, to see what they’re made of.

“The longer you play, the more rope you get,” said Andy Van Slyke, describing the phenomenon.

Whether Hirschbeck had been intentionally squeezing Smith is unclear, but there’s certainly precedent to fall back on.

Take Wade Miller. In the pitcher’s major league debut for Houston in 1999, a start against Arizona, umpire Rich Rieker was being extremely judicious with his strike calls.

After one pitch that split the plate was called a ball, Miller gave the ump a protracted glare. That was all his catcher, Randy Knorr, needed to see. He quickly trotted out for a mound visit.

“I said, ‘Wade, man, just get through today. If you get through today, you’ll be fine. Just don’t show up the umpire. He’s testing you. I’m trying to work him back there, don’t be snapping the ball on him or anything like that.’ ”

Miller ended up allowing seven runs over three innings, but ultimately passed the test. The final batter he faced, Arizona pitcher Brian Anderson, was called out on strikes.

“As he walked off the field,” said Knorr, “I think the umpire said, ‘Good job, Wade.’ ”

– Jason

Ken Griffey Jr., Rookie Etiquette

Griffey Jr. Primed for 22nd Season. He Had to Learn his Rookie Lessons Somewhere

Reports out of Seattle have Ken Griffey Jr. healthy and raring to go for his 22nd big league season. Not bad for someone they call, “Kid.”

Griffey was a natural interview target for the book, having grown up around the game and seen first-hand how the unwritten rules have changed since his dad roamed major league outfields in the 1970s.

It was clear through the conversation that Griffey wasn’t just paying lip service to the Code; he believed in it, and understood it through all its permutations.

Of particular interest were his reminiscences about his rookie season. He came into the league as a 19-year-old amid unbelievable hype, just 22 months after being selected by the Mariners with the top overall pick of the 1987 draft. Even with his pedigree, even with his draft position and even with the hype, it didn’t take long for Griffey to learn his place in the pecking order.

The following quote from Jeffrey Leonard made the book; everything else is a Web bonus:

I had Jeffrey Leonard, Alvin Davis, Harold Reynolds, Dave Valle, Jim Presley, Mickey Brantley, Henry Cotto—I was around a bunch of good guys who said, “This is what we’re going to do—we’re going to show you how to play baseball. We know you know how to play, but we’re going to show you the right way to play the game.”

Jeffrey’s exact words to me were, “There’s going to be a lot of people kissing your ass. I won’t be one of them.”

He helped me at that critical time of being a teenager and not knowing. He was like, “Hey, you’re still going to sit up in the front of the bus as a rookie, but when I call you back, you’re going to come back and sit and talk to me. We’re going to go eat and talk about baseball. We’re going to the ballpark and we’re going to talk about baseball. You’re going to be right next to me all year.”

And sure enough, my locker was right next to him the whole year.

A rookie’s primary clubhouse goal, of course, is to blend into the scenery, a concept that Griffey understood as well as anyone. Still, his effervescence, personified by the backward cap that always seemed perched atop his head, appeared to actively fly in the face of Code convention.

Not so, he told us:

I grew up with what we now call old school, but I think I’m a hybrid—a kind of new school/old school. We’ve changed the game some, with the long pants and baggy uniforms, that type of stuff. You just try to make the game more fun. Some of the guys have their hats askew—you know, like me with my hat being backward.

People thought I was just trying to be different, but that’s not it. When I was a kid, I’d grab my dad’s hat. It was big, so whenever I started to run, the brim fell in front of me and I couldn’t see. But I always wanted to grab my dad’s hat, so I turned it around. I’ve been doing it since I was four.

I wasn’t trying to be different. When I finally explained it to people, they started laughing. Because, you know, when you’re a kid, what’s the one thing you want to do? You want to be just like your dad. You put on his shoes and walk around the house, you put on his pants and hold them up and walk around, and those are the things that I did—but my dad just happened to be a professional baseball player.