Adam Dunn, Carlos Santana, Running Into the Catcher

Freight Train Rolling; Dunn Offers Lesson to Rookie Catcher

We got to see Stephen Strasburg strike out eight Indians Sunday in his second major league start, but he wasn’t the only highly touted recent call-up to make an appearance.

Cleveland catcher Carlos Santana was playing in just his third big league game, and learned a valuable lesson in the process.

In the second inning, with Adam Dunn on second base, Washington’s Mike Morse hit a single to right field. Although the throw home was cut off by first baseman Russell Branyan, the 6-foot-6, 285-lb. Dunn thundered into Santana, flattening the catcher without so much as leaving his feet. (Watch it here.)

It called into question the unwritten rules regarding collisions at the plate, one of which says that a catcher has no business being in the baseline if he’s not holding the ball.

Could Dunn have avoided the collision had he been paying attention? Probably. Was it incumbent upon him to do so? Absolutely not.

In that situation, there’s no reason for Dunn to pay attention to anything but the space in front of him; if the catcher is standing there, Dunn has two choices—go around him or through him.

When Dunn was with Cincinnati in 2003, he found himself participating in another incident at the plate, which also involved questions about when it is and isn’t appropriate to flatten a catcher.

With the Reds holding a 10-0 lead over Philadelphia, Dunn was waved home from second on a single because the outfielder’s throw missed the cutoff man and the second baseman had to scamper to get to the ball.

In this type of situation, an acceptable interpretation of the Code says that runners can be sent home if there will be no play at the plate. There shouldn’t have been a play, so third base coach Tim Foli waved Dunn in.

From The Baseball Codes:

There was no way the throw would come close to beating Dunn. Except that the runner, sensing Foli’s lack of urgency, slowed down considerably, allowing the defense time to recover. By the time Dunn recognized his mistake, he was just steps away from catcher Mike Lieberthal, who was standing in the basepath, ball in hand. At that point, Dunn—a former football player for the University of Texas— reacted instinctively, putting everything he had into a brutal collision. And though he didn’t succeed—Lieberthal held on for the second out of the inning—when Dunn next came to bat he was thrown at by reliever Carlos Silva, and charged the mound.

“I don’t know what I’m supposed to do there,” said the slugger after the game. “Stop and let him tag me out? Slide? I think I did the right thing.”

In that situation, Lieberthal was entitled to the baseline, and Dunn was entitled to separate him from the baseball. (Or at least he would have been, had the score been closer.)

Against the Indians on Sunday, Santana had no business being in the baseline; intentionally or not, Dunn reminded him of that.

It’s a mistake that Santana will not likely make again.

(Thanks to SB Nation for the GIF.)

– Jason

Bobby Wilson, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Mark Teixeira, New York Yankees, Running Into the Catcher

Bobby Wilson’s War

Just a day after Alex Rodriguez helped propel the unwritten rules of baseball into the national spotlight, another Yankee, Mark Teixeira, did his part to keep them there. The circumstances and motivations couldn’t have been more different, but a Code discussion is a Code discussion.

On April 23, Teixeira, steaming in from third base, leveled Angels catcher Bobby Wilson with a hit so vicious that it put Wilson into the hospital, with a concussion and injured leg. (Watch the video here.)

There are numerous facets of the play that help paint the catcher as an innocent victim:

  • Wilson was effectively blocking only the inside portion of the plate, meaning that had Teixera attempted to slide wide, the collision might have been avoided.
  • Wilson, with all of 20 big-league games under his belt, was making his first start of the season.
  • Teixeira had been drilled earlier in the inning by Angels starter Ervin Santana, leading to speculation that the play might constitute a measure of payback.
  • Angels outfielder Torii Hunter, whose stature in the game is equal to that of Teixeira, said in the Orange County Register that “if he slides, he’s safe regardless. I guess he was on a mission.”
  • Teixeria emerged unscathed. Wilson hasn’t played since.

Compelling as this all may be, the unwritten rules are rarely swayed by sentiment. The Code says unequivocally that if a catcher doesn’t possess the baseball, he has no business standing between baserunner and plate. And Wilson didn’t possess the baseball.

He had been set up to receive the throw on the first-base side; once it arrived, he spun across the plate to make the tag. This would have been fine had the throw not bounced off his chest protector even as he began to turn. (It wasn’t dissimilar to a wide receiver who’s thinking which way he’s going to break once he makes the catch, then drops the ball.)

The amount of time Teixeira had to settle on his line of baserunning tactics based on Wilson’s body language: sub-eyeblink.

The most famous incident of catcher decimation came in the 1970 All-Star Game, when Pete Rose took out Cleveland’s catcher Ray Fosse with the winning run in the 12th inning. Like Wilson, Fosse was in the baseline without the ball (unlike Wilson, he was actually moving toward Rose to field an errant throw), and got leveled. The hit from Rose separated Fosse’s shoulder, forever robbing him of his power. (It was also enough to knock Rose out of action for the next three games; still, when asked if he had done the appropriate thing, Rose responded, “Nobody told me they changed it to girls’ softball between third and home.”)

The clearest vindication for Teixeria (aside even from Wilson himself, who, despite not being able to remember the play, said later that “I know his intent wasn’t to hurt me. It’s baseball. . . . It’s part of the game”) is the fact that three former iron-tough catchers—Angels manager Mike Scioscia, Yankees manager Joe Girardi and Yankees coach Tony Pena—watched from either dugout, and none of them found fault with the play.

(Scioscia called it “clean.” Said Girardi in the New Jersey Star-Ledger: “Your job as a catcher is to block the plate. You’ve got to keep the runner from scoring. Sometimes you get run over.)

Teixeria went so far as to maintain another unwritten rule after the game, calling over to the Angels clubhouse to check on Wilson’s status.

It didn’t take long even for Hunter to come around; later in the same interview in which he said that Teixeira should have slid, he admitted that “You don’t have a lot of time to think about it—five steps, 10 steps maybe. If you have 10 steps, you’re already planning on running him over no matter what. If he’s on the plate, blocking the plate, I gotta do it. At least try to jar the ball loose.”

Teixeira had far less time than that. Verdict: Teixeira.

– Jason