Chris Perez, Showing Players Up

Celebrate Good Times, Come On!, Chris Perez Edition

Old school, meet new school. On-field celebrations in baseball have become commonplace, mostly in the form of home plate scrums around a guy who has just scored the winning run. It’s gone from unheard of to accepted with the span of just a few years, and, Kendrys Morales aside, nobody has much of a problem with it.

The primary factor in this recent acceptance is that it’s celebration of a victory. (Such a display mid-game would be taken very differently.) It’s also why the one position that can get away with comparable shenanigans is a closer, following the final out of a win. Think Dennis Eckersley’s six-shooters, or Brian Wilson’s crossed-arm salute.

In that regard, Cleveland closer Chris Perez isn’t so unique, freely exuberating on the mound following a job well done.

Well, he did his job on Thursday, and Alex Rios didn’t appreciate it. Perhaps it was because Rios had just made the final out of the game, grounding to shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera to close Cleveland’s 7-5 victory over the White Sox. Perhaps it was because Perez was not just gesticulating, but yelling in celebration. Maybe it was because the pitcher had also snuck in a self-congratulatory fist pump after striking out A.J. Pierzynski a batter earlier.

No matter, Rios barked at Perez as he returned to the Chicago dugout in a clear display of displeasure and frustration. (Watch it here.)

“Well, I don’t know what was wrong with [Perez],” said Rios after the game, in an report. “He just started yelling for no reason. I don’t know why he started yelling, and that’s it. When I hit that ground ball, he was yelling when [Cabrera] was throwing to first. He was yelling the whole way. I couldn’t tell what he was saying. He was just staring and saying something.”

Because Perez does this kind of thing frequently, it’s unlikely that his comments were directed toward Rios or the White Sox. According to Rios, that hardly matters. “If he was celebrating, that was not the right way to do it,” he said.

Which is what makes this juncture in baseball history so interesting. A generation ago, Rios’ sentiment would have been gospel. Eckersley and a few rogue pitchers aside, players generally had better control of their celebratory quirks. Today, with enforcers like Nolan Ryan—who would voice his displeasure through any number of fastballs thrown at an opponent who had just shown him up—increasingly rare, acts like Perez’s are common.

It’s the game as we now know it. Seems like it’d behoove Alex Rios to come to grips with it.

(Via Hardball Talk.)

Jeffrey Leonard, Jeffrey Leonard, Retaliation, Showing Players Up

We Must Be in the Front Row: Not First Time for Ticket Mixup at Busch

The view shared by members of the Brewers' traveling party?

Between the name-calling and the occasional hit batter and the Beast Mode, this Brewers-Cardinals NLCS has not been short on tempestuous fun.

Wednesday, however, things took a bit of a different turn. Whether it’s a bizarre form of institutional retaliation or simply shoddy planning, St. Louis’s decision to forgo the standard seating section for the families of Brewers players and staff—opting instead to spread them out around the ballpark—has been met with considerable anger.

“It’s bush,” said Nyjer Morgan in an report. “Our families, they’ve got to be secured. It’s kind of garbage. We put their [families] in a secure section and then they want to spread ours out. I don’t know why they play the mental games, but that right there, they shouldn’t play the games right there because that’s our family and our family has got to be secure. But that’s just them, that’s how they operate right there I guess.”

Leading to the theory that the decision was directly influenced by the team’s dislike for the Brewers is the fact that St. Louis reserved precisely such a section for its opponent in the NLDS, the Phillies. Cardinals GM John Mozeliak denied that gamesmanship was behind the decision, but at the very least, the club has some precedent on which to build.

During the 1987 NLCS against San Francisco, Giants players were dismayed to find out that their families had been relegated to the far reaches of the ballpark. The incident was referenced briefly in The Baseball Codes; here’s a more robust version of the story:

Giants slugger Jeffrey Leonard introduced the phrase “one flap down” into the American lexicon during the playoffs in 1987. That was the name of the peculiar home-run trot he had devised (but rarely used) the previous season, during which he let his left arm dangle limply at his side while dipping his inside shoulder into the turn at each base. The slugger decided to resurrect the practice after he and teammates noticed that the Cardinals organization placed Giants family members and friends in nosebleed seats for the first playoff game in St. Louis.

“We peeked out of the [Busch Stadium] dugout and saw where they were sitting, and we all got angry,” he said. “So I said to myself, if I hit a home run I’m just going to clown this fool out there.”

Leonard had plenty of opportunities to clown plenty of fools in the coming days, as he hit four homers over the seven-game series—a performance so dominating that he was named series MVP, even though his team lost. For each of those homers, his arm hung low to his side, which infuriated the Cardinals and their fans. (As did the fact that Leonard’s teammate Chili Davis called St. Louis a “cow town” to the press, a comment that got considerable run near the Gateway Arch.)

Leonard had come upon his trot by accident during a 1986 game, after he hit a home run against Chicago’s Scott Sanderson. First base coach Jose Morales, who usually met passing runners with an arm raised for a high-five, this time had his hands at his sides. It wasn’t until Leonard was atop the bag, ready to turn toward second, that Morales’ arm shot into the air in a belated attempt at congratulation. Leonard’s instinctive response was to duck under it, dropping his left shoulder in the process and letting his arm dangle as he rounded the base. Then, for reasons he can’t much explain, he held the pose as he continued the circuit.

The Brewers have plenty of ready-built responses of their own to call upon, starting with various permutations of Beast Mode and ending with Morgan’s T-Plush signs.

They should be wary, however: Leonard was drilled for his actions by Bob Forsch in Game 3 back in ’87; a similar response from Tony La Russa’s Cardinals would hardly be unusual.

Update (10-18): Apparently that wasn’t all of it. Now that the NLCS is complete, we hear that Zack Greinke‘s wife, Emily, was none too pleased with her seats, tweeting during a game in St. Louis that she’d been relegated to a spot down the left-field line. The tweet has since been deleted, but Larry Brown Sports saved the accompanying picture, allegedly shot on location.

– Jason

Francisco Cervelli, John Lackey, Retaliation

Cervelli-abration: How Much is Too Much, and What to do About it?

So Francisco Cervelli hit a big home run and clapped his hands in celebration as he stepped on the plate, directly under the nose of Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

The next pitch Cervelli saw hit him square in the back.

It certainly looked incriminating, and although pitcher John Lackey denied all intent, that’s what he’s supposed to do. The Yankees broadcast crew jumped on it immediately, with Michael Kay not missing a beat after Cervelli was drilled before saying, “I’m going to tell you why Cervelli just got hit. I will tell you why. Because when he hit the home run he celebrated at home plate and clapped his hands right in front of Saltalamacchia.” The telecast then cut to a pre-queued clip of the moment. (Watch it, preceded by the home run itself, here.)

Kay was hardly the only one to see it in this light. Another example, from the Boston Globe, which structured its use of quotes to paint a particular picture:

“He was pumped for that [third] home run of his career,” Lackey said. “I thought it was a little excessive, honestly.”

Said Saltalamacchia: “He’s done a lot of that stuff. … He likes to get excited. That’s fine. As far as the clapping goes, yeah, it could have been a little much. You don’t show anybody up. You play the game the way you play it. You’ve got to stay in your boundaries.”

Seems pretty cut and dried. There are some compelling arguments to the contrary, however.

Start with the fact that the Red Sox trailed 4-2 at that point in the seventh, and Lackey’s primary job was to keep that deficit static. The last thing he’d rationally want is to put the leadoff hitter on base with the lineup about to turn over. (Sure enough, Cervelli came around to score New York’s final run.)

Said Lackey in the Boston Herald, “I’ve been fined twice for hitting guys this year and I’ve paid them because they were right. But this one, I’m not afraid to tell you if I’m trying to hit somebody. I would’ve told him to his face.”

The statement that rang truest from Lackey, from the New York Daily News, pointed out in stark terms every truth of the situation. The Globe excerpt above utilized part of it, but cut out the key final sentiment.

“(Cervelli) was pumped for that ninth home run of his career (third actually), yeah. I don’t know. I thought it was a little excessive, honestly, but that’s not a spot you handle something like that.”

Naysayers can start their counter-arguments with the fact that this game doesn’t mean anything because Boston and New York are both going to the playoffs, then talk about Boston wanting to avoid facing Justin Verlander twice in the ALDS.

But those who think a starting pitcher in the midst of a pennant race is willing to compromise a victory in order to take care of some vendetta—especially with five games remaining between the teams during which to drill Cervelli at a more opportune moment—must ignore an awful lot of reality to do so.

More of an affront to the Code than anything Lackey did was Cervelli’s celebration—specifically, where it took place. Had he clapped his hands upon seeing the ball leave the yard, the Red Sox would not likely have noticed. Had he waited for several steps after crossing the plate, on his way back to the dugout, same thing.

As Craig Calcaterra wrote over at HardballTalk, “Cervelli pumps his fist when he gets a good sandwich. He woops it up if he tosses a wadded up piece of paper into a trash can on the first try. If Cervelli gets one more home run in his career it’ll be a gift from the friggin’ gods, so let him have his little moments.”

Done and done. The guy has to measure those moments, however, to ensure they occur somewhere than directly in front of his opponent. Otherwise, he can expect more of the same kind of treatment he received from Lackey.

Perhaps next time it’ll even be intentional.

Update (9-1-11): MLB didn’t buy it. Lackey’s been fined.

– Jason

Andres Torres, Chad Qualls, Showing Players Up

One Man’s Celebration is Another Man’s Disrespect, Chad Qualls Edition

The play that started it all.

There’s a reason that baseball doesn’t have the chest-thumping of the NBA, or the equivalent of a football player leaping up after a two-yard carry with a first-down signal.

Baseball doesn’t have much tolerance for that kind of thing. Save for game-winning plays, look-at-me moments are nearly universally frowned upon.

Which is part of the reason that Andres Torres and the Giants aren’t looking at Chad Qualls in a friendly light today.

With the Giants trailing 5-3 in the seventh, Torres won his first battle with Qualls, working back from a 1-2 count to see 16 pitches—fouling off 11 of them in an at-bat that took more than eight minutes—before drawing a base on balls. He then stole second, and advanced to third on an infield grounder.

That’s where he was when a Qualls pitch squirted away from catcher Nick Hundley; after delaying to assess the situation, Torres belatedly broke for home.

Hundley’s toss to Qualls, covering the plate, was in plenty of time. Qualls went into a bit of a slide while making the tag and essentially sat on the plate to keep Torres from touching it; the putout ended the inning with San Francisco’s best hitter, Pablo Sandoval, up to bat and the tying run at second. (Watch it here.)

It’s understandable that Qualls was pleased with the development, especially in light of the frustration he must have felt after Torres’ marathon at-bat. Which doesn’t diminish the fact that he spiked the baseball and yelled at Torres on his way back to the dugout.

“That’s not professional,” Torres told reporters after the game. “I don’t believe in making a show on the field.”

Torres talked about respect, both for the game itself and for one’s opponents. He got passionate when discussing his own protracted path to the big leagues, intoning that he’s come to far, at too great a price, to be disrespected like that on the field. (Watch the entire exchange here.)

Direct payback for Qualls is unlikely, since, as a reliever, it’s a longshot that he’ll come to bat against the Giants. Retaliation against one of the Padres’ hitters isn’t out of the question but is similarly unlikely unless San Francisco breaks through with a passel of early runs today, giving their pitchers a bit of leeway when it comes to things like settling scores.

Then again, these teams face each other 14 more times this year. There is, as the saying goes, a lot of baseball yet to be played.

Update: This just in from Dan Brown of the San Jose Mercury News, who tracked down Qualls before today’s game: The reliever doesn’t feel good about what he did. “I’m sorry that it happened,” he said. “I meant no disrespect. That’s not what I intended. I play this game with passion and to, me, that situation was as elevated as it gets for my type of inning.”

– Jason

John Danks, Jose Bautista, Showing Players Up

Frustration Night in Canada: Bautista Sparks Showdown of the Irritated

Jose, meet John. John, Jose.

If John Danks’ girlfriend broke up with him last season, when he won 15 games for the White Sox with a 3.72 ERA and finished seventh in the American League in WAR, he probably would have taken it a lot better than if she broke up with him sometime in the last two months.*

Which is to say, dealing with adversity is much easier when you’re on top of the world than it is when you’re getting your head kicked in every five days.

The latter scenario pretty aptly describes Danks this season, especially after giving up nine earned runs over four innings to Toronto on Sunday to run his record to 0-8 with a 5.25 ERA. Which is why it shouldn’t be too surprising that he’d show some thin skin when, having just retired the best hitter in baseball on a 3-2 pitch, said best hitter in baseball gave him an earful.

Never mind that Jose Bautista was cursing at himself, not Danks. He was cursing, and Danks was the pitcher, so of course Danks took it poorly. (Watch it here.)

Toughen up, one might tell Danks; Bautista didn’t mean to disrespect you. But think about it this way: Was Bautista frustrated by hitting a popup because he consistently expects better from himself, or was he frustrated because he had just seen two fat two-seamers from a pitcher who had given up four runs over the course of the previous two hitters, including a two-run homer to Corey Patterson—only to have watched the first for a called strike, then failed to hit the second past shortstop?

In other words, is Bautista that ferocious a competitor, or was he saying—in an extremely visible way—I can’t believe this chump just got me out?

It’s clearly possible that it’s the latter, which is all Danks needs to be justified in his reaction. Danks started shouting down Bautista from the moment he spiked the bat, and Bautista had a word or two in response.

“He was out there acting like a clown,” Danks said after the game. “He’s had a great year and a half—no doubt. He’s one of the best players in the league. But he’s out there acting like he’s Babe Ruth or something. . . . He isn’t that good to be acting like he needs to hit every ball out of the ballpark.”

Retaliation in the future: Likely.

This isn’t always the case, of course. Last May, Carlos Lee reacted similarly after popping up against Chris Carpenter, and heard about it from the St. Louis pitcher. One difference: Carpenter was 4-0 with a 2.80 ERA at the time, and though he was clearly frustrated in having just given up the game’s first run a batter earlier, he was (and still is) too good to take things as personally as he did (and does). Danks, at least right now, is nowhere near that point.

The lesson of the day: Play it safe and keep your frustrations to yourself, big leaguers, at least until you find your way back to the dugout.

– Jason

* I should probably note that I don’t have the foggiest idea if John Danks even has a girlfriend, let alone if he’s married, and certainly possess no information about his potential relationship issues outside of the purely hypothetical situation described above. I wish John Danks nothing but many years of avid bachelorhood or wedded bliss, whichever suits him better.

Matt Diaz, Showing Players Up

When Bad Things Happen to Good Players

Chalk one up for the good guys.

Matt Diaz hit a game-tying, two-run homer for the Braves on Sunday, then flipped his bat in celebration. In cases like this, players are usually granted a degree of leeway, for celebratory purposes.

A degree.

It wasn’t until he rounded the bases and took a gander at exactly how far he’d flipped it, however, that Diaz realized his actions might have been a bit too enthusiastic.

“Coming around third you see the dugout and you see the bat boy picking up the bat over by the dugout, like wow, did I do that?” Diaz told the Atlanta Journal Constitution after the game. “I didn’t know how far. It was ugly. There was a Sammy Sosa hop involved, with a Bret Boone bat flip, with a Paul O’Neill head-down-not-look-at-it but then look at it later.” (Watch it here.)

It wasn’t quite an apology to the pitcher, Leo Nunez, but it was certainly an admission of guilt—which can go a long way toward mollifying sensitive feelings, especially since the teams play again this weekend.

Then again, Diaz and Nunez were once teammates in Kansas City, and Diaz thinks he has a handle on the pitcher’s state of mind.

“Leo is a high emotional pitcher anyway, and when he has a big strikeout, he’ll let you know it,” he said. “Those guys usually understand guys who get caught up in emotion and do something like I did yesterday.”

It wasn’t recognition of the Code quite along the lines exhibited by Michael Saunders earlier in the year, but the guy dropped a Paul O’Neill reference. What more can one reasonably ask?

– Jason

Carlos Lee, Chris Carpenter, Houston Astros, Showing Players Up, St. Louis Cardinals

The Best Way to Beat Chris Carpenter: Disrespect Him

Chris Carpenter is proving to have thin skin, and it’s costing him.

In the third inning of yesterday’s game, Carlos Lee popped up a pitch to shortstop with runners at first and second base, and responded by slamming his bat to the ground and yelling at himself in frustration. It took less than two seconds, and his gaze was fixed nowhere near the mound. (Watch it here.)

Still, Carpenter took it personally.

The St. Louis pitcher started into a surprised Lee, who slowly approached the mound to continue the conversation. Benches and bullpens emptied, although nobody came close to throwing a punch.

Did Carpenter have reason to be annoyed? Absolutely.

Should he have reacted as he did? No way.

There’s such thing as overkill when it comes to the respect afforded by baseball’s unwritten rules, and Carpenter offered up a clear example. Immediately following the incident, the right-hander gave up a three-run homer to Hunter Pence, as part of a four-run inning. In the seven other frames that Carpenter completed, he gave up three hits and no runs.

St. Louis lost, 4-1.

Up to that point, Pence was 0-for-9 lifetime against Carpenter. To judge by the box score, the pitcher effectively psyched himself out.

(St. Louis manager Tony La Russa did have Carpenter’s back, saying, “Routinely now, hitters pop up a pitch they think they should do [something] with, and they start making noises, and that really is disrespectful to the pitcher.” With any other manager, this would clearly be an effort to deflect attention from the pitcher. La Russa, however, probably believes it.)

This is the second time this season that the Cardinals might have paid a price for Carpenter’s sensitivities.

On April 21, he was hit by a pitch from Arizona’s Edwin Jackson, and then took the unusual tack of seeking retribution from the basepaths, not the mound, going out of his way to take out second baseman Kelly Johnson on an ensuing double-play grounder. (He ultimately rattled cages but did no damage, and after the game called it “an unprofessional move.” “I shouldn’t have done it . . .” he said. “I was in a position where I didn’t control my emotions enough to not do something stupid.”)

Carpenter threw shutout ball that day, save for the two runs he gave up two innings after his basepath meltdown. It’s impossible to say that one led to the other, but the possibility exists.

Carpenter, of course, is hardly alone in demonstrating the downside to being a stickler for the unwritten rules. Take an example from 2006, in which Toronto’s Ted Lilly hit A’s DH Frank Thomas in retaliation for Oakland pitcher Joe Blanton’s plunking of Troy Glaus an inning earlier.

Lilly got Thomas with the first pitch, his intentions clear. And Thomas took it like a pro, trotting to first base without emotion, as if he’d merely drawn a walk.

Lilly, however, was thrown off his game. Six of the next eleven batters reached base, including a Jay Payton home run.

“When he hit Big Frank, he wasn’t so sure that Big Frank wasn’t coming out to get him,” said a member of the A’s. “He thinks he helped his team by hitting Big Frank, but I’ll tell you what—his heart was pumping a mile a minute until he realized that Frank was just going to take first base. And after that, Lilly couldn’t find the strike zone. He was all over the place.”

A pitcher as good as Chris Carpenter is rarely all over the place, but the emotions that accompany perceived disrespect have managed to expose a chink in his armor.

He’d be well served to cover that up.

– Jason