Retaliation, Teammate Relations

When Bad Things Happen To New Teammates: Welcome To Philly, Bryce Harper

Hamels vs. Harper

Remember back in 2012, Bryce Harper’s rookie year, when the guy was the most hyped teenage phenom baseball had seen in a generation? Remember when, in his first at-bat in his eighth game ever, Cole Hammels drilled him, just because?

Hamels admitted to it and everything, as reported right on this here blog, as a way of putting the upstart rookie in his place.

This is relevant today because, while Hamels has moved on (first to Texas, then to the Cubs), the Phillies manager then, Charlie Manuel, is still a special advisor with the club … which, as of last Saturday, has a new superstar right fielder. So of course the incident came to mind, and the former skipper made sure to get out in front of the situation.

“I didn’t tell Hamels to hit you,” Manuel told Harper prior to his introductory press conference, according to The Athletic’s Matt Gelb.

Okay, then. I guess that’s that.

***

Actually, baseball history is rife with examples of guys who have beefed having to join forces in the same clubhouse. Inevitably, players manage to put aside their differences, or at least lower the volume a little bit. In 1940, for example, Cardinals catcher Mickey Owens went after Dodgers player-manager Leo Durocher after the infielder started jawing at him following a play at second base. The full-fledged fistfight was the culmination of a series of events that included the beaning and subsequent hospitalization of Dodgers second baseman Joe Medwick a day earlier, and a near brawl between Durocher and Cardinals manager Billy Southworth over breakfast that morning. Owens, who was fined $50 for his actions by commissioner Ford Frick, could not have been more firm in his ill feelings about Durocher.

Less than six months later, he was traded to Brooklyn. Somehow, Owen and his new skipper existed copacetically for the next five seasons.

In 1975, after Rangers second baseman Dave Nelson bunted on Gaylord Perry for a base hit, the pitcher exacted revenge by throwing a ball at his head, which missed its mark only because Nelson deflected it with his arm. Later that season Perry was traded to Texas, and Nelson was notably cool upon the pitcher’s arrival. Eventually Perry approached his new teammate. “Hey, Dave,” he said. “I enjoyed the competition.” Nelson couldn’t believe it. He exploded about the right-hander’s head-hunting ways, and Perry took the time to explain his mindset. Nelson didn’t agree, but he at least appreciated the response. “I didn’t have much respect for him until he became a teammate,” Nelson said later.

Much more fun than either of those instances was Mike Piazza’s reaction following the incident during the 2000 World Series when Roger Clemens threw a shard of bat at him. Piazza opted against going after the pitcher at the time, and perhaps regretted having missed the opportunity. In 2004, he got another chance, teaming with Clemens (who had since joined the Houston Astros) on the National League All-Star roster. The rest comes straight from The Baseball Codes:

The National League’s starting battery was Clemens and Piazza; despite sharing the home clubhouse, the pair was noteworthy for their avoidance of each other. Not only did a public reconciliation fail to materialize, but the two shared not so much as a handshake, and Clemens spent much of his pre­game time on the field warming up in the bullpen with someone other than Piazza.

Then the fireworks started. Clemens lasted just one inning in his home ballpark, giving up six runs on a single, double, triple, and two home runs. Through it all, Piazza never once visited the mound to calm him. After­ward, the theorists started in: Had Piazza attained a measure of revenge by tipping the hitters to what was coming? The chance to embarrass Clemens in front of his hometown fans had to be appealing. But Piazza’s not talking. Neither are the American League hitters. The plate umpire, Ed Montague, swears that he didn’t hear a thing. And as far as Roger Clemens is concerned, the less he knows the better.

The pressure Bryce Harper will face over the next 13 seasons in Philadelphia will be significant, but,  none of it should resemble any of that. At least he has that much going for him.

Advertisements
Teammate Relations

Going, Going, Gone … Or Not

On Saturday, in the process of trying to reel back a home run, Yankees outfielder Chris Young lost his glove over the center field wall at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa. Brett Gardner leaped into action, literally, scaling the fence to go get it. Joe Girardi was not pleased (“We’ve seen guys hit a home run, jump up and land on the plate and break an ankle,” he said in a Newsday report), but all’s well that ends well.

Girardi, of course, had the downside of such an action in mind. There is immeasurable upside to such a plan, however, as Rex Hudler—who was seeking a ball, not a glove—related in The Baseball Codes.

In 1996, Angels utility man Rex Hudler viciously lit into rookie teammate Todd Greene for boarding the team plane ahead of some veterans. It didn’t make much difference to Hudler that Greene couldn’t have been greener—it was his first day as a major-leaguer—but the following evening, when the young catcher connected for his first-ever home run, Hudler atoned. The game was at Detroit’s Tiger Stadium, and as soon as the inning ended, Hudler—out of the game and with a baseball in each hand—dashed to the outfield fence near the bleachers where the ball landed and offered a two-for-one deal to whoever caught Greene’s homer. Before he could get a response, though, the inning break ended and Hudler found himself urged back to the dugout by center fielder Jim Edmonds. Rather than give up his quest, however, the player vaulted into the stands and watched the Tigers’ half of the inning from the bleachers. It was more than enough to win over the locals, and Greene’s ball was offered up in short order. “When I came back in, everyone was going, ‘What the hell were you doing out there?’ ” said Hudler. “I went up to Greene and said, ‘Greenie, I got your ball for you, man!’ You’d have thought I gave him a ten-carat diamond. And now every time I see him he tells someone, ‘Hud went out into the center-field stands and got my ball for me.’ He never forgets—it’s a form of love.”

[HT/Big League Stew]

Teammate Relations

Alex Johnson, RIP

Alex JohnsonWord just came down that longtime outfielder and 1970 AL batting champ Alex Johnson passed away Saturday at age 72 after battling cancer. He was the subject of a brief chapter in The Baseball Codes that didn’t make the final cut, mostly because it neither celebrates the game nor does it do much to explain attitudes about the unwritten rules. Still, it revisits a long-forgotten incident back in the days when baseball was undeniably less constrained than the modern iteration.

Don’t carry guns in the clubhouse. This should be an obvious rule. So when, on June 13, 1971, Alex Johnson accused Angels teammate Chico Ruiz of threatening him in the clubhouse with a pistol, people’s ears perked up. It was just the latest episode in a protracted soap opera of controversy that seemed to embody Johnson’s career, but even so, this was noteworthy.

For his part, Johnson was no stranger to clubhouse altercations. He scrapped with a variety of teammates, including a drawn-out brawl with Angels outfielder Ken Berry, and was saved from a braining at the hands of teammate Clyde Wright only when other members of the Rangers raced to disarm the pitcher of the stool he was about to swing.

Chico Ruiz, however, was different. Johnson and Ruiz had been close friends since their two-year stint together on the Cincinnati Reds in the late 1960s. Johnson had enlisted Ruiz as godfather to his daughter. But in 1971, for reasons his teammates had trouble discerning, Ruiz became a target for Johnson’s barbs. It became a regular occurrence around the Angels locker room that year to hear Johnson berating Ruiz with profanity and insults.

On that June day, both players served as pinch-hitters against the Senators, and had each repaired to the clubhouse prior to game’s end. This is where Johnson claimed that things got dangerously weird. With nobody to corroborate his story, however, and with Ruiz denying everything, an already disgruntled media turned even further against Johnson. One fed-up teammate said that if Ruiz did have a gun, his only mistake was not pulling the trigger. Shortly thereafter, Los Angeles Times columnist John Hall wrote that at least three players were “carrying guns and several others are known to have hidden knives—to use as protection in case of fights among themselves.”

Three months later, in a grievance hearing to challenge the club’s suspension of Johnson (which stemmed less from his accusation against Ruiz than a string of belligerent encounters with teammates and consistent incidents of failure to hustle), Angels general manager Dick Walsh finally admitted that Johnson’s allegations were valid and that Ruiz had, indeed, waved a pistol in his direction. This didn’t do much to help Johnson’s already diminished reputation, but it managed to lend a new layer of dysfunction to the Angels clubhouse.

Ultimately, things didn’t go well for either man. Johnson played his final game of the season on June 24, then was traded to the Indians. Ruiz, after being released during the winter, drove his car into a sign pole in the early morning hours of Feb. 9, 1972, and was killed instantly. Johnson was one of the few ballplayers to attend the funeral.

Don't Call Out Teammates in the Press, Teammate Relations

Angels Sink Lower, Take Verbal Swipes at Each Other, Meet to Clear Things Up, Lose Again

Remember how last week Bobby Valentine declared, for no apparent reason and on TV, no less, that Kevin Youkilis was not “as physically or emotionally into the game as he has been in the past”? One of my ensuing conclusions was that, had Valentine seen said comment as his final line of recourse in reaching a problematic Youkilis, it would have been entirely justified.

It wasn’t, of course. Youkilis appears merely to be scuffling, not mentally checked out, and Valentine was just popping off, as he’s known to do.

Still, the sentiment holds. Yesterday, it might have held in the visitors’ clubhouse at Tropicana Field, where Torii Hunter alluded to the press that some people may have some problems with Angels manager Mike Scioscia.

With Los Angeles in last place, having just lost their third in a row and sixth of their last eight, Hunter handed a barely veiled reference to the Los Angeles Times. “I don’t think we believe we’re trying that hard,” he said. “We’re just going through the motions. We have to do what we’re capable of doing. That’s everybody, not just the players.”

Scioscia is a pretty clear target for the phrase, “not just the players.” What did Hunter mean? The Times’ Mike DiGiovanna led his story with it:

Not only are the Angels not hitting, they’re not stealing bases, bunting, executing hit-and-run plays and pushing the envelope offensively, all trademarks of Mike Scioscia-managed teams.

They’re not scratching and clawing or sacrificing themselves enough for the team, and those deficiencies, as well as an inability to hit in the clutch, were evident again Wednesday night . . .

DiGiovanna’s guess was that Hunter was referring specifically to Sciocia’s failure to have Macier Izturis bunt Hunter and Vernon Wells over, after they led off the second with singles. Izturis ended up flying to left, and both runners were eventually stranded.

Asked if the game could have changed with some early execution, Hunter said, “You mean if we bunted in the second? What can we do? All we do is play the game.”

The Angels held a pre-game, players-only meeting today, following a previous meeting eight days ago, in which Scioscia apparently told his charges they had to “grind it out.” The wagons are officially being circled.

Whatever was said by Angels players today, one thing is clear: By this point in his career, Scioscia has earned the right to be above public scrutiny by his players, frustrated as they may be. Hunter is one of the few in the game who can get away with something like that, owing to his own reputation and veteran status. Still, it speaks to some serious fractures among the ranks, which is just what today’s meeting was designed to address.

Such is the nature of this kind of thing that it did not present early returns. The Angels scored only three runs against Tampa Bay Thursday, and lost, 4-3,  on a game-ending, two-run homer by Brandon Allen.

(DiGiovanna weighed in on Sciocia’s in-game machinations with a ninth-inning tweet —”Unconventional move by #Angels MRG… and I like it. For a change”—after reliever Scott Downs opened the frame instead of closer Jordan Walden, with the Angels holding a one-run lead. Walden came in after Downs retired Matt Joyce. Two batters later, the game was over.)

These are the kinds of things that happen on losing ballclubs—especially those predicted by many to reach the World Series. Still, it’s only April, and nobody knows how much time is left in the season better than a roster full of veterans. Now we’ll see how much longer they can keep their mouths shut.

(Via Hardball Talk.)

Alex Avila, Armando Galarraga, Brendan Ryan, Chris Carpenter, Gerald Laird, Teammate Relations

Dugout Dispute Dogs Detroit

When Chris Carpenter upbraided St. Louis shortstop Brendan Ryan in the Cardinals dugout last week, not quite out of view of TV cameras, many people wrote it off as a notoriously hot-headed pitcher overreacting to a situation that was hardly dramatic. (Ryan was late to the field for the bottom of the first inning because he had been hitting in the cage as the first three batters in the Cardinals lineup made quick outs. He then compounded matters by grabbing the wrong glove and having to wait for the correct one to be delivered. Watch it here.)

Carpenter is in clear possession of a sharp-edged personality, so it was easy to pile on. When Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga did something remarkably similar yesterday, however, it became clear that this type of behavior is not necessarily reserved for the people from whom we most expect it.

After all, in watching his perfect game spoiled by a blown call, Galarraga showed more class and restraint than could reasonably be expected. So to see him flustered—completely undone over what was apparently some confusion with his catcher over pitch selection—served to illustrate what kind of line even the most collected pitchers walk under trying circumstances.

In Galarraga’s case, he had words near the bench with catcher Alex Avila at the end of the second inning of Detroit’s game against the White Sox, entering the dugout pointing and yelling. The Tigers’ other catcher, veteran Gerald Laird, stepped in to defend his would-be protégé, and tempers quickly escalated. (Watch it here.)

At least Carpenter made an effort to carry on his conversation away from prying eyes (although he ultimately didn’t make it far enough into the dugout tunnel to succeed). Galarraga’s dispute was totally undisguised.

Avila, Galarraga and Laird all described it afterward as just a few heated moments, but only Laird cut to the crux of the matter when identifying what exactly prompted him to intercede in a fight that wasn’t initially his.

“For [Galarraga] to come in and try to embarrass him in front of his teammates like that, I just didn’t think that was the right time to do it,” he told MLB.com.

In that regard, Laird is spot on. Players have angry words with teammates all the time—behind closed clubhouse doors. Opening it up for public scrutiny goes directly against the Code, which has an entire section devoted to protecting secrets of the trade.

In another odd twist, Fox Sports Detroit, which was televising the game in Michigan, opted not to air footage of the fight, nor did broadcasters Mario Impemba and Rod Allen ever mention it.

One unwritten rule of the media involves editing essential pieces out of a story at risk of credibility. By failing to reference the day’s key storyline, FSD appears to care more about appeasing the home team than informing fans.

FSD executive producer John Tuohey took responsibility, reported the Detroit News, saying that had the fight occurred during game action, rather than between innings during a commercial break, it would have made the air.

It’s a weak argument. Comcast SportsNet Chicago aired the entire affair, and it didn’t seem a bit out of place. People understand that things happen while other things are on the air. That’s what replays are for.

The Tigers won the game, so at least something went right for them.

– Jason

B.J. Upton, Carlos Zambrano, Derrek Lee, Evan Longoria, Teammate Relations

A Weekend of Dugout Scuffles Means Different Things to Different Teams

It wasn’t a great weekend for peace and harmony in major league dugouts, with spats and squabbles bursting into the open across the country.

The most replayed of them—and the one with the most lasting repercussions—blew through Chicago’s south side, when Cubs pitcher Carlos Zambrano, at risk of implosion even on a good day, unleashed a barrage of venom at the world, and at Cubs first baseman Derrek Lee, in that order.

Zambrano, only recently returned to the starting rotation following an unremarkable demotion to the bullpen, was on a short leash, and he knew it. The first batter he faced, White Sox leadoff hitter Juan Pierre, smoked a ball down the first base line, possibly playable by Lee although it was ruled a clean hit, and went for a double. The White Sox followed with another double, a single and a three-run homer by Carlos Quentin. By the end of the frame, it was 4-0.

Zambrano recorded the final out of the inning while covering first base, stomping down angrily on the bag. He started screaming before he even reached the dugout, and rampaged down the length of the bench until reaching Lee, at which point he tore into him at top volume. (Watch it here.)

(If nothing else, Zambrano’s no coward. The 6-foot-5, 245 lb. Lee is among the most physically intimidating men on the team.)

Lee didn’t back down, but neither did he seek to escalate the confrontation. Players quickly came between the two, at which point Zambrano punched a container holding paper cups, and was summarily dismissed by manager Lou Piniella. He was pulled from the game, thrown out of the stadium, and eventually suspended from the team.

(The fact that it might all have been premeditated doesn’t seem to carry much weight with the Cubs.)

This was due partly to the clearly disruptive nature of Zambrano’s outburst, and also to a pretty easy deduction that it wasn’t the first time something like this had happened. He has a history of failing to be “the best teammate,” said Cubs GM Jim Hendry in the Chicago Tribune, including other public outbursts.

In 2007, Zambrano pitched a similar dugout fit after Cubs catcher Michael Barrett’s throwing error helped lead to a five-run inning by the Braves. Where Lee was content to take the high road, however, Barrett followed Zambrano into the clubhouse to fight. How many blows Barrett managed to get in is unknown; he was, however, the only one hospitalized, to have his split lip stitched up.

This incident led to a valuable unwritten rule concerning baseball hierarchy. When it comes to intra-team squabbles, the bottom line rarely concerns right and wrong; it’s all about value to the roster. Although a public reconciliation was eventually staged, Zambrano—clearly the better player—eventually won the war when Barrett was traded to San Diego three weeks later.

What these situations have in common, aside from Zambrano, is frustrating streaks of losing.

* * *

Also last weekend but across the country, in St. Petersburg, Fla., more anger flowed following a play not made by a defender. Like the Zambrano affair, this one was also spurred by frustration over a losing streak.

Whereas Zambrano’s tirade helped establish his credentials as a nut job, Tampa Bay third baseman Evan Longoria was perceived to be taking a new level of responsibility in his role as a team leader.

It started when Tampa Bay outfielder B.J. Upton lazed after a ball hit to the wall—nothing as blatant as Hanley Ramirez‘s loaf earlier this season, but still plenty obvious—allowing Arizona’s Rusty Ryal to reach third base on what would have otherwise likely been a double.

Upton, having already earned a reputation for insubordination and something less than all-out play, was met by Longoria upon reaching the dugout and told in no uncertain terms that his example was detrimental to a winning atmosphere. Upton did not respond well, yelling and pointing at Longoria before being pulled away. (Watch it here.)

Longoria turned his back to the situation, and, to judge by the players’ post-game comments, it more or less ended there (although Upton was benched to start the following game). [Update: Upton was benched at the start of the following game as well. Rays manager Joe Maddon insisted that it had nothing to do with his behavior, but instead with a balky quadriceps. Then again, the Code dictates that’s precisely the type of thing Maddon is supposed to say, even if Upton was indeed benched to send a message.)

“B.J.’s an emotional player and when we’re not playing up to our potential, things get multiplied,” Longoria said in the St. Petersburg Times. “I don’t think it got that out of hand to be honest with you. Obviously it looks a lot worse from the outside. But what’s done is done, and we move on.”

These types of incidents, minus Zambrano’s particular brand of mania, aren’t uncommon in the big leagues—it’s just that they don’t ordinarily happen out in the open.

“It’s stuff about playing the game hard, playing it to win,” said 1993 Cy Young Award winner Jack McDowell. “I wasn’t afraid to say stuff like that to teammates; it was usually pretty necessary.”

The list of in-the-open fights between teammates is a long one: Bonds-Kent in 2002; Sutton-Garvey in 1978; Jackson-Martin in ’77 . . . It’s a fertile topic, and serves as only a tiny percentage of teammate spats over that time, most of which never come to light. Teams, in fact, will go to great lengths to keep details away from the media. From The Baseball Codes:

Take the dramatic hotel-room brawl between Davey Johnson, then a star second baseman for the Braves, and his manager, Hall of Famer Eddie Matthews, in 1973. The way Johnson tells it, after an initial verbal disagreement the manager invited him into his room and challenged him to a fight. Johnson, reluctant at first, changed his mind when Matthews wound up for a roundhouse punch, then knocked the older man down. Matthews charged back, and as the sounds of the scrape flooded the hallway, players converged on the scene. In the process of breaking things up, several peacemakers were soon bearing welts of their own.

“The next day at the ballpark we looked like we had just returned from the Revolutionary War,” wrote Tom House (a member of the team, who, true to the code of silence, left all names out of his published account). “Everybody had at least one black eye, puffed-up lips, scraped elbows and sore hands. It had been a real knockdown battle.”

This was something that couldn’t be hidden from the press. Matthews called the team together, and as a unit they came up with a story about a game that got carried away, in which guys took good-natured beatings. Flimsy? Maybe. Accepted? Absolutely.

“You can ask Hank Aaron and others on that team,” Johnson said, laughing. “Eddie said his biggest regret [in his baseball career] was not having it out with me again. That one never got out. It never made the papers.”

Ultimately, one hopes that these sort of confrontations allow for the airing of disparate viewpoints, and ultimately serve to bring teams closer together. At the very least, one hopes they don’t lead to physical injury.

That’s not always the case.

In the Oakland clubhouse in 1974, a stark naked Reggie Jackson responded to a game’s worth of needling from teammate Billy North by instigating a vicious clubhouse brawl.

Vida Blue was the first teammate to attempt to break it up; when it became clear he needed help, catcher Ray Fosse entered the fray—and for his trouble ended up with two crushed vertebra in his neck when he was thrown against a locker. The catcher wouldn’t play again for almost three months and batted just .185 upon his return.

When North and Jackson went after each other again just moments later, their teammates failed even to acknowledge it. (“I had a damn good hand—a once-in-a-month hand—and I was going to stay with it,” said Ken Holtzman of his bridge game. “I didn’t really give a damn if Billy and Reggie were kicking the crap out of each other for half an hour.”)

Bemoan your team all you want, Cubs fans. At least your team is proactive.

– Jason

Adam Jones, Changing a Ruling, Teammate Relations

A Change is Gonna Come – Just Not at the Expense of Your Teammate

Buster Olney, in his ESPN blog today, relates the following:

The concern among rival talent evaluators about the Orioles is that constant losing is shaping the mindset of the team’s young players. For example, after the Orioles lost an early lead Sunday in San Diego and wound up getting crushed 9-4, sources say Baltimore center fielder Adam Jones directly lobbied for his first-inning bouncer to be changed from an error to a hit. The scoring on the play was changed, hours after the fact, and Jones got his hit, but for a player to make a direct appeal — especially in the aftermath of a one-sided loss — isn’t exactly conventional.

At issue, of course, is players becoming more concerned about their own numbers than the success (or, in Baltimore’s case, lack thereof) of their respective teams. (Scorers have a 24-hour window during which to alter a ruling.)

Should the inverse circumstance be invoked—a fielder lobbying to turn an error into a hit—the unwritten rules come into play on an especially prominent level. Maintaining respect among teammates can be vital, but such a decision, while it helps the fielder, offers nothing positive for a pitcher.

Take an instance in 1992, when Boston’s Wade Boggs—upset at what had been ruled his 16th error of the season—lobbied the official scorer to change the play to a hit, which he did. Boggs helped his own cause, but in the process turned the table on his pitcher, Roger Clemens, boosting the Rocket’s ERA as he gunned for the AL’s lowest mark in that category.

Needless to say, Clemens and a number of other Boston players did not take it well.

On the flip side of the equation, after a 1984 game against the Red Sox, Dave Stieb lobbied for opposition hits to be changed to errors. It was Stieb’s second-to-last start of the season, and he had given up six runs in a single frame. He was battling Mike Boddicker for the league’s ERA title, and the outing crippled his chances.

Such post-fact success, of course, would have come at the expense of his teammates’ fielding percentages. (Stieb’s request was denied, and Boddicker beat him, 2.83 to 2.79.)

“One thing I’ve noticed over the years, when a team is going badly, that’s when players get extremely selfish and want everything to go their way,” said longtime Red Sox official scorer Charlie Scoggins, in a Baseball Digest article by Larry Stone from 2004. “I find that when a team is in a pennant race, they hardly ever question my calls.”

Jones may well be innocent of all charges (at the very least, his lobbying did nothing to hurt the record of a teammate), but Scoggins description could fit the Orioles pretty well.

– Jason