Unwritten-Rules

No Need to Upset MadBum – He Covers That Quite Nicely Himself, Thank You

MadBum-Myers

What does it mean when a notorious red-ass acts down to his reputation? By inventing slights at which to react angrily, is he upholding the unwritten roles, or violating them?

Madison Bumgarner might know, but he’s not telling.

Bumgarner, of course, is the guy who got into it with Jason Heyward in March, who got into it with Delino DeShields last July, who got into it with Carlos Gomez last May, who got into it with Yasiel Puig in 2014—twice—and who got into it with Jesus Guzman in 2013.

Agree with them or not, at least the above instances involved clear-cut impetus for his red-assery. On Tuesday the lefthander was at it again, for reasons that nobody could quite fathom.

Bumgarner struck out Padres first baseman Wil Myers to end the third inning, then, as he was walking back to the Giants dugout, decided to about-face and shout Myers down. Myers, incredulous, told him to knock it off, and benches briefly emptied. (Watch it here.)

Why?

“It was hard to tell whether Myers offended him by calling timeout, or taking too long to get in the box, or even taking too healthy a cut, by the pitcher’s reckoning, while striking out,” wrote Andrew Baggarly in the San Jose Mercury News.

Bumgarner himself did little to explain the situation, saying only that “I just wanted to be mad for a minute.”

To be fair to Bumgarner, self-motivation is an important tactic in sports. If irrational anger is what he needs to compete at peak levels—and he threw a complete-game five-hitter, so maybe it is—more power to him, so long as nobody gets hurt. (MadBum even went so far as to make up with Myers when he reached first base after a ninth-inning walk.)

That said, the Code is built around respect for one’s opponent. Bumgarner, in inventing reasons to get upset at Myers, seems to be in short supply of it. Whether this is “playing the game the right way” any more than Puig’s bat flip which set off the pitcher back in 2014 is up for interpretation, but with every outburst it appears to be less and less so.

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Don't Swing on the First Pitch After Back-to-Back Home RUns, The Baseball Codes, Unwritten-Rules

Swing, Battah Battah, and Don’t Be Deterred By Back-To-Back Bombs

Buster's blast

With all the recent talk about bat flipping and fist pumping and making baseball fun again for a generation of players more concerned with self-expression than how that expression might be interpreted, it’s easy to lose sight of some of the more nuanced facets of the Code.

Once upon a time, players were expected to feel empathy for a struggling opponent. It’s a direct relative of the don’t-pile-on ethos that leads football and basketball teams to pull their starters late in blowout games. Take your foot off the pedal when extra gas is no longer useful to your cause. Make things easy. Show some respect.

Pertinent to this story is the concept of not swinging at the first pitch following back-to-back home runs. The idea is to give a struggling pitcher a small window of opportunity—a freebie pitch with which to regain his bearings.

“Someone would always pull you to the side and say, ‘Look, there have been two consecutive home runs hit—the third batter doesn’t swing at the first pitch,’ ” said Hal McRae in an interview for The Baseball Codes, talking about his time coming up with Cincinnati’s Big Red Machine in the early 1970s. “Take the first pitch. Alert the pitcher that you’re not swinging, that you know he’s out there, that you respect him and you respect the job that he’s trying to do.”

Which brings us to yesterday. The Giants led Milwaukee, 7-3, at the start of the eighth inning. Then Denard Span hit a three-run homer. The next hitter, Joe Panik, followed with a solo shot. With an 11-3 lead and the two guys ahead of him having just homered, Buster Posey got a first-pitch fastball from pitcher Ariel Pena, 92 mph and over the plate. He mashed it over the fence in center field, ending Pena’s night. (Watch it here.)

Was Posey wrong? Of course not.

The reality is that the aforementioned piece of Code, while among the noblest of baseball’s unwritten rules, had its detractors even during McRae’s day. Batters are paid to hit the ball, a status that does not change late in blowout games, and many did not want to be deprived of that opportunity. In the modern game, of course, with the Code so thoroughly diminished, the rule seems downright quaint … if it seems like anything at all.

The reality is that Posey didn’t break the rule because Posey probably didn’t know the rule. Nor should he have, necessarily. He intended no disrespect with his swing, and by all accounts none was taken in the Milwaukee dugout. (Hell, the next hitter, Hunter Pence, also swung at the first pitch he saw, although that was against a new pitcher.)

So what’s the point of a rule that few people know about, nobody follows, and which wasn’t universally popular even in its heyday?

Maybe it’s the simple act of knowing it. Knowing that it exists, and that once a time there were players who abided by it. It offers a window not only into baseball’s past, but into its soul, a reminder that even if the ideals that drove a different generation are no longer worth of imitation, they’re still worthy of veneration.

The game has moved on, and that’s okay. It sure is nice to remember where it came from, though.

[Thanks to @BaseballRuben for the heads-up.]

Unwritten-Rules

Manfred Weighs in on the Vital Issues Confronting Us All

Manfred

MLB Commish Rob Manfred sat down with Adweek for a short Q&A which, given the most contentious topic of spring training, led off with questions about Bryce Harper and bat flipping.

Adweek: What do you make of Bryce Harper’s comments about how the sport is “tired” and should embrace players showing more emotion in an effort to appeal to a younger audience?
Rob Manfred: There’s a couple of word choices there I would have preferred that Bryce not have made. Having said that, the general sentiment is that this great young generation of stars that is emerging in the game is going to play the game their way—not a bad thing. Every institution evolves over time, and the fact that the players who played in the 1960s played the game one way doesn’t necessarily mean that players who are playing in 2016 are going to play it exactly the same way. I think younger stars taking control of the game is good in terms of marketing it to younger people.

Do you think baseball should embrace this and have more moments like Jose Bautista’s bat flip during last year’s playoffs? 
I don’t see that as a baseball commissioner’s office-driven issue. The players play the game on the field the way they play the game. That’s the point I was trying to make about Bryce’s comments. There’s these great young players coming along; they’re going to decide what’s acceptable on the field.

In summation: Young’uns will be young’uns, baseball’s changing (just like it always has), the players on the field dictate what’s acceptable and what’s not, and Goose Gossage and Mike Schmidt are cranky old men.

Okay, then.

 

Bat Flipping, David Ortiz, The Baseball Codes, Unwritten-Rules

David Ortiz: Maybe Not the Best Spokesman for His Own Damn Point of View

Ortiz flip

David Ortiz took on the haters yesterday in the pages of the Boston Globe. It should come as no surprise, since the guy’s proclamations were the same as they ever were. To wit:

  • Flipping a bat is his right as a hitter.
  • He doesn’t make a big deal of it when a pitcher pumps a fist after striking him out.
  • Shut up.

On two of those counts, anyway, he is correct. He’s also correct in his assertion that such expression is more at home in the modern game than ever before. When Ortiz started flipping bats back in the late-1990s, baseball’s landscape was far less tolerant of such displays than it is today, but the guy has officially worked himself into the mainstream … or worked the mainstream around himself.*

It’s in his rationalization of the process that Ortiz goes off the rails.

Start with this:

“Respect? Respect my [expletive]. I don’t have to respect nobody when I’m between those two lines. I’m trying to beat everybody when I’m between those two lines. This ain’t no crying. There’s no, ‘Let me be concerned about taking you deep.’ No.”

While Ortiz subsequently affirmed a willingness to respect his opponents as people, he couldn’t have landed further from the point.

As the father and coach of two ballplaying preteens, I emphasize respect for the opposition as emphatically as I do proper mechanics. Just yesterday, one of my son’s teammates, a 7-year-old, pitched his first-ever inning in Little League, and struck out the side. When he returned to the dugout, however, the first thing he heard from his father, another coach on the team, was about his habit of repeatedly pumping his fist after throwing strikes.

Argue with the approach if you’d like, but not with the underlying message that respect on a ballfield is paramount.

In the big leagues, of course, players have spent the last decade separating actions like bat flips and fist pumps from the concept of respect. It’s all about me, Ortiz and players like him insist, not about him or them. They’re not showing anybody up, they say, so much as celebrating their own actions.

That credo, however, leaves plenty of wiggle room for respect. The moment that bat-flipping became accepted major league practice was the moment that it could no longer be seen as disrespectful.

With his sentiments in the Globe, however, Ortiz kicked the entire house of cards to the ground. I’ve come to accept that bat flipping and the like are now part of the professional sport. When they become not about a player’s own greatness, but the lack of same from the opposition, though, it’s a bridge too far. Perhaps this is not what Ortiz was intending to convey, but the phrase “I don’t have to respect nobody” seems pretty clear-cut.

He also said this:

“Whenever somebody criticizes a power hitter for what we do after we hit a home run, I consider that person someone who is not able to hit a homer ever in his life. Look at who criticizes the power hitters in the game and what we do. It’s either a pitcher or somebody that never played the game. Think about it. You don’t know that feeling. You don’t know what it takes to hit a homer off a guy who throws 95 miles per hour. You don’t know anything about it. And if you don’t know anything about it, [shut up]. [Shut up]. Seriously. If you don’t know anything about it, [shut up], because that is another level.”

While Ortiz’s “Respect my ass” proclamation is ridiculous, his if-you-didn’t-play-your-opinion-doesn’t-count cliché is simply tired. Sportswriters spend more time considering the game than most players, and many die-hard fans spend even more time at it than the guys in the press box. Having never laced up spikes as a professional hardly invalidates their opinions.

Even more glaring was Ortiz’s claim that a vast number of his colleagues—pitchers—be similarly marginalized. If he really wanted to find a prominent position player who’s hit plenty of home runs and disagrees with much of what he says, he wouldn’t have to look far.

There was more.

“When a power hitter does a bat flip, you don’t hurt nobody. If I hit a homer, did a bat flip, threw it in the stands and break a couple of people’s heads, I understand. But that’s not what it is,” he added. “When you see a pitcher do a fist pump when they strike out any one of us, or jumping on the mound, I don’t see anybody talking about that. Nobody’s talking about that.”

 

Hmm.

Does Ortiz really think that pitchers acting like assholes do not get noticed?

Ultimately, he sounded less like somebody elucidating his right to self-expression, and more like somebody trying to bluster his way through an argument in which he does not fully believe. He’d have had me with the simple notion that he likes to celebrate after doing something good. The abundance of overt and misguided rationalization, however, has little benefit for anybody.

In Ortiz’s defense, at least one of his statements is incontrovertibly correct. “This ain’t no old school,” he said in closing. “This is what it is in today’s day. You pull yourself together and get people out, or you pull yourself together and you go home. That’s what it is.”

* Reggie Jackson is frequently cited—including by Ortiz during his diatribe—as the guy who all but invented the home run pimp. Actually, it was Harmon Killebrew, a guy who Jackson himself credits with breaking that particular ground. Similarly, for all the credit/infamy (depending on your point of view) given to Yasiel Puig for popularizing the bat flip, we should not lose sight of Ortiz’s importance in setting that particular standard.

 

The Baseball Codes, Unwritten-Rules

Partly Cloudy with a Chance of Bluster: The Unwritten Rules Debate Rages On

Talk

Man, those Bryce Harper comments have stirred things up something fierce. Over the last week, Baseball’s unwritten rules have become downright Trumpian—people are either for or against them, always with passion and frequently for reasons they don’t seem to fully understand.

Take a pair of newspaper accounts, both out of Texas, as a representative sample.

In the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, writer Mac Engel argued that minority representation has fueled baseball’s recent surge in emotional displays, and that instead of trying to corral the new wave, the sport needs to better embrace it. To further his point, he wrote, “The code needs to be less white.”

In the San Antonio Express-News, Roy Bragg countered that celebrations should be left to other sports, and pitchers controlling behavior via “a fastball in the ear” is a tenable solution for countering excessive displays.

The arguments run directly counter to each other, but they have something important in common: They’re both ludicrous.

Culturally speaking, Engel is correct. An all-time high percentage of players from Latin America, 29.3, were on opening day rosters last year, and their presence—fueled by the less-strict atmosphere in which they learned the game—has substantially impacted MLB mores.

Less conclusive to his point is that the runner-up season for Latin representation was 2005 (29.2 percent), during which time there was comparatively little uproar over a player’s right to flip his bat.

The argument would work better had Engel claimed that baseball needs to be less North American, but to demarcate it along racial lines is to dilute the point. Back in the Code’s heyday, its most prominent practitioner was Bob Gibson. Two decades later, Pedro Martinez was as close to Gibson’s attitudinal heir as baseball had. Neither, of course, was white. (Meanwhile, one of Engel’s own examples of a guy who deserves emulation in this regard is Rangers pitcher Derek Holland, perhaps the whitest man in the league.)

On the other side of the ledger, Bragg’s point that celebrations should be limited to games of merit—say, playoff victories versus midweek contests in April—is worthy of discussion, but entirely lost amid bluster like this: “Let the young players act out. That next fastball will say everything that needs to be said.”

Neither writer seems to fully accepting the fact that baseball grows organically, and that values shift over time. Accrediting on-field celebrations as non-white activity shortchanges a shift in perception among a mainstream that is primarily white. On Bragg’s part, to threaten physical harm against those who resist is about the most backward argument one can make in the modern game. Both are polarizing statements, for utterly different reason.

Times are changing, fellas, just like they always have. Engel’s arguement that we should let the games be more fun would be a lot easier to carry out if people didn’t try to rationalize things so damn hard.

Bryce Harper, New York Yankees, San Francisco Giants, The Baseball Codes, Unwritten-Rules, Washington Nationals

Bryce Harper and Sergio Romo: Secretly Simpatico?

Keep calm

For a while, it seemed like yesterday would belong to Bryce Harper’s views about baseball’s unwritten rules.

Then Goose Gossage opened his mouth. In what appears to be coincidental timing, the Hall of Fame reliever unloaded to ESPN about noted bat-flipper Jose Bautista being “a fucking disgrace to the game,” among other choice sentiments that ran directly counter to Harper. Gossage, of course, is his generation’s It-Was-Better-When-I-Played standard-bearer, the guy to turn to for strident opinions.

His comments came in response to a benign question about new Yankees reliever Aroldis Chapman, and quickly veered not only to slamming Bautista, but to complaints about how “fucking nerds” who “don’t know shit” are ruining the game from front-office positions, that “fucking steroid user” Ryan Braun gets ovations in Milwaukee, and that modern relievers are too focused on pitch counts and not enough on the game itself.

Gossage, a world-class griper, was simply doing what he does best.

He would have been easier to dismiss had not Giants reliever Sergio Romo—one of the game’s free spirits, a guy loose enough to rock this t-shirt at the Giants’ 2012 victory parade—himself dismissed Harper later in the day.

“Don’t put your foot in your mouth when you’re the face of the game and you just won the MVP,” Romo said about Harper in a San Jose Mercury News report. “I’m sorry, but just shut up.”

In response to Harper’s comment that baseball “is a tired sport, because you can’t express yourself,” the reliever offered a succinct takedown.

“I’m pretty sure if someone has enough money,” he responded, “he can find another job if this is really tired.”

Thing is, Romo and Harper actually seem to agree about most of what they said. Romo is himself demonstrative on the mound, showing more emotion while pitching than perhaps anybody in Giants history. He took care to note, however, the difference between excitement and impudence.

“As emotional and as fiery as I am, I do my best not to look to the other dugout,” he said. “I look to the ground, I look to my dugout, to the sky, to the stands. It’s warranted to be excited. But there is a way to go about it to not show disrespect, not only to the other team but the game itself.”

With those four sentences, Romo cut to the heart of the issue. Contrary to those trying to position this as a cross-coast battle of wills, Harper did not say much to contradict that sentiment.

Baseball’s unwritten rules have changed markedly over the last decade. There is more acceptance of showmanship now than at any point in the sport’s history, and scattershot blasts from the likes of Goose Gossage will not slow that momentum. Because the Code has changed, however, does not mean that it is failing.

The real power of the unwritten rules lies in the maintenance of respect—between teams, within clubhouses and, as Romo went out of his way to note, for the game itself. This core value has not eroded at all.

What has changed over time is ballplayers’ ability to distinguish displays of emotion from displays of disrespect. When the mainstream decides  that bat flips are an acceptable form of self-expression, they no longer have the power to offend.

The reason this hasn’t already gained universal acceptance is that not all bat flips (used here as a proxy for any number of emotional displays) are equal. Bautista’s display during last season’s playoffs was magnificent. Some bats are flipped, however, not with celebration in mind, but in an effort to denigrate the opposition. It might, as Romo noted, include a staredown of the pitcher (as Harper himself has been known to do). It might be some extra lingering around the box, or a glacial trot around the bases. At that point, the method of the opposition’s response—which includes the option of not responding at all—becomes a valid concern.

Romo talked about this distinction, and its importance to the game. Surprisingly, so did Harper.

The MVP noted that Jose Fernandez “will strike you out and stare you down into the dugout and pump his fist.” Because Harper doesn’t take it as a sign of disrespect, Harper doesn’t care. And if Fernandez does not intend it as such, nobody else should, either. (Worth noting is that Fernandez learned an important lesson in this regard early in his career.)

The main fault with Romo’s diatribe was that he inadvertently piggybacked it atop Gossage’s inane old-man ramblings. Still, he lent some nuance to a discourse which sorely needs it, and perhaps inadvertently pointed out that he and Harper have more in common than either of them might otherwise believe.

Ultimately, the question seems to be less “Can’t we all just get along?” than “Why haven’t we figured out that we’re getting along already?”

Bryce Harper, Unwritten-Rules

Bryce Harper Hates Baseball’s Unwritten Rules. Like it or Not, He’s Also Their Standard-Bearer

 

Harper ESPN II

Bryce Harper is one with baseball’s unwritten rules. He understands them … and he disapproves. He’ll bend them and tousle with them and bunch them up and whack the league’s stodges over the head with them, smiling all the while.

Harper, though, is not like some of his celebrated—and celebratory—peers, whose blatant disregard for established baseball etiquette—Yasiel Puig’s bat flips, for example—seems as much a calculated an effort to increase their Q rating as anything else. For Harper, it’s more a function of his overall game, a bleeding at the edges of whatever it is that makes him great.

Harper is ESPN’s feature subject of the moment, in an excellent profile by Tim Keown. In it, he says this:

“Baseball’s tired. It’s a tired sport, because you can’t express yourself. You can’t do what people in other sports do. I’m not saying baseball is, you know, boring or anything like that, but it’s the excitement of the young guys who are coming into the game now who have flair. If that’s Matt Harvey or Jacob deGrom or Manny Machado or Joc Pederson or Andrew McCutchen or Yasiel Puig — there’s so many guys in the game now who are so much fun.

“Jose Fernandez is a great example. Jose Fernandez will strike you out and stare you down into the dugout and pump his fist. And if you hit a homer and pimp it? He doesn’t care. Because you got him. That’s part of the game. It’s not the old feeling — hoorah … if you pimp a homer, I’m going to hit you right in the teeth. No. If a guy pimps a homer for a game-winning shot … I mean — sorry.”

In many ways, Harper is correct. This is no longer your father’s baseball league, wherein overt displays of emotion will earn a fastball to the earhole. Nolan Ryan has been retired for nearly a quarter of a century, and no standard-bearer has taken his place.

Puig, meanwhile, stands among an assortment of players who are more than happy to flip and grin and celebrate in ways that have traditionally been foreign to the major leagues. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

It’s interesting that Harper referenced Jose Fernandez, though. The right-hander, among the game’s most exciting players, has earned wide latitude when it comes to displays of enthusiasm. His story, however, is one of maturation—much of which came during the course of a single game in September, 2013.

That day, during the final start of Fernandez’s rookie season, he got into it with Atlanta, for reasons running directly counter to Harper’s recent assessment. The pitcher grinned widely when Juston Upton’s would-be homer was caught at the wall, but failed to offer similar leeway an inning later, when Evan Gattis intentionally pimped a home run in response. Fernandez one-upped Gattis after hitting his own home run, not only watching it from the box until he was certain the Braves had noticed, but going into a glacial trot around the bases before literally spitting toward third base as he rounded the bag.

None of this, save for Fernandez’s initial grin, had anything to do with celebrating the game.

Which is where Harper’s point hinges. Fernandez could have maintained his hackles and defended his actions afterward, claiming that the Braves started things and that he was only responding. Perhaps it was Atlanta catcher Brian McCann waiting for Fernandez to reach the plate before informing him that he needed to start acting like a big leaguer. Maybe a voice of authority in the pitcher’s own clubhouse set him straight. (Then-manager Mike Redmond went so far as to set up a meeting at which Fernandez apologized to McCann and Mike Minor, the pitcher against whom he homered.)

Either way, Fernandez came clean to reporters in the postgame clubhouse.

“This isn’t high school no more,” he said in an MLB.com report. “This is a professional game, and we should be professional players. I think that never should happen. I’m embarrassed, and hopefully that will never happen again.”

Fernandez was talking not about his joie de vivre—he continues to enjoy himself like a madman on the baseball diamond—but his blatant disrespect of the opposition. To his credit, we haven’t seen anything like that from him since then.

Which brings us back to Harper.

As a former teenage phenom, he’s been picked on by a variety of big league veterans (and even umpires). Sometimes his response has been fine, sometimes less so. Harper’s unprovoked actions have been mostly solid. The guy plays fiery, including his attitude from the sidelines, and teams around the league have come to accept that. Which is as it should be.

It’s a lesson that needs special reinforcement as the game slides further away from a hard line against celebrations: So long as players’ on-field displays are focused inward, guys like Harper and Fernandez should have relatively smooth sailing. Directed at the opposition, however (take Harper’s own scuffing of the Braves logo in 2014, or his behavior after homering off of Hunter Strickland during the playoffs later that season), are a different matter.

It’s an important distinction. There are strong feelings on both sides of the divide—traditionalists who want no part of emotion on the diamond, and those who decry the Code as ancient hokum, unfit for the modern game.

As is usually the case, the truth lies someplace in between. Celebrations are here to stay, but disrespect is as reviled now as it’s ever been. Trouble is, it’s sometimes difficult to distinguish between the two, which is where much of the problem lies.

Baseball is an ever-changing game, as are its unwritten rules. The sport is still feeling its way through this, but with guys like Harper and Fernandez at the helm, it should all work out just fine.