No-Hitter Etiquette

Is It Possible To Jinx A No-Hitter That Won’t Be Official Anyway? Let’s Discuss

So the literature around no-hitter etiquette is expansive and unequivocal: Do not jinx it in any way by mentioning its existence until after the game is finished. There is rock-solid evidence that every late-game no-hitter in the history of baseball has been ruined by somebody, somewhere, talking about the dang thing. (And don’t bring your “but what about all the actual no-hitters that were discussed extensively in progress” nonsense up in here. We don’t have time for heresy in this space.)

What the literature hasn’t covered is the gray area of no-hitterdom in which we find ourselves in 2021—specifically the validity of scheduled seven-inning games, and how it might affect brushes with historical greatness.

As Jayson Stark reminds us in The Athletic, this all started, more or less, when baseball commissioner Fay Vincent responded to a pair of would-be no-hitters by brothers Pascual and Melido Perez that had each been shortened by rain. In 1988, Pascual’s no-hit outing against the Phillies was called after the fifth inning, and in 1990, Melido held the Yankees hitless for six before weather intervened.

The very next year, Vincent established a commission to once and for all delineate the parameters of an officially recognized no-hitter. Its primary conclusion: The thing had to go at least nine innings. Under these auspices, both Perez gems, along with 33 other rain-shortened no-nos, were retroactively wiped off of the books. At the time, this decision did not appear to affect the superstitious among us in one way or another.

Flash forward to last weekend’s doubleheader in Atlanta. In the opener, Diamondbacks starter Zac Gallen went into the sixth inning having held Atlanta hitless. On the broadcast, Arizona radio man Mike Ferrin dispensed with caution entirely, saying: “This may pop up with no-hitter alerts on your phone, so if you’re just tuning in because you got one, well, the good news is, Gallen hasn’t allowed a hit. But I have some bad news for you if he does get the next six outs without allowing a hit. Listen, nobody’s gonna like this, are they?”

Moments later, Gallen gave up a hit.

There’s an entire chapter devoted to this unwritten rule in The Baseball Codes, including one of the earliest instances of its invocation during a broadcast:

During the first televised World Series, in 1947, Yankees right-hander Bill Bevens pitched hitless ball into the ninth inning of Game 4 against the Dodgers; with virtually no precedent on which to rely, broadcaster Mel Allen refused to reference the feat. “Obviously, what I said or didn’t say in the booth wasn’t going to influence anything that happened on the field,” he said. “But I’ve always known that players on the bench don’t mention a no-hitter; they respect the dugout tradition. And I’ve always done the same. It’s part of the romance of the game. It’s one of the great things that separates it from the other sports, like the seventh-inning stretch or ‘Take Me Out to the Ballgame.’ ”

For the purists in the audience this was just fine, save for one fact: Allen worked only the first half of the game. The later innings were given to Dodgers broadcaster Red Barber, who wasted no time in altering the tone. Among the first things out of his mouth when he entered midway through the fourth was the line score: “Dodgers: one run, two errors, no hits.” Allen, said Barber, “nearly fell out of the booth.” Barber continued to report the feat throughout the game, his comfort level possibly buoyed by the run Brooklyn scored in the fifth without benefit of a hit, courtesy of two walks, a sacrifice, and a fielder’s choice. In the ninth, long after Barber gave up the goods on the air, Bevens issued two more walks (one inten­tional) and a two-out double by Cookie Lavagetto to score both runners, the difference in an improbable 3–2 Brooklyn victory.

As the winning run scored, Barber’s on-air comment was, “Well, I’ll be a suck-egg mule.” His audience certainly thought so. “There was a hue and cry that night,” said the broadcaster. “Yankee fans flooded the radio station with angry calls and claimed I had jinxed Bevens. Some of my fel­low announcers on sports shows that evening said I had done the most unsportsmanlike broadcast in history.”

Nine years later, as Don Larsen unspooled a perfect game in the World Series, Allen’s new partner, Vin Scully, took careful note of precedent.

As Scully watched the game unfold, the public reaction to Barber’s handling of Bevens’s failed no-hitter was at the forefront of his mind. “In those days people did not mention ‘no-hitter,’ ” Scully said. “And Mel, he did the first five innings, said, ‘He’s retired 10 in a row, 12 in a row,’ so I picked up the thread and in the second half, I was doing the same thing: ‘Twenty-two in a row, 24 in a row.’ . . .

Which brings us back to last weekend’s doubleheader. Having discussed a possible no-no in the opener gave Ferrin some clarity for the nightcap.

“I jokingly said to [broadcast partner Tom] Candiotti, `You know, I think we can talk about this because it’s not going to be an official no-hitter,’ ” Ferrin told Stark. “I’m sure that once or twice I did call it a no-hitter, but it isn’t in the history books as a no-hitter. So do you not call it that because of that? I mean, I think it’s important to have some devotion to accuracy at a time like that, don’t you think?”

As with many unwritten rules, the modern interpretation is a pale reflection of how things used to be. “If you want people to stay tuned, you should proba­bly mention, ‘Hey, hang in there, don’t go anywhere—guy’s throwing a no-hitter,’ ” said longtime broadcaster Steve Lyons, speaking for the majority.

Hell, even Vin Scully—who’d refused to mention Larsen’s perfect game on the air—came around. “Today,” he said, years later, “I would have come on in the fifth inning and said, ‘Hey, call your friends, he’s pitching a no-hitter.’ ”

So, to the superstitious among us, it’s official: If baseball does not consider giving up no hits during a scheduled seven-inning game to be a no-hitter, then such a game is impossible to jinx.

Ferrin, you’re off the hook.

Retaliation, Umpire Warnings

HBP After HBP, The Pitcher Stays In The Game. Welcome To Baseball In 2021

Well, of course Joe Girardi wanted Genesis Cabrera tossed.

With Cabrera’s first pitch of the day, to start the sixth inning, the St. Louis reliever put a 97-mph fastball into Bryce Harper’s face. To judge by the left-hander’s pained response, let alone the fact that it was a 3-3 game with nobody out, there was clearly no intention behind the pitch. Still, it was concerning enough that Cards manager Mike Shildt said later that maybe he should have replaced Cabrera at that point.

But he didn’t. And with his very next pitch, Cabrera punched Didi Gregorius into the dirt with a fastball to the ribs. Again, the pitcher’s body language said it all: this was no grudge-settling moment, only a struggling ballplayer being completely lost on the mound.

This is when Girardi emerged from the dugout to have his say. He wanted Cabrera ejected not because he felt that Phillies hitters were being targeted, but because Phillies hitters weren’t being targeted, and they were getting hit anyway. And with baseball’s new three-batter minimum mandate in effect, the only way to get Cabrera out of there before he had a chance to drill somebody else was for an umpire to toss him.

What really got under Girardi’s skin, though, was an ages-old dilemma for which baseball has uncovered few good answers: Following Gregorius’ plunking, both benches were warned. Should any flames be further fanned, ejections would come hard and heavy.

The anti-escalation intent behind the warning was obvious. The practicality of the matter, however, was quite different. On one hand, Girardi and his pitchers were banished from any measure of retaliation. Given the rarity of such measures in today’s game, let alone the unintentional nature of the HBPs, it is questionable whether such a warning was necessary. Still, should anybody in the Philadelphia dugout be so inclined, they will now have to wait for an appropriate moment later in the season, at which time fire will emerge from both benches as if it had never been extinguished in the first place.

From The Baseball Codes:

Another downside of the warning system—in which an umpire sensing trouble issues a cease-and-desist order to both dugouts, with immediate ejection for both player and manager should any violation occur—is that it negates the time-tested practice of checks and balances. Once a warning is issued, retaliation is essentially legislated out of the game. This increases the risk of lingering bad feelings without an appropriate way to channel them. Some managers even go so far as to instruct their pitchers to take the first shot in a bad-blood situation quickly, which basically gives their team a free pass before warnings are issued and the business of tit-for-tat is shut down for the night.

“It was a lot better [under the old rules],” said longtime Braves man­ager Bobby Cox. “It was over with and done. Guys knew to expect it, and it was done right. We still do it, but you’ve really got to pick your spots.”

More pertinently, probably, was that the Phillies, who had done nothing wrong, were now playing under the same restrictions as the Cardinals—specifically, any pitcher wishing to come inside had to consider the ramifications should he miss by a hair too much. Such a mindframe is not beneficial to quality pitching.

And so Girardi raved. And plate ump Chris Segal tossed him.

Who Segal did not toss was Cabrera, who made it three pitches into Andrew McCutchen’s at-bat before serving up an RBI single, at which point, quota fulfilled, Shildt yanked him from the game.

Those wondering just how fired up the Phillies were about all of this needn’t look too far. Rhys Hoskins spent long minutes staring daggers toward the Cardinals after Gregorius was drilled, and Sam Coonrod, after pitching the eighth, yelled and pointed toward the St. Louis bench.

In their postgame comments, the Cardinals did their best to smooth relations between the clubs. Cabrera was contrite, saying, “I want to again apologize for all of the action that happened, especially to Harper …The game got away from me at that point. I’m really sorry for everything that happened today. None of it was intentional.”

Shildt went so far as to compliment Girardi’s tirade. “I completely understand their aggressive response,” he said. “Joe handled it appropriately. I can’t speak for him, but he has to stand up for his guys.” The manager went on in respectful and understanding tones about the Phillies’ discontent, and made sure to claim lack of intent behind either HBP.

Notably, Shildt also said that he would have yanked Cabrera immediately after Harper’s HBP had rules not prevented him from doing so. Now umpires have one more wrinkle to consider in the same spirit as bench warnings: Those times when ejecting a pitcher for his own good might actually serve to cool tensions from both sides of the field.

Celebrations, Don't Peek

Tatis Chases Waterfalls, Bauer Responds In Kind

This weekend, the Padres and Dodgers showed us exactly how baseball is changing, and also exactly how it is not. On both counts, they’re right on the money.

Traditionally, baseball has frowned on showmanship, viewing it—particularly as pertains to batter’s box theatrics—as a personal affront to the pitcher. As a result, home run pimping has inspired its share of beanball responses over the years. Those who persisted tended to maintain that their celebrations were entirely about themselves and their teammates, and that lack of respect played no part.

It wasn’t until recent years that pitchers started to believe it.

The first-ever home run pimp may have been Harmon Killebrew, who is counted by many as the pioneer of watching one’s own fly balls leave the yard. No less than Reggie Jackson has pointed toward Killebrew as inspiration in that regard. Still, it took a truly free spirit like Yasiel Puig, who after coming up in 2013 consistently busted barriers around this topic, for the movement to gain its first semblance of legitimacy. During the World Baseball Classic in 2017, when the U.S. got a gander at teams like Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, with rosters stocked with big leaguers having the times of their lives, it finally started to settle in that this might be the shape of baseball to come.

Which brings us to Fernando Tatis and Trevor Bauer.

On Saturday, Tatis drilled two homers against the Dodgers star and leveraged both moments to the hilt, sending messages in direct response to prior theatrics Bauer had visited upon the Padres. Irresistible force, meet immovable object.

After Tatis’ first homer, he covered his right eye with his hand while rounding the bases, in reference to a gimmick Bauer pulled during spring training in which he pitched the better part of three shutout innings against San Diego with one eye closed, then made sure that everybody knew it.

The Padres did not take major issue with this, but you better believe they noticed. Thus, on Saturday we got this:

Five innings later, Tatis did it again, hitting a quality 3-2 pitch from Bauer over the center field fence. This time, in addition to a bat flip and his standard backward shuffle while approaching third base, he included an imitation of the Bauer strut, which is actually the Connor McGregor strut, which the pitcher pulls out on occasion after a big strikeout.

Only a few years ago, the frequency of these displays, and their volume, would have elicited an on-field response. Now, however, we’re Letting the Kids Play, and Trevor Bauer is unlike other pitchers in oh so many ways. To his credit, he encourages this kind of stuff, going so far after the game as to use the word “soft” in reference to pitchers who retaliate for such things. “If you give up a homer, a guy should celebrate it,” he said. “It’s hard to hit in the big leagues.”

Bauer went even further on his YouTube channel, breaking down Tatis’ actions in a complimentary way. “It makes me feel good because they’re aware of my one-eye celebration,” he said. “My clip went viral, his clip can go viral—it’s good for baseball.” Bauer called Tatis’ bat flip on the second homer “tasteful,” and noted that the entire shtick was directed toward the San Diego dugout, not at Bauer or other Dodgers, “so, highest of high marks on that.”

Which brings us to the second part of the story. The part about which Bauer is less zen.

On the pitch that Tatis hit for his second homer, he appeared to look backward as catcher Will Smith was giving his signs. Tatis’ peek came too late to see Smith’s fingers, which he’d already folded back into his palm, but just in time to see the catcher lean to his right, a subtle clue that he was preparing to receive an outside pitch. This might be how the hitter was able to lean into a cutter that ended up well into the opposite batter’s box, and still managed to pull it over the wall in left field.

There are lots of ways to explain this. Bauer had been living on the outer edge against Tatis throughout the at-bat, placing four of his six pitches wide of the strike zone, so it didn’t necessarily take a magician—or a cheater—to discern what was happening. During his look back, it’s possible that Tatis was just scratching his nose and didn’t see a thing.

But the hitter’s body language—stepping toward the pitch even as Bauer was releasing it, and easily handling what should have been ball four by a considerable margin—said plenty. We’ve addressed the issue of peeking on a number of occasions in this space, like that time in 2017 when the Angels suspected various Oakland players of looking backward. Early in the pandemic, we also offered a host of examples from throughout history.

Whether Bauer noticed Tatis doing this in the moment is unclear, but he certainly did after the game. In the same YouTube clip, Bauer addressed the issue directly:

“If you start looking at signs, if you start pulling this bush-league stuff, that’s when people get pissed off. …. That’s the type of stuff that would get you hit in other games. Now, I’m mild-mannered about it. I’m going to send a message this way [via video] and say, hey, that’s not okay, and if you keep doing it something will have to happen.”

Bauer said that while “there’s no rule anywhere that says [Tatis] can’t look back,” there’s also “no rule that says I can’t stick a fastball in your ribs.”

This is classic unwritten-rules policing, albeit via video and not with a message pitch. You got caught, the other team let you know about it, and now you have to knock it off. It’s next-level code enforcement, and while many people have thoughts about Trevor Bauer, pro and con, he comes off as entirely reasonable in the above clip.

How Bauer reacts the next time Tatis (or any Padre, probably) does something similar will be something to see. Having publicly threatened to drill a guy, even obliquely, the pitcher is certain to draw notice from the league office should he ever decide to act on that impulse. The Padres, knowing this, might be further inspired to elicit such a response. And ever does the gamesmanship spiral continue.

In summary: Bat flipping and crazy trots around the bases are, for most people—and certainly for Bauer and Tatis—part of baseball’s mainstream. Peeking at a catcher’s signs is certainly not.

Both developments have been logged and noted, to be built upon the next time something like this goes down. We’re counting the days.

Retaliation

Non-Contact Suspension Leads To Questions About What MLB Has In Store

MLB has suspended Cubs reliever Ryan Tepera three games (and manager David Ross for one game) for throwing behind the legs of Milwaukee’s Brandon Woodruff on Thursday. On one hand, it’s an admirable effort to tamp down on-field animosity between teams before things spiral out of control.

On the other hand, it’s ludicrous.

There is much to criticize when it comes to the frontier-justice mentality of baseball’s unwritten rules, especially as pertains to pitchers drilling hitters. Tepera, though, picked a well-traveled middle lane, sending a message while offering no actual threat of harm.

This has been a trusted tactic in the major leagues since pretty much forever. Some recent examples:

Pittsburgh’s Chris Archer used it to protest a home run pimp job by Derek Dietrich that led to some on-field fireworks in 2019.

LA’s Joe Kelley used it to express his displeasure with the Astros’ sign stealing against the Dodgers in the 2017 World Series.

The Rangers did it to Manny Machado following Fernando Tatis’ infamous 3-0 swing in 2018.

Noah Syndergaard threw behind Chase Utley in 2016 to protest Utley’s takeout of Ruben Tejada during the previous season’s playoffs, bringing us the effervescent “ass in the jackpot” comment from umpire Tom Hallion. (Syndergaard was ejected due to the high-profile nature of the situation, but that’s very different than a league suspension.)

Sure, the rationale behind some of these events—particularly the one involving Tatis—is inane, but the idea holds: Pitchers standing up for their teammates by sending a non-impact message. No harm, no foul, right?

Not according to MLB. Tepera’s tactic has officially been put onto the no-fly list, sending a message to every team that even the small stuff will no longer be tolerated. It’s admirable in theory, but it sets baseball up for at least two scenarios in which things will get hinky:

  • It removes the power of response. Kneecapping a team’s ability to answer to liberties taken by the opposition—especially when it comes to responses that do not actually put players into harm’s way—seems rife with unintended consequences. Instead, teams might explore other avenues that fall more firmly into the gray area of accountability. Extra-hard tags? Takeout slides that adhere to the league rules while being extra vicious? Or will we simply enter the era of the extra-saucy revenge home-run pimp? We’ll find out.
  • Given the league’s willingness to put the hammer down on non-contact pitches, MLB will now be faced with dilemmas over how to respond to actual hit batters in situations where the pitcher has a degree of plausible deniability. More than ever baseball will have to judge intent via punative action that to this point it been extremely hesitant to engage, for good reason. The moment that pitchers start getting suspended for pitches that inadvertently run too far inside is the moment that pitchers stop pitching inside altogether, and baseball changes fundamentally.

It’ll be interesting to see how MLB handles yesterday’s incident in Chicago, in which Cleveland pitcher Aaron Civale hit Adam Eaton after Eaton’s minor dust-up with middle infielder Andrés Giménez, who he felt pushed him off the bag during a play at second base.

Maybe this is a whole lot of nothing, an anomalous blip on baseball’s disciplinary radar. In a world in which MLB is checking baseballs for pine tar and embracing rules changes the likes of which would have been unfathomable a decade ago, however, anything is possible. Look out.

Retaliation

Contreras Responds To Inside Pitching With Bat And Attitude Both

The Willson Contreras saga continues. What to make of a guy who gets hit so much and is willing to spark a benches-clearing incident over it despite leaning out over the plate like nobody’s business to the point that he led the big leagues with 14 HBPs last season?

Pertinent among those plunkings were four from the Brewers, who have hit Contreras more over the last two seasons than any team has hit any batter. The trend continued in unfortunate fashion last week, when defending NL Rookie of the Year Devin Williams fired a fastball into Contreras’ helmet. When the Brewers drilled Contreras again a day later—this time the batter all but leaned into an inside fastball—it reached the limits of the hitter’s tolerance, Contreras approaching the mound to deliver a verbal warning to the pitcher.

Yesterday it was more of the same, with Contreras being hit by the Brewers again. This time he rotated into an inside fastball from Brandon Woodruff to such a degree that Milwaukee argued he swung at the pitch. As clearly unintentional as it may have been, the Cubs were finally inspired to respond, with reliever Ryan Tepera throwing a 95-mph fastball behind Woodruff’s legs in the fifth inning. Woodruff was pissed, and benches were warned.

The real response came from Contreras himself, who in the eighth hit a key two-run homer off of reliever Brent Suter in what would be a 3-2 Chicago victory. And oh, the ensuing celebration.

There was the spin and disdainful underhanded toss of the bat toward the Cubs dugout. There was the finger raised skyward most of the way from first base to second. There was the series of finger-to-the-lips shhhhhh’s delivered to the crowd between second and third. There was the arms-wide-to-the-sky just steps past third, and then the hand clap, and then the crossing of the chest, and then literally walking the last five steps to the plate.  

In case the message wasn’t clear enough, Contreras spelled things out for reporters after the game. “It feels good to shut [the crowd] up,” he said. “We sent a message. I think they picked the wrong guy to throw at. That was a message sent.”

For a full accounting, it was also a message sent to Contreras’ teammates, who haven’t exactly been setting the basepaths aflame this season. Through their first 10 games the Cubs accumulated a total of 49 hits—their fewest over any 10 game span since 1901. Prior to Contreras’ homer on Tuesday, Chicago’s only run had scored on a sacrifice fly.

For now, things appear to be even, though with Contreras leaning over the plate and the Brewers having publicly stated their willingness to attack his weakest offensive zone—up and in—there’s a very real chance that things will ratchet up again before too long.

“There’s a lot more games coming up,” Contreras said after Tuesday’s contest. “Who knows what’s going to happen?”

The teams meet again today, and again for a three-game series in Chicago later next week.

Retaliation

Complaints Fly After Weekend Of HBPs

Tired: Dealing with an opposition’s tendency to pitch inside by having your pitchers offer warning shots of their own, risking a beanball war and cyclical escalation.

Wired: Complaining about it publicly.

On Sunday, New York’s Jordan Montgomery hit Austin Meadows. Twice. A day earlier, Yankees reliever Justin Wilson hit Joey Wendle. On Friday, Nick Nelson drilled Rays catcher Mike Zunino.

At which point, Rays manager Kevin Cash leveraged the power of the press, saying after the game that this pattern “continues to roll over,” and was “so grossly mishandled by Major League Baseball last year.”

Cash was talking about a lot of things.

Bad blood has been flowing between these teams since 2018, during which time a series of Yankees pitchers has drilled a series of Rays hitters, results of which include a fractured foot for Kevin Kiermeir. In response to it all, Tampa Bay reliever Andrew Kittredge threw a fastball at the head of New York catcher Austin Romine, and it was officially on. (Whether Kittredge was aiming for Romine’s helmet is up for debate, but the batter was a clear target.) CC Sabathia then drilled Rays catcher Jesus Sucre (costing himself $500,000 in the process), and things have tumbled downhill from there.

Most notable among those moments was when Masahiro Tanaka drilled Joey Wendle with an extra-oomph fastball last September, and Aroldis Chapman nearly hit Mike Brosseau in the head with a 101-mph fastball later in that same game. (Chapman was suspended, but not until this season, and Tanaka wasn’t disciplined at all. Thus Cash’s “mishandled” comments about MLB’s response.)

Since 2018, the Yankees have hit 24 Rays (not wildly out of line with their numbers against other AL East opposition), while Tampa Bay has drilled 16 Yankees.

“Do I personally think [Montgomery] was trying to hit [Meadows]?” said Cash. “I do not. But this continues to roll over.”

To make matters worse, Montgomery nearly hit Montgomery in the head, a pitch sketchy enough to earn immediate warnings for both dugouts from plate ump Marty Foster. (Despite the warning, Montgomery was not tossed after hitting Meadows again four innings later.) Toward the beginning of this run, it was actually the Yankees complaining that Tampa Bay was coming up and in with far too much frequency. Things change.

Give Cash credit for forcing the issue. His protestations will likely have no impact on MLB’s official position, but whoever umpires the remaining games between the teams this season will certainly be on notice.

The Yankees and Rays meet again in New York on Friday.

The Baseball Codes

Willson Contreras Would Like To Inform You, Good Sir, That He Is Tired Of Being Hit By Pitches

Sometimes things accumulate.

Willson Contreras getting plunked by Milwaukee reliever Brad Boxberger last night should not have been a big deal. It was clearly unintentional, a pitcher who had just been activated trying to protect a 4-0 lead against the leadoff hitter in the ninth. The pitch barely ran inside to a batter known for leaning over the plate, and didn’t even hurt, plunking off of Contreras’ arm guard.

It would likely have gone unnoticed had Contreras not been hit in the helmet a night earlier.

Contreras was mad, but not mad enough for a full charge. Still holding his bat, he took several steps toward the mound, I guess so that Boxberger could more clearly hear whatever it was he was shouting, but never threatened physical contact. Catcher Omar Narvaez was coolly escorting Contreras to first base when benches emptied in an entirely unnecessary fashion, resulting in a whole lot of nothing.

In a general sense, people should be upset by head-high, inside fastballs. Also in a general sense, Contreras has now been drilled six times in his last 12 games against Milwaukee.

More specifically, however, is the reality of Contreras’ approach. The guy crowds the plate and leans into pitches, which had little to do with his helmet shot from a night earlier but quite a bit to do with the triggering pitch from Boxberger. Contreras led all of baseball in HBPs last season, for good reason.

The response wasn’t great, but it is better than a Cubs pitcher taking things into his own hands and drilling a Brewer in retaliation. Then again, this dustup came in the bottom of the ninth, after Cubs pitchers were finished for the day. The teams conclude their three-game series this afternoon, then meet again in Milwaukee next week. Here’s to cooler heads prevailing.

Intimidation, Retaliation

Flex Time In Cincy Ends In Ludicrous Suspension

Nick Castellanos dislikes getting hit by pitches, and was in especially fine form on Saturday in that regard. There are plenty of cues pointing toward why his drilling by St. Louis reliever Jake Woodford may have been intentional. It was the first pitch of an at-bat (check) that came with two outs and nobody on base (check and check) after the Cards had already been forced to dip into their bullpen in the third inning (not necessarily a check, but let’s go with it anyway). There’s also the detail that the quickest way for a rookie like Woodford to ingratiate himself with veteran teammates is to carry out retaliatory strikes on their behalf. Also, it sure looked intentional.

Why would Woodford be gunning for Castellanos? Could be that the right-hander—or some of his teammates—was ticked off about Catstellano’s home run pimping from opening day. (Are we in for another season of random pitchers throwing fits over Letting the Kids Play? Might could be.)

After being hit by a fastball, Castellanos chatted with St. Louis catcher Yadier Molina, took his time removing his PPE and went out of his way for the unnecessary step of offering the ball back to Woodford. Was that disrespectful? Some in the St. Louis dugout thought so. More on that in a moment.

Castellanos went to third on a single and scored on a wild pitch, after which he made sure to flex over Woodford, who was on the ground after covering the plate on the play. That was likely where things would have ended had everybody let it play out. Apart from the play itself, Castellanos didn’t touch Woodford, and was returning to his dugout when Molina raced over and shoved him from behind. Why? According to starting pitcher Adam Wainwright, it was all about offering the ball back to Woodford. “That’s tired,” Wainwright said after the game.

Nothing much came of Molina’s shove save for some action in the outfield that cropped up among relief pitchers. Castellanos was ejected, but Molina—despite being the one getting physical—remained in the game. Crew chief Jim Reynolds explained the decision as Castellanos having “re-engaged the pitcher in unnecessary fashion.” So he was tossed for showboating, which is either a one-off Jim Reynolds thing or a new directive from MLB.

The league’s official response—suspending Castellanos for two games—further muddies the waters. Given that neither Woodford (whose intent behind the pitch is under legitimate question) or Molina (the guy who shoved first) were similarly suspended is beyond logic. Beyond his initial flex, Castellanos was effectively a bystander for the ensuing melee. These decisions lead to questions about whether Castellanos’ actions would have been worthy of ejection or suspension had Molina not made things physical, and how this precedent all might affect similar judgement calls in the future.

Nothing further came of the incident in Sunday’s series closer, but it’s a long season. These teams face each other 16 more times, including again later this month.

Castellanos may have gotten boned by the league ruling, but at least he came up with the line of the day. In response to a question about Molina having shoved him, he said: “That guy could punch me in the face and I’d still ask him for a signed jersey.”

The Baseball Codes

It’s Opening Day, So Let’s Talk Some Unwritten Rules

abrowncoat

It’s opening day, so we’re bound to encounter a new round of gratuitous “unwritten rules are stupid” stories, swinging at low-hanging fruit while failing to make any sort of actual point.

I mean, the unwritten rules are stupid, some of them anyway, but even the dumb ones have reasons behind them that make for worthy discussion. You can tell a hack column in this category by the fact that it lists off items without thought for how they came to be, or why they may have endured over the years, or even why they might be outdated beyond an “I don’t like this therefore it sucks” mentality. These pieces are hackery to the highest degree.

Like, say what Pete Blackburn wrote for CBS yesterday, titled “Ranking the Dumbest Unwritten Rules in Baseball.”

Does he check all the boxes for questionable content in the category?

* List? Check. Seven items

* Nearly complete lack of context? Check.

* Strange inclusions that aren’t actually part of the unwritten rules? Check. (No crying in baseball? Last I checked, baseball doesn’t base its code off of Tom Hanks movies.)

* Removal of all nuance? Check. Items like “Don’t steal bases with a big lead” and “Don’t show up the opposition” are universally respected axioms. It’s the point in the game at which people begin observing them that draws differences of opinion, and is the primary reason either category holds interest.

Let’s dig in, shall we? Blackburn offers his list in inverse order, so in that order we shall examine it.

“7. Don’t yell while a defensive player is trying to make a catch”

Probably not a great strategy to come out of the box defending Alex Rodriguez in one of his shadiest moments as a ballplayer. Rodriguez, of course, shouted as he ran the bases behind Blue Jays infielder Howie Clark during a two-out popup back in 2007, leading Clark to drop the ball. Should Clark have caught it anyway? Of course. Is it a douchebag move that came to define a career of douchebaggery for Rodriguez? Yup. Blackburn calls it hilarious trolling. Others might call it outright cheating. I’ll use my own litmus on this one: If it’s something that, as a Little League coach, would inspire a talk about sportsmanship with one of my players, I sure as hell don’t want to see it in a big league game.

“6. Don’t walk in front of the catcher”

Man, Blackburn ain’t much for respect. The idea is that the space between the mound and the catcher’s box is a de facto office for the battery, the space between them dedicated to the singular task of getting the baseball from the pitcher’s hand to the catcher’s mitt. Walking between them on the way to hit, rather than around the back of the box, is a minor affair, but does display a degree of inattention that needn’t exist. Forget baseball for a moment. Across life, why not do the courteous thing for your fellow citizen when the effort required is virtually the same as the alternative? This is low-grade fuck-your-feelings culture that has undeniably left us worse off than we were before.

“5. No crying in baseball”

Doesn’t exist. That Blackburn strikes me as somebody who would gladly write a column excoriating a big leaguer for crying on the diamond shall go without further examination at this moment.

“4. Don’t rub it”

Okay, this rule is pretty dumb, but at least the rationale behind it makes sense. By refusing to acknowledge temporary pain after being drilled by a pitch, the hitter sends a subtle message to the pitcher that he can’t be hurt. Does such action ever help his cause? Who knows? Then again, a tough-guy image is certainly more appealing to most pro athletes than the alternative.

“3. Don’t steal bases with a big lead”

This is where we get into the good stuff. Virtually everybody in the sport agrees that one should not run up the score after a certain point. The disagreement arises over what that point is. The most interesting thing about the unwritten rules in general, and this rule in particular, is how they’ve evolved over the years. Once, a four-run lead in the seventh inning was considered sufficient to shut down the running game. That eventually became five, and as ballplayers got bigger and ballparks got smaller and baseballs got juicier, the number grew and grew. Is it defensible to manufacture offense with a 10-run lead late in a modern-day game? Maybe. It’s in said defense that the intrigue lies.

“2. Don’t bunt during a no-hitter/blowout”

Again, the nuance makes this rule. Having spoken to dozens of big leaguers about this topic, I can say with relative authority that it is not a prohibition against bunting per se, but that players for whom bunting is not part of their offensive repertoire should refrain from attempting it in this particular situation. If a pitcher is dealing no-hitter worthy stuff, the idea holds that he should be beaten with the best the opposition has to offer. If the best includes bunting—if Ichiro Suzuki drags one to reach base—that’s very different than if a backup catcher—say, Ben Davis—who has never bunted for a hit in his career does something similar. If the score of the game is beyond the necessity for a single baserunner, this becomes even more pronounced.

“1. Don’t show up your opponent”

Oh man, Pete, did you miss the big picture on this one. This is what you gave us:

“The most common examples of ‘showing up an opponent’ include bat flipping, admiring a home run or taunting a batter/pitcher.”

This is what you should have given us:

“That baseball has come to accept on-field celebrations is a remarkable embrace of foreign customs, the likes of which would have been unimaginable a generation ago. MLB’s decision to base an entire marketing campaign—Let the Kids Play—around the concept speaks to the undeniable influence of players from Latin America and elsewhere. The history of how this came to be is fascinating. Let’s start with the World Baseball Classic …”

Ultimately, Blackburn said that he ranked his list based on stupidity. So then, shall I conclude with a list of my own. It contains but a single point:

No. 1: Pete Blackburn’s column about the unwritten rules.

The Baseball Codes

RIP Stan Williams

Stan Williams passed away over the weekend at age 84. I became fully aware of his career while researching the Intimidation chapter of The Baseball Codes, after ex-players of a certain vintage kept talking about the scariest guy they’d ever faced: an enormous Dodgers right-hander who somehow wasn’t Don Drysdale. That was when I began to compile a dossier on Williams, and began to consider him as a vital interview for the book.

As it happened, connecting with the guy was easy. Williams was scouting for the Devil Rays at the time, and came to San Francisco on assignment. He was more than happy to chat.

By that point, the person who scared the bejeezus out of a generation of big league hitters was no longer evident. Instead, I found a jovial baseball lifer who embraced his reputation with levity. He described his approach to me as “tongue-in-cheek intimidation.”

“What really inspired me to throw at a batter was if he came up to home plate with a bat in his hand,” he grinned. “I never threw at anybody that wasn’t in my zone. All I wanted was one yard on each side of the plate. You get in my zone, you’re fair game.”

That was a joke, but it was also a learned trait, taught to Williams when he turned pro.

“It was pretty well known among the Dodgers that if you didn’t knock the hitters on their butts, you wouldn’t be around very long,” he said. “When I came out of high school, I didn’t know what a knockdown pitch was. I dropped a few people, but it was because I was wild. Finally, I learned the hard way. They told me that every time I went two strikes and no balls on a hitter, I had to throw high and inside. I guided the first two or three in there, and they got tattooed for home runs or long doubles. I got fed up with that, so I started throwing as hard as I could, right at their chin. And that became a very good knockdown pitch.”

As his reputation grew, Williams took to throwing breaking balls that started at hitters’ shoulders, and yelling “Watch out!” as the pitch left his hand. “The guy would lean back and the pitch would break over the plate,” he said.

It was a different era.

Williams left such an impression that I wrote an entire passage about him in the first draft of The Baseball Codes, only a small portion of which made it into the final copy. Today it seems appropriate day to share the whole thing. Rest in peace, Mr. Williams.

***

The Los Angeles Dodgers of the 1960s employed one of the most intimidating pitching staffs in major-league history. Batters feared Sandy Koufax because he was better than them. They feared Don Drysdale because he was better than them, and he might also plant a fastball into their ribs.

But the guy they really feared was Stan Williams.

Williams was not nearly the equal of Koufax or Drysdale, although he had decent success over a 14-year, injury-marred big league career, winning as many as 15 games and making an All-Star team. That was not why hitters feared him.

They feared him because he was scary.

At 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds, Williams was not only willing to throw baseballs at batters, but seemed to enjoy it. The right-hander was intimidating because he was big, he was intimidating because he threw extremely hard, and he was intimidating because, as far as hitters were concerned, he may well have been crazy.

“You try to get them out legitimately the first time around, and if that doesn’t work, then you drill them in the ribs and start over again,” Williams said, describing his pitching philosophy. “You try everything at your disposal first, and if a guy just keeps wearing you out—well, it’s either him or me, and I’m going to do my share to make it him. That’s what it was all about.”

Williams was wild when he first came up, itself an intimidating characteristic in a pitcher who threw as hard as he did. He was so wild, in fact, that the Dodgers tied his bonus money to walks allowed, giving him financial incentive to issue fewer free passes. The team’s mistake, at least according to hitters around the league, was failing to draft a similar clause for hit batsmen. His Dodgers teammate, Ron Fairly, described the situation like this: “Keep in mind, Stan Williams could throw the ball as hard as Sandy Koufax. Well, Stan would find himself in a particular game with a 3-0 count, we’re up by five runs, the pitcher’s coming up next. Whack—right in the ribs.”

Fairly said that he once saw Williams tack up a photo of Hank Aaron in the back of his locker and set to firing baseballs at it. When asked what he was doing, Williams’ answer was concise: “Practicing.”

Even after his playing career, the pitcher made little effort to alter his reputation, plying his unique brand of intimidation as pitching coach for the Red Sox, Yankees, White Sox and Reds over a dozen seasons. He never felt much need to adjust people’s preconceptions about him.

Williams recalled a time while coaching with New York in 1979, when he was approached before batting practice by Yankees catcher Cliff Johnson—himself 6-foot-4 and 225 lbs., and known as an intimidator in his own right. By way of conversation, Johnson mentioned that, had their career paths intersected, a knockdown from Williams would have resulted in a less-than-friendly visit to the pitcher’s mound.

“Let me tell you two things,” Williams said. “Number one, you wouldn’t have made it to the mound because I’d have met you halfway. And number two, number one isn’t going to change number two.”

This stopped Johnson cold, mainly because he had no idea what Williams was talking about. He asked what “number two” was.

“It didn’t matter whether you kicked my ass or I kicked yours,” Williams said. “The next time you came up, I’d have hit you right in the neck.”

The sentiment was partly bravado—although Williams hit 71 batters over the course of his career, he never once led his league in the category—but there was more to it than that. Williams threw batting practice that day, and when Johnson stepped into the cage, he found himself facing a succession of inside fastballs that eventually backed him up into the screen. It was good-natured intimidation between members of the same team, but it was intimidation nonetheless.

Williams’ most lasting legacy, however, might be the List.

The List was compiled in a small notebook that Williams carried with him everywhere, on and off the field. Inside was written the name of anyone who had ever offended Williams’ baseball sensibilities, through action or ability. Guys who hit him hard were noted next to those who showed him up. Accompanying the names were stars, added for ensuing transgressions. Should a player collect three stars, Williams explained, he effectively became a dental patient—due for a drilling.

There are countless List-inspired stories. The most interesting of them concerns the last man on it. His name was Barry Latman, and his name was inscribed into the book early in 1961.

At that point, Williams was 24 years old and a three-year vet, and was pitching for Los Angeles against Cleveland in a spring exhibition game in Las Vegas. Williams started, but because it was spring training, and because it was Las Vegas, and because he had stayed up until dawn, and because the first pitch was scheduled before noon, he wasn’t exactly in mid-season form. This is where his reputation proved to be counter-productive.

Williams ended up bouncing a pitch off the helmet of Cleveland’s Bubba Phillips, which might have pleased the pitcher greatly had that been his goal. As it was, not only was it a mistake, but Williams was throwing so softly, he said, that “I wouldn’t have hurt him if I’d hit him in the neck.”

Nonetheless, teammates are expected to protect each other, and the next time Williams stepped to the plate he was drilled in the ribs by Cleveland pitcher Barry Latman.

“Stan never moved,” said Fairly. “He didn’t even try to get out of the way of it. Didn’t flinch. The ball hit him and he stood there for three or four seconds.” Before Williams started toward first, he glared toward the mound and offered a concise warning: “Hey Barry, now it’s my turn.”

Dodgers manager Walter Alston, wanting to avoid needless escalation in a meaningless game, promptly pulled Williams. “Stan was going to hit every batter that came up there,” recalled Fairly. “You don’t fool around with a guy like that.”

Denied immediate revenge, Williams added Latman’s name to the List. The problem was, the only time they faced each other over the coming years—in 1963, when Williams was pitching for the Yankees—the score was too close to exact revenge.

Things changed in 1965. Battling injuries, Williams found himself with the Triple-A Seattle Angels, where he shared a clubhouse with another veteran struggling to make it back to the big leagues: Barry Latman. When Williams realized who he’d be teaming with, he laughed out loud. The two talked, sharing war stories as the old men in a clubhouse full of kids, and quickly developed a tight bond.

One day, Williams was assigned to pitch batting practice, and didn’t offer a moment of hesitation when his old foe stepped in against him. The surprised Latman quickly found himself in the way of a fastball.

“That’s for Vegas!” Williams yelled toward the plate. “If you don’t like it, come on out.”

Latman stayed put. Mission finally accomplished, Williams retired the List on the spot.