Dealing With Records

Wainwright Grooves, Jeter Pounces, Twitter Snarks. Come on, People

wainwrightSo Adam Wainwright grooved a fastball to Derek Jeter in the All-Star Game. Some are saying he was abiding by the unwritten rules when he did so. Others think he simply rolled over to let Jeter have his way. Still others say he disrespected Jeter, for crying out loud, not giving him credit for being able to get around any longer on a real major league pitch.

Jeter was the game’s first American League hitter, and Wainwright’s first pitch to him was in the dirt. His second was a 91-mph fastball down the pipe, which Jeter lashed into the right-field corner for a double.

“I was going to give him a couple of pipe shots,” Wainwright told reporters, describing a fastball grooved for the hitter’s pleasure. “He deserved it.”

Yes, Wainwright laid in in there, fat and succulent, despite his ensuing half-hearted denials aimed at stemming a growing and faux controversy. Yes, he had every right to do what he did. More than that, he should be lauded for it.

The pitcher understood the situation, knew that Jeter is a once-in-a-generation player. Dominating on the field is one thing, but Jeter has captured the public’s attention and affection in a way so wholesome as to seem downright anachronistic. Becoming the enduring face of baseball’s enduring franchise is no easy task. Wainwright understands this, and in Jeter’s final All-Star Game, responded as he saw fit. His first move was to step off the mound when Jeter was introduced, to give the Captain an extra moment of mass adoration. His next was to tee one up for the guy. It was an exhibition game; give the man his glory.

Those who misguidedly blame the unwritten rules for the moment are half right. There is precedent for Wainwright’s action, and that precedent does fall within the sport’s unwritten rules, but there is nothing to dictate such a course of action. Had the right-hander pitched Jeter as he would any other batter (or like he would have had the contest counted in the standings)—had he struck him out with a two-seamer in the dirt—not a player in baseball would have cried foul.

An entire chapter in The Baseball Codes—Responding to Records—deals with the topic. Wainwright’s action was more along the lines of Responding to Legacies, but the concept is the same. An excerpt:

Tigers pitcher Denny McLain always had a soft spot for Mickey Mantle, having idolized him as a boy growing up in Chicago. When they met at Tiger Stadium in September 1968 the two were at opposite ends of their careers, McLain peaking en route to thirty-one wins and both the Cy Young and MVP awards, while Mantle was nine days from retirement. The great slugger’s previous home run, almost a month earlier, had him tied with Jimmy Foxx on the all-time list with 534.

Before the game, McLain decided to do his hero a favor. Recalled Tigers catcher Jim Price, “Denny told me, ‘Let him hit one.’ ” Price relayed the good news when Mantle stepped into the batter’s box, at which point the Yankees star extended his bat over the plate to indicate just the spot in which he’d like to see a pitch. McLain delivered, and Mantle connected for a homer. Said Price, “Denny stood out there on the mound and clapped.” Mantle had his milestone, and McLain had his joy.

Properly dealing with records—either one’s own or someone else’s— has long been a part of the Code. It’s why Yankees outfielder Tommy Henrich laid down a curiously timed ninth-inning bunt to avoid a possible double play, assuring Joe DiMaggio another chance to extend his hitting streak in 1941. (DiMaggio did.)

It’s also why, when Yankees second baseman Bobby Richardson went into the final day of the 1959 season needing a hit in his first at-bat to push his average to .300, manager Casey Stengel informed him that since the Yankees didn’t have a single .300 hitter on the roster he’d be immediately removed from the game should it happen, to avoid falling below the mark in ensuing at-bats. It’s also why members of that day’s opponent, the Bal­timore Orioles, took up the cause: Brooks Robinson informed Richardson that he’d be playing deep in case the hitter found appeal in bunting; pitcher Billy O’Dell offered to groove pitches; and catcher Joe Ginsberg verbally called for pitches instead of dropping down signs. Umpire Ed Hurley even got in on the act, offering that, if Richardson could “just make it close,” things would go his way. Said Richardson, “There couldn’t have been a more complete fix on.” (The fix might have been on, but it wasn’t complete. Richardson doubled in his first at-bat, refused Stengel’s entreaties to leave the game, went 2-for-3, and ended up at .301.)

Since we’re on a string of Yankees-related events, we can also turn to Whitey Ford, who ended up facing former teammate Billy Martin, one of his best friends in the game, about six weeks after Martin had been traded from New York to Kansas City. It was the eighth inning and the Yankees were leading, 10-3. From Ford’s book, Slick:

I threw him a big slow curve and he took it for a strike. I got the ball back and said to him, “Same thing.” I wanted him to hit it for a single or double, but I threw another big slow curve and he wrapped it around the left-field foul pole for a home run. Now he was prancing around the bases, the son of a bitch. When I saw him prancing like that, I was sorry I did it.

Ford’s action came as a favor to a friend in a situation that wouldn’t cost his team. Wainwright’s was a nod to the sanctity of baseball in an exhibition game that didn’t count for anything other than pride (and, stupidly, home-field advantage in the World Series). It’s a shame more of the public isn’t appreciating it as such. The man was pitching in a showcase to the most super of any superstar his generation will produce. With one pitch, he acknowledged all of it, every bit.

 

Fraternization, Melky Cabrera

Reach Out and Touch Someone … or Not: On Cano’s (Temporary) Lack of Love for Melky

In 1933, National League president John Heydler issued a memo to team presidents recommending against inter-team fraternization. By the end of the decade, Commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis had turned it into law. Umpires were tasked with sitting in the stands before games and taking names of those players willing to converse across borders, with fines levied against the guilty.

Because those mores were in line with the unwritten rules, not many fines were needed. Heck, in the 1965 All-Star Game, Bob Gibson wouldn’t talk to his own catcher, Joe Torre, because they played for different teams during every other game of the season.

“When I had the uniform on, somebody with the other uniform, I wanted to choke them,” said 1993 AL Cy Young Award-winner Jack McDowell. “I wanted to kill them. I’m sure as hell not going to go shake their hands and talk to them, even warming up before a game.”

These days, that mindset has faded, for one primary reason. “There’s interaction now,” said Dusty Baker. “High school games, section games, college games, Area Code games, Junior Olympic team, Olympic team, Pan Am Games—most of these guys know each other, and for a long period of time before they even get to the big leagues.”

Even with that in mind, Melky Cabrera tried to push the envelope following his fourth-inning homer in Tuesday’s All-Star Game. As San Francisco’s center fielder rounded first, he spied one of his best friends in the game, Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano. The pair had come up together through New York’s minor league system, and remain close.

As Cabrera approached second, he held out his hand to slap five with his pal—who, it should be re-stated, was playing for the other team.

How did it sit? Not well in Cabrera’s own clubhouse, likely. His manager for the day, Tony La Russa, is known to have some feelings on the subject. From Buzz Bissinger’s Three Nights in August: “It drives [La Russa] crazy when a hitter gets a single and starts chatting it up with the first baseman as if they’re distant cousins at a family reunion. He shares the fan’s view that it simply doesn’t look good: Baseball is meant to be a game of competition, not a game of whassup dog?

Whassup dog, however,  seemed to be on Cabrera’s mind. Cano refused to play along. (Watch it here.)

“He tried to give me a high five, and I know this is the All-Star Game, but I don’t want to look bad out there,” Cano said in a CBS Sports report. “It was fun, and if it was a closer game I might be having fun. I didn’t want to upset my teammates. We’re playing to win.”

It’s doubtful that Cabrera would have tried such a thing anyplace but an exhibition, but it was still an odd and awkward sight.

“Take ’em out to dinner,” said pitcher Dick Bosman of such encounters. “Sit in the lobby of the hotel. But whatever you do, you’re not supposed to be doing it out there on the field.”

All-Star Game

Hey, it’s the All-Star Game. Let’s Revisit Some History

I ran this post back in 2010 (sans logo, of course), but it seems like an appropriate time to revisit things.

In honor of the All-Star Game, I offer three related stories, only one of which made the final draft of The Baseball Codes. Consider it bonus material to fill the downtime until games resume.

* * *

In the 1978 All-Star Game in San Diego, Pete Rose went so far as to import to the National League clubhouse cases of Japanese baseballs—smaller and more tightly wound than their American counterparts, which caused them to carry farther. Working the locker room like a politician, he garnered buy-in from his teammates on two counts: The National Leaguers agreed to use the balls during batting practice, and they also agreed that nobody would tell members of the American League team what was going on. Rose then sauntered over to the AL locker room and convinced many of the players to come out and watch their opponents take pre-game hacks.

Jack Murphy Stadium was vast in 1978, running 420 feet to center field, but Rose’s teammates for the day put on quite a show, hammering ball after ball over the fence’s deepest reaches. When they were done, the National Leaguers gathered all the balls and returned them to their clubhouse for safekeeping. Using standard major league baseballs in their own batting practice, the American Leaguers had a much rougher go of things.

It might not have meant much . . . or maybe it did. At the very least, it didn’t hurt. The National League went on to win its seventh straight contest, 7-3.

* * *

In the National League clubhouse prior to the 1968 All-Star Game, Dodgers catcher Tom Haller saw Houston’s Rusty Staub rummaging through Don Drysdale’s shaving kit, ostensibly to find evidence to support the long-whispered rumor that Drysdale doctored the ball. When Haller told the pitcher about it, it wasn’t taken lightly.

Fifteen days later, Drysdale faced the Astros in Los Angeles. Trailing 1-0 with two outs and nobody on in the eighth inning, Drysdale buried a pitch into Staub’s ribs.

“That’s for looking through my goddamn shaving kit,” he yelled as the hitter stumbled down to first base. Staub might not have been the world’s best sleuth, but he was smart enough to not say a word.

* * *

Orioles skipper Earl Weaver was once sitting in the dugout when one of his pitchers gave up a home run. As the batter rounded third, he looked toward the Orioles bench, made eye contact with the manager and extended his middle finger. “What the hell was that?” a befuddled Weaver asked Billy Hunter, one of his coaches. Hunter knew exactly what the hell that was. “You didn’t select him for the All-Star Game,” he said.