Felipe Lopez, Hustle

Lopez, Not Content to Anger his Teammates Simply by Throwing Bats, also Angers them with Lack of Hustle

Perhaps Felipe Lopez felt that he had skated altogether too freely after flipping his bat at White Sox pitcher Chris Sale on April 9.

He apologized after the game, which apparently went a long way. Thursday, the final meeting between the teams this season featured five hit batters—none of them Lopez. He did not, in fact, get hit at all by a White Sox staff led by Ozzie Guillen, a man notorious for ordering his pitchers to retaliate for various violations of the unwritten rules.

Less forgiving was Lopez’s own manager, Joe Maddon, who said after the game that the bat flip “is not who we are,” and that “we don’t do that here.”

One might think that Lopez, new to the Rays, would at this point take great pains to please his manager. But no. Friday he broke a cornerstone of the unwritten rules—one that falls under the headings of both “respect your teammates” and “respect the game”: He failed to hustle.

With one out in the 11th inning of a game against Toronto, Lopez made no real effort toward first base as shortstop Jason McDonald bobbled a grounder; Lopez would have easily beat the throw had he been running. When the next hitter, Sean Rodriguez, followed with a walk, Tampa Bay could sense a potential rally wasted. One hitter later, the inning was over.

Maddon responded by pulling Lopez from the game. Lopez also sat the next day.

Lopez has a history of running afoul with team management, getting booted from the Cardinals last season for perennial tardiness. He wasn’t even on the Rays roster coming out of spring training, but was called up to replace the injured Evan Longoria.

Tampa is his eighth team in an 11-year career. One can imagine that his time there is quickly drawing to a close.

– Jason

Retaliation, Ted Lilly

There’s a New Sherrif in Town … and his Name is Lilly

Through the array of baseball’s frontier justice so far this young season, the game has seen one unquestioned king of bad-assery, one primary purveyor of retaliation.

Raise your hand if the first name that came to mind in that regard was Ted Lilly.

Lilly has taken the lead from the No. 3 slot in the Dodgers rotation to single-handedly ensure that nobody takes liberties with his ballclub.

Tim Lincecum hit ex-teammate Juan Uribe twice, on separate occasions. (The second time, during the sixth inning of a tie game, was Lincecum’s final pitch of the night and was clearly unintentional.)

Lilly’s response: Pitching the following day, he hit Buster Posey in his first two at-bats the following day.

Warnings were issued after the second one, and although Giants manager Bruce Bochy had to be ordered back into the dugout by umpire Greg Gibson, no retaliation was in the offing. Posey had no comment afterward on the intent of the pitches; Lilly said he was just trying to pitch “hard in on (Posey’s) hands.” Of course he was.

(For what it’s worth, Lilly didn’t walk a hitter that night, and has averaged only five hit batters per season over the course of his career. Posey opted for legal retaliation after the second drilling, swiping second base for the first regular-season steal of his career.)

Last Monday, Braves pitcher Tim Hudson put a 91 mph fastball behind Jerry Sands’ head, after Sands had doubled and hit a sacrifice fly in his first two at-bats of the game—and his career—all the while serenaded by Dodger Stadium chants of “Je-RRY, Je-RRY.”

Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez later admitted that the pitch was meant to send a message to the surging rookie, but came in higher than intended. Hudson gestured apologetically toward the Dodgers dugout after throwing it.

Lilly’s response: The next inning, he threw a ball behind Nate McLouth. Still, after the game, Hudson sent Sands a make-peace offering—a signed baseball. Sands accepted it, calling it a “classy move.” Lilly was hardly so forgiving.

When asked if he was protecting Sands, he said, via MLB.com: “More than that, I guess, I was disappointed with the pitch Huddy threw. All of you guys know he’s as good as it gets keeping the ball down.”

Lilly’s making $33 million over three years from the Dodgers. He was brought in to stabilize the rotation. Looks like he’s giving it some guts, as well.

– Jason

Ron Roenicke, Unwritten-Rules

Ron Roenicke and the Unwritten Rules

With Brewers manager Ron Roenicke in the news recently for inserting Carlos Gomez as a pinch-runner while holding a 5-0, eighth-inning lead over the Cubs, it seems an appropriate time to run the bulk of an interview we did with him in June 2006, for the Baseball Codes.

Many of Roenicke’s answers echo precisely what he said in the wake of the Gomez incident. I’m including the rest of the conversation because it’s so wide ranging, and because Roenicke has such clear opinions on the subject.

Roenicke was a coach on Mike Scioscia’s staff with the Angels at the time of the interview.

On the difference between the unwritten rules in the minor leagues and the major leagues:

It’s different when you talk about the minor leagues and the major leagues, because in the major leagues you’re there to win games. Yes, you don’t want to show anybody up, but your first responsibility is to your team. In the minor leagues—and here we’re talking about the stealing, not so much the 3-0 swinging—you’re trying to develop people.

Say you’re trying to develop a base stealer. Say he hasn’t gotten an opportunity to steal a base in a week. Now, the one time he gets on, you are up 8-0 in the sixth inning. Well, here’s his opportunity to practice, to learn how to steal a base, and yet you’re up by a lead where you usually wouldn’t run.

I tried to talk to the other manager before we played and tell them how I felt, so if that situation came up they knew, hey, I’m not stealing this to try to show you up. I’m not trying to increase the score of the game, or see how many runs we can score. I’m trying to develop these players; that’s our goal in the minor leagues.

In my second year managing I was in the California League, and we were playing the Padres’ A-Ball team, Rancho Cucamonga. Marty Barrett was managing them. I introduced myself to Marty before the game and said, “Hey, Marty, I’ve got some guys who need to learn how to steal. If we’re up by a lot of runs early in the game we’re going to keep going. I don’t know how you feel, but I won’t be offended or take it personally if you steal some guys who need to work on it, too.” He says, “Oh yeah, no problem.”

Well, we’re bashing the ball. We’re up 9-2 in the second inning, we get a guy on and we steal him. Marty goes bananas—he’s all ticked off at me. That stuff happens in the game.

The score ended up being 9-8, and Derek Lee was at the plate with two guys on, and he flew out to the fence. So that wasn’t a comfort zone for us. If you’ve been to Rancho Cucamonga, you know can score some runs in that ballpark.

What’s the ultimate yardstick for knowing when to back off?

It comes down to your responsibility. How many runs do you know that you need to win that ballgame that night?

When I came up (to the big leagues, with the Dodgers in 1981) they always told me, eighth or ninth inning, if you’re up by five runs you don’t steal any more. That was the unwritten rule. But today’s games have changed that. There weren’t the run totals we have now. I came up with the Dodgers, which was a hard park to hit in, and our pitching staff was so good, rarely did you score five runs in a game. Now, five runs in an inning happens almost every night in some ballpark.

Any individual night may be different from the night before. Maybe your stopper’s been in three games in a row and can’t pitch that night, so you don’t have that sure guy you can go to in the last inning. You want more runs.

Now the opposing team may not know that, so there comes the battle where they get ticked off about something you do, and maybe you’re doing it just because you know you’ve got a couple of guys you really can’t bring into the ball game.

Do you ever have to explain to the opposition why you did something the way you did?

Once in a while there’s a phone call made between managers. It doesn’t happen often, but once or twice a year you get a call, or you call the other side and say, “Hey, listen, I’m not trying to show anybody up, but this was our situation, this is why it happened.”

You do this because something happens during the game where you see their whole staff standing up and the players are ticked off and yelling something. Sometimes you need to explain that.

How do you deal with it when it makes sense for you—your pen is gassed, you want the extra run and they’re yelling? Do you feel the need to get them back for something you felt was justified?

If they retaliate, I’m mad. I’m going to talk to that manager. I don’t know anybody managing the game in the big leagues that would try to purposely show up the other team. I really don’t. If that guy is stealing, I think there’s a reason he’s stealing.

Now sometimes a player doesn’t know, and he just takes off, but that doesn’t come from the manager. But if it’s the manager, I don’t believe there’s anybody saying, “We’re going to abuse these guys, let’s score as many runs as we can.” I’ve never been around anybody like that. So, if somebody is doing it, and we’re on the other side, I rarely see Mike (Scioscia) that upset about when they do something that maybe we think they should not be doing.

If it’s stealing, we’re looking at it and saying, “They’re not comfortable with the lead they have; they think they need more runs.” That’s saying a lot for our team—they’re saying they think we’ve got a pretty good offense.

People who get mad about stuff, I don’t understand it. There’s no way Mike is ever going to show up somebody. If he runs, it’s because he knows we need more runs on the board to win the ball game.

Have you ever had to take one of your own guys aside and tell him to cool it?

Sure. Bunting for a base hit when you’re up by a lot of runs and you aren’t a bunter. If you’re Chone Figgins, it depends on the score, but if it’s five or six runs up I’m OK with Figgins bunting. But if Garret Anderson or Vladdy (Guerrero) is in a slump and guys are way back on the grass and they bunt for a hit, I don’t like that.

I thought Figgins would bunt last night. [In the eighth inning of a game against Matt Cain of the Giants, Figgins singled to center for his team’s first hit in a game the Giants led 2-1.]

You mean, when he got the hit to break up the no-hitter? That’s another unwritten rule—do you bunt to break up a no-hitter?

If you’re Chone Figgins and it’s a one-run game, I think you do.

Well, that’s the thing—are we trying to win this game, or are we trying to ignore the unwritten rule to bunt and break up a no-hitter?

It’s not your job to preserve it.

It isn’t, but that’s another one of the rules. If we’re in the fifth or sixth inning and he bunts, that’s fine, but if you get to the eighth or ninth, most people would say he’s not supposed to bunt for a base hit. But for me, that’s part of his game, and it’s OK. You talk to a lot of managers who say it’s not.

It’s different if it’s San Diego [a reference to Ben Davis breaking up Curt Schilling’s perfect game in 2001].

Yeah, bunting isn’t part of his game, and I don’t know if I like that.

Why, if you have one hit and it’s 2-1 in the eighth, would it conceivably be no problem for Figgins to bunt in an effort to be the tying run, but not when it’s 1-0 and you have no hits?

You’re right. I’m not saying it’s wrong to do it—it’s just one of those unwritten rules. You have to hit the ball to break up a no-hitter late in the game.

Do you recall, from playing days, having anyone on your team or the other team so blatantly violate a unwritten rule that either your manager or pitching staff decided it required retaliation?

It happened more when I played. Most of the time when somebody was thrown at it was because of what they did at the plate, maybe on a long home run. Now everybody (watches home runs) so nobody seems to care, but back then if you hit a home run, you didn’t stand there and watch it. It was that or breaking up two, going in cleats high. Those were the things that people got hit for.

On bunting against Nolan Ryan:

I bunted one time against Nolan Ryan. Now, I didn’t know. It was my second year in the big leagues, and I didn’t know. I didn’t get a hit, although I was bunting for a hit. I came back to the bench, and Mark Belanger was with us that one year, his final year, playing with the Dodgers. He said “Ron, just so you know, Nolan, when he was in the American League, if you bunted on him, the next time he threw at you.”

So I’m like, “Oh, great.” We played him three weeks later, and I’m worried about that first pitch, and he just threw a fastball right down the middle. He probably didn’t know who I was, and it didn’t matter to him.

Any other guys have private rules?

You didn’t dig in against anybody back then. The way guys dig in now, they’d be hit automatically by 90 percent of the pitchers back then. Same thing with home runs.

If you got hit and you were at fault, you just put your head down and went to first. If your teammates saw you hit a home run and watch it, your own teammates were mad because they knew somebody was going to get hit, and there were eight of them hitting before you got up. Sometimes they waited until you hit again, sometimes they hit the next guy. It depended on who the pitcher was.

Nolan, obviously, had a reputation. Pedro Martinez—I was just starting to coach when he came up. Before me, obviously, Gibson and Drysdale were the worst.

How about Steve Carlton?

I played with him. Now, Lefty was mean. If you hit a home run and you looked at it, then yeah, you were gonna get it. Most guys were like that, and Lefty didn’t care who it was.

Lefty was kind of a stickler for the unwritten rules. Yeah, he was a mean competitor. There were certain guys that you just knew you couldn’t get away with stuff that you might get away with elsewhere. When you got into the box, you knew who was pitching, and you’d better do the right thing. They had that reputation. You didn’t mess around and get them mad at you.

My brother (former big leaguer Gary Roenicke) got hit in the mouth by Lerin LaGrow, and Lerin was known to hit people. He got hit opening day in Oakland.

My brother didn’t do anything to precipitate it; it was out of the blue. I’m not saying it was on purpose—it was out of the shadows and Gary said he never saw it coming. He wore a face mask the rest of the year, and he got drilled all the time. Pitchers tried to intimidate him.

I can remember some teammates, if they were thrown at during a game, that was it. They were done. They weren’t going to get a hit that game. And, I can remember other guys—you throw at Steve Garvey, I guarantee he was going to hit a bullet somewhere. He would grab that helmet, throw it on his head, get back in there and have a great at-bat.

Not too many guys can last in the major leagues if they can’t handle being thrown at, but some guys just didn’t know—they’d face one team and get throw at, but other teams didn’t try it. Guys didn’t talk that much back then. If you knew something about a guy, you’d keep it to yourself and have the advantage.

On learning the Code:

It was the veteran players who took you aside. When I first came up I can remember Rick Monday telling me, “Just keep your mouth shut and learn how to play the game.” He was right. I sat there. He knew I wasn’t a starter, and he wasn’t anymore, either. He took care of me more than anybody—him and Terry Forster. They took care of the young guys. Not just telling them what to do, but taking them out to dinner and teaching them how to be professional—really helping their careers.

Youth and money can be a volatile mix.

I think it’s gotten to the point where you can’t do it anymore (teach kids how to act on the road, and etc.). We’ve created a monster. The way things have evolved, it’s not just when you get to the big leagues, now—it’s also the minor league stuff. It’s the huge bonuses. The game has really changed.

The first time I saw it was with Steve Sax. He was the first rookie that stepped into the big leagues and got away with the stuff he got away with, with a sense of entitlement. I was waiting for Reggie (Smith) and Dusty (Baker) and (Ron) Cey and (Steve) Garvey to just grab him by the throat and put him up against the wall. For some reason, he got away with it.

He was making fun of the old guys, not paying attention during the ballgame, goofing around somewhere. Now he played a lot, but at the very beginning, maybe when he wasn’t in there every day, they told me, “You’re on the bench, you’re watching what’s going on, you’re talking to other veterans—you are at work.”

Now, Saxy, it’s his personality—he couldn’t sit still that long. He was off screwing around, playing practical jokes on the veterans—which you just did not do—and he got away with it. He was one funny guy, and I don’t know if it was because the guys liked that humor around, or what. He was the first guy I saw get away with it.

It gradually changed, and now a rookie steps into the big leagues and can do whatever he wants. There’s no, “Hey, that’s my seat,” or, “Rook, you sit in the front of the bus.” Now, you do whatever you want to do.

Players respected the game more back when we played, and probably 20 years before we played they respected it more than we did. I don’t know.

I think the money has really changed how people inside the game view the game. Now it’s a vehicle to wealth. There aren’t too many guys who play just for the love of the game. That’s a shame, but it’s true.

That’s why, when you have those (David) Ecksteins and (Darin) Erstads, they’re so rare. Vladimir, too. Vladimir absolutely loves to play baseball. I don’t think it would matter what he’s getting paid. He loves to play, and you can see it. You can see it in the dugout, you can see it in the locker room, you can see it out there in front of people.

So there are still a few—not many—that do play that way.

Are the guys who love the game the ones who automatically live by these rules?

A lot more so. Not always, not everything, but a lot more. As a staff, that’s what you want from everybody—you want everybody to feel that same way. Because it has changed so much, it has to be harder to be a coach now than it was before, with players and what their priorities are.

– Jason

Carlos Gomez, Don't Steal with a Big Lead, Mike Quade, Ron Roenicke

Brewers Late Baserunning Renews Questions About How Much is Too Much

Ron Roenicke

The best-known and probably most widely debated of baseball’s unwritten rules has to do with when one can safely steal a base—or, more precisely, when one can’t steal a base.

The idea is similar to the one that prevents football teams not coached by Steve Spurrier from running up the score; once a game is in hand, respect for the other team informs a manager to back off. With a sizeable lead late in a game, a team is expected to top stealing bases, taking extra bases, hitting sacrifice flies, enacting sacrifice bunts and etc.

This rule is followed without exception, by most everyone in the major leagues.

Where things go sideways is the varying interpretations of “big lead” and “late in the game.”

On April 9, for example, the Brewers held a 5-0 lead over the Cubs in the eighth inning. With one out, Carlos Gomez—running for Mark Kotsay, who had just been walked by Jeff Samardzija—stole second.

It turned out to be irrelevant; Samardzija walked the bases loaded, then walked Gomez home.

Gomez’s manager, Ron Roenicke, had no problem with seeing his player running. Then again, inserting the speedster into the game was no less aggressive a move on Roenicke’s part.

“Up 5-0 in the eighth or ninth inning, I don’t worry about it one bit,” Roenicke said in an MLB.com report. “Today’s game is not 20 years ago. You can get five runs in one inning. … People used to say you’re not supposed to run in the seventh, eighth or ninth when you’re up by more than a grand slam. That is completely out of this game today. It’s not even close. So, for me, it’s not even an issue. If that’s brought up, it’s from people that really don’t understand today’s game.”

Also, this: “If somebody has that mentality, then they shouldn’t be in the game, and I just can’t imagine a manager having that mentality.”

It’s a line of thought that is no less aggressive than the tactic itself. Agree or disagree with Roenicke, to reduce the argument to “smart baseball people” vs. “not smart baseball people” is essentially empty bluster.

After all, Cubs manager Mike Quade understands the game a little. He is also a manager, it should be pointed out, and he took some exception to Roenicke’s approach.

“Everybody has to make their own decision on that,” he said. “There are unwritten rules, so I’d disgree with him on that.”

Quade’s words were diplomatic, but he was clearly a bit ticked off. Quade is in his first full season as a major league manager, and clearly doesn’t want to stir things up too vigorously. Then again, Roenicke has managed all of 16 games himself at this level, and stirring things up doesn’t seem to bother him a bit.

For all his bombast, of course, he made a number of valid points. From MLB.com:

“If my concern with my team is I need more runs to make sure we win this ballgame, or, more importantly, to make sure I don’t have to use certain people in my bullpen, that’s what it comes down to.”

“The other side, they don’t know what’s going on with us. Today we’re playing [the Cubs], and [if] all of a sudden it’s 7-0 in the eighth inning and he’s running, my thoughts aren’t, ‘He’s trying to show us up.’ He may have two relievers down in his bullpen I know nothing about. Maybe they’re sick, maybe they’ve got arm stiffness, and he can’t afford in a 7-0 game to use his setup man or his closer. So if he’s running, I think there’s a good reason why he’s running.”

These thoughts are entirely consistent with the interview he gave us in 2006 for the Baseball Codes, concerning this very topic. The guy clearly believes what he speaks, at least in general terms. In specific terms, while the Brewers’ bullpen is dealing with Takashi Saito’s sore hamstring, they hadn’t exactly been burning through relievers. In the previous four games, dating back to Yovani Gallardo’s complete-game victory over Atlanta on April 5, no reliever had been used more than twice, and never for more than an inning at a time.

Sure, Roenicke didn’t want the game to get close enough to go deep into his bullpen, but that didn’t seem to be the real issue. Despite the fact that he’s clearly spent significant time considering the topic (or maybe because of it) Roenicke’s real issue appears to be with the Code itself.

At least that’s what can be surmised from his answer to a question about whether there’s any cutoff point at which stealing bases becomes unacceptable.

“No,” Roenicke said, “there isn’t.”

– Jason

Felipe Lopez, Retaliation

ChiSox Refrain from Retaliation, Lopez Exceedingly Happy About It

It may be over; it may be just beginning.

After the White Sox took notable and on-field exception to the blatant bat flip by Tampa Bay’s Felipe Lopez last week, the teams squared off yesterday for the first time since the incident.

Most of the game was too close to reasonably expect retaliation, were it forthcoming. Through Lopez’s first three at-bats the Rays led by three or fewer runs—not nearly enough for the Sox to give them free opportunities to pad their lead.

When Lopez came to the plate in the eighth inning, however, it was 4-0. And with an 0-2 count, he blasted a pitch from Matt Thornton over the wall in left. (In all he went 3-for-4 with a double and the home run, the stat line of a clearly unmarked man.)

Perhaps 4-0 was too close for Ozzie Guillen’s tastes, or perhaps Thornton opted against furthering the confrontation, especially once he got two quick strikes on the batter. It’s possible that Lopez’s apology after the initial act diffused the situation entirely.

Still, there’s enough gray area here to merit keeping an eye on the situation through the rest of the series.

– Jason

Josh Hamilton, Respect Teammates

Hamilton Breaks Arm, Hurts Feelings, Loses Face

Josh Hamilton clearly was not happy with the way things went Tuesday.

With Hamilton on third, third base coach Dave Anderson noticed that nobody was covering the plate as Tigers catcher Victor Martinez went to chase a popup that was ultimately caught in front of the Tigers dugout by Brandon Inge. Anderson urged Hamilton to score, but Inge flipped the ball to Martinez, who beat a diving Hamilton to the plate.

The result: a broken arm and six to eight weeks on the disabled list.

Hamilton was out, he was injured and he was frustrated. And he let it get to him, lashing out at Anderson after the game, essentially blaming his coach for the injury.

“I listened to my third base coach,” he said. “That’s a little too aggressive. The whole time I was watching the play I was listening. [He said], ‘Nobody’s at home, nobody’s at home.’ I was like, ‘Dude, I don’t want to do this. Something’s going to happen.’ But I listened to my coach. And how do you avoid a tag the best, by going in headfirst and get out of the way and get in there. That’s what I did.”

(Watch the play, and hear Hamilton discuss it, here.)

Hamilton is allowed to take issue Anderson’s call, personally or directly to Anderson. What he’s not allowed is to call out a coach in public. It undermines every bit of authority Anderson possesses.

This doesn’t happen frequently, but it’s not it’s never happened before. In 1986, for example, Angels baserunner Bobby Grich, having rounded third on a single by Bob Boone, retreated to the base, only to be thrown out by a relay from Jim Rice to Wade Boggs to Spike Owen.

The Angels were trailing 3-2; Grich would have been the tying run, had he scored. He threw his helmet to the ground and animatedly gestured toward third base coach Moose Stubing, showing him up not just in word, as Hamilton did to Anderson, but in deed.

Afterward, Stubing accepted full responsibility for the blown play, but that’s almost beside the point. No matter how badly he failed at his job, the unwritten rules mandate respect from player to coach, and vice versa—especially on the field. It’s the same section of Code that keeps managers from removing position players in the middle of an inning for anything but injury.

It took some time for Grich to understand this, but after the game he tracked down his coach to apologize.

Hamilton took even longer. He had hardly backed down early Wednesday when he told reporters, “I threw him under the bus by telling the truth about what happened. What do you want me to do, lie about it? People are going to blame who they want to blame.”

Never mind the fact that Hamilton’s status in the game is lofty enough to allow him to do whatever his instincts tell him on the field. He would not have been second-guessed for staying at third, no matter what happened.

Also never mind the fact that players are taught to go feet-first when sliding into home.

Later that same afternoon, however, the slugger had either reconsidered his stance, or had been instructed in no uncertain terms to turn the other cheek. Finally, he apologized to Anderson.

“I see where I need to take responsibility for it,” Hamilton said. “I was just frustrated—more so for getting injured.”

– Jason

Bill Hall, Nick Swisher, Slide properly, Tsuyoshi Nishioka

It’s Been a Bad Week for Takeout Slides, at Least as far as Middle Infielders are Concerned

How much is too much, and when is enough when it comes to takeout slides? These questions were asked multiple times and with no firm answer in Houston and New York last week.

Start with Bill Hall. Was flying into Marlins shortstop Hanley Ramirez on a play at second base, as the Astros second baeman did Friday, too much? It was certainly aggressive. Ramirez, firmly planted behind and to the left of second base as he attempted to turn a double-play, provided a stationary target as Hall went out of his way to take him out. (Watch it here.)

That, however, is what players are taught to do—interrupt the fielder at any cost, so long as it’s clean. And Hall’s slide was clean, if a touch late. He went in feet first and spikes down, with one clear purpose: prevent the double-play. That he went out of his way—but not too far out of his way—to do it falls well within the definition of getting the job done.

“Clean play? Dirty play? That’s hard to tell unless it’s very obvious,” said Marlins manager Edwin Rodriguez in the Palm Beach Post. “He came hard but he was in range. He was touching the base. That’s the way he plays and that’s the way it should be—play hard.”

Hall ended up going shin-to-shin with Ramirez, knocking them both down for several minutes. Hall returned to the game; Ramirez sat out until Tuesday.

A day prior, Nick Swisher of the New York Yankees took out Twins second baseman Tsuyoshi Nishioka in a similar play, with far graver consequences. Swisher’s slide—like Hall’s, off the base and intended to break up the double-play—broke the second baseman’s fibula, just six games into his big league career. (Watch it here.)

The reason both infielders were hurt is that neither of them jumped. Ramirez fielded the throw in an awkward place coming from the shortstop position and had to adjust; Nishioka might simply never have learned any difference.

Twins broadcaster Dan Gladden, who spent a year playing in Japan (winning the Japan Series with the Yomiuri Giants in 1994), was quoted in the Minneapolis Star Tribune talking about the dearth of such tactics in that country.

“When I got over there I told them, ‘I don’t slide to the bag. We are taught to break up double plays,’ ” he said. “The coach told me, ‘We expect the Americans to play that way.’ ”

Swisher went so far as to visit Nishioka in the X-ray room at Yankee Stadium to offer a personal apology for the inadvertent injury. Nishioka told him there was no apology necessary. And that was it. No retaliatory strikes the following day. No bad blood resulting from a hard, clean play.

The same can not be said for the Marlins. Ramirez was injured far less severely than Nishioka, but despite the fact that he publicly exonerated Hall—“My opinion is he was trying to break up a double play,” he said in the Post. “He told [Marlins infielder Greg] Dobbs that he was sorry but … he was trying to do his job.”—his teammates clearly had a score to settle.

Saturday’s game was too consistently close to consider a retaliatory strike, but on Sunday, with a 6-1 lead in the seventh inning, Edward Mujica drilled Hall in the hip. The intent was clear; Mujica has hit only three guys over the course of his six-year career and walks almost nobody. His control is exquisite. He was quickly ejected.

Ramirez being the face of his franchise certainly had something to do with it. The fact that he has a history of calling out Marlins pitchers for lack of retaliatory response may also have factored in. (Then again, Mujica was with San Diego during that particular tirade, and may have been entirely ignorant of it.)

Had Hall been out of line with his slide, with a barrel roll or some other questionable tactic—in other words, had he deserved the response—it might have ended there. As it was, Houston reliever Anuery Rodriguez stood up for his guy by plunking Gaby Sanchez in the ninth. This one was easy to see coming; Rodriguez is a rookie with a double-digit ERA. His performance on the field is not winning much respect from his teammates, so he felt the need to earn it in a different capacity. He, too, was ejected. (Watch both ejections here.)

The Marlins and Astros meet once more this season, in July. There’s no reason for renewed hostilities at that point—but then again there rarely is. Stay tuned.

– Jason

A.J. Pierzynski, Felipe Lopez, Joe Maddon, Ozzie Guillen, Retaliation

Lopez Bat Toss Sparks Quick Confrontation, String of Ludicrous Denials and, Ultimately, an Apology

A.J. Pierzynski is less than appreciative of Felipe Lopez's bat toss Saturday.

Most baseball retaliation looks the same: a pitcher throwing a ball as hard as he can at the backside, legs or ribs of an opposing batter.

Sometimes, though, batters get theirs, too. Unfortunately for them, their actions rarely hold the same weight; whereas a vengeance-minded pitcher can be seen as sticking up for his teammates, his counterpart at the plate is often looking out only for himself. Such displays frequently resemble hot-headed reaction far more than they do retaliation.

Case in point: Felipe Lopez. On Saturday, the Rays’ third baseman took an inside pitch in the ninth inning from White Sox reliever Chris Sale that apparently didn’t meet his liking.

Lopez hit the next pitch out of the park, and as part of his follow-through whipped his bat toward the mound. (Watch it here.)

Needless to say, this was not taken well by pretty much anybody on the field. Chicago catcher A.J. Pierzynski was waiting for him when he crossed the plate, delivering a sternly worded message while gesturing toward the mound. Lopez’s body language looked as if he was trying to deny intent; had he been aggressive, it’s not difficult to picture a fight breaking out.

The Sox weren’t the only ones upset.

“That’s not who we are. That’s not how we play,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said Sunday in the St. Petersburg Times . “I’m not into the end zone demonstration that much. I think we’ve really morphed into this, I believe, very classy group over the last several years and I want to maintain that kind of thought about us. I don’t even want to say image—you think about the Rays, you think these guys handle themselves in a certain way. So we don’t do that here.”

It’s a point that Maddon had to make. Forget the image he’s trying to maintain—outbursts like Lopez’s can lead not just to his own potential peril, but can put his teammates in danger, as well.

It’s difficult to believe that Lopez, who’s in his 11th season, didn’t understand the potential repercussions of his actions. Then again he’s with his eighth team (not counting two stints with St. Louis), and was cut by the Cardinals last year after ongoing bouts of unprofessionalism. With that in mind, selfish behavior shouldn’t come as too much of a shock. (He couldn’t have had much of an issue with Sale, who’s in just his second season and who has now faced Lopez all of twice.)

Such is the power of Joe Maddon that Lopez took the surest available path to absolution, calling Ozzie Guillen after the game to apologize. (Maddon even went also recalled that Roy Halladay once called him to apologize after some inflammatory comments he inadvertently made, and that the gesture was appreciated.)

If any part of this affair went according to the Code, it was the entire array of responses. As in, outside of Maddon decrying the general spectacle of it all, everybody denied pretty much everything.

“It was unfortunate, but I wasn’t trying to do that,” Lopez said in the St. Petersburg Times. “I wasn’t mad at anything. The bat, it slipped, and it went over there. I think if I tried to do that, it wouldn’t happen.”

Pierzynski denied there was a confrontation at the plate, saying, “I don’t know what you are talking about. I just said hi. He lives down the street from me in Orlando, and I was asking how his house was.”

Guillen, after receiving Lopez’s call: “I don’t think he meant to throw (the bat) to the pitcher.”

Still, in order to give heads some time to cool, Maddon held Lopez out of yesterday’s game. It only buys about a week; the Rays visit Chicago on April 18.

– Jason

Thanks to reader Russ Buker in St. Petersburg for the heads up.


The Code isn’t for Everyone – Just Those who Care

The inimitable Charles P. Pierce.

Charles P. Pierce is a writer for the Boston Globe. He’s one of the more gifted sportswriters in the field. (One of my favorite pieces he’s written ran a few years back in Sports Illustrated.)

He also doesn’t like baseball’s unwritten rules. Said so himself today, right there on his Globe blog:

You know one of the reasons I don’t get (baseball)? This kind of nonsense. A young guy’s not supposed to swing away in a situation because of some secret Templar code that Jim Leyland and Buck Showalter have tattooed on the inside of their eyelids? “Baseball etiquette,” my Aunt Fanny. Get over yourselves, the lot of you.

Of course, in hating on the Code he cuts to the heart of the Code: Those who don’t care don’t get it. Try explaining to somebody who doesn’t love baseball the justifiable propriety of a pitcher putting a fastball into a hitter’s backside in response to something that happened earlier in the game.

Can’t be done.

Pierce calls himself a baseball agnostic, immune to that “extra thing” that “makes maundering children out of slumming poets and distinguished professors of history.” (The problem with gifted writers is that when they snark against things you like, it’s frequently high-quality stuff.)

Which is just fine. I am not a baseball agnostic. I’m not even born-again. I’ve been there since the beginning, still cherishing that first game with my dad, a subject Pierce also savages in his blog. (Okay, he savages the clichéd overuse in memoirs of the First Game with Dad narrative, something with which I’m kind of inclined to agree.)

Still, to those who care about the game—a group that includes most of the people within the game—the Code is vital. It’s what sets baseball apart as a sport, the thing that defines, in concrete terms and with concrete repercussions, that respect is paramount and mandatory.

To put it in other terms: If LeBron James played baseball and left the Indians for the Yankees, then opted to do a baseball version of his chalk-throwing routine before his first game as a visitor at Jacobs Field, do you think he might be wearing a fastball before the end of the series? Do you think he’d do it again after that?

It doesn’t matter what our fictional baseball-playing LeBron James thinks about the unwritten rules. It matters only that they exist and that he would abide by them, because everybody ultimately does.

Baseball mandates as much. It’s one of the things that make the sport special to many of those who care about it. Should Charles Pierce ever come around to caring, perhaps he’ll discover as much.

– Jason