Retaliation, Umpires Knowing the Code

When Bad Things Happen to Good Pitchers … At Least Pitchers With Good Intentions

Gausman

When it comes to baseball’s unwritten rules, it’s often imperative that umpires are apprised of any history that might play into potential confrontation between teams. Frequently this helps. Sometimes it doesn’t.

Wednesday fit into the “doesn’t” category.

As the Red Sox and Orioles took the field, everybody around baseball—fans, players, coaches and all levels of management—knew about what had gone down between them. Also, more importantly, what had the potential to go down.

Commissioner Rob Manfred was sufficiently concerned, arranging, along with MLB’s Chief Baseball Officer Joe Torre, a pregame conference call with Dan Duquette and Buck Showalter of the Orioles, and Dave Dombrowski and John Farrell of the Red Sox. In so doing, he put everybody on both sides on notice, and effectively provided plate umpire Sam Holbrook an extra-heavy mallet with which to hammer out the peace.

In an ideal world, the threat of action on the umpire’s part would have been enough. In retrospect, it might actually have sufficed, and yet we do not live in an ideal world. Because in the second inning, Baltimore’s Kevin Gausman hit Xander Bogaerts.

In a vacuum, the play would barely have registered. Gausman had faced only five batters. He’d been erratic, throwing only eight of his 20 pitches on the day for strikes. The fateful pitch was a 76 mph curveball—the last weapon of choice for somebody with vengeance on his mind. Given that Gausman was working under the hottest lights imaginable for such a thing, Bogaerts could not have been hit less intenationally.

It made no difference. The game had, somewhat surprisingly, begun without warnings, and Holbrook opted against issuing one to Gausman. Instead, he ejected him from the game, in the process becoming the poster child for brain-locking umpires who make shortsightedly stupid calls.

The Orioles were stunned. Gausman signaled furiously that it had been a breaking pitch that failed to break, and nothing more. Catcher Caleb Joseph spiked his mask and had to be physically separated from Holbrook. Adam Jones ventured all the way in from center field to protest, and was eventually tossed when he kept yapping following a fifth-inning at-bat.

So the Orioles had to go to their bullpen three outs into the game. Even though they were fortunate to squeeze seven innings out of Richard Bleier (making his first appearance of the season after being called up from Triple-A Norfolk) and Ubaldo Jimenez, they will be pitching shorthanded in the bullpen for days to come. Also, they lost, 4-2.

We’ve seen pitchers tossed for similarly little. We’ve seen instances in which clueless umpires didn’t do enough to staunch a potentially volatile situation. But as we learned Wednesday, it’s not just the information an umpire’s given, it’s how he uses it that matters.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Retaliation

Obsess Much? Time For Red Sox To Let Go Of Machado’s Slide

Sale-Machado

The theme of the last two weeks has been Pitchers Throwing Behind Hitters Who Don’t Seem to Understand That Pitchers Who Throw Behind Them Haven’t Actually Hit Them. 

The recent pitches in question have come in both above the shoulder (bad) and below (better). Either way, outrage abounded.

The upshot is that purpose pitches are precisely that: pitches that serve a purpose, delivering messages about unappreciated behavior on the part of the opponent. The takeaway in this corner, generally speaking, is that a pitch behind a guy, away from his head, which poses no danger to his physical well-being, should not inspire the kind of misguided rage that we saw last week.

Then came yesterday. Chris Sale threw behind Manny Machado. Manny Machado was unhappy.

Unlike some of the preceding examples of misplaced animosity, he had every right to be.

The Red Sox were angry when Machado spiked Dustin Pedroia on April 21. They responded on April 22, first when Eduardo Rodriguez threw three pitches at Machado’s knees, all of which failed to connect, then another one, from reliever Matt Barnes, behind his head.

It is reasonable to expect that the first dose of retaliation should have mitigated whatever karmic debt Machado incurred with his slide, and that Barnes cleaned up any leftover crumbs with his ill-conceived follow-up. If the Red Sox wanted to drill Machado, they had their shot—two of them—and they blew it. The expiration date on their justified rage had passed.

Boston did not see it that way.

Which leads to the question: What was Chris Sale’s goal? Did he want to drill Machado, but, like his teammates before him, miss? Did he simply want to send what has becoming an increasingly common message that the guys in his clubhouse haven’t forgotten about what the guy in the other clubhouse did? Was it somehow about Mookie Betts, who had been hit by a pitch a day earlier?

No matter the answer, to what freaking end?

Assuming that the pitch was related to the Pedroia play, Machado already knows that the Red Sox, or at least certain players among their ranks, don’t like him. He knows that what he did continues to sit poorly with Boston’s roster. The Red Sox have gone through great pains to inform him of this. Sale’s pitch lent no additional degree of understanding.

Perhaps it’s Machado’s ongoing insistence that his slide was entirely above board. Maybe it’s aggrieved reaction to being thrown at the first time. Regardless, the Red Sox refuse to let it go.

To Machado’s credit, he handled his rage beautifully, saving it for a profanity-laced postgame rant for the ages. On the field, he simply took his base and later hit a monster home run.

The Red Sox have gone from good-guy victims in this drama to out-of-control vengeance monsters in the span of a week. The theme of recent message pitches across the league—hitters need to understand them better in order to better process the messages therein—has flipped entirely. This time it’s pitchers who need to understand when and how to end what at this point seems like an endless string of retaliatory actions.

It’s not a good look, for the Red Sox or for baseball.

 

Retaliation

Boston Puts the ‘Harm’ in Charm City: Head-High Retaliation Draws O’s Ire

Machado headball

Baseball’s unwritten rules are pretty straightforward. When Manny Machado took out Dustin Pedroia with what many felt was a reckless slide on Friday, it seemed likely that the Red Sox would respond. A pitched ball into the ribcage or thigh, with Machado its probable target, would send a clear message to Baltimore and others around the league that taking liberties with Boston players comes at a price.

Then Matt Barnes threw at Machado’s head and sent the entire framework spinning on its axis.

Instead of closing the book on the incident, Barnes further inflamed some already raw feelings.

Instead of avenging Pedroia, Barnes forced his teammate into the uncomfortable position of having to shout across the field to Machado that the idea wasn’t his.

Instead of showing a unified clubhouse in which mutual accountability is paramount, where everyone has everyone else’s back, the Red Sox appear disjointed, unsure of what’s expected, who wants what, and how to execute when the time comes.

Orioles pitcher Zach Britton nailed it after the game when he told BaltimoreBaseballcom: “[Pedroia] is the leader of that clubhouse, and if he can’t control his own teammates, then there’s a bigger issue over there.”

The Red Sox actually tried to nail Machado earlier in the game, when in the sixth inning starter Eduardo Rodriguez threw three pitches toward Machado’s knees, all of which failed to connect. So two innings later, Barnes took things into his own hands. His head-high pitch just missed its mark, sailing across Machado’s shoulder blades, and ricocheted off his bat for a foul ball. (Watch it all here.)

The egregiousness of the pitch lent undue credence to those suggesting that the time for retaliation had already passed—never mind that in the two games between Machado’s slide and Rodriguez’s aborted response, neither team led by more than two runs, thus diminishing the Boston’s ability to freely cede baserunners to the opposition.

After the game, Pedroia went so far as to completely disavow his role. “That’s not how you do that, man,” he told reporters. “I’m sorry to [Machado] and his team. If you’re going to protect guys, you do it right away.” He then clarified: “It’s definitely a mishandled situation. There was zero intention of [Machado] trying to hurt me. He just made a bad slide. He did hurt me. It’s baseball, man. I’m not mad at him. I love Manny Machado.”

Boston manager John Farrell called it a dangerous pitch, but was it ordered? Possibly. Because Pedroia steered as clear as possible from the result doesn’t mean he wouldn’t have appreciated—or didn’t ask for—a better-placed retaliatory strike. Still, when he shouted across the field to Machado, Pedroia could clearly be seen saying, “It’s not me, it’s them.”

Who them are is of some interest, be it Farrell, a coach or a veteran pitcher offering guidance to Rodriguez and Barnes. Farrell’s statement in an MLB.com report—“Make no mistake, the ball got away from him. My comments are what they are”—leave open the possibility that he approved the message, if not the delivery.

It all serves as background in the face of a rapidly swinging pendulum. On Friday, it was Manny Machado playing the bad-guy role. To judge by his comments on Sunday—“I thought I did a good slide [on Friday]. Everyone knows. Everyone saw the replay on that side. That’s on them”—he has little interest in correcting the record.

Yet with one pitch, Barnes flipped the script for both clubhouses. It’s the Red Sox now wearing the black hats, and the Orioles with leeway to exact some retaliation of their own. (Machado got a measure of revenge after Barnes was kicked out of the game, tagging an RBI double off of the first offering from replacement pitcher Joe Kelly.)

What remains to be seen is how the Orioles respond. If they handle their business correctly, maybe everybody can put this affair behind them. If they do things like Matt Barnes and the Red Sox, however, we can count on things being dragged out even further.

The teams start a four-game series in Boston on May 1.

***

In  a related note, Zach Britton was unusually forthright in his description of how things work in this regard. As related to Rodriguez (in his third year in the league) and Barnes (in his fourth), Britton said this:

“As a player that doesn’t have the most service time in this room, when a guy like Adam Jones tells me to do something or not to do something, I’m going to do [what he says]. Same with Chris Davis or Darren O’Day, the guys in my bullpen. If they tell me, ‘Don’t do this or that,’ I’m going to listen to them because they’ve been around the game and they’ve seen things I haven’t seen. And you respect their leadership.”

As an institution, baseball has been drifting away from unwritten rules like these largely because the leadership Britton referenced features fewer old-school opinions with every year that passes. That doesn’t mean those opinions don’t still exist, however, more strongly in some clubhouses than others. It’s highly unlikely that anybody on the Red Sox suggested that Barnes go head-hunting, but given Pedroia’s response it’s a near-certainty that somebody suggested that a response to Machado was necessary.

Slide properly

Machado’s Spikes Spur Red Sox Rage

Machado slides

After Chase Utley broke the leg of Mets second baseman shortstop Ruben Tejada with a questionable slide in the 2015 playoffs, Major League Baseball implemented a rule to regulate that type of play, defining illegal slides—per the Baltimore Sun—as “those in which a runner doesn’t begin his slide before reaching the base, is unable to reach the base with his hand or foot, isn’t able to remain on the base after completion of the slide or changes the pathway of his slide to initiate contact with a fielder.”

On Friday in Baltimore, Manny Machado met at least three of the four criteria. He began his slide some five feet before second, and his path was aimed directly at the bag. As for remaining on the base, well, that’s up for interpretation.

Machado, clearly beaten by the throw, lifted his lead foot before reaching the base. Instead of popping up, he slid directly over, his spikes planting firmly into the left knee of Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia. (Watch it here.)

This wasn’t a matter of breaking up a double play, or at least it shouldn’t have been. It had been a slow ground ball, and the throw from shortstop Xander Bogaerts arrived at the center-field side of the bag, forcing Pedroia to stretch like a first baseman to corral it. There was scant danger of a pivot.

Details that matter:

  • Pedroia had offseason arthroscopic surgery on the knee in question and continues to rehab it.
  • Pedroia limped from the field after the slide. The play ended his day … and maybe more.
  • Regardless of Machado’s intent—at the very least, he can be accused of recklenssness—the Red Sox were decidedly unhappy.

As the game (a 2-0 Baltimore win) ended, a number of Red Sox personnel—including pitchers Rick Porcello and David Price, pitching coach Carl Willis and bench coach Gary DiSarcina—looked on angrily as the Orioles departed the field. (Porcello and Price will not pitch in the series’ final two games.)

Afterward, Pedroia—noteworthy for downplaying injuries over his career—stopped short of assigning blame to Machado, but his frustration was unmistakable. When asked about baseball’s injury-prevention rule, he told reporters this:

“I don’t even know what the rule is. I’ve turned the best double play in the major leagues for 11 years. I don’t need the fucking rule, let’s be honest. The rule is irrelevant. The rule is for people with bad footwork, and that’s it.”

On one hand, bad footwork can lead to awkward moments. On the other hand, sometimes even capable fielders like Pedroia must achieve compromising positions in order to complete a play. Boston manager John Farrell described the slide as “extremely late.” When asked if it was dirty, he responded again: “It was a late slide.”

Even more telling, perhaps, was the cluster of Red Sox players and coaches gathered around a clubhouse computer screen to dissect the play in slo-mo, again and again. The teams face each other 14 more times this season.

Machado said all the right things afterward about how he didn’t want to hurt his opponent, said he texted Pedroia his regrets, even. Then again, this is the same guy who kept hitting catchers with his bat, threw his bat in response when opponents took issue with it, blew up over an ordinary tag and charged Yordano Ventura, so who the hell knows.

How this plays out over the next two days—or the rest of the year—will go a long way toward explaining just how forgiving a group the Red Sox might be.

The Baseball Codes

On Workplace Sanctity and the Digging of Holes, or: Hey Coco Crisp, Keep Your Cleats to Yourself

After walking in the first inning yesterday, Oakland’s Coco Crisp dug himself a little foothold near first base, to get a better jump should he decide to take off for second. Red Sox first baseman Hanley Ramirez immediately strolled over and rubbed it out with his cleat. (Watch it here.)

What in the name of Mo Vaughn was going on?

Ramirez may be all of 30 games into his initial season as a first baseman in 15 years as a pro, but he clearly has firm ideas about propriety surrounding his new position.

His reaction brings to mind the kerfuffle started by Alex Rodriguez in 2010, after he flied out against those selfsame A’s. On his way back to the visitors’ dugout at the Oakland Coliseum, he crossed atop the pitcher’s mound, a gesture that A’s starter Dallas Braden did not appreciate. The lefthander gave Rodriguez an earful as he trotted away.

The ensuing fallout was massive, the topic dominating national media conversation for weeks afterward—including the overwhelming sentiment that Braden had overreached, having little right to so much as notice Rodriguez’s actions, let alone grow irate over them.

I said then, and still believe, that Braden was justified. The mound is sacred space for a pitcher, and those who have no business atop it better treat it accordingly. Similarly, the area around first base is Hanley Ramirez’s office, and he’s entitled to enforce his own reasonable standards within its boundaries while on duty. Denying Crisp the slight advantage of digging a toehold falls well within those boundaries.

Had Crisp taken umbrage—had he gotten into Ramirez’s face and argued for his right to kick dirt around as he pleased—many more people would be paying attention right now. Instead, he laughed the whole thing off, and everybody moved right along.

Which is exactly as it should be.

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

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

Ortiz flip

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

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

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

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

Start with this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He also said this:

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

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

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

There was more.

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

 

Hmm.

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

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

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

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

 

The Baseball Codes

Spring is for Lovers: David Price rolls in to Red Sox Camp

The Red Sox have a storied history of hating the Rays, and vice versa. We know this by now. How we know that much of it isn’t personal, however—that it’s pretty much been a loathing of laundry—is when a member of one team joins the other.

Welcome, David Price, to the welcoming arms of the Fens.

 

A couple of years ago saw a different tenor. During the 2013 ALCS, David Ortiz homered twice against Price, and failed to run the second one out to the pitcher’s satisfaction. (Had Price paid any attention to Ortiz’s career, he would know that, too, was not personal.) Price responded the following May with a fastball spree against Boston, drilling Ortiz as the opening salvo of what became an increasingly contentious game.

Afterward, Ortiz referred to his rivalry with Price as “a war.”

“It’s on,” he said in a Tampa Bay Times report. “This guy that hit me better bring the gloves on. I have no respect for him no more.”

Oh, how things change. In December, Boston signed Price to a seven-year deal worth $217 million. Turns out that money goes a long way toward letting bygones be bygones. “I needed that,” Price said of his welcome, in an ESPN.com report.

There is copious precedent for this type of thing. In but one example, in 1976, Cubs third baseman Bill Madlock responded to a knockdown pitch from Giants starter Jim Barr (who hadn’t even knocked down Madlock, but the preceding hitter, Jose Cardenal) by letting go his bat on a follow-through, and sending it flying toward the mound.

Barr, among the game’s most noteworthy red-asses, drilled Madlock almost immediately.

Matthews-Mitterwald
Via the Chicago Tribune.

The hitter, furious, ended up reaching over plate umpire Paul Runge to punch at the pitcher, setting off a 20-minute melee highlighted by Gary Matthews’ blind-side attack on George Mitterwald, which bloodied the Chicago utilityman’s nose and cut his cheek. After the game, a posse of Cubs, led by outfielder Champ Summers, waited in the clubhouse runway for Matthews. A full-scale riot was averted only by an alert Wrigley Field security detail.

Nine months later, Madlock was traded to the Giants. He precluded potential tension shortly after the deal by proclaiming that he was looking forward to becoming friends with Barr. It was enough to soften the pitcher, who welcomed him warmly to spring training.

“[Madlock] came over to me and said, ‘We friends now?’ ” said Barr. “I said, ‘You bet.’ There was no animosity after that. We were friends for the three years that he played for us.”

Hopefully things work out as well for Price and Ortiz.