Intimidation, Retaliation, The Baseball Codes

Carlos Gomez Heard Somthing, Maybe, And Now He’s Mad at Collin McHugh

McHugh confused

Backstory plays an important part in most major league drama, and it’s possible that there’s some we don’t yet know about regarding Monday’s intra-Texas incident between the Astros and Rangers.

Then again, Carlos Gomez was at the center of things, so all bets are off.

Here’s what we do know: Gomez got angry at an inside pitch from Collin McHugh that didn’t come close to hitting him. He got angrier after the next pitch, a strike that he fouled off, staring down McHugh even while stumbling from the batter’s box on his swing. (Watch it here.)

Here’s what we also know: Back on Aug. 31, McHugh drilled Gomez with a first-pitch fastball. It was unintentional—Gomez was leading off the second inning of a 1-1 game—but the batter has apparently held on to it. Or maybe it was the Aug. 12 game, in which Gomez was hit by Francisco Liriano and Mike Fiers. Or maybe it was that benches-clearing incident between the teams on May 1, when Mike Napoli overreacted to a Lance McCullers message pitch that didn’t come close to hitting him.

Or maybe it’s just that the Astros were busy knocking Texas out of the wild-card race. Whatever the answer, Gomez has been hit by 19 pitches this season, putting him on pace to lead the league in any category for the first time in his 11-year career. McHugh didn’t drill him on Monday. He didn’t come close.

According to Gomez’s postgame comments, it was all a game of telephone, with McHugh telling some guy with the Astros that he was going to drill Gomez, and that guy either telling Gomez about it, or telling someone else who told Gomez about it, and … aren’t these adults we’re talking about?

Then again, Gomez is the guy who got into it with current Astro and then-Brave Brian McCann, and with Gerritt Cole. It’s also not the first time he pissed off a team for which he used to play. It clearly doesn’t take much to set him off.

It could even have started here:

Ultimately, it’s difficult to ascribe wide-reaching unwritten-rules themes to somebody who has repeatedly gone off his rocker over the years. Is Carlos Gomez a bit nutty? Probably. Does he have legitimate beef with Collin McHugh? Who knows?

The Rangers close their series with Houston tonight, and end their season on Sunday. Gomez’s contract with the Texas expires after this season, and for all we know he’ll re-sign with Houston.

Don’t count on it, though.

 

 

Bat Flipping, Showboating

Carlos Gomez: A Little Dab’ll Do Ya

Gomez dabs

Now that flipping a bat is no longer noteworthy, we might see new directions in personal expression being forced to the fore. And if ever there was a player to take self-salutation on a baseball diamond to unexplored levels, it’s Carlos Gomez. The guy was born for this stuff.

First, though, the bat flip. Those who do it, like Gomez, claim it’s within their celebratory rights as ballplayer, a virtual extension of their swing. There’s something to this. It’s what made Jose Bautista’s flip during last season’s playoffs so damn memorable.

There are limits, however, on what can reasonably be claimed as an extension of one’s swing. By the time a batter leaves the box, and certainly by the time he rounds first base, in-the-moment exuberance should be in the rear-view. Anything he does after that point can be viewed as a calculated act, and justifiably seen by the other team as beneath their dignity as opponents.

So what to make of the fact that Carlos Gomez dabbed as he crossed the plate following a spring training home run yesterday?

At this point, who knows?

Sure, Gomez flipped his bat, though not in particularly grand fashion by modern standards. To his credit, he hustled his way around the bases. And then … the dab. (Watch it here.)

True, it took only a moment, and Gomez was gone back to the dugout. It was so quick as to be easily missed (the broadcasters didn’t mention it as it happened), and the same Braves who had a thing or two to say to Gomez about similar topics back in 2013 didn’t seem to mind, at least to judge by their reactions on the field.

Ultimately, it comes down to the question of what constitutes a celebration, and whether the baseball equivalent of a touchdown dance is making its way into the mainstream. While watching Gomez, it was impossible for me to not think about Cam Newton—and however one feels about Newton probably goes a long way toward informing how one feels about Gomez doing something similar.

Or not. I am a fan of Newton and his celebrations. They are perfectly at home on a football field, where personal celebration is pervasive for anything from a QB sack to a short burst for a first down at midfield.

Baseball, though, is different. Part of the beauty of the sport’s unwritten rules is that they’ve served as a perimeter defense for the look-at-me attitude that has come to dominate other sports.

This is not to say that there is no place for such a thing in baseball, but when celebrations become contrived, they grow trite. And when they grow trite, they quickly become tired. Which is something, since Bryce Harper recently used that very wordtired—to support the opposite viewpoint, in describing a sport that does not favor such displays.

Still, it can be used here in equal measures to describe whatever it was Gomez did. His action originated less in the moment than as locker room-hatched scheme, the endgame for one of baseball’s biggest spotlight hogs to elbow his way into just a little more screen time.

Gomez is an exciting player, and merits some leeway when it comes to celebrating his feats. As a critic, I’m happy to grant him that much. When he ignores those feats, however, in favor of celebrating the mere existence of Carlos Gomez—the baseball equivalent to two thumbs pointed backward to the name on the rear of his jersey—he displays a degree of narcissism to which I have a tough time subscribing.

Update (3-29): Gomez managed to earn some bonus points, because when you’re pissing off Rob Dibble, there’s a decent chance that you’re doing something right.

 

Bat Flipping

Even The Tolerant Have Little Use For Gusto When Down By Nine

Gomez shoutsCarlos Gomez is at it again. The man who was called out by Brian McCann more visibly than perhaps anybody, ever, was at it again on Tuesday—against McCann’s new team, the Yankees, no less. (The catcher wasn’t on the field for this one, though.)

Start with an RBI double in the first, in which Gomez tossed his bat and held his hands high, then dove recklessly into second, nearly taking out second baseman Brendan Ryan, who was striding away from him, toward the outfield.

Follow with a popup in the sixth, on a pitch near Gomez’s ankles, after which he slammed his bat to the ground in frustration. The New York dugout was all over him as he trotted to first. Gomez, never one to shy from confrontation, jawed back—he could be seen shouting “Shut up” on the replay—and benches quickly emptied. (No punches were thrown.)

On one hand, Gomez has long since made clear who he is and what he does, in which light it was obvious that his actions had nothing specifically to do with the Yankees. On the other hand, even tolerant teams can grow grumpy when down 9-0, as New York was at the time of Gomez’s histrionics. The same mindframe that warns against things like aggressive baserunning and pitchers nibbling when holding a large lead is true here, as well. In those moments, streamlining the process is a priority, and Gomez was not playing by those rules.

In addition to McCann, Gomez has blustered at Gerrit Cole and Joe Mauer and Ian Desmond. The guy is clearly going to have his say. Teams keep trying—and failing—to teach him lessons. Wonder who’s going to learn first?

Unwritten-Rules

Shout it From the Rooftops, Shout it From the Mountain, Just Don’t Shout it Near MadBum

Gomez confused

There was a lot of shouting at Carlos Gomez in Milwaukee on Wednesday. Some of it was from Madison Bumgarner. Most was from Gomez himself.

It started when Gomez fouled off a pitch he felt he should have drilled. He whirled outside the batter’s box and screamed at himself loudly enough to be picked up on the TV broadcast. (Watch it here.)

Bumgarner did not approve. The pitcher glared at Gomez, then fed him an inside pitch—it didn’t come close to hitting him, but conveyed an unmistakable message. Gomez popped out on the lefty’s next offering, also inside. Bumgarner had some words for him as he headed back to the dugout.

Really, though, this story is about Gomez’s postgame comments. Had he not said this, on MLB.com

Who does that guy think he is, Bumgarner? I never scream at anybody when they miss a pitch and he screams at himself, or they make a pitch and be happy. I never say anything. So you put a good swing and they’re looking at you like you’re a piece of (garbage). Tell that (guy) to throw the ball and don’t worry about my thing. That (guy) was looking at me like I’m an idiot. So you worry about pitching. I worry about hitting. I don’t care what you do. You can strike me out and do whatever you want. That doesn’t bother me. But a professional, like the guy thinks he (is), you throw the pitch and the hitter can do whatever he wants. I missed a pitch. . . . I was (upset) because I waited for that pitch and I’m supposed to hit it and I missed it. I was (mad) at myself, so he can’t be looking at me. He’s not my dad.

… then we wouldn’t be talking about the incident today.

The reality is that Gomez is no stranger to controversy. Like his brawl with Gerrit Cole in 2014. And his showdown with Brian McCann in 2013. And his confrontation with Joe Mauer in 2010. The guy has his moments.

So then does Bumgarner, who lit into Yasiel Puig last season for flipping his bat, and into Juan Guzman in 2013 for much the same reason. It wasn’t even the first time he dug into an opponent for self-flagellation; Alex Guerrero did a disgusted pirouette after flying out to right field against the Giants earlier this season, and MadBum had a few things to say.

The takeaway: Bumgarner is one of baseball’s noted red-asses, and whether or not you like it, at least he’s consistent. He’s not settling any stupid, made-up scores by drilling guys, so in that capacity he’s fine. And baseball needs a few curmudgeons to keep things spicy.

Gomez, for all his fire, has the right to be annoyed, but he should also come to expect it. Bumgarner’s not his dad, but he does make his own rules when he’s on the mound. Gomez doesn’t have to like them, but he’d be well served to understand that things are probably not going to go any other way.

Basepath Retaliation

Takeout Order: One Second Baseman, With a Side of Sour Grapes

Desmond + GomezCarlos Gomez has taken heat in this space for everything from pimping to excessive pimping to his inability to handle criticism. Yesterday Gomez again managed to clear the bases over something he did … but this time he was in the clear. Maybe a guy’s reputation can precede him, after all.

In the eighth inning against the Nationals, Gomez was hit on the left arm by reliever Taylor Hill, making his big league debut. The next batter, Lyle Overbay, grounded a double-play ball to shortstop Ian Desmond, who tossed to second baseman Kevin Frandsen on the pivot. Frandsen just managed to get the throw off before Gomez, barreling in hard and fast, took him out with an aggressive slide. This is the kind of thing one does after one has been hit, a message to the other team that such liberties have not escaped notice.

The slide was clean. The message was sent. The inning was over.

Desmond, however, took offense. As his teammates headed toward their dugout, the shortstop stopped for a chat with an incredulous Gomez. Things got sufficiently animated for the benches to clear, though nobody came close to throwing a punch. To judge by the players on the field, Desmond was the only red ass among them. (Watch it here.)

“I just told him I didn’t agree with the way he slid into second base with a seven-run lead,” Desmond said after the game in an MLB.com report. “I’ve defended that guy in a lot of clubhouse arguments. I respect the way he plays the game, but I’ve got no respect for that. If he thinks he got drilled on purpose by our pitcher making his Major League debut … to take it out on a guy who’s grinded his butt off to make a Major League career in Kevin Frandsen … In a World Series game, you slide like that. In a seven-run-differential game, there’s no time for that.”

On that point, Desmond is nuts. Gomez was responding to being hit—a reaction that is independent of circumstance, lopsided score or not. He responded with a clean, aggressive play, in the way that baseball players have always responded to similar events with clean, aggressive plays. On the Nationals broadcast, in fact,  color man (and former player) F.P. Santangelo called it, even as Hill was delivering the double-play pitch to Overbay: “If I’m in the middle infield right now and I’m turning a double play on a ground ball, heads up Kevin Frandsen.”

As the field cleared, Gomez even earned a pat on the back from Washington manager Matt Williams, who knows a thing or two about playing the infield. Hardly the stuff of vendettas.

It’s Desmond’s right to get upset at seeing one of his teammates taken out, but it’s also his responsibility to know the rules of the game as they pertain to propriety. Hiding behind a 9-2 deficit as an excuse to vent frustration is just weak sauce.

Bat tossing, Carlos Gomez, Don't Showboat

Go-Go Gone-Gone: Gomez Pimps, Explodes Over Tongue Lashing

CarGo

Pimping is a ballplayer’s prerogative. But if one chooses to style in the batter’s box after hitting a long fly ball, one must be prepared should the opposition cry foul. (One must also make sure the ball leaves the ballpark.)

Oh, Carlos. Did Brian McCann teach you nothing?

In the third inning at Pittsburgh yesterday, Milwaukee outfielder Carlos Gomez sent a ball to deepest center field. Thinking it gone, he flipped his bat and trotted to first, picking up speed only upon seeing his drive bounce off the fence. By that time, of course, he was rounding first base. Because he’s fast, and because the ball caromed away from a leaping Andrew McCutchen, Gomez still made it to third without much trouble.

It’s after he reached third that the trouble started.

Pirates pitcher Gerrit Cole, backing up the play, had some words for Gomez as he walked back to the mound. Rather than absorbing them and moving on, however, Gomez stalked toward Cole, shouting all the while. When the Pirates bench emptied in response, he started swinging at anybody wearing a yellow cap. (Watch it here.)

Said Cole in an MLB.com report: “I grabbed the ball from [third baseman Josh] Harrison and I said, ‘If you’re going to hit a home run, you can watch it. If you’re going to hit a fly ball to center field, don’t watch it.’ ”

Gomez got pushed to the ground in the melee. Pirates outfielder Travis Snider—the first one out of the dugout—ended up with a cut on his face after being hit by Milwaukee’s Martin Maldonado (an attack upon an unaware player, to judge by the reaction in the Pittsburgh clubhouse after the game, which the Pirates did not appear inclined to forget).

In the immediate aftermath, the first thing to pop to mind was Gomez’s confrontation last year with McCann, then the Braves catcher. Earlier, Gomez had been drilled by Atlanta pitcher Paul Maholm, and subsequently didn’t just pimp a homer—he shouted at Maholm all the way around the bases. If you don’t remember McCann’s wild reaction, it’s worth reading about, here.

(You can go even farther back, to 2010, to see Gomez acting similarly against the Twins. At least the guy’s consistent.)

It is the right of Cole and every other pitcher to offer verbal warnings to those who they feel are showing them up. It is Gomez’s right to respond in kind—verbally—which is what he insists he was doing, right up to the point that the Pirates’ dugout emptied.

“[Cole tells] me something, I tell him something back, everything is normal, I talk to the umpire,” Gomez said. “And then Snider comes like a superhero and tries to throw punches at everybody. I just tried to protect myself.”

Judging by the videotape, however, Gomez appears to have thrown the first punch … not to mention the part where he approached Cole rather than shouting from his station upon third. One can hardly fault the Pirates for responding to a guy charging their pitcher, even he did it in slow motion.

(Amid it all, Gomez broke another unwritten rule—not just of baseball, but of life: Throwing the first punch when surrounded by friends of the guy you’re swinging at rarely ends well for you. Aside from his third base coach, Gomez was encircled by Pirates at the time of the incident.)

If nothing else, Gomez reinforced a notion that had become apparent during last year’s incident with McMann: It’s not too tough to get inside his head. Yesterday, all it took were a few stern words from Cole, and Gomez over-reacted himself right into an ejection. This would matter less if Gomez was a marginal player, but the guy is a centerpiece of his team’s offense.

Getting his goat is now officially on the table as a legitimate strategy; don’t be surprised to see it enacted once the games really start do matter down the stretch.

 

Don't Showboat

Carlos Gomez was Very Angry at Paul Maholm. Brian McCann was Very Angry at Carlos Gomez. Then Things Got Weird

McCann-GomezWhen it comes to matters of messaging, it’s all in the timing. On a ball field, that means an offended team waits for the appropriate moment to respond to the player who rubbed them the wrong way. This might mean waiting for an at-bat, for a game or for a season.

Brian McCann, it seems, is not much for waiting.

Carlos Gomez, the game’s second batter, homered against Paul Maholm Wednesday, then lingered in the batter’s box. Once he began to trot, his churn rate increased with every step; he shouted with increasing fervor at first baseman Freddie Freeman and Maholm even before reaching third.

Watching this, McCann decided to unload a few of his own notions on Gomez, and made sure that his message could not be ignored. The catcher planted himself about 15 feet up the third base line, completely blocking Gomez’s path to the plate. The runner would not pass without first getting an earful.

As it turned out, he would not pass at all. McCann shouted him down without ceding the baseline, players from both teams stormed the field, Reed Johnson landed a punch to Gomez’s noggin, and the ensuing scrum carried everybody to the backstop. Gomez was ejected shortly thereafter, and left the field without ever touching the plate. (The umps invoked Rule 7.06[a], which says that an “obstructed runner shall be awarded at least one base beyond the base he had last legally touched before the obstruction,” and allowed him to score. Watch it all here.)

McCann-Gomez II
A well-blocked plate.

So what the hell happened? Start with the fact that, including the aforementioned at-bat, Gomez is hitting .450 against Maholm in 20 career at-bats. Add to that the June 23 incident in which Maholm drilled Gomez in the left knee with a fastball—a pitch that Gomez felt was deliberate. (This became clear when the outfielder pointed to his knee while yelling at Maholm as he rounded third base following his homer on Wednesday. He admitted as much after the game.)

It resulted in a pissed-off Dominican pimping his homer as an in-your-face means of taunting his antagonist.

McCann got into the act immediately, imploring Gomez, at top volume, to get his ass out of the batter’s box. It ended (for now) with the scrum at the plate. “I’ve never seen anything like it in my baseball career, whether it be the big leagues, Minor Leagues or little leagues,” said Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez.

The moment was reminiscent of catcher Carlton Fisk’s reaction during a 1989 game, when Deion Sanders lingered in the batter’s box after popping up to shortstop. From The Baseball Codes:

Fisk was forty-two years old and entrenched at the time as one of the premier members of baseball’s old guard. Watching Sanders’s lackadaisical display, the future Hall of Famer could barely contain himself. “Run the fucking ball out, you piece of shit—that’s not the way we do things up here!” he screamed at the startled hitter, two decades his junior and playing in just his twenty-fourth big-league game. By that point, of course, it was too late; the ball was already settling into the shortstop’s glove, and Sanders had nowhere to go but back to the dugout.

When Neon Deion came to the plate two innings later, he took the time to inform Fisk that “the days of slavery are over.” The catcher responded in kind, and the dugouts quickly emptied. “I just told him I thought that there was a right way and a wrong way to play the game, and he was play­ing it wrong, because it offended guys like me,” said Fisk. “And if he didn’t care to play it right, let’s go at it, right here.”

That seemed to be the basis of McCann’s point as well. Remember, he delivered a similar message just two weeks earlier, to Marlins rookie Jose Fernandez. Unlike Gomez, Fernandez took it immediately as a learning experience.

To be fair, Gomez did as well, it just took him a bit longer. And he seems to be holding on to a bit more resentment.

“I did a little bit more [than I should have], and I apologize for this,” Gomez said in an MLB.com report. “But if you see the replay [from June], they hit me for no reason, and I tried to get it back today. It’s the only opportunity that I have, and that’s what I did.

“It’s nothing against the organization, for the Braves. I respect everyone. I would do the same thing if I’m on the other side if a guy did like I did today. Defend my teammate. But they are not in my head and on my side—they hit me for no reason. If I do something to get hit, I put my head down and go to first. But I didn’t deserve to get hit by a pitch last time, [so] that’s what I did today.”

So who wins here? Maholm may well have drilled Gomez for the inadequate reason of protracted success, but comes out looking squeaky clean, relatively speaking. Gomez showed up Maholm and looked like a jerk in the process. McCann simply illustrated the fact that he may well be a crazy person. (A crazy person with deeply ingrained thoughts about propriety on a baseball diamond.)

Ultimately, it comes down to one overriding factor: Carlos Gomez just invited the Braves—and every other team in baseball—into his head for future appointments. The guy showed that he can be knocked off his game (and out of a game entirely) simply by being hit by a pitch. It’s not going to happen all the time, of course, but an underlying tenet of the Code is this: Put yourself in the best possible position to win. If all one needs to do to fracture the concentration of an opposing All-Star is hit him with a baseball, it seems only natural that, when the time is right, it will happen again … and again … and again—right up to the point that Gomez shows he can deal with it appropriately.

He has nobody to blame but himself.

A.J. Ellis, Carlos Gomez, Don Mattingly, Don't Steal with a Big Lead, Mike Quade, Ron Roenicke

Cubs Skipper Quade Serving as One-Man Code Army

Mike Quade: Needing a copy of the Brewers' and Dodgers' unwritten rulebooks.

One thing we’ve learned for certain so far this young season: Cubs manager Mike Quade is a fan of the unwritten rules. He gets bothered when they’re broken on his watch, and he’s willing to call out those who diminish their importance or ignore them altogether.

First, it was Brewers skipper Ron Roenicke, who inserted pinch-runner Carlos Gomez into the eighth inning of a game in which his team led 5-0, then watched unapologetically as Gomez stole two bases.

“These unwritten rules—everybody has their own interpretation,” said Quade. Sometimes when interpretations differ, that’s when you run into trouble.”

Funny that “run into to trouble” is the phrase he chose.

Not two weeks later, Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis did literally that when he tried to swipe a base with his team holding an 8-1 lead in the fifth.

This seems like a good place to get into Quade’s notion of differing interpretations. When Gomez ran against the Cubs, his team’s 5-0 lead was considered insufficient by Roenicke to shut down his running game, but the eighth inning is without question an appropriate timeframe to have done so.

When Ellis swiped his base, the criteria were reversed; there’s little argument that an 8-1 lead is well within the boundaries of “safe,” but the fifth inning might be considered a touch early for some managers to call off the dogs.

“I do think I probably need to get a copy of the Milwaukee and L.A. unwritten rules books, too, unless they missed a sign,” said Quade.

As it turns out, that’s precisely what happened. After the game, Ellis and Dodgers manager Don Mattingly both confessed as much; Mattingly said his sign to third-base coach Tim Wallach was “missed” (whatever that actually means), and off went Ellis, possessor of zero prior steals over parts of four big league seasons.

The play was somewhat mitigated by the fact that Ellis was thrown out. It may also have been mitigated when the Dodgers sent Ellis to Triple-A Albuquerque days later.

Still, said Mattingly, “We knew when it happened, we figured they’d be irritated.”

Ellis’ steal brought to mind another Dodgers youngster who stole another base in an inappropriate situation. In the case of Roger Cedeno, however, there was no missed sign. From the Baseball Codes:

In a game in 1996, the Giants trailed Los Angeles 11–2 in the ninth inning, and decided to station first baseman Mark Carreon at his normal depth, ignoring the runner at first, Roger Cedeno. When Cedeno, just twenty-one years old and in his first April as a big-leaguer, saw that nobody was bothering to hold him on, he headed for second—by any interpretation a horrible decision.

As the runner, safe, dusted himself off, Giants third baseman Matt Williams lit into him verbally, as did second baseman Steve Scarsone, left fielder Mel Hall, and manager Dusty Baker. Williams grew so heated that several teammates raced over to restrain him from going after the young Dodgers outfielder.

The least happy person on the field, however, wasn’t even a member of the Giants—it was Dodgers hitter Eric Karros, who stepped out of the batter’s box in disbelief when Cedeno took off. Karros would have disap­proved even as an impartial observer, but as the guy who now had a pissed-off pitcher to deal with, he found his thoughts alternating between anger toward Cedeno and preparing to evade the fastball he felt certain was headed his way. (“I was trying to figure if I was going to [duck] for­ward or go back,” said Karros after the game. “It was a 50–50 shot.”) Giants pitcher Doug Creek, however, in a display of egalitarian diplo­macy, left Karros unmarked, choosing instead to let the Giants inflict whatever retribution they saw fit directly upon Cedeno. (Because it was the ninth inning, nothing happened during that particular game.)

At second base, Scarsone asked Cedeno if he thought it was a full count, and the outfielder responded that, no, he was just confused. “If he’s that confused, somebody ought to give him a manual on how to play baseball,” said Baker after the game. “I’ve never seen anybody that con­fused.”

In the end, it was Karros who saved Cedeno. When he stepped out of the box, as members of the Giants harangued the bewildered baserunner, Karros didn’t simply watch idly—he turned toward the San Francisco bench and informed them that Cedeno had run without a shred of insti­tutional authority, and that Karros himself would ensure that justice was administered once the game ended. Sure enough, as Cedeno sat at his locker after the game, it was obvious to observers that he had been crying. Though the young player refused to comment, it appeared that Karros had been true to his word. “Ignorance and youth really aren’t any excuse,” said Dodgers catcher Mike Piazza, “but we were able to cool things down.”

– 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