It was inevitable that, after the league office built a marketing campaign around celebrating players doing celebratory things, the envelope would get pushed. In the link above, it was a kid who didn’t draw much notice given that he was playing in the Single-A Florida State League. Yesterday it was Marcel Ozuna, who carries a somewhat more robust public profile.
Just a couple of years ago, somebody stopping in the middle of his home run trot to take a pantomime selfie, especially during the postseason, would have earned a brushback pitch—at minimum—in future at-bats. When Ozuna did it yesterday (and when half the Braves roster got into the act after Adam Duvall homered three batters later) … well, we’ll have to wait until next season for a response from the vanquished Reds, but anything they offer beyond a shrug of the shoulders will be a surprise.
Really, what else could we expect? This surely isn’t what baseball had in mind when it officially blessed on-field celebrations, but they must have known that when the outlandish becomes normalized, players will search for the next extreme. Now we have touchdown dances mid-trot.
Within that context, it’s difficult to argue with Ozuna. Or with Fernando Tatis … or Manny Machado … or Luis Robert … or Tatis AGAIN, all of whom did some celebrating of their own yesterday.
These guys and the rest of their cohorts are bringing life to the sport, and there’s lots of benefit to that. If an angry Reds pitcher decides to exact some revenge on Ozuna next season, or a member of the Cardinals takes some issue with Tatis today, we’ll deal with that fallout then. Chances are, they’ve already forgotten everything, in which case baseball will get along just fine.
It’s the possibility that a pitcher hasn’t forgotten that would throw the entire machine off kilter. Because how does baseball as an institution handle somebody feeling disrespected by a celebration that the league itself has tacitly endorsed? Suspension has always been the discipline of of choice (with the latest example coming just last week, against Robert’s White Sox), but the inherent tension between old-school pitchers behaving in traditional ways, and the new-school mentality telling them to just get over it, is not going away. (To be fair, some pitchers fully embrace swag of their own.)
MLB, of course, could easily legislate this level of celebration out of existence if that was truly its concern. But it’s not. The league likes the attention, not to mention that there’s nothing inherently bad about guys getting their fun on.
Which leaves the holdout ranks of red-asses to adapt or get suspended. Something will eventually give, it’s just a matter of when.
To judge by Friday’s game, the White Sox aren’t so big on the golden rule. Willson Contreras did unto them, unleashing a monster bat flip after homering in the third inning, and they responded by drilling the Cubs catcher in the back four innings later.
Sure, every party on the South Side denied intent. Manager Rick Renteria said that the pitch got away from reliever Jimmy Cordero. Cordero said that “the ball sunk a lot” and “was just a bad pitch.”
Said “sinker,” of course, was 98 mph and connected with Contreras’s upper back. It came with nobody on base, in the seventh inning of a game that the White Sox trailed, 7-0. There was no tail to it, just straight-line execution. It looked intentional from the moment it left Cordero’s hand.
Part of the issue here is the notion of drilling anybody for bat flipping in the modern climate. Contreras didn’t stare anybody down or show anybody up; to the contrary, he was looking directly at his teammates in the first-base dugout when he let loose his lumber.
The other part of the issue is that the modern climate exists thanks in huge part to a guy standing in the White Sox dugout when this all went down. Tim Anderson, of course, was at the center of a massive controversy last April, when he received similar treatment from the Royals for a bat flip of his own. At that time, the White Sox party line included defending Anderson’s rights to celebrate as he saw fit. This did not go unnoticed by the Cubs on Friday.
“All the hype was on the guy on the other side when [Anderson] bat-flipped, and we just let him play, right?” said Cubs manager David Ross afterward, in an NBC Chicago report. “I thought Tim Anderson’s bat flip last year, where he flipped it and looked in his dugout, that’s what you want. And that’s exactly what Willson did. He bat-flipped. It wasn’t to disrespect the other group. … Probably not my style if I’m playing, but these guys need a little bit of an edge. I don’t think he deserved to get hit at all. I don’t think you ever throw at somebody on purpose. It doesn’t make any sense.”
“I knew it was coming,” Contreras said afterward, in an MLB.com report, adding that there was nothing wrong with what he did. “I celebrated with my teammates,” he said. “I got pumped up. I wear my emotions below my sleeves. That was one thing that I did. I have no regrets—zero regrets.”
Umpires ejected Cordero, which raised the White Sox hackles, possibly because there had been no prior warning. Renteria and pitching coach Don Cooper ended up ejected, as well.
So now we’re left to wonder where the line is drawn, even against the bat-flippingest team in the land. Not everybody on every roster shares similar feelings about every issue, of course, but even those members of the White Sox with a distaste for that brand of showmanship must recognize that the face of their franchise is also the face of the entire Let the Kids Play movement. And that bears significant weight.
Renteria seemed to spell it out pretty clearly after Anderson’s bat-flip controversy last year, describing his player’s actions in almost the same terms that Ross did on Friday.
“Everybody has those ‘unwritten rules,’ everybody has their own, I guess,” he said last April, in a Chicago Sun-Times report. “Timmy wasn’t showing them up or showing the pitcher up, he was looking into our dugout, getting the guys going.”
But the manager didn’t stop there. Renteria then laid down a rule that his team in no way followed yesterday.
“Get him out,” he said. “You want him to not do that? Get him out.”
With no baseball save for mishandled bargaining sessions and teams’ decisions about whether to pay their minor leaguers and other employees through these dormant months, it’s downright refreshing to hear a bona fide ballplayer discuss bona fide ball.
Even when the discussion topic is something he might rather forget.
Royals pitcher Brad Keller went on the Charity Stripe podcast on Monday and discussed last year’s incident in which he drilled Tim Anderson for flipping his bat.
Before we get into Keller’s comments, let’s revisit that day last April.
Anderson slugged a fourth-inning homer off of Keller, then … well, “flipped” is the wrong word for what he did with his bat. As I described it at the time, it was “less insouciant toss and more angry spike.”
“Did that somehow cross an ever-shifting line?” I wondered. “Had [Anderson] not turned toward his dugout—or, more pertinently, turned his back toward the Royals dugout—would it have been better received?”
It didn’t matter. In Anderson’s next at-bat, two innings later, Keller drilled him in the backside. Tempers flared.
At the time, it was confusing. Major League Baseball had just come out with its Let the Kids Play campaign, ostensibly aimed at fostering this very kind of behavior. The thing was, Anderson had some history with the Royals as pertained to his celebratory habits, which had already cleared the benches once, back in 2018. This is a vital piece. The conversations that had been circulating around the Royals clubhouse about Anderson for the better part of a year held unequivocal sway in the pitcher’s decision to act.
After Keller drilled Anderson, he didn’t say much about his motivation. This was smart, lest baseball swoop in with a punishment for intentionally targeting another player. Now, it seems, baseball has more pressing things on its agenda. So on Monday, on a podcast, Keller talked.
“It was like the first week of April,” he said. “I’m not going to say a meaningless game because every game in the big leagues means something. But the 12th game of the season doesn’t really define if you’re going to make the playoffs or not.”
Keller described how he was grinding, getting behind every hitter. Then Anderson battled him for six pitches before homering on a full count.
“How he acted afterwards, to me and my whole team, was just over the top,” Keller said. “It’s like, ‘Bro, you hit a homer. Congrats.’ This wasn’t a Game 7 homer. This wasn’t a playoff homer. This wasn’t even a homer to win the game. Ultimately, we won the game, 3-2, in the long run [Note: The Royals actually won 4-3], but that gets kind of lost in the whole transaction of everything. It just seemed like, at the time, it was an April home run. Why are you throwing your bat to the dugout? We had beefs in the past, as far as our teams, and that was just like fuel on the fire, basically, is what it seemed like. I was upset because I was grinding that day and I was already pissed off at myself, and then you pull some shit like that?”
Keller returned to the dugout angry, and found a bunch of teammates who felt similarly. He was a second-year pitcher trying to earn his place in the clubhouse hierarchy, and standing up for teammates’ feelings may well have played into his decision to act. Anderson’s blast gave the White Sox a 2-0 lead, but by the time he next batted, Kansas City had knotted the score.
“He had to know it was coming,” said Keller. “He was leading off the sixth inning, and he was literally a foot from the dirt when I was on my second warm-up pitch. I’ve never seen anyone get out to the box that fast in my life. … That was his first hit off of me in his career. That was your first hit off of me and you’re acting like you own me.”
It was indeed Anderson’s first hit against Keller in 14 career at-bats, a stretch that included five strikeouts and a double-play.
“White Sox fans are like, Tim Anderson’s your daddy and shit, and I’m like, please. … we won the game,” Keller said. “It’s hilarious how it all transpired. I’m the worst pitcher ever. The White Sox own me. Tim Anderson owns me. I’m like, you guys don’t look at stats, do you?”
Okay, so Keller didn’t really tell us anything new, apart from confirming that the HBP was intentional. Still, it’s refreshing to hear a pitcher describe his mindset when it comes to things like this. We are in a new era of baseball, one in which celebrations like Anderson’s are ostensibly not only acceptable but encouraged. The days of angry pitchers exacting revenge on showboat competitors feels like a thing of the past, the province of old men shouting at clouds.
When Keller drilled Anderson, he was 23 years old. If the season resumes, maybe we’ll also get a chance to hear what he thinks about Letting the Kids Play.
Perception is everything, and precedent feeds perception. On Wednesday, baseball saw two games with hotly contested hit batters, and while there is a strong possibility that neither was intentional, recent history has led those at the wrong end of the pitches to leap to some obvious conclusions.
Let’s start in Chicago, where the White Sox’ series with Kansas City was already steeped in contention, given that the last time these teams met resulted in a rhubarb over a Tim Anderson bat toss. The Royals have already paid him back for that, so when they did it again on Wednesday—pitcher Glenn Sparkman bouncing a ball off of Anderson’s head—the situation appeared ready to explode.
Except for this: It was the second inning of a 2-1 game, with nobody out and a runner on first. Also, it was a changeup—not the type of heat-seeker ordinarily utilized for nefarious purposes. For what it’s worth, the pitch merely grazed the brim of Anderson’s helmet—a terrible location to be sure, but more indicative of a ball that’s riding up and in than a missile aimed at an earflap.
Anderson seemed to realize all of this. Hell, the pitch didn’t even knock him down. While visibly frustrated, he more or less just stood in the batter’s box, helmetless, staring down Sparkman. Anderson’s lack of response was no doubt abetted by umpire Mark Carlson, who emerged from behind the plate and quickly tossed the befuddled pitcher from the game. (“It was a changeup,” Sparkman can be seen explaining on replays. Even Anderson said later that he felt the pitch was accidental.)
Had the Royals not already targeted Anderson this season, of course, there’s almost no chance that Sparkman would have been tossed. As it is, optics are important and Carlson did not want this game to get away from him. Sometimes it’s hard to be an umpire.
In Cincinnati, meanwhile, the game was getting away from the Reds, as Pittsburgh built up a 7-0 lead by the eighth inning. That’s when Pirates reliever Clay Holmes drilled Eugenio Suarez in the hand with a 94-mph fastball. There were some moments of immediate heat—Suarez approached the mound for before being led away by catcher Elias Diaz—but things cooled quickly. X-rays proved negative and Suarez is day-to-day.
“I don’t know if they are going to hit me on purpose,” Suarez said after the game in a MLB.com report. “That’s why I walked up to him and asked him if he hit me on purpose. He said, ‘No. Definitely not.’ I just said I wanted to make sure because I don’t like that pitch up and in, right on my face.”
This is believable. Holmes has walked 15 batters in 15⅔ minor league innings this season, and has issued seven free passes in 13 innings since being called up. Outstanding control does not appear to be his thing.
That didn’t prevent Reds manager David Bell from having a say about what had just gone down. So vehement was he when he came out to argue about the pitch that umpire Jeff Nelson ejected him.
Again, this is where optics matter.
In April, Pirates starter Chris Archer threw a pitch behind Derek Dietrich in response to the slugger taking an unusual amount of time to watch a home run that ended up in the Allegheny River outside PNC Park.
In April 2018, Pittsburgh’s Jameson Taillon broke the selfsame Suarez’s thumb with a pitch, costing the slugger three weeks. Later in the season, Taillon hit Suarez again, this time in the elbow. Never mind that none of the pitches appeared to be intentional, or that as a hitter Suarez could do a better job of turning his back toward inside pitches rather than leaning away from them with his hands exposed—a habit that got Jeff Bagwell’s hand broken in three consecutive seasons. Hitting him again looks bad, so it must be bad.
Bell was fed up by the lot of it. He’d previously instructed
his pitchers not to retaliate for such things. That stance may have changed.
“We know they’ll do it,” the manager told reporters after the game in a Cincinnati.com report, explaining his argument with the umpires. “I was doing what I could to protect our players. Clearly, we’re not going to get protected. We’ve got to do whatever we can. We’ve got to take matters into our own hands. It’s unfortunate that our players aren’t going to get protected. That’s been made clear, and we know that team will intentionally throw at people. What are you supposed to think?”
“When someone is messing with your livelihood, your career,
who knows? You’ve got to protect yourself. Clearly, we’re not going to get
protected by the umpires or the league. That’s been made clear. Our players
need to do whatever they need to do protect themselves. I’ll back them whatever
that is. For some reason, we think it’s OK to throw at people. For whatever
reason, that was OK many years ago, and we’re still living some rules that I
don’t know about—that it’s OK to intentionally throw at our players. The
umpires think it’s OK. The league thinks it’s somewhat OK. Somebody’s going to
get hurt. We need to take as many measures as possible. Ours need to do
whatever they need to do to stick up for themselves, protect themselves. They
protect themselves, their career.”
Bell has already proved to be angry about this topic to the point of incoherence. Still, the closest the Reds came to a response yesterday was when reliever Raisel Iglesias threw an up-and-in, 97-mph fastball to Bryan Reynolds with an 0-2 count, before eventually striking Reynolds out.
What we’re left with is increasingly high tension. Bell has thrown down one gauntlet. Pirates broadcaster John Wehner threw down another on Pittsburgh radio, when he came down on Dietrich, of all people, for his homer-watching ways: “I can’t stand him. … I don’t understand why you have to do that. It’s different if you’re a Hall of Fame player, you’re a 60-homer guy, you’re an established guy. Nobody ever heard of him before this year.”
Wehner also referenced Dietrich’s grandfather, Steve Demeter, a longtime minor league coach in the Pirates system, who he said “is rolling in his grave every time this guy hits a home run. He’s embarrassed of his grandson.”
Let’s ignore for a moment the very old-school notion of players earning whatever leeway they’re afforded by the sport’s unwritten rules; Wehner seems completely oblivious of the sea change that’s occurred around baseball as pertains to celebrations.
However much they angered the Pirates and Royals, displays like Dietrich’s and Anderson’s are entering the mainstream, to the point of approval from MLB’s own marketing department. Pitchers have the right to try and put a damper on them, but that tactic does not appear to be working very well as a method of dissuasion.
At least Royals-White Sox and Reds-Pirates matchups, despite the meat-headedness therein, are far more interesting now than they were at the beginning of the season.
In the wake of yesterday’s coverage of the Let Tim Anderson Play Incident, it seems prudent to follow up with a secondary discussion about pitchers hitting batters. Not whether they should (hot take: they shouldn’t), but, for those whose minds are already made up, when to do so.
On Wednesday, Brad Keller whiffed.
So let’s say a guy, maybe a guy who pitches for the Royals, is miffed that an opponent took some liberties in celebrating a home run against him. Maybe some other guys were chirping about it in his dugout, so this Royals pitcher decides to stand up for The Right Way to Play, and drills his opponent in response.
Let slide for a moment your feelings about the decision. In this scenario it is fait accompli, a resolute act. At this point, once said pitcher cannot be diverted from his course, it would behoove him to drill the offender at a juncture of minimal impact to the game. Ideally, it would happen with two outs and the bases empty, with his team comfortably ahead. Or perhaps first base would be open in a situation in which the hitter might have been intentionally walked anyway. There are various metrics to determine the right time, and reasonable discussions to be had about sufficient size for a lead, etc. If enough of those metrics aren’t met, it should be incumbent upon said pitcher to wait—for an inning, a game, a series or a season—until favorable conditions present themselves.
Brad Keller does not seem much for waiting. In Anderson’s very next at-bat, Keller plunked him in the backside, first pitch. While nobody among the ranks of those who approve of such things should take issue with the placement, the pitch’s timing was a downright disaster.
Anderson was leading off an inning in a tie game. Suddenly, Keller was forced to pitch out of the stretch while worrying about a guy who’d stolen six bases in 16 games. (Or at least Keller would have had to worry about pitching out of the stretch had he not been ejected. Instead, he saddled reliever Ian Kennedy with that task.)
Ultimately it didn’t matter. Kennedy retired the next three hitters in order and Kansas City won the game, 4-3, in 10 innings. But this is all about percentages. Had Anderson (or his replacement, after he was ejected along with Keller) come around to score, costing the Royals a victory, the Twitterverse would have lost its mind. That’s because Keller drilling Anderson when he did was even stupider than Keller drilling Anderson in the first place.
Baseball’s unwritten rules have softened over time, and I’m on the record as saying that, when it comes to retaliatory HBPs, that’s a good thing. But as the mandate to drill opponents recedes, the understanding of when to do so recedes right along with it. Which leaves guys like Keller, determined to get their pound of flesh, with a clearly insufficient understanding about how to do so.
There are no easy answers here. When-to-drill-a-guy lessons don’t come easily in an environment bent on preventing pitchers from drilling guys. (Look no further than Keller being ejected without warning for a fairly benign HBP that didn’t even inspire a mound charge. It might have been a Joe West issue, but there’s no denying MLB’s newfound interest in preventing this kind of thing.)
This is some weird middle ground we’re in. We’ll probably have to wait until a similarly impatient pitcher actually costs his team a game before people begin to acknowledge this in a widespread fashion.
This year, however, celebratory histrionics come with a perspective. That is, Major League Baseball has putatively endorsed them via its “Let the Kids Play” campaign, which makes things confusing when pitchers respond to said histrionics with disdain.
Pitchers like Kansas City’s Brad Keller, say.
Now, when Anderson does what Anderson is known to do—in this case, vigorously hurl his bat toward his own dugout after launching the 50th homer of his career—we’re conflicted in the aftermath. Letting the kids play seems like a swell idea to fans, to executives and to an unknown portion of ballplayers, but there appears to be a significant percentage of pitchers who disagree.
We had this conversation less than two weeks ago, when Pittsburgh’s Chris Archer—a known showboat himself—expressed displeasure with Derek Dietrich’s decision to pimp his homer by throwing a ball behind Dietrich in an ensuing at-bat. It was an old-school response that would have drawn little attention a generation ago … or maybe even last season.
But when the league itself encourages Anderson’s kind of behavior, the entire circumstance gets cloudy. That’s because the issue of respect is hardly one of clear delineation.
Are some bat flips okay, but others not? Anderson’s was less insouciant toss and more angry spike. Did that somehow cross an ever-shifting line? Had he not turned toward his dugout—or, more pertinently, turned his back toward the Royals dugout—would it have been better received?
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. There’s bound to be a transition period between one epoch and another, and right now we’re stuck in a place where some players feel disrespected by some actions that many people—including baseball officials, apparently—would like to see more of. So when Brad Keller feels disrespected (or is sticking up for teammates who feel disrespected), there’s bound to be a reaction regardless of corporate messaging.
Yesterday it was a fastball to Anderson’s backside in his ensuing at-bat. Things did not end well. Anderson started yelling, but, restrained by catcher Martin Maldonado, never approached the mound. Still, dugouts and bullpens emptied, and tempers flared when White Sox manager Rick Renteria shouted for the Royals to clear the field, inflaming Kansas City bullpen coach Vance Wilson. Anderson, Renteria, Keller and Royals bench coach Dale Sveum were ejected.
In the aftermath, we’re left wondering two things: How many players still care about this kind of stuff, and how long will that last?
The Royals have at least two of them on their roster. “Keller did the right thing,” the pitcher’s teammate, Hunter Dozier, said after the game in a Chicago Sun Times report. “He aimed for the lower body. Hit him. It should just be like ‘OK, go to first and move on.’ It shouldn’t have been as big of a situation as it was.”
Dozier is spelling out the party line from a previous generation, offering instructions that, while once status-quo, are now … well, who really knows? Dozier is 27. Keller is 23. Despite their old-school sensibilities, they seem an awful lot like the kids who the commissioner wants to let play.
This shift is clearly not going as smoothly as baseball’s PR machine would have liked. We’re stuck in a place where, when bat flipping becomes the new normal, showboats like Anderson have to up the ante simply to draw attention to themselves. Bigger antics. More vicious tosses. Sentiments like the one Renteria espoused after the game—“You want [Anderson] to not do that? Get him out”—might make sense to the vast majority of the population, but the key here is that upping the ante rarely sits well with pitchers, some of whom are bound to respond.
Ten days ago it was Chris Archer. Yesterday, it was Brad Keller. So long as hitters continue to push the celebratory envelope, there will always be a pitcher willing to respond.
Our only problem is that we continue to be surprised by it.
This doesn’t mean they have to fight, of course—a self-evident truth given the lack of actual fighting during most baseball dustups. Players can emerge as peacemakers, or even just mill about the back of the scrum, trying to look angry.
Or, as in the case of White Sox pitcher James Shields, they can hop about and offer hugs.
As evidenced in the above video, Shields couldn’t wait to get his paws on Kansas City’s Ian Kennedy. Shields, of course, knows many of the Royals from the two seasons he spent in Kansas City, and was teammates with Kennedy in San Diego—so he used bad blood elsewhere on the field to stage an impromptu reunion (he later hugged up on Mike Moustakas).
Here’s to friendships, through good times and bad (which sometimes occur at the exact same moment).
It seems that there are some growing pains as baseball transitions from The Sport Of Tradition-Gripping Dryness to something a little bit looser. As it turns out, even those known to celebrate from time to time have limits.
On Saturday in Kansas City, Chicago’s Tim Anderson hit a leadoff homer, proceeded to watch it, then unleashed some self-congratulatory invective as he rounded the bases. Royals catcher Salvador Perez took note while recalling that Anderson acted similarly after hitting a pair of home runs on opening day, also against the Royals. As the runner crossed home plate, Perez said something to him about it. Anderson patted him on the chest protector and trotted back to his bench.
Things picked up again in the bottom half of the inning, when Perez reached second base on an error and a two-out walk, at which point he opted to continue the conversation with Anderson. He and the shortstop ended up nose to nose, with teammates spilling out of the dugout to separate them.
“I don’t have any problems with the guy hitting a homer, taking a couple steps, walk two steps and keep running,” said Perez after the game, in a Kansas City Star report. “But when you start to get loud, to say some bad words … I don’t like that. He had to respect my team and my pitcher. We’re professional in here. I don’t like that and he told me at second base, ‘I like to have fun, Salvy, what do you want me to do?’ I was like, ‘OK, we like to have fun too. I like to have fun. You see me every day out there, laughing and having fun every day. But I don’t disrespect your team. I respect your team, too. I hit some homers too, I keep running the bases, I don’t get loud like you.’ That’s the only thing I told him. Keep doing what you’re doing, bro, have fun, but again respect my team. That’s it. So he was mad about that. What you want me to do? I can’t do anything about that.”
(Perez did himself no favors when he also told reporters: “If you’re gonna keep doing that … I’m going to hit you. I’m going to tell the pitcher to hit him. … If you want to fight, let’s fight.” Intentionally drilling an opponent for what is essentially inconsequential behavior will not play well in retrospect should a Royals pitcher actually dot Anderson in a future encounter.)
For those in Anderson’s camp who decry the stifling of emotion on a ballfield, let’s take the conversation to its logical conclusion: At what point does celebration become overkill? A classic Barry Bonds pirouette, only while running the bases instead of standing in the batter’s box? Summersaults? Ripping off one’s uniform jersey, like they do in soccer? The question is not aimed at painting false equivalency, but wondering about the point at which a player’s behavior—presuming that none of it is aimed at the opposition—might eventually cross the line, even for those who support that kind of thing. Baseball is obviously more lenient now than it was during past generations, but how lenient is it, really?
I think the answer can be found in what came next, after Anderson’s confrontation with Perez.
Duda’s walk—the play that advanced Perez to second—loaded the bases. The next batter, Abraham Almonte, hit a sharp grounder to shortstop that Anderson booted, allowing Mike Moustakas to score from third. (It was ruled a single, but easily could have been an error. Watch it here.) Alex Gordon followed by stroking a two-run single to center, giving the Royals a 3-1 lead in a game they ended up winning, 5-2.
Anderson’s confrontation last week against Verlander ended with him getting picked off of second base at a point in which the pitcher was on the ropes and the White Sox desperately needed baserunners. This one ended with the Royals scoring three runs that might have remained off the board had Chicago’s shortstop been less distracted.
And there it is: Anderson’s shtick will eventually become too much, even for his most ardent supporters, when it begins to interfere with his team’s chances to win baseball games. Based on the above examples, he may already have reached that point.
The idea of celebrating on a ballfield has gained significant traction over recent seasons, including just last week when we discussed the topic as pertains to Francisco Lindor.
Action picked up again on Friday, when White Sox third baseman Tim Anderson did some on-field celebrating to which Justin Verlander took exception. Generally speaking, this would paint Verlander as a crotchety old man (which, at age 35 he may well be), but as is the case with many things that happen under the Code, details matter.
As it turns out, Verlander was somewhat concerned about the unwritten rules, but more so about some inane baseball on the part of his opponent.
Anderson’s first celebration came after he broke up Verlander’s no-hitter in the fifth inning with a single through the left side of the infield. He clapped his hands and pointed toward his dugout upon reaching first base.
So far, so good. His team was down, 5-0, he was on base and trying to pump up his teammates. This is not unheard of in the modern era.
Then, on a 3-0 pitch to Omar Narvaez, Anderson broke for second, and celebrated again when he reached safely—never mind the fact that the pitch was ball four and the runner could have walked into second. (He was not credited with a steal.)
This is what irked Verlander.
“He steals on 3-0 in a 5-0 game, that’s probably not great baseball,” Verlander said afterward in a Houston Chronicle report, elucidating basic baseball concepts for reporters. “Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t, I don’t know. But he celebrated that, though. And it’s like ‘Hey, I’m not worried about you right now. It’s 5-0, I’m giving a high leg kick, I know you can steal. If I don’t want you to steal, I’ll be a little bit more aware of you. But I’m trying to get this guy out at the plate.’ ”
Celebrating a good play is accepted behavior. What about celebrating a boneheaded play? Verlander had words for the runner, which he later said were aimed toward letting Anderson know he was being “a little overaggressive.” Some in the blogosphere have blasted Verlander’s sensitivity toward the Code; few have given him credit for strategy.
So prodded, Anderson took off for third on the 1-0 pitch to the next hitter, Adam Engel. Verlander picked him off with a throw to third, leading Anderson to backpedal toward second. Basepath confusion ensued, with two White Sox runners ending up at the base. Jose Altuve tagged Narvaez out.
“Stealing third in a 5-0 game with two guys on in an inning where I was clearly struggling—I walked a guy on four pitches and went 1-0 to the next guy—and I pick you off on an inside move after the way he had kind of been jubilant about some other things, I was just as jubilant about that,” Verlander said. The pitcher made sure to thank Anderson for giving him an out, which further angered the Chicago infielder.
“I could care less,” Anderson said afterward about his confrontation. “I’m out just playing and having fun. If he took it to heart, so what?”
That’s a terrible answer. Go play slow-pitch softball to have fun. Show up to a major league ballpark and help your team win games, which involves holding focus. Celebrating an ill-considered stolen base while your team is down five runs falls under that heading. So does taking issue with one of the sport’s headiest pitchers, who has clearly and correctly called you out for employing some stupid strategy.
For those decrying baseball’s unwritten rules in the wake of last week’s debacle over bunting in Baltimore comes a pleasant measure of where such things actually sit in the modern game. Before going into it, allow me, please, to paint a picture.
The hypothetical year is 1965. Bob Gibson has just given up a home run to Frank Robinson, and is stunned when, after crossing the plate, Robinson turns toward the St. Louis dugout and whistles in delight. Such a display of arrogance and disrespect is all but foreign to a major league ballfield, let alone Gibson’s ballfield.
There’s no way that Robinson avoids Gibson’s fastball in an ensuing at-bat.
Sure, Bob Gibson was one of the most intimidating pitchers ever to play the game, so maybe he’s not a great example. It could have been Mike Caldwell in 1982, or Preacher Roe in 1952, or Wes Ferrell in 1930—three guys picked more or less at random, who combined to pitch 812 innings in the years in question without hitting a single batter. Even then the hitter in question, should he have whistled in such a manner, would have invariably been knocked down, or drilled later by one of the pitcher’s teammates.
Why is this noteworthy? On April 2, Toronto’s Josh Donaldson played the role of Frank Robinson against the White Sox, homering against Reynaldo Lopez, then miming a whistle at the Chicago dugout while hopping back to his dugout. The most noteworthy part about it: The White Sox didn’t care.
There is, of course, some backstory.
White Sox first base coach Daryl Boston has for several years used an actual whistle to get the attention of his outfielders when he wants to reposition them from the dugout. He also toots it to celebrate good plays, behavior that has not gone unnoticed around the league. Before the game, Donaldson was talking to White Sox hitting coaches Todd Steverson and Greg Sparks, for whom he played in the A’s system, and mentioned that he’s not a particular fan of Boston’s whistle.
Of course, this information was relayed to the coach, and of course the coach responded via whistle—“a little peep-peep” is how Boston put it in a SportsNet report—at Donaldson when he stepped into the on-deck circle during the game.
So, after homering, Donaldson felt free to do what he did. And Boston loved it.
“I got a kick out it because I didn’t find it disrespectful at all,” the coach said. “The downside of it is I may have got caught on video laughing after us giving up a home run. That’s the one thing I felt bad about. But other than that, it’s all in fun.”
The following day, Donaldson used Too$hort’s “Blow the Whistle” as his walk-up song.
All in fun, indeed. There is still a place for players who hew to the serious business of respecting each other, but there are moments in the modern game like never before, when one can cut loose and simply have fun without fear of thin skin or repercussions. The Puerto Rico team showed us that implicitly in last year’s World Baseball Classic, and MLB appears to be following right along, to varying degrees.
Look no farther than Donaldson for evidence. “The whole time I was [blowing the whistle] to [Boston] he had the biggest smile on his face,” he said. “It was good and I’m glad—you always hear about these unwritten rules of baseball and all that jazz—well, I think you’re starting to see some of that change in a positive manner. Not to where I’m trying to disrespect them or they’re trying to disrespect me. We’re out there having fun and competing against each other.”
Josh Donaldson explains why he decided to mock a White Sox coach with his home run celebration.https://t.co/nNKUIZ38kH
If there’s an actual quibble here, it’s with Boston, not Donaldson. Various members of the Kansas City Royals have already taken issue with his whistle practice, and it’s not beyond the pale to think that other opponents might also consider celebratory whistling to be juvenile and rude. Even in the modern embrace-the-celebration landscape, a coach with a whistle does seem a bit odd. Mostly, though, it serves to recall a story from The Baseball Codes, concerning the ability of former New York Yankees pitcher Bob Turley to quickly decipher an opposing catcher’s signs while stationed in the first-base coach’s box:
Turley’s relay system was simple—he’d whistle whenever a pitch was different from the last one. Hitters would start every at-bat looking for a curveball, and if a fastball was coming, so was Turley’s whistle. He’d then stay silent until something else was called. The pitcher was so good that when he went on the disabled list in 1961, manager Ralph Houk wouldn’t let him go home, instead keeping him with the team to decipher pitches. (Roger Maris, in fact, hit his sixty-ﬁrst home run of 1961 on a pitch he knew was coming because third-base coach Frank Crosetti, doing his best Turley imitation after watching the pitcher for years, whistled in advance of a fastball.)
Eventually, people began to catch on. Among them was Detroit Tigers ace Jim Bunning, who grew increasingly angry as Turley whistled and the Yankees teed off during one of his starts. Finally, with Mickey Mantle at bat, Bunning turned to Turley in the ﬁrst-base coach’s box and told him that another whistle would result in a potentially painful consequence for the hitter. Sure enough, Turley whistled on Bunning’s ﬁrst pitch, a fastball at which Mantle declined to swing. With his second offering, Bunning knocked Mantle down. The on-deck hitter, Yogi Berra, could only watch in horror. When it was his turn to bat, Berra turned toward the mound, cupped his hands around his mouth, and shouted, “Jim, he’s whistling, but I ain’t listening.”