Bat flips, Retaliation, Showboating

On Measured Responses, and Why Every Slight Doesn’t Have to Equal Retaliation

Ration won the day again.

Wednesday, Cleveland second baseman Jose Ramirez homered against the Twins, admired it for a long while, then flipped his bat in the direction of Minnesota’s dugout. This was noteworthy less for the flip itself—which by now has become somewhat commonplace among the big league ranks—than for the reaction from the Twins dugout. Manager Paul Molitor stood on the top step and told Ramirez to “get the fuck off the field.” Catcher Kurt Suzuki lurked alongside, offering similar sentiments. (The gif above, via Deadspin, shows it all. Watch the full clip here.)

They had good reason to be angry. The balance of respect did not fall into Ramirez’s favor:

  • Ramirez celebrated his 23rd birthday only two weeks ago, while the guy he showed up, Ricky Nolasco, is 32 and a 10-year vet.
  • It wasn’t like he hit a bomb; his blast failed to clear the first row in right field and bounced back onto the grass.
  • Most importantly, the Twins Cleveland led 7-1 before he swung, and 10-1 afterward.

As best anybody could figure, Ramirez was upset with the fact that Minnesota had just intentionally walked Jason Kipnis to face him—a by-the-book move—and was letting off some steam.

Afterward, Nolasco threatened that Ramirez “will get his,” and the baseball media swarmed. Talk of retaliation has been at something of a fever pitch following last week’s episode of Papelbon Madness. Molitor himself was visibly pissed, and folks couldn’t wait to see what the manager would do.

Like Buck Showalter before him, however, Molitor sided with modern baseball reason. Instead of inflaming tensions by reacting to a perceived slight with tangible retaliation, he instead chose to do nothing. The Twins are a game back in the wild-card hunt, and have better things to worry about. Last night’s game—the teams’ final meeting this season—featured no hit batters.

Perhaps this is the new way of things, an enlightenment that dictates jackoff showboaters unworthy of undue attention.

Yesterday, Jeremy Affeldt announced his retirement with a bylined piece at SI.com in which he discussed the “recent trend of ‘look at me’ machismo,” writing, “Yes, let’s celebrate the game of baseball, and, if warranted, celebrate our on-field accomplishments with genuine shows of emotion. When you smack a double into the gap to take the lead in the eighth inning, by all means, pump your fist and praise your maker in the sky. But when you flash self-congratulatory signs after a meaningless first-inning single—or, even worse, a walk—you’re clowning yourself and not representing your club or your teammates very well.”

The notion is perfect—humble while acknowledging reality, accepting of changing times while refuting the kind of hubris that’s gained recent popularity. It’s noteworthy, however, for the fact that it followed something else Affeldt wrote: “I played the game the right way—not necessarily in compliance with some antiquated and silly ‘code.’ ”

Affeldt is right—the antiquated part of the Code is silly. But the stuff that governs the majority of big league ballplayers has evolved along with the rest of the game. It continues to mandate, as Molitor indicated from the top step of the visitors’ dugout in Cleveland, that respect be given an opponent. It also says now, in ways that would have been viewed as foreign a generation ago, that hard-line responses are not always necessary.

There’s always the chance that Molitor was simply abiding by game flow on Wednesday. The Twins didn’t lead by more than a run until the ninth inning, and could not afford to cede baserunners to their opponents. They always have the option of picking up the string against Ramirez again next season.

Here’s hoping that’s not the case.

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Gamesmanship

Al Rosen, RIP

Al Rosen

Former AL MVP and longtime big league GM Al Rosen passed away Friday at age 91. Rosen offered one of my favorite interviews for The Baseball Codes, presenting a breakfast invitation to visit him at his country club in Rancho Mirage, just outside Palm Springs, where we dined on oatmeal and orange juice while he spun stories of Cleveland and Houston and New York. Everybody there called him “Mr. Rosen.” He smiled at all of them.

His MVP season in 1953 was noteworthy for his missing out on a triple crown, as The New York Times put it on Saturday, “by a step.” The batting race was so close that what may have been a blown call during Rosen’s final at-bat of the season gave the crown to Washington’s Mickey Vernon. There was more to the story, however, than one simple call. From The Baseball Codes:

Heading into the final day of the season, Rosen already held a slight edge in the home-run race and had the RBI title locked up. His most precarious category was batting average, in which he was tied for the league lead with Senators first baseman Mickey Vernon.

In Cleveland’s game against Detroit, the Tigers took a page from the Jack O’Connor playbook and positioned their infield very deep—an invi­tation for the well-liked Rosen to bunt.

Jack O’Connor was the manager of the St. Louis Browns, who, in 1910, gifted the AL batting title to Cleveland’s Nap Lajoie. Not wanting Ty Cobb to win it, he ordered his infielders to play remarkably deep on the season’s final day, allowing Lajoie to accumulate seven bunt singles over the course of a doubleheader and nearly close a sizable gap with Cobb. The crown was awarded to Lajoie decades later when a scorekeeping error was found to have credited Cobb with two extra hits on the season.

Rosen, however, harboring an abiding sense of fair play, chose instead to swing away and went 3-for-5 with two doubles.

In the Senators’ game against the Philadelphia Athletics, Vernon col­lected two hits in his first four at-bats. Shortly thereafter, Rosen’s game in Cleveland ended, giving Vernon a razor-thin lead heading into his final plate appearance. Having been notified of Rosen’s line, every player on the Washington bench understood the situation: A hit would cement the crown for Vernon, and an out would hand it to Rosen. The Senators decided to go with option three: Don’t give Vernon the chance.

The slugger was scheduled to bat fourth in the ninth inning, and when Washington catcher Mickey Grasso doubled with one out, it seemed like a certainty that Vernon would again reach the plate. Grasso, however, man­aged to get picked off at second, a development observers attributed to the fact that he more or less wandered away from the base. Kite Thomas fol­lowed with a single, but when he tried to stretch it to a double without benefit of running hard, he was easily thrown out for the third out of the inning.

Whatever instincts Vernon may have had toward justice became irrele­vant; he never made it to the plate and Rosen missed his triple crown by .0011 points.

Playing the game the right way was as great a legacy as Rosen could have hoped for. He will be missed.

Cheating, Spitballs

Perry Gets Greasy in Mid-Summer Classic

Gaylord PerryResearch for my next book, about the OaklandA’s dynasty of the 1970s, to be published by Houghton Mifflin in 2015, has turned up boundless examples of unwritten rules from that bygone era. The latest concerns the 1972 All-Star Game, in which Hank Aaron touched Gaylord Perry for a go-ahead homer in the sixth inning. Because it’s Gaylord Perry, the topic is cheating (of course). From the Associated Press: 

Hank Aaron, sitting on 659 career home runs, hit a two run homer in the sixth inning, putting the National League up, 2-1, in front of a hometown crowd in Atlanta Stadium. …

“The pitch I hit off him was a spitter. It wasn’t one of his best spitters, but it was a spitter,” Aaron said.

Of course, this was followed shortly by a pro forma denial.

“Man, don’t you know that pitch is illegal? I don’t have any such pitch in my arsenal,” Perry declared.

If ever it was possible to see somebody wink through a 40-year-old statement to the sporting media, this is it.

Intimidation, Retaliation

Chapman Goes Top Shelf, Twice; Cleveland Not Intimidated

Nick Swisher
Nick Swisher: Not delighted.

Head-high fastballs from Cincinnati pitchers were the order of the holiday weekend. First came Johnny Cueto on Sunday, riling up Chicago’s David DeJesus. A day later, Aroldis Chapman sent a 100 mph offering past—and well above—Nick Swisher, all the way to the screen. He followed that with an equally hot pitch that ran considerably closer to Swisher’s noggin.

Swisher can be seen on the telecast repeating the phrase, “Don’t do that” to the pitcher. After he flied out to left field, Swisher and Chapman exchanged words as he passed by the mound on his way back to the dugout. (Watch it all here.)

“The first one I saw go by and I was like, ‘Wow, that was pretty quick,'” Swisher said in a USA Today report. “And then that second one was a little too close for comfort—100 mph at someone’s head? Let’s be honest. That’s not exactly the best thing.”

Reds manager Dusty Baker wrote it off to wildness—“Is that the first time you’ve seen Aroldis throw one to the screen?” he asked—but it’s also plausible that it was Chapman’s version of strategic intimidation. (Last season Chapman struck out 122 while walking 23. Wildness does not appear to be an integral part of his makeup.)

Yes, even guys with 100-mph fastballs like to give themselves an extracurricular edge now and again. Just ask Nolan Ryan.

The first game in which Bobby Grich ever faced the flame-throwing strikeout king, in 1973, he laced a ball down the right-field line and made the mistake of verbally urging it to stay fair. The ball went foul, however, and Ryan ensured that Grich remembered the at-bat by putting his next pitch, a Chapman-esque fastball, up near his head. “I got the message,” Grich said.

During his rookie season, B.J. Surhoff took a big swing against Ryan, and ended up on his back as a result of the right-hander’s next offering. Mike Devereaux, same thing. Mike Aldrete bunted against him and was subsequently knocked down on consecutive pitches. Milt Thompson bunted and was hit in the ribs. Doug Jennings faked a bunt and was drilled. After avoiding an inside pitch, Bert Campaneris motioned for the pitcher to throw it over the plate, and was rewarded by being hit in the knee. The list goes on and on.

The purpose, primarily, was to keep the opposition uncomfortably on its toes. “The intimidation factor,” said Chris Speier, who wracked up 45 plate appearances against Ryan over the years, “was so high.”

“Quite honestly, there were a lot of guys who wouldn’t even play against [Ryan],” said Jerry Remy. “They’d just bail out. It was funny when you saw the lineups—there were a couple guys who, when he was pitching, you knew would not be in that lineup. They’d come down with a mysterious illness. I think because he was the most intimidating pitcher in the league.”

Dusty Baker not only acknowledged that syndrome, but labeled it: “Ryanitis.” It’s still unclear whether his closer is trying to foster his own brand of Chapmanitis, but it’s as good an explanation as any.

The modern game, however, holds far less tolerance for those willing to place a ball near a hitter’s head than it did during Ryan’s era.

Swisher handled things well, not even moving his feet before re-setting after the first wild pitch, then responding to the second one by putting good wood on a ball that was ultimately caught at the wall. The Indians as a team comported themselves accordingly when interviewed after Monday’s game, and on Tuesday responded on the field, with starter Zach McAllister drilling Brandon Phillips in the ribs in the fifth inning, an apparent response to Chapman’s antics.

Intimidation, after all, is in the eye of the beholder.

“You’re only intimidated if you allow yourself to be,” said Andy Van Slyke, about his showdowns with Ryan. “It’s really that simple. If he hit me, I’d go take first base and steal second base and tell him to go fuck himself. That’s how you’ve got to play this game.”

Retaliation

What’s the Best Kind of Homer? A Revenge Homer, of Course

Reynolds pimps
Catcher Derek Norris watches the ball. Pitcher Jarrod Parker watches the ground. Mark Reynolds watches Jarrod Parker.

That Mark Reynolds crushed a 457-foot homer off Oakland’s Jarrod Parker Monday should not come as a surprise. The guy had already hit one that far this season, has two of the 16 longest hit this season (according to ESPN’s Home Run Tracker) and has hit eight more than 400 feet in just over a month.

This one, however, was special. It was a revenge blast.

Reynolds was unhappy after Parker had drilled him in the shoulder in the first inning, two batters after Jason Kipnis and Asdrubal Cabrera had hit back-to-back homers. The action was sufficiently questionable for plate ump Angel Hernandez to warn both dugouts.

So after Reynolds connected in the fifth, he took several slow steps to first before starting to jog, a deliberate message. (Watch it here.)

He elaborated after the game, telling the Cleveland Plain Dealer, “I normally don’t pimp anything, but he hit me near the head. I don’t mind getting hit—it helps the on-base percentage—but when you come near the head. . . . I was on a mission right there, to hit a ball as far as I could, as kind of payback for hitting me almost in the head.”

It’s not like this kind of thing is new. In 2006, Albert Pujols responded to an earlier strikeout celebration by Oliver Perez by hitting a homer, then flipping his bat.

In 2004, Ken Griffey Jr. homered off of Josh Beckett, then stared into the Marlins dugout—a message to Jack McKeon, who had been fired in Cincinnati four years earlier, and blamed Griffey for it. (Tension in the ballpark quickly rose.)

Welcome to the pantheon, Mark Reynolds. You’re in some pretty heady company.

Appropriate Retaliation, Carlos Carrasco, Retaliation

Carlos Carrasco at it Again, After Getting Hammered, Again

Carrasco revisitedThe last time we heard from Carlos Carrasco, the Indians pitcher was throwing at Billy Butler’s head, for the inconsequential reason that Melky Cabrera had just gone deep as the latest in a string of Royals to pound the right-hander.

That was in 2011. Since then he has been ejected (for throwing at Butler), suspended (also for throwing at Butler) and injured (he blew out his elbow during his next appearance, unrelated to throwing at Butler, except possibly karmically).

Well, ‘Los is back. His previous line, against Kansas City in ’11, featured seven runs on seven hits, including three homers, in 3.1 innings. His latest line—his first since the injury—against the Yankees on Tuesday, featured seven runs on seven hits, including two homers, in 3.2 innings.

Also, he threw another beanball.

This one was at Kevin Youkilis, immediately after Robinson Cano—the latest in a string of Yankees to be pounding the right-hander—hit a two-run homer.  The ball connected with the spinning Youkilis high on the shoulder, just below the neck. (Watch it here.)

Youkilis knew what was going on, and glared toward the mound. Plate ump Jordan Baker also knew what was going on, and ejected Carrasco on the spot. Considering that the pitcher earned six games last time he did something like this, more severe consequences are likely headed his way.

“I slipped (on the pitch that hit Youkilis),” said Carrasco after the game in the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “That’s the truth. I was throwing 95 to 96 the whole game. I slipped and threw 90 mph.”

Except that’s not the truth. As noted in the broadcast, Carrasco’s follow-through was just fine until it occurred to him that a touch of subterfuge might be beneficial, and he belatedly dropped toward the ground.

“[The pitch] was right in the middle of [Youkilis’] back after a home run,” said an unimpressed Joe Girardi in an MLB.com report.

(In another coincidence, Butler homered after being thrown at by Carrasco; in his following at-bat, Youkilis did, too.)

Carrasco tracked down manager Terry Francona after the game to apologize, but at this point, and with his record (which now stands at 0-1 with a 17.18 ERA), it probably won’t do much good, with either the team or the league.

On one hand, Carrasco’s the kind of guy who gives the unwritten rules a bad name. On the other, he’s a perfect example of why they exist—because even if the league didn’t tamp down on his tired act, teammates and opponents alike are certain to take care of it in their own way.

Update, 4-10: The Indians, apparently having heard enough, have demoted Carrasco to Triple-A.

Update, 4-12: MLB, also having heard enough, suspended him for eight games.