Dallas Braden, Don't Cross the Pitcher's Mound

Braden, Protector of the Code, Hangs ‘Em Up

Dallas Braden SIDallas Braden gave up the ghost today, accepting that there is nothing left in his injured shoulder to help him recapture major league success, and called it a career. Based on my personal interactions with the guy—and there were many, including extensive talks for multiple features like this one—I can report that he was truly thoughtful, one of the good guys in a clubhouse full of good guys. (He remains the only active player to whom I have given a copy of The Baseball Codes.)

His primary epitaph will be the perfect game he threw against the Yankees Rays on Mother’s Day, 2010 (especially poignant, given that his grandmother, who raised him after his own mother passed, was in the stands). I will remember him best, however, for calling out Alex Rodriguez for an unwritten rules violation so obscure that because few people had ever heard of it, Braden was widely branded as some sort of arrogant nut.

This being my beat, however, I had heard of it, and understood exactly what the pitcher was trying to say.

In honor of a career too short, here’s the original post. Read it here, or click through to find links to the eight follow-up items at the bottom.

Alex Rodriguez is one of two types of player: A guy who’s profoundly ignorant of much of the Code, or a guy who actively disdains it.

This is someone who has been caught peeking at catchers’ signs, and who, as a baserunner, tries to distract fielders when they’re camped under fly balls.

Today in Oakland, with Rodriguez on first base, Robinson Cano hit a foul ball so high that A-Rod had time to round second and get partway to third before it landed. Rather than going back the way he came, however, Rodriguez cut straight across the diamond and directly across the pitcher’s mound.

It’s a direct violation of one of the lesser unwritten rules, and A’s pitcher Dallas Braden noticed.

After the inning ended, Braden lit into A-Rod on the field, eventually being greeted by a dismissive wave from the superstar. “I was dumbfounded that someone of his status would let that slip his mind,” Braden told Jeff Fletcher of FanHouse after the game. “He understands that. I was just trying to convey to him that I’m still out there. The ball is in my hand. That’s my pitcher’s mound. If he wants to run across the pitcher’s mound, tell him to do laps in the bullpen.”

It’s a rule that’s been around a long time.

“That mound is the pitcher’s home, his office, and he doesn’t want anyone trampling over it,” said longtime outfielder Dave Collins. Luis Gonzalez called the mound “the Twilight Zone,” describing it as something to stay away from.

Like any rule, a small handful of guys go out of their way to crap on it, if only to be annoying. It shouldn’t surprise anybody that A.J. Pierzynski is one of those players. According to multiple sources, he makes a habit of the practice, coming close enough to the pitcher to brush him on his way back to the base or the dugout.

“He’s gotten hit a few times because of it,” said Tim Raines, Pierzynski’s former coach with the White Sox. “He’s been hit more than once.”

“You’re always going to run across some guy who will fly out, round first, and cut as close as he can to you, just to either mutter something under his breath, just to piss you off as a pitcher,” said Jamie Quirk. “He’s gonna get as close as he can to you; he won’t bump you, but he’ll try to piss you off.”

Is Rodriguez that kind of guy? It’s difficult to tell. The evidence against him, however, certainly does nothing to help his case.

As a side note, the incident in question brought the game’s unwritten rules into the forefront of the national consciousness only months after The Baseball Codes came out, culminating in the No. 34 spot overall in Amazon’s sales rankings shortly thereafter. For that alone, I’m grateful.