At his very best, Fernando Rodney is ludicrous. His pre-scripted bow-and-arrow routine following saves—during which he pulls an imaginary arrow from an imaginary quiver and shoots it with his imaginary bow—is one of the sorriest sights in the sport. He says he does it for the fans, but is there a bigger cry for attention in the big leagues? More pertinently, is anybody short of those who would be cheering for him anyway entertained by his hack act?
Still, it’s easy enough to ignore. He does it after games have ended, when people are either celebrating or walking somberly off the field. On Sunday, however, Rodney took things a step farther, bow-and-arrowing not toward his usual spot in center field, but toward the Angels dugout (or, he said, the fans sitting above) … and not at the end of the ninth inning, but after protecting a one-run lead at the end of the eighth. In so doing, he broke new ground in the art of closer show-boatery.
Suffice it to say that the Angels weren’t pleased. “He woke up our dugout,” said Grant Green in an MLB.com report.
When Rodney came back out for the ninth, Mike Trout greeted him by drawing a walk, then scored the tying run on Albert Pujols’ follow-up double. Pujols responded by shooting an imaginary arrow at Trout, and Trout returned fire right back at Pujols. It was as fine an in-your-face moment as can be found on a big league diamond short of actual game play. (Two singles and two intentional walks later, the Angels took care of that, too, with a walk-off, 6-5 victory, courtesy of Green’s game-ending single. Rodney did not reach for his quiver again at that point.)
Closer to the Rodney situation was when Brian Wilson did his typical arms-crossed-point-to-the-sky move against the Dodgers in 2009, after which Los Angeles third baseman Casey Blake mocked him for it in the dugout … then took it back when he found out it was a tribute to Wilson’s late father. If you’re going to do it on the field, however, it’s gonna be in play.
All of which is a leadup to some simple advice: If as a closer you’re going to act like a goon, save it until the game’s actually finished.
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.)
This day in #PGHistory: The benches clear in Pittsburgh, after Gerrit Cole and Carlos Gomez have a heated exchange at third base. (2014)
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.
When 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.)
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.
It’s been a long time since we’ve seen a player melt down so thoroughly in so short a time, but Jose Fernandez put on a show on Wednesday.
But for every instance that inspired reminders of the 21-year-old’s immaturity, he managed to recover as well as any player could hope to following a display such as his.
A small accounting:
Top of the fifth inning: Justin Upton blasts a ball to center field, which is tracked down by Justin Ruggiano. From the mound, Fernandez is all smiles.
Top of the sixth: Atlanta’s Evan Gattis responds after hitting a 96-mph fastball into the left field bleachers by admiring it for a moment while briefly staring down the pitcher. Fernandez notices. (Watch it here.)
Two hitters later, Chris Johnson and Fernandez exchange words after Johnson flies out to center field.
Bottom of the sixth: Fernandez blasts a nearly 400-foot drive off Braves left-hander Mike Minor for his first career homer, flips his bat away and—ostensibly in response to Gattis—stands to admire it. This is not an innocent would-be slugger in awe of his own unexpected power; the move is intended to disrespect the Braves, who take it precisely that way.
Fernandez begins an exceedingly slow trip around the bases—28.58 seconds, according to Tater Trot Tracker. (It would likely be among the five slowest in baseball this year if David Ortiz had taken up a profession other than baseball.) Minor stared him down much of the way.
As he rounds third—Johnson’s position—Fernandez spits toward the base.
When Fernandez crosses the plate, Braves catcher Brian McCann informs him of the ways in which he has behaved badly. “You’re a kid and you’re in the big leagues and you need to do what big leaguers do,” Fernandez recalled him saying in an MLB.com report. The players go nearly nose to nose.
Johnson sprints in from third (making you-talk-too-much motions with his hand), and the benches and bullpens empty.
In the aftermath, Fernandez paces the dugout, smiling. (Watch it all here.)
It’s easy to quibble about overreaction and the unnecessary sensitivity of ballplayers, but there’s no mistaking the fact that messages of disrespect were delivered from both parties, and received as intended—none louder than Fernandez’s. That it came from a rookie only served to amplify things.
At this point, of course, Fernandez must be given credit for attempting to pacify the situation almost as soon as it came to a head, telling McCann during their confrontation that, “I’m sorry, the game got the best of me,” he recalled after the game in an MLB.com report.
“[McCann] was talking to me as a friend, or a dad, teaching a kid,” he said. “That’s how I felt.”
Fernandez later said that he was embarrassed by his actions, saying “it’s something that can’t happen. It’s not good for baseball.”
The incident also illustrated the importance of quality leadership, particularly on the part of Marlins manager Mike Redmond. “Tonight showed some immaturity on Jose’s part …” he said. “He got caught up in the emotions, but I’m not happy. It really ruined the night for me. I know that will never happen again. … We respect the game.”
Redmond took things a step further, making sure that Fernandez’s actions did not carry over. A meeting was set up in a hallway underneath Marlins Park, where Fernandez apologized personally to McCann and Minor.
This is unusual in baseball circles, but hardly precedent-setting. In 2006, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire led Torii Hunter across the ballpark to apologize to Red Sox brass for swinging hard at a 3-0 pitch while the Twins held an 8-1, eighth-inning lead.
Unlike the Fernandez situation, there was no disrespect intended on Hunter’s part. Precisely like the Fernandez situation, it did not matter—perception is everything. From The Baseball Codes:
After the game, Gardenhire took the outﬁelder to the visitors’ clubhouse to speak to Red Sox manager Terry Francona, trying to wipe away the potential for hard feelings. To abide by the unwritten rule that bars opposing players from the locker room, the meeting took place in a rear laundry room in the bowels of the Metrodome. There Hunter informed both managers that he had swung out of inattention, not disrespect.
“We wanted to make sure [Francona] understood,” said Gardenhire. “I went there to let him know that I know the game too. It’s a manager’s responsibility when a player swings 3-0 to make sure the player understands that. I wanted him to know we didn’t give a sign for him to swing away, that Torii just made a mistake. I thought that it was good for Torii to explain it to him, so I took him over.”
“You see those types of things and you know it’s being taken care of internally,” said Red Sox pitching coach Al Nipper about the Hunter incident. “You say, Hey, it’s an honest mistake, it wasn’t something intentional, where the guy’s trying to show you up. We all make mistakes in this game.”
Fernandez’s mistake was considerably more profound, but his reaction was appropriate.
“I feel I don’t deserve to be here, because this isn’t high school no more,” he said after the game. “This is a professional game, and we should be professional players. I think that never should happen. I’m embarrassed, and hopefully that will never happen again.”
Wednesday was the final start of Fernandez’s season, with his team enforcing an innings limit on his young arm. The guy will probably go on to win Rookie of the Year, but, starting with his confrontation with McCann, he’s already begun to display the maturity of a veteran.
We’ve already discussed Tampa Bay rookie Wil Myers‘ predilection for styling after he hits a home run. Nobody’s has responded as of yet. Which might be the reason that not only is he continuing to do it, but he seems to be one-upping himself with every effort.
When Phillies rookie Jimmy Rollins ﬂipped his bat after hitting a home run off St. Louis reliever Steve Kline in 2001, the Cardinals pitcher went ballistic, screaming as he followed Rollins around the bases. “I called him every name in the book, tried to get him to ﬁght,” said Kline. The pitcher stopped only upon reaching Philadelphia third baseman Scott Rolen, who was moving into the on-deck circle and alleviated the situation by assuring him that members of the Phillies would take care of it internally.
I bring this up because of Wil Myers’ reaction to the first of two home runs he hit Sunday against Yankees starter Phil Hughes. There’s no mistaking the rookie’s bravado, and the fact that he did it against a seven-year vet struggling to find his way in the game certainly didn’t help matters. (It’s also not the first time for him.)
The Yankees opted against making it a public issue, but place Kline’s commentary after Rollins’ blast—which was only the third of his career—within the mainstream:
“That’s fucking Little League shit. If you’re going to ﬂip the bat, I’m going to ﬂip your helmet next time. You’re a rookie, you respect this game for a while. . . . There’s a code. He should know better than that.”
Kline never responded from the mound, because he faced Rollins only five more times over the course of his career, all with the game on the line. The Yankees visit Tampa Bay in late August. The convictions of New York’s pitching staff will be made apparent then.
Regardless of how you feel about baseball’s unwritten rules—and there are many who decry the eye-for-an-eye mentality of retaliatory HBPs—it is difficult to quibble with the sentiment at their core: enforcement of respect on a baseball diamond. Respect for one’s opponents. Respect for one’s teammates. Respect for the game.
In this regard, the Twins are proving to be an exemplary organization.
Big league ballclubs tolerate flashy displays by their players all the time, because picking one’s battles becomes an increasingly relevant pursuit when it comes to emotionally fragile superstars who are locked into multiyear deals. This leaves it up to the opposition to settle the score. Hence, the aforementioned retaliatory HBPs.
The period before these players reach multimillionaire status, however, presents a fertile time during which to instill appropriate work habits. Which the Twins appear to be doing.
On Tuesday, for example, Miguel Sano, playing for the team’s Double-A club in New Britain, hit a long home run, then watched it, then settled into a glacial home run trot that saw him take 29 seconds to round the bases. He did it against a Portland pitcher, Bobby Lanigan, who had until only recently been his teammate.
It was not the first time that Sano, the third-ranked overall prospect in the minor leagues according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press, has encountered such trouble. In April, he hit a grand slam while playing for Single-A Fort Meyers, then overtly flipped his bat. Later in the game, the opposing pitcher threw a fastball at his head in response. Sano reacted to that message with more of the same, homering during the at-bat, then pumping his fist and shouting toward his team’s dugout.
It seems that the Twins have seen enough. Sano was pulled from the game following his display against Portland, and has not seen the field since.
“Just a normal player-development decision,” said Twins farm director Brad Steil in the Pioneer Press. “We have discipline for all sorts of things that we do. This is one of them. He’s not going to play for a few games.”
Critics can decry the concept of retaliatory pitches ad nauseum, but if every organization approached things as proactively as the Twins have handled this situation, there would be far less call for them in the first place.
On Tuesday, Jesus Guzman belted an eighth-inning, two-run, pinch-hit homer against Giants reliever Jeremy Affeldt to give the Padres a 4-3 lead. This excited him.
He watched the blast. He walked down the line. He held his bat. Eleven steps from the plate he spun 180 degrees, still moving toward first, and, with his back to the pitcher, bellowed toward his teammates in the first-base dugout.
Clearly, the Giants were not amused. How clear became evident during Guzman’s first at-bat on Wednesday, when Madison Bumgarner threw his first pitch waist-high and behind the batter. Guzman shouted toward the mound and pointed his bat at Bumgarner, all while taking the slow steps of a man with no intention of trading punches. (Bumgarner, however, veritably tore down the mound to establish a closer confrontation, and was restrained by on-deck hitter Yasmani Grandal and plate ump Tony Randazzo.)
Although dugouts emptied, each bench was warned and order was quickly restored. (Watch it all here.)
“I was enjoying the home run with my teammates,” Guzman said of his Tuesday night blast, in an MLB.com report. “I wasn’t trying to be disrespectful of their team.”
That may well be true, but even the greenest big leaguer, let alone a guy with four years’ experience—who, by the way, came up with the Giants in 2009 and was a teammate of Affeldt’s—should realize that such a display will almost inevitably be taken poorly.
Bumgarner’s response—a warning shot across the bow, as it were—got the point across: Think for a moment before doing something like that against us again. (Bumgarner, for his part, left his postgame response to the phrase, “There’s no need to comment on that.”)
Ultimately, however, it was Guzman who held the retaliatory trump card. Leading off the seventh against Bumgarner in a 1-1 game, he crushed a home run deep down the left field line. (Watch it here.)
This time he faced the appropriate direction, and ran every step of the way.
When Jordany Valdespinwent full pimp after hitting a meaningless late-game homer last week that served merely to pull the Mets to within a 7-2 deficit of Pittsburgh, it was clear that the Pirates were not pleased—as evidenced by Bryan Morris drilling Valdespin the following day.
Turns out his his own teammates didn’t much care for it, either.
“I couldn’t believe he did that,” Mets reliever LaTroy Hawkins told USA Today’s Bob Nightengale. “We were all dumbfounded. It was a bonehead thing to do. And to do that against [pitcher] Jose Contreras? [Contreras] is old enough to be his father, and one of the nicest guys in the world.”
This, it seems, was only the beginning of the problem. As was quickly evidenced by the ensuing firestorm of Valdespin’s angry tweets and Mets fans wondering why New York pitchers never responded to Morris’s blow—how Valdespin’s teammates didn’t have his back, as it were—the idea of protecting a teammate who doesn’t deserve protection became all too real.
During the reporting for The Baseball Codes, current Brewers manager Ron Roenicke put it this way: “You’ve got [a guy], who is doing stuff that you are not happy about, and now he gets hit because of it. You’re sitting here going, ‘I don’t want to fight for him. He deserves what he gets.’ And I think that came into play a lot. ‘Hey, he deserves to get hit, let him handle it.’ ”
Hawkins put it similarly for the Mets, about Valdespin.
“What were we supposed to do there?” he said. “We were down six runs, he hits a home run and he acts like it’s a walk-off. This isn’t Little League. What, now we’re supposed to get into a fight for that? We’re supposed to throw at somebody because he did a bonehead thing? Now, if they throw at him for no reason, that’s a different story. We protect our team. But to do what he did put us in a bad spot, a real bad spot.”
This is a public statement made by a veteran player as a last resort, the kind of thing a guy says only after every other effort to reach his teammate has failed. It’s a measure of desperation, of being fearful that Valdespin’s actions could put an innocent Met in an opponent’s crosshairs, or put put a pitcher in the unenviable position of defending actions that deserve no defense. But Hawkins didn’t stop there.
“He showed absolutely no respect,” he went on to say. “If you’re going to pimp it, you’re going to suffer the consequences. I have no problem defending my teammates, but some things, you just can’t defend against. He’s created a lot of unnecessary tension around here.”
According to Nightengale, Hawkins wasn’t alone in his feelings.
Outfielder Marlon Byrd: “The Pirates did what you were supposed to do.”
Manager Terry Collins: “We’re getting beat 7-1 with a 12-year veteran on the mound. Come on. I don’t care what the fans think. This is the big leagues. It’s a big-man’s game. I told him, ‘Look, it’s not about you. It’s about us. It’s about the team. We’re all trying to teach you a lesson here.’
David Wright called the entire incident “stupid.”
The harshest criticism, however, came from Hawkins, a 40-year-old who over 19 big league seasons has played for 10 teams. If anybody in baseball has earned the mantle of having seen it all, he is the guy.
“Sometimes you have to look yourself in the mirror,” he said. “[Valdespin] has got to ask himself, ‘What can I do to gain the respect back from my teammates?’ And he’s got to come up with that answer on his own. For some reason, he doesn’t want to do things the right way. He wants to do it the hard way. Hopefully, he’ll figure it out, because he’s got a chance to be a damn good ballplayer.”
Operation Public Shaming is officially underway. Never has a passing down of the Code been on more blatant display.