Retaliation

Braves Wait Nine Months For Retaliation, Then Miss Their Man

On Friday, we were reminded of the sustained vitality behind the long-established baseball concept of waiting for retaliation. In the big leagues, it’s what you have to do sometimes when you see a given opponent only every once in a while, and even then you must wait for an appropriate moment to minimize the chance that drilling somebody will cost you on the scoreboard. Ultimately, revenge fantasies can prove logistically difficult.

Okay, enough with the generalities.

Remember last August, when Jose Urena drilled Ronald Acuna Jr. for being awesome? The Braves do.

Atlanta hadn’t faced Urena since then, apparently not even in spring training. So when the Miami pitcher stepped into the box against Kevin Gausman in the second inning of Friday’s game, Gausman built up some clubhouse goodwill with a first-pitch fastball that let Urena know unequivocally that his act of cowardice had not been forgotten by the guys in the visitors’ dugout.

Gausman missed his mark, Urena leaning toward the plate as the thigh-high pitch sailed behind him. The target was clearly intentional; the miss was likely accidental. Plate ump Jeff Nelson tossed Gausman immediately.

This type of thing is hardly unheard of.

During the 1998 NLCS, Padres catcher Jim Leyritz was drilled by future Hall of Famer Greg Maddux one pitch after asking the plate umpire to check the ball for scuff marks. The Padres waited until the following May for retaliation, when Sterling Hitchcock planted a fastball into Maddux’s hip. (As it happened, Leyritz was Hitchcock’s personal catcher.) “It’s just baseball,” Leyritz said after the game, even as a coach on his own team, Davey Lopes, joked to him that “some guys hold a grudge a long time.”

In 2001, Barry Bonds homered against Russ Springer—and, as was his way, watched the ball fly—in the pitcher’s final game before losing more than a season to rotator cuff and labrum injuries. The next time Springer faced Bonds, in 2004, he drilled him. The next time he faced him after that, in 2006, he drilled him again. The latter HBP was noteworthy because Bonds was sitting on 713 career homers, one away from tying Babe Ruth.

Or go back to 1971, when Chris Speier homered off of Pittsburgh’s Steve Blass during the National League Championship Series. The next time the two squared off, the following June, Blass hit Speier in the ribs. “I was thinking, ‘Well, what the fuck was that for?’ ” said Speier later. “I had no idea, so I asked him the next day. He said, ‘You remember that home run you hit off me?’ I said, ‘You guys won the fuckin’ World Series! Whaddaya gotta drill me for?’ ”

As pertains to Friday’s incident, the real question is whether the second inning of a 1-1 game—during which Gausman had already given up a single, a walk and hit a batter—was the right time for the pitcher to do what he did. There were two outs, and by passing up the chance to retire a weak hitter like Urena, Gausman forced himself to face the top of the order with the bases loaded. Not smart.

That last part was only conceptual, of course. Because Gausman missed Urena, he did not load the bases, but in getting himself ejected he did his team no favors. Touki Toussaint relieved him with a 1-0 count on the batter, and proceeded to walk Urena on three more pitches.

Ultimately, it didn’t matter. Toussaint escaped trouble by striking out Curtis Granderson to end the inning, and the Marlins are the Marlins, so a tie game in the second inning is nearly as good as five-run lead against them in the ninth. Atlanta ended up winning the game, 7-2, and the series in a clean sweep, during which time they outscored Florida 19-5.

Hopefully, this beef is over. The teams next meet in June, which is when we should know for sure.

Update 5/7: Gausman’s been suspended five games.

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Don't Showboat, Retaliation

Breaking: Yasiel Puig Doesn’t Like Inside Pitches

Puig jacknifes

On Friday, Yasiel Puig homered twice against the Marlins. On Saturday, the first pitch he saw arrived fast and inside. He didn’t appreciate the coincidence.

It may have been exactly that—a coincidence—but Puig wasn’t about to abide by shenanigans from Miami starter Jose Urena, real or imagined. Even though the pitch didn’t hit him, he took angry steps toward the mound before Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto, followed by players from both teams, intervened.

Here’s the thing: Puig didn’t like the possibility that an opponent might be sending a message about his prior success against them. That’s fair. What he’s discounting is that, following his second homer a night earlier—a go-ahead three-run shot—he did no small amount of showboating.

Sometimes teams don’t appreciate that.

Whether Urena intended to send a message doesn’t really matter to this particular argument. More than anybody, Puig is responsible for the widespread acceptance of batter’s box theatrics around baseball. He’s a bat-flip early-adopter, a guy so unremitting in the practice that pitchers, unable to tamp it out of existence, simply came around to accepting it as standard practice.

But if a guy like that wants to play that way, he has to be aware that some old-school holdouts might still take offense. Urena might be one of them. Or, as the pitcher said after the game, his two-seamer might simply have sailed a bit too far inside. If it’s the latter, there’s no reason for Puig to consider it. If it’s the former, Puig has to be aware that he himself was Urena’s muse.

(Marlins manager Don Mattingly denied any connection to an earlier kerfuffle between the teams. Even Dodgers manager Dave Roberts weighed in on Urena’s side, saying in an MLB.com report, “No one likes to be crowded, but [you have] to understand that there wasn’t intent, and it’s clear to me that there was no intent.”)

 

 

After the game, Urena told reporters that Puig “Got like a little baby” about the pitch. He was correct. Irrespective of Urena’s intentions, Puig—and any player at his end of the showboat spectrum—has to understand that such behavior will occasionally come at a cost. If said cost is being drilled, the decision to react may be justified. If the cost is simply having to jackknife out of the way, and then getting to hit from ahead in the count, Puig should grow the hell up.

Growing up seems to be a persistent problem for the guy. In this case it hardly mattered, as Urena lasted only three innings and the Dodgers won, 7-1. LA’s 3-2 win on Sunday featured no run-ins of note.

Bryce Harper, Unwritten-Rules

Bryce Harper Hates Baseball’s Unwritten Rules. Like it or Not, He’s Also Their Standard-Bearer

 

Harper ESPN II

Bryce Harper is one with baseball’s unwritten rules. He understands them … and he disapproves. He’ll bend them and tousle with them and bunch them up and whack the league’s stodges over the head with them, smiling all the while.

Harper, though, is not like some of his celebrated—and celebratory—peers, whose blatant disregard for established baseball etiquette—Yasiel Puig’s bat flips, for example—seems as much a calculated an effort to increase their Q rating as anything else. For Harper, it’s more a function of his overall game, a bleeding at the edges of whatever it is that makes him great.

Harper is ESPN’s feature subject of the moment, in an excellent profile by Tim Keown. In it, he says this:

“Baseball’s tired. It’s a tired sport, because you can’t express yourself. You can’t do what people in other sports do. I’m not saying baseball is, you know, boring or anything like that, but it’s the excitement of the young guys who are coming into the game now who have flair. If that’s Matt Harvey or Jacob deGrom or Manny Machado or Joc Pederson or Andrew McCutchen or Yasiel Puig — there’s so many guys in the game now who are so much fun.

“Jose Fernandez is a great example. Jose Fernandez will strike you out and stare you down into the dugout and pump his fist. And if you hit a homer and pimp it? He doesn’t care. Because you got him. That’s part of the game. It’s not the old feeling — hoorah … if you pimp a homer, I’m going to hit you right in the teeth. No. If a guy pimps a homer for a game-winning shot … I mean — sorry.”

In many ways, Harper is correct. This is no longer your father’s baseball league, wherein overt displays of emotion will earn a fastball to the earhole. Nolan Ryan has been retired for nearly a quarter of a century, and no standard-bearer has taken his place.

Puig, meanwhile, stands among an assortment of players who are more than happy to flip and grin and celebrate in ways that have traditionally been foreign to the major leagues. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

It’s interesting that Harper referenced Jose Fernandez, though. The right-hander, among the game’s most exciting players, has earned wide latitude when it comes to displays of enthusiasm. His story, however, is one of maturation—much of which came during the course of a single game in September, 2013.

That day, during the final start of Fernandez’s rookie season, he got into it with Atlanta, for reasons running directly counter to Harper’s recent assessment. The pitcher grinned widely when Juston Upton’s would-be homer was caught at the wall, but failed to offer similar leeway an inning later, when Evan Gattis intentionally pimped a home run in response. Fernandez one-upped Gattis after hitting his own home run, not only watching it from the box until he was certain the Braves had noticed, but going into a glacial trot around the bases before literally spitting toward third base as he rounded the bag.

None of this, save for Fernandez’s initial grin, had anything to do with celebrating the game.

Which is where Harper’s point hinges. Fernandez could have maintained his hackles and defended his actions afterward, claiming that the Braves started things and that he was only responding. Perhaps it was Atlanta catcher Brian McCann waiting for Fernandez to reach the plate before informing him that he needed to start acting like a big leaguer. Maybe a voice of authority in the pitcher’s own clubhouse set him straight. (Then-manager Mike Redmond went so far as to set up a meeting at which Fernandez apologized to McCann and Mike Minor, the pitcher against whom he homered.)

Either way, Fernandez came clean to reporters in the postgame clubhouse.

“This isn’t high school no more,” he said in an MLB.com report. “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.”

Fernandez was talking not about his joie de vivre—he continues to enjoy himself like a madman on the baseball diamond—but his blatant disrespect of the opposition. To his credit, we haven’t seen anything like that from him since then.

Which brings us back to Harper.

As a former teenage phenom, he’s been picked on by a variety of big league veterans (and even umpires). Sometimes his response has been fine, sometimes less so. Harper’s unprovoked actions have been mostly solid. The guy plays fiery, including his attitude from the sidelines, and teams around the league have come to accept that. Which is as it should be.

It’s a lesson that needs special reinforcement as the game slides further away from a hard line against celebrations: So long as players’ on-field displays are focused inward, guys like Harper and Fernandez should have relatively smooth sailing. Directed at the opposition, however (take Harper’s own scuffing of the Braves logo in 2014, or his behavior after homering off of Hunter Strickland during the playoffs later that season), are a different matter.

It’s an important distinction. There are strong feelings on both sides of the divide—traditionalists who want no part of emotion on the diamond, and those who decry the Code as ancient hokum, unfit for the modern game.

As is usually the case, the truth lies someplace in between. Celebrations are here to stay, but disrespect is as reviled now as it’s ever been. Trouble is, it’s sometimes difficult to distinguish between the two, which is where much of the problem lies.

Baseball is an ever-changing game, as are its unwritten rules. The sport is still feeling its way through this, but with guys like Harper and Fernandez at the helm, it should all work out just fine.

 

 

Showboating

Hush Little Baby, Don’t Say a Word: Junior Lake Goes Librarian on the Marlins

Lake shhhhh

People put differing amounts of credence into baseball’s unwritten rules, with a vocal faction consistently decrying their very existence. It takes an act of unusual persuasion to convince people on both sides of that aisle that somebody has crossed the line. Ladies and gentlemen: Junior Lake.

Lake’s actions after homering Wednesday against Florida not only had the Marlins outraged, but his own team, too. If we don’t hear more about this, it’s only because Cubs manager Joe Maddon made it known that he would handle the situation personally.

The preamble: Starlin Castro homered against Florida on Monday, then watched it, then delivered the season’s third-slowest trot. (Watch it here.) Last night, Dan Haren hit him in what can only be assumed to be response.

The main event: Lake homered off of Haren in the sixth inning last night. There’s little doubt that he had Castro on his mind when he watched the ball for five full steps toward first, then nonchalantly flipped his bat behind him as he began to jog. There were several things wrong with this scenario, beyond even the pimping and the flip.

  • It was Lake’s first homer of the season, and pimping in the big leagues is a meritocracy, something that must be earned. David Ortiz could maybe get away with it. Junior Lake can not.
  • It wasn’t like the homer won the game. Or even brought the Cubs close. Chicago was losing 6-0 when he hit it.
  • In response to the grief he was getting from the Marlins bench as he circled the bases, Lake put his finger to his lips in a Shhhhh motion after rounding third, while looking directly into Florida’s dugout.
  • Yep, he actually did that. (Watch it all here.)

Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto delivered some words when Lake crossed the plate. Lake fired back, and within moments benches emptied. The primary reason things did not get out of hand was Maddon, who assured Marlins pitching coach Chuck Hernandez that the matter would be taken care of internally.

“I just spoke to [Lake] and spoke to him during the game,” Maddon told reporters after the game, via an MLB.com report. “We don’t do that here and that will be the last time you see it. I did tell them at home plate during the scrum. I told Chuck Hernandez because that’s who I saw. I said, ‘It’s our fault and we’ll take care of it.’ ”

It was reminiscent of a scene 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.”) …

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.”

Maddon, who has proven that there are some unwritten rules about which he simply does not care, did not treat this one with such nonchalance. Nor did he limit his lesson to the confines of the clubhouse. “I don’t want us to take a page out of ‘Major League’ and flamboyantly flip a bat after a long home run,” he said after the game, ostensibly referring to Castro as well as to Lake. “I don’t want that at all. That has nothing to do with us ascending. I would even like to use this moment for our Minor League guys, that [flipping the bat] doesn’t play. For our kids watching, it doesn’t play. Don’t do that. That’s not cool. It’s very, very much not cool. If you’re watching the game back home in Chicago tonight, don’t do that.”

Then again, this wasn’t the first time he tried to impart this edict since taking over on the North Side. Perhaps it’s not taking.

The Marlins have little need for recourse. Maddon’s gauntlet toss against his own player handled it, as did Lake’s own comment afterward that “I recognize that it wasn’t right. It was part of the emotions and part of the game and I want to apologize to Haren for that, because I respect him and didn’t mean it.”

More interesting than Florida’s response will be the response of Chicago players to their manager’s new directive. Is a new quick-trot era in Chicago upon us?

Cheating, Spitballs

Spit Take: Marlins Hurler Opts Against Subtlety in the Subtle Art of Loading up a Baseball

Alex Sanabia

What does one do when one is a scuffling pitcher, trying desperately to hold on to one’s rotation spot on the National League’s worst team?

The answer isn’t always “load up the ball” … but in the case of Miami right-hander Alex Sanabia, how much could it hurt?

Well, there’s the aftermath. On Monday, Sanabia pitched his best game since opening day, picking up a 5-1 victory against Philadelphia while tossing six-plus innings of one-run ball. In the second inning, immediately following a Domonic Brown home run, Sanabia very clearly spit all over the next ball he was to pitch. (Watch it here.) Ever since, the Internet has been abuzz.

Seems damning, to be sure, but there’s almost undoubtedly more to the story. As evidenced by L’Affaire d’Buchholz two weeks ago, pitchers looking for viscous augmentation rarely turn to spit so much as gels and jellies like Vaseline and K-Y. Even those chewing on slippery elm (a noted saliva producer, of which Brooklyn Dodgers manager Charlie Dressen was so enamored that he would cut it into strips and hide it inside chewing gum wrappers for ready access by his pitchers) use their spit to slide the ball off their fingertips—they don’t rub it into the ball, as Sanabia did with his videotaped expectoration.

Marlins manager Mike Redmond went so far as to say that first base ump Joe West even saw Sanabia in action, and merely tossed the ball out before it was put into play. The Commissioner’s office doesn’t appear to have much interest, either.

So while some are having fun with it—Yahoo, for example, came up with 10 nicknames for the guy—we here at Global HQ will settle for offering a spitball-related excerpt from The Baseball Codes, detailing the greatest spitballer ever, Gaylord Perry. Some of the below ended up seeing print, but much was cut from the final copy.

Nineteen-eighty-two marked a watershed occasion in the annals of spitballing. It was the first (and only) time Gaylord Perry, the master, was disciplined for doing that for which he was known so well.

Perry was 43 years old, in his first season with the Seattle Mariners. Umpire Dave Phillips had already warned him about throwing illegal pitches in a game against Boston, but in the seventh inning Perry unleashed an offering that dropped dramatically. Phillips at first called the pitch—on a 1-0 count to Rick Miller—a strike, but, after thinking about it for a moment, changed it to a ball. Then, without even checking for evidence, he tossed Perry from the game. The pitcher was eventually fined $250 and suspended for 10 days—the first such suspension since Nelson Potter in 1944.

This was noteworthy because by that point Perry had for two decades been accused more consistently of doctoring his pitches than any man in baseball. This was the guy who titled his autobiography “Me and the Spitter,” and released it midway through his 22-year career. This was the guy whose North Carolina license plate read “SPITTER.” This was the guy who was so thorough that when, in 1971, a TV reporter asked his five-year-old daughter, “Does your daddy throw a grease ball?” she replied, “It’s a hard slider.”

At 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds, Perry was highly touted as a prospect in the San Francisco Giants organization, but struggled through his first two major league seasons, both of which involved stints at Triple-A Tacoma. Perry’s good fortune came before his third campaign, when the Giants traded for pitcher Bob Shaw.

Shaw was a journeyman who wouldn’t last even three seasons in San Francisco, but he knew how to throw the spitball. Under his tutelage, so soon did Perry. “Bob and I worked for hours,” he wrote in “Me and the Spitter. “I studied his every movement. I had to learn how to load it up, how big a load the ball would carry, where to drop the load, how to grip the ball, and how to release it as well as how to control it. And probably most important of all, how to hide it from four umpires, three coaches, a manager and 25 players on the field as well as spying executives up in the box seats. I spent hours in front of a mirror at home practicing decoy moves.”

Perry finished second on the team in victories that year, and two seasons later won 21 games and made his first All-Star team. From 1966-78 Perry never won fewer than 15 games, and picked up two Cy Young Awards along the way.

“I’d always have (grease) in at least two places, in case the umpires would ask me to wipe off one,” he wrote. “I never wanted to be caught out there without anything. It wouldn’t be professional.”

Perry put Vaseline or other lubricants under the bill of his cap, behind his neck and inside his belt. If he thought people were paying special attention, he’d load up his back with hot muscle balm, which would spread over his body as he started to sweat, suited his purposes for lubrication, and was virtually undetectable.

“(Perry) taught me something early that I never forgot: (Umpires) couldn’t touch your skin when they came to the mound to check you out,” said pitcher George Frazier. “They could touch your shirt or your glove or check your pockets, but no skin. Gaylord told me he used to put the stuff under his shoe tongue, ‘in case I have a long game and it runs out.’ ”

Perry was traded to the Indians after the 1971 season, at which point a member of the Giants organization said, “I don’t know what he throws, but our Vaseline bill is down.”

It didn’t take Perry long to get under the collective skin of the American League. In April 1973, Yankees outfielder Bobby Murcer exploded to the press after facing Perry in the pitcher’s second start of the season, yelling “Just about everything he throws is a spitter.”

“The only pitch he threw me that wasn’t a spitter was the first one,” he went on. “The more he knows you’re bothered by him throwing it, the better he is against you. … He’s got the stuff behind his ear and on his arm and on his chest. He puts it on each inning. I picked up the balls and they’re so greasy you can’t throw them.”

How angry was Murcer? Before the game he called commissioner Bowie Kuhn “gutless” for refusing to do anything about Perry’s proclivities, then managed to channel his aggression into a three-hit day. When confronted with Murcer’s accusations, however, Perry said the outfielder hit “fastballs and sliders,” not spitballs. (It might have been an acceptable excuse had Perry been on the same page as his catcher, Dave Duncan, who in a separate contrived denial said that Murcer had hit “off-speed stuff.”)

If further proof be needed, the New York Times hired an unnamed Yankees pitcher to chart Perry’s every pitch throughout the game, and mark those that he thought were spitballs. When the resulting pitch chart was compared to a replay of the game, the Times said that before every pitch identified by the Yankees operative as a spitter, Perry tugged at the inside of his left sleeve with his right (pitching) hand—an action he failed to repeat for the rest of his repertoire.

Second baseman Horace Clark, according to the chart, struck out on a spitter that, on replay, dropped at least a foot. In the fourth inning, Thurman Munson asked to see the ball twice during his at-bat—during which, said the chart, Perry threw four spitters.

Perry wasn’t just a practiced spitballer, however—he was also a practiced spitball deceiver. One of the strengths of the pitch, according to virtually everybody who has been suspected of throwing it, is that making a hitter believe it’s coming is nearly as valuable as actually throwing it.

“The more people talk and write about my slick pitch, the more effective I get,” wrote Perry. “I just want to lead the league in psych outs every year.” To this end, Perry turned into his era’s version of Lew Burdette, all fidgets, wipes and tugs once he got atop the mound.

“Perry’s big right hand started to move and people started to boo,” wrote the Times about its charted game. “First he touched his cap, sliding his fingers across the visor, bringing them down along the right side of his head, stopping behind his ear. Then the hand went across his uniform, touching his chest, his neck. Was all this to create a diversionary action? Was he simply having fun? … ‘I did the same things I always did,’ he said later, suppressing a smile. If people want to read things into it, so be it.’ ”

Perry admitted in his autobiography to having doctored pitches, but, along with his confession, said upon the book’s release in 1974 that he “doesn’t throw it any more.” Maybe, responded Twins manager Gene Mauch, but “he doesn’t throw it any less, either.”

In 1991, after 314 wins over 22 seasons, Perry was inducted to the Hall of Fame. It was noted that when Rod Carew was inducted, Panamanian flags flew; when Ferguson Jenkins was inducted, Canadian flags flew; and when Perry was inducted, it rained.

Retaliation

How to Pick Your Battles and When: A Farewell to Logan Morrison

Baseball has seen its share of retaliation this season, lowlighted by Jered Weaver and Carlos Carrasco throwing at players’ heads after being offended on the field.

This week, however, saw a different kind of retaliation—less fiery, but more bureaucratic and far more profound. Logan Morrison offended members of the Florida Marlins front office, and they appeared to respond in kind.

In short: A charity bowling tournament in which Morrison was supposed to participate was canceled because the team’s community foundation failed to sell enough lanes in advance. Morrison, disappointed, responded by boycotting a subsequent photo session with season ticket holders.

The lesson: Don’t mess with management. Later that day, despite ranking second on the team with 17 homers and third with 60 RBIs, Morrison was optioned to Triple-A New Orleans. The team cited his .249 batting average as the reason.

There are a couple unwritten rules in play here, one of them stating that offbeat players must be truly established before unleashing the full force of their personalities. Morrison fits that bill.

He’s made enough waves on Twitter during his short career that team president David Samson suggested that he cool it down. Earlier in the season, the second-year player told reporters that the firing of hitting coach John Mallee had been ordered by team owner Jeffrey Loria (drawing a direct rebuke from Loria himself). Just last week, Morrison leveled another round of criticism at Marlins shortstop Hanley Ramirez—compounding his confrontation with the shortstop in June.

The same day Morrison was demoted, his clubhouse confidante (and fellow Ramirez critic) Wes Helms—who had advised his protege against attending the photo session—was released. (Helms was hitting just .191 in a very limited role, but the timing of the move was, at the least, curious.)

Case in point regarding the correlation between status and freedom of speech: team veep Jeff Conine, Mr. Marlin himself, said earlier this season that he’d “probably” trade Ramirez if given the choice. The repercussions (aside from an angry response from Ramirez): None.

For a lesson on how to abide by this particular piece of Code, turn to Giants closer Brian Wilson, who didn’t come by his quirks recently—he just knew how to hide them as a younger player.

“I had the beard in 2007, but they made me shave it when I had to go to Triple-A . . .” he said in an interview late last season. “I wasn’t allowed to have the mohawk in the minor leagues. I got it two weeks after I was called up in ’06, and the full-on one came in 2009.”

By which point he was coming off an All-Star season in which he finished second in the National League in saves. Soon thereafter came the beard as we now know it.

Marlins catcher John Buck, among others, suggested that Morrison tone things down. Another of Morrison’s teammates had it exactly right when he suggested, in a Palm Beach Post article, that the outfielder’s timing was off.

“In five years, when you’re a stud, that’s when you can get away with that,” said the player, who went unnamed. “It was a perfect time for (the Marlins to demote Morrison) because we’re out of (the race). I’ll tell you what, though: If we’re close to the Braves right now, I’ll bet you they don’t make that move.”

The other unwritten rule in play here—and this goes for all walks of life, not just baseball—is to be careful with whom one picks one’s battles. Team management is rarely a good place to start.

For a historic lesson, look to Chicago in 1939, when recently acquired Cubs shortstop Dick Bartell, arriving for a spring training game, insulted an overweight man struggling to get through a ballpark turnstile.

Bartell didn’t know it at the time, but the man, Ed Burns, was one of the team’s official scorers, and made life miserable for Bartell—a starter in the first ever-All-Star Game six years earlier—by charging him with questionable errors throughout the season, and charging errors on the other team that could have gone for hits for Bartell. From The Baseball Codes: “The error parade got to be such an institution that at that winter’s baseball writers’ dinner, a baby bootie was brought onstage with the pronouncement ‘A boot for Bartell.’ Throughout the evening, a parade of shoes was pre­sented for the audience, each slightly larger than the last, and all with the same statement: ‘Another boot for Bartell.”

Bartell hit .238 that season, 48 points below his career mark, and for the first time in eight years his fielding percentage was below the league average. Although Burns later apologized, Bartell was shipped out following the season for spare parts.

Morrison is young enough and talented enough to avoid that fate, but—no matter how correct he may actually be—he clearly has some stark lessons to learn.

– Jason

Buster Posey, Running Into the Catcher, Scott Cousins

Posey Leveled. Is a Clean Hit a Retaliation-Worthy Offense?

You be the judge: Did Scott Cousins go out of his way to hit Buster Posey?

By now, you’ve either seen the replay or willfully avoided it. In the 12th inning of Wednesday’s game between the Giants and the Marlins, Scott Cousins came barreling home with what he hoped would be the winning run. Giants right fielder Nate Schierholtz fired a strike that would have nailed the runner had catcher Buster Posey held onto the ball.

Posey did not hold onto the ball. Cousins, unaware of this, leveled him.

It was a split-second play, Cousins reacting as he was taught—to initiate contact with the catcher in hopes of dislodging the baseball. His approach was standard, and his hit was clean.

As with many plays involving baseball’s codes, however, there is a caveat: Posey was positioned perfectly, toward the pitcher’s mound, just up the line. He did not block the plate before he had the ball (which would have given Cousins unlimited leeway to do whatever he had to). The runner was offered a clear path to the dish—a tactic enacted specifically to avoid unnecessary contact. (Watch the play here.)

The result: a broken leg and torn ankle ligaments for the Giants’ most indispensable player, who will be out of action indefinitely.

The question in the wake of this devastating news is whether Cousins’ slide was appropriate. As is true with many sections of the Code, there are multiple ways to answer.

Yes, Cousins’ takeout was appropriate. It’s the hard-nosed approach ballplayers should take when trying to score on a contested play. It is, argue many within the game, as close as a play comes to embodying the competitive spirit of baseball. A collision at the plate is, without question, the most exciting moment in a given game.

Then again, if Cousins could have scored without contact, why not do it that way? (Take, for example, last year’s collisions involving Angels catcher Bobby Wilson and Indians catcher Carlos Santana, each of whom was run over by vicious hits; because they both were blocking the plate without the ball, repercussions for the baserunners were minimal.)

“Is it a cheap shot?” asked Giants manager Bruce Bochy on Giants’ flagship KNBR (as reported by the San Jose Mercury News). “It depends who you’re talking to. They happen all the time, home-plate collisions. I think he thought the ball was going to beat him. He decided to go at Buster and try to knock it loose, that’s what it looked like to me. But there was a lane for him.” (Listen to it here.)

Bochy knows this drill well. He was a big league catcher for nine seasons, a manager for 17. He has been blown up by baserunners, and understands that it’s part of a catcher’s job description. But it’s also part of his current job description to protect his guys. As such, he called for baseball to examine the rule regarding home-plate collisions.

He’s not the only one.

“You leave players way too vulnerable,” Posey’s agent, Jeff Berry, told ESPN’s Buster Olney. “I can tell you Major League Baseball is less than it was before [Posey’s injury]. It’s stupid. I don’t know if this ends up leading to a rule change, but it should. The guy [at the plate] is too exposed.

“If you go helmet to helmet in the NFL, it’s a $100,000 fine, but in baseball, you have a situation in which runners are [slamming into] fielders. It’s brutal. It’s borderline shocking. It just stinks for baseball.”

Berry took his complaints to Joe Torre, who heads up on-field operations for MLB.

Whatever Torre decides, as the rules currently stand, actions like Cousins’ are entirely permissible. After watching replays, several members of the Giants spoke out in defense of the Florida outfielder. “We think it was (a clean hit),” said Freddy Sanchez in the Mercury News. Added Schierholtz, “It’s part of the game. There’s really no right way to take a hit.”

Schierholtz, of course, was once on the other side of the equation, when he plowed into China’s catcher during the 2008 Olympics.

Nobody was more clear on the propriety of the event than Cousins himself, who was reportedly in tears upon hearing that Posey might be lost for the remainder of the season.

“It’s a baseball play,” he said in the Palm Beach Post. “It’s part of the risk of being a catcher. We’re trying to win games also. I’m not going to concede the out by any means, not in that situation, not ever. I’m on this team to help do the little things to help this team win a game and if that means going hard and forcing the issue on the bases because I have speed, then that’s what I’m going to do.”

On a micro level, the question now is: Should the Giants retaliate?

The answer is as complex as the issues leading up to the question. The play was clean. From a long view it was also unnecessary, but in the moment it’s tough to begrudge Cousins the decision he made.

Cousins did not play in Wednesday’s series finale, and a 1-0 score prevented any batters from being intentionally hit.

Cousins said he called Posey twice, and plans to send him a written apology. It might not be enough. If the Giants do seek revenge, it will be typical fare: Sometime during the teams’ next meeting, Aug. 12-14 in Florida, Cousins will be drilled in the ribs, thigh or backside. It will be small payback for the loss of Posey, who will almost certainly not have returned by that point, but it will have satisfied the Code’s requirement. When a player of Posey’s stature gets injured on a questionable play, payback is frequently part of the response.

Perhaps the definitive comment came from Giants broadcaster Mike Krukow, via the San Francisco Chronicle:

I hate what happened last night, but it was a clean play. The law of the land. It was a hard, aggressive play, and hell, it won the game (7-6) for them. What, you change the rules so no contact is allowed? No way to do that.

Tell you what, though. When I pitch against that guy (Cousins), I drill him. Oh, yeah, I’m smokin’ him. That’s legal, too, last time I checked.

Then again, should the Giants opt to let it slide, it will likely fail to make waves. This may be one of those instances in which the victim’s reaction dictates his teammates’ response: If Posey is angry, fastballs will undoubtedly fly in August. If, as a catcher, he appreciates Cousins’ clean intentions, that outcome is far less certain.

– Jason