Bill Hall, Nick Swisher, Slide properly, Tsuyoshi Nishioka

It’s Been a Bad Week for Takeout Slides, at Least as far as Middle Infielders are Concerned

How much is too much, and when is enough when it comes to takeout slides? These questions were asked multiple times and with no firm answer in Houston and New York last week.

Start with Bill Hall. Was flying into Marlins shortstop Hanley Ramirez on a play at second base, as the Astros second baeman did Friday, too much? It was certainly aggressive. Ramirez, firmly planted behind and to the left of second base as he attempted to turn a double-play, provided a stationary target as Hall went out of his way to take him out. (Watch it here.)

That, however, is what players are taught to do—interrupt the fielder at any cost, so long as it’s clean. And Hall’s slide was clean, if a touch late. He went in feet first and spikes down, with one clear purpose: prevent the double-play. That he went out of his way—but not too far out of his way—to do it falls well within the definition of getting the job done.

“Clean play? Dirty play? That’s hard to tell unless it’s very obvious,” said Marlins manager Edwin Rodriguez in the Palm Beach Post. “He came hard but he was in range. He was touching the base. That’s the way he plays and that’s the way it should be—play hard.”

Hall ended up going shin-to-shin with Ramirez, knocking them both down for several minutes. Hall returned to the game; Ramirez sat out until Tuesday.

A day prior, Nick Swisher of the New York Yankees took out Twins second baseman Tsuyoshi Nishioka in a similar play, with far graver consequences. Swisher’s slide—like Hall’s, off the base and intended to break up the double-play—broke the second baseman’s fibula, just six games into his big league career. (Watch it here.)

The reason both infielders were hurt is that neither of them jumped. Ramirez fielded the throw in an awkward place coming from the shortstop position and had to adjust; Nishioka might simply never have learned any difference.

Twins broadcaster Dan Gladden, who spent a year playing in Japan (winning the Japan Series with the Yomiuri Giants in 1994), was quoted in the Minneapolis Star Tribune talking about the dearth of such tactics in that country.

“When I got over there I told them, ‘I don’t slide to the bag. We are taught to break up double plays,’ ” he said. “The coach told me, ‘We expect the Americans to play that way.’ ”

Swisher went so far as to visit Nishioka in the X-ray room at Yankee Stadium to offer a personal apology for the inadvertent injury. Nishioka told him there was no apology necessary. And that was it. No retaliatory strikes the following day. No bad blood resulting from a hard, clean play.

The same can not be said for the Marlins. Ramirez was injured far less severely than Nishioka, but despite the fact that he publicly exonerated Hall—“My opinion is he was trying to break up a double play,” he said in the Post. “He told [Marlins infielder Greg] Dobbs that he was sorry but … he was trying to do his job.”—his teammates clearly had a score to settle.

Saturday’s game was too consistently close to consider a retaliatory strike, but on Sunday, with a 6-1 lead in the seventh inning, Edward Mujica drilled Hall in the hip. The intent was clear; Mujica has hit only three guys over the course of his six-year career and walks almost nobody. His control is exquisite. He was quickly ejected.

Ramirez being the face of his franchise certainly had something to do with it. The fact that he has a history of calling out Marlins pitchers for lack of retaliatory response may also have factored in. (Then again, Mujica was with San Diego during that particular tirade, and may have been entirely ignorant of it.)

Had Hall been out of line with his slide, with a barrel roll or some other questionable tactic—in other words, had he deserved the response—it might have ended there. As it was, Houston reliever Anuery Rodriguez stood up for his guy by plunking Gaby Sanchez in the ninth. This one was easy to see coming; Rodriguez is a rookie with a double-digit ERA. His performance on the field is not winning much respect from his teammates, so he felt the need to earn it in a different capacity. He, too, was ejected. (Watch both ejections here.)

The Marlins and Astros meet once more this season, in July. There’s no reason for renewed hostilities at that point—but then again there rarely is. Stay tuned.

– Jason

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Bill Hall, Cole Hamels, Nyjer Morgan, Retaliation

Spring: A Time of Hope—and Retaliation

Nyjer Morgan, at the height of last year's problems.

Spring training is a grand old time for pitchers to let off some steam. Be they perturbed by an event from the game in front of them or harboring long memories from seasons past, the allure of repercussion-free retaliation (who cares if runs score during an exhibition game?) is felt at least a few times each season.

Look no farther than this week’s matchup between Cole Hamels and Bill Hall.

Hall, now with the Astros, was unhappy that Hamels appeared to be quick-pitching him, throwing the ball before he was fully ready. (How this tactic would help Hamels prepare for the regular season, I’m not sure.)

So Hall stepped out in an effort to slow Hamels. The pitcher’s response was to send his next offering inside, which was sufficient to send Hall from zero to boiling. According to the Houston Chronicle, he had to be restrained by plate ump Laz Diaz.

After the game, Hall called Hamels a “marked man”—not so much, he explained later, as it pertains to the left-hander’s physical wellbeing, but to the on-field respect he receives. Translation: Expect Hall to show Hamels up at the earliest available opportunity.

From the Chronicle:

I don’t know if he was mad because he gave up a homer (to Carlos Lee in the previous at-bat) or if he was mad because the umpire gave me time. But I’m not going to let him speed-pitch me. Obviously, he threw a pitch in, and I’m not going to let him disrespect me either. He kind of said something that I didn’t like too much. It’s over with. He’s definitely a marked man for me now, so when I do some damage off him, I’m going to let him know I did some damage off him. I can guarantee that.

I don’t feel like I do a lot of things to have pitchers mad at me for doing things on the field. I feel like I play the game the right way. But if you disrespect me, I’m going to do my best to disrespect you back. Obviously not in a way to disrespect the game, but obviously I’m going to let him know when I face him.

Well, okay. Houston opens with three games at Philadelphia, starting April 1. With Hamels scheduled to be Philadelphia’s No. 4 starter, however, Hall will likely have to wait until September—September!—for a chance to disrespect him back.

Elsewhere in the Grapefruit League, Nyjer Morgan was hit by Ricky Nolasco and wasted no time in accusing the pitcher of intent. Then again, after Morgan’s protracted saga against the Marlins last season—partial tally: he separated the shoulder of catcher Brett Hayes in a play at the plate; he reacted to being hit the following day by stealing two bases with his team down big (as clear an insult to the Marlins as could be delivered); he charged the mound when he was hit again later in retaliation for the stolen bases—one could hardly blame Nolasco.

Again, this is spring training—a time when many of these sorts of grudges get handled like this.

Rather than go on a near-meltdown-level tirade like last season, however, Morgan should be commended for his level-headed approach this time around. Instead of getting bothered, he stole second, advanced to third, then scored. (Watch the drilling here.)

From MLB.com):

“No question, without a doubt,” said Morgan when asked if he felt Nolasco hit him on purpose Sunday. “It’s obvious because of what happened last year. Obviously, they haven’t turned the page. But I’m going to be a stronger player, better person. I’m not going to react to it. I felt better by going out there and being able to steal that bag, getting myself over to third and generating a run. I felt more satisfied after that than staring at him and putting on my mean mug.”

The “mean mug,” of course, is a time-tested part of on-field intimidation. It’s what Morgan does with the rest of his body that truly counts.

He’s off to a good start.

Update: Yahoo’s David Brown recently spoke to Florida’s Logan Morrison for his Answer Man column. Included in the conversation was the following exchange:

DB: Can there be peace between the Marlins and Nyjer Morgan?

LoMo: Yeah, absolutely there can be. You want me to expound on that?

DB: Please.

LoMo: Just don’t steal second base and third down by 10 runs.

DB: He was just fighting for that run. Trying to get back into the game.

LoMo: You could call it that.

DB: Nobody overreacted?

LoMo: I’m going to say everybody overreacted. … But … there’s baseball etiquette and baseball rules that need to be followed and they weren’t followed.

Update 2: Nolasco continues to deny intent.

– Jason

Chris Volstad, Fights, Nyjer Morgan, Retaliation, Running Into the Catcher

It Really Hasn’t Been a Good Week for Nyjer Morgan

There has to be a wager involved with this, somehow. Why else would a major league player attempt to go from zero-to-Alex Rodriguez in a bizarre and misguided weeklong quest to become baseball’s Most Hated Player?

World, meet Nyjer Morgan. You might not have known him in mid-August, but you certainly do now.

Over the last seven days, he’s gotten into it with fans, his own manager and various members of the opposition, both as the player delivering punishment and the one receiving it.

Had he paid a lick of attention to baseball’s unwritten rules along the way, virtually all of it could have been avoided.

He’s in today’s news for yesterday’s fight, but Morgan’s slide began on Aug. 25, when he threw a ball into the stands in Philadelphia. Some say he threw it to the fans, some say he threw it at the fans. Morgan claims it was a big misunderstanding (a tack corroborated by at least one member of the crowd), but the league quickly levied a suspension for his actions, which is currently under appeal. (The piece of Code he ignored: Never engage with hecklers. It rarely ends well.)

On Aug. 27, Morgan got picked off base in the eighth inning of a close game against St. Louis, which proved particularly costly when the batter, Willie Harris, subsequently hit a home run. The Nationals lost, 4-2. Morgan was confronted after the game by Nationals manager Jim Riggleman, and dropped from leadoff to eighth in the batting order.

His response: The following day, he attempted to level Cardinals catcher Bryan Anderson in a play at the plate, despite the fact that Anderson had his back to the play and was moving in the opposite direction. Morgan was so focused on his target that he veered away from the plate to make contact, and in fact never scored. (Code: Run into catchers only when a slide would lead to a likely out. Even more importantly, never let personal vendettas get in the way of your team’s success.)

Riggleman was angry enough about it to call his player out in public, after apologizing to both Anderson and Tony La Russa. Morgan, he said, as reported by Nationals Daily News, did an “unprofessional thing,” and, indicating that lessons would be learned, “you’ll never see it again” from him. (The manager wasn’t quite accurate on this point.)

Riggleman then benched Morgan for the series finale, under the auspices that he had become too prominent a target to safely take the field.

On Aug. 30, Morgan responded to Riggleman. “I guess he perceived it as some nasty play with the intentions of trying to hurt somebody before coming to me and asking me about the situation, which was very unacceptable,” he told the Washington Post. “But on my half, I’m not going to go ahead and throw fuel on the fire. I’m going to try to be as professional as I can about the situation.”

It’s frequently the case, of course, that when players feel the need to proclaim the fact that they’re being “professional,” they’re actually anything but. (Code violation: Never call out your manager in public.)

In fact, Morgan cited the unwritten rules in his own defense, saying that Riggleman “just basically did a cardinal sin. You don’t blast your player in the papers.” (This is true, unless the player’s behavior has deteriorated to the point where the manager feels he has few other options. )

It didn’t take long for Morgan to stir further controversy. In the 10th inning of a scoreless game on Aug. 31, he ran into Marlins catcher Brett Hayes with enough force to place him on the disabled list for the remainder of the season with an injured shoulder. While Morgan didn’t go out of his way to reach his target this time, consensus held that he would have been safe—with the winning run, no less—had he slid. (See previous Code citation about running into catchers. The Marlins won it with a run in the bottom of the frame.)

In light of Morgan’s previous indiscretion with a catcher, the play seemed like the act of a guy hoping for someone to try to knock the chip off his shoulder. (Watch it here.)

When he took the field for the bottom of the inning, Morgan again got into it with fans, this time being caught on tape cussing them out. (See previous unwritten-rule citation regarding fan interactions.)

Any one of these things can constitute a distraction in the clubhouse. The sum of them, especially coming as they did in the span of a week, reads like the linescore of a borderline sociopath.

Which brings us to yesterday’s firestorm.

Morgan was hit in the fourth inning by Marlins starter Chris Volstad—clear retaliation for his treatment of Hayes the day before. Not content to let it end there, Morgan subsequently stole second and third on the next two pitches, while his team trailed by 11 runs in the fourth inning.

This is a clear violation of the unwritten rules, although under ordinary circumstances, a player’s own teammates care more about him staying put in that type of situation than does the opposition. Morgan’s steals, however, were an unequivocal message to the Marlins, conveying that he neither appreciated their treatment of him, nor respected their right to do what they did. (Code: If you send a message to the other team, expect one in return.)

“That was garbage,” he told reporters after the game. “That’s just bad baseball. It’s only the fourth inning. If they’re going to hold me on, I’m going to roll out. The circumstances were kind of out of whack, but the game was too early. It was only the fourth inning. If it happened again, I’d do it again. It’s one of those things where I’m a hard-nosed player. I’m grimey. And I just wanted to go out there and try to protect myself. I didn’t want to get outside the box. There’s bit a little bit of controversy surrounding the kid lately. But it’s just one of things.”

That’s one way to look at it. Another way is that “the kid” essentially gave the Marlins little choice but to reinforce their point. Which they did, when Volstad threw a pitch behind him two innings later.

“I think that’s the only reason we tried to go after him a second time,” said Marlins third baseman Wes Helms in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. “Since he stole the bases, I think it pumped us up a little more and got to Volstad a little bit. . . . I cannot stand when a guy shows somebody up or show the integrity of the game up to the fans or whatever. There’s just no place in baseball for that. In my opinion, you’re going to get what’s coming to you if you do that. Tonight, it was time we had to show him we weren’t going to put up with the way he was treating us, but also with the way he was trying to take bases down 10 runs. After he got hit, you know why he did it. . . . I can’t really say anything good about a guy that doesn’t play the game the right way and doesn’t play for the integrity of the game.”

It’s not like Morgan needed to further prove a willingness to put his personal agenda ahead of the integrity of the game, but he did. After Volstad’s pitch sailed behind him, Morgan charged the mound, and a rarity in baseball occurred—a fight that involved actual fighting.

The Marlins—particularly first baseman Gaby Sanchez—couldn’t wait to get their hands on Morgan, and players quickly piled up near the mound. (Watch it here.)

Other accounts offer copious details of the fight. One pertinent example doesn’t even involve Morgan, but third base coach Pat Listach, who was among the first people in the scrum. Baseball’s Code mandates that fighting is left to the players, with coaches and managers serving to fill the role of peacemakers. That was clearly not Listach’s intent, and he may well be disciplined by the league for his actions.

Should Morgan be given any sort of pass in this situation, it’s for the fact that his response to being drilled—the stealing of back-to-back bases—fell within the boundaries of reason; as he said, it was only the fourth inning and the Marlins were holding him on, which is frequently taken as a tacit green light for eager baserunners.

Also, even more importantly, the Marlins took their shot earlier in the game. Between Morgan’s steals and the injury to his catcher, Volstad can hardly be blamed for wanting to get in another blow—but Morgan’s assumption that it was one too many is not unreasonable. In the middle of the fight, Riggleman could be seen mouthing the words “one time” to Florida manager Edwin Rodriguez, indicating the number of retaliatory attempts to which he felt the Marlins were entitled. (“We decide when we run,” said Riggleman in the Sun-Sentinel. “The Florida Marlins will not decide when we run.”)

“I understand they had to get me back a little bit,” said Morgan in the Post. “It’s part of the game. . . . I guess they took it the wrong way. He hit me the first time, so be it. But he hit two other of our guys?” (Volstad did indeed hit three batters on the day.) “Alright, cool. But then he whips another one behind me, we got to go. I’m just sticking up for myself and just defending my teammates. I’m just going out there and doing what I have to do.”

Doing what he had to do, of course, is up for interpretation. Saying that there’s a case to be made for Morgan’s viewpoint on the incidents leading up to the fight does nothing to discourage the sentiment that the guy has been wildly, unassailably, dangerously out of line for the better part of a week.

Guys like Manny Ramirez and Alex Rodriguez can flaunt the unwritten rules at their discretion; their jobs are safe, so long as they continue to produce.

When it’s a leadoff hitter with a .317 OBP, who led the league in being caught stealing last year and is on the way to doing it again, the margins are considerably tighter.

Watch out, Nyjer Morgan. There aren’t many people in your corner right about now.

– Jason

Update: Gaby Sanchez now says that the Marlins were not “really holding (Morgan) on,” prior to his fourth-inning stolen bases. For what it’s worth.

Update (9-03-10): MLB has ruled. Morgan will be suspended for eight games, in addition to the seven that had already been handed out (which is currently under appeal). Also suspended were, from the Marlins, Volstad (six games), pitcher Alex Sanabia (who must have done some heavy and unnecessary hitting in the scrum, for five), Sanchez (three), Edwin Rodriguez (one). Pitcher Jose Veras was fined.

Suspended from the Nationals were pitcher Doug Slaten (probably for furthering tensions by hitting Sanchez in response to the first baseman’s clothesline tackle of Morgan to begin the fight) and Listach (three games each), and Jim Riggleman (two games). Riggleman and Listach also were fined.

Update (9-16-10): Morgan’s suspension was reduced to eight games.