Retaliation

Carnage in Chicago, But it Ain’t Joe Maddon’s Fault

Rizzo drizzoThere are lots of ways to look at the weekend’s incidents in Chicago, which resulted in six hit batters, four ejections, an in-dugout apology, some strategic rethinking about ages-old Code courtesy that’s long been questioned but never usurped, and a one-sided war of words waged by Cubs manager Joe Maddon.

Start with Maddon, whose reasonable explanations for everything that happened did little to mask that he spent the weekend playing both sides of the debate, as aggrieved victim and as innocent perpetrator, depending on whether his team was being drilled or doing the drilling. Chicago’s Dan Haren plunking Matt Holliday in the helmet? An accident, and don’t dare insinuate otherwise. Cards reliever Matt Belisle drilling Anthony Rizzo? As clearly telegraphed a hit as a hit ordered by Tony Soprano, whose name Maddon dropped in his postgame press conference. Never mind that Rizzo leads baseball in being hit by pitches, or that Belisle was still knocking off rust in only his second appearance since June after returning from elbow issues. (Watch Haren and Belisle’s pitches here.)

Maddon, however, didn’t want to hear it. (“Of course not,” he said, when asked about Belisle’s pitch possibly being unintentional. “That is ridiculous.”)

There are facts to back up the manager’s viewpoint, of course. Haren obviously did not mean to drill Holliday, but these are the Cardinals, whose institutional need to settle scores is so ingrained as to have been described in detail in the book Three Nights in August. (The focus of that book, Tony La Russa, has since moved on, but Mike Matheny has maintained the brand in a reasonable fashion.)

And that pitch Belisle threw sure looked intentional, aimed directly at its mark from the moment it left his hand. Haren, in fact, spent two seasons under La Russa in St. Louis, and knew enough to apologize to Rizzo after hitting Holliday for the HBP he was all but certain was coming. “They always police things like that …” Haren said in an MLB.com report, saying that the Cardinals view retaliation as an intimidation tactic. “They might take it to the extreme a little bit with that stuff. I think everyone understands it. I guess at least they didn’t throw at his head.”)

The real intrigue became with the warning Maddon issued at the close of his diatribe: “We don’t start stuff, but we will finish stuff.”

That became clear on Saturday, when Cardinals second baseman Kolten Wong was hit twice (angrily spiking his bat after the second one, from reliever Fernando Rodney; watch it here). After warnings were issued, Cubs closer Hector Rondon furthered the tension by drilling pinch-hitter Greg Garcia to open the ninth, earning ejections for himself and Maddon.

“Obviously, we’re not trying to [hit anyone],” said Maddon, after the game.

Well, no. Not so obviously.

The denial of any intent for any action that can be justifiably read as antagonistic is part of the Code. But even were Maddon telling the truth, he had to realize that the chutzpah involved is overwhelming. Actually, he did.

“I know nobody wants to believe me,” he said. “You’re not going to believe me, all the Cardinal nation. God bless you, you’re not going to want to believe me, and I get it. There’s no way for me to sit here and even attempt to ameliorate your concerns. None of that was intentional, it just happens, it’s part of the game. Go ahead, lay it on me, man, I’m OK with it.”

Rondon drilled Garcia with a 96-mph fastball while his team held a four-run lead. Rodney is already known to go after people. It’s easy to explain away any one of Chicago’s three drillings that occurred after Maddon’s promise to “finish stuff,” but such blanket whitewashing is a stretch.

Perhaps it’s an indication that the Cubs are growing up as a franchise, that the mighty Cardinals finally see them as a threat and are responding in kind by breaking out big-boy tactics. It wouldn’t be a first. Chicago’s newfound success can be seen in Maddon’s own strategies; with his team in the heart of the wild-card chase the manager made clear his intention of placing the unwritten rules in a secondary position to winning games. In the eighth inning on Friday, he shut down his running game despite the Cardinals opting not to hold runners on first, on account of Chicago’s five-run lead. Maddon ended up having to warm up closer Hector Rondon in the ninth, on a day he would have liked to rest him entirely, and made it clear that he regretted the decision.

“The next time they [don’t hold our runners on base], we’re going to run,” he said. “I want everybody to know that. I never read that particular book that the Cardinals wrote way back in the day. I was a big Branch Rickey fan, but I never [read] this book that the Cardinals had written regarding how to play baseball. If you play behind us, and we’re up by five points in the ninth, we’re running. And you have every right to do the same thing.”

Sunday’s series closer featured no big leads for either team to exploit. It also featured no hit batters. For those of you scoring at home, it was the final time during the regular season that these teams will face each other. So be sure to mark your 2016 NL Central calendars for some quality Code-based action.

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Showboating

Maddon Preaches in Cubs Camp: Thou Shalt Not Pimp

Joe MaddonWelcome to the North Side, Grandpa Maddon.

The new Cubs manager was quoted in the Chicago Sun Times expressing the antiquated notion that he’d, you know, prefer his players not take excessive pimping liberties following home runs. Doesn’t he know that such actions are now the status quo?

“Act like you’ve done it before and you can do it again,” the manager said. “The touchdown celebration, all that stuff, pounding your chest after dunking a basketball, all this stuff that’s become part of today’s generation of athletes – whether you agree with it being right or wrong doesn’t matter. I would just prefer that our guys would act like they’ve done it before and that they’re going to do it again.”

At question was third-string catcher Welington Castillo, who not only admired his homer from the batter’s box on Tuesday, but upon returning to the dugout sought out coach Manny Ramirez, saying, according to Javy Baez, “”Where’s Manny? I pimped that one.”

Joe Maddon: Not pleased.

Just because the game has embraced a look-at-me ethos to a greater degree at any time in its history, it does not mean that there is no room for those pushing back against it. Hell, it’s better cause than ever for the traditionalists to speak up.

Maddon might be the perfect guy for the job. Being soft-spoken, widely respected and wildly successful is great, but even better is that the guy has a track record of having fun with his team. This isn’t Connie Mack we’re talking about. So when Maddon intones that these types of celebrations are beneath his sensibilities, it carries some weight.

Over recent seasons with the Rays, of course, Maddon let guys like Yunel Escobar (be it celebratory gestures or ill-timed base thefts) and Fernando Rodney do their thing. But as Craig Calcaterra correctly points out over at Hardball Talk, those guys were veterans, on veteran teams. Now Maddon has a batch of youngsters, and the lessons he imparts can go a long way.

So accept the fact that baseball has changed, and that not only are the overly showy inmates running the asylum, but that the asylum isn’t all that much worse for it. As you do so, however, appreciate the likes of Joe Maddon all the more, because the guys who let their success speak for them—no matter how diminished their numbers—seem to end up speaking the loudest.

Cheating, Joel Peralta, Pine Tar

The Question is Raised: How Much Inside Information is Too Much?

Not to beat on the Maddon-Johnson pine tar affair too much (it may already be too late), but it’s given rise to at least one more interesting point. From Buster Olney’s column at ESPN.com:

When a player is traded and later faces his old teammates, his old team will change its signs, as a matter of course. It’s considered fair game to ask an incoming player for information about his previous team’s signs, or about how to pitch to batters on his old team, or about some other elements of that club. I’ve heard of teams specifically acquiring a player recently dumped by a rival largely for the information—especially catchers, who are the information highways of the sport.

But where is the line about what information you can use?

The key here, at least to me, is in a team’s ability to adjust. Catcher Bengie Molina went from the Giants to Texas in mid-season 2010, and when the teams met just over three months later in the World Series, the discussion was raised about how much advantage the Rangers might gain from his insider knowledge.

To judge by San Francisco’s five-game victory, not much. There’s a simple reason for that, at least as far as signs are concerned: They’re astoundingly simple to switch up. For all the gyrations a third-base coach goes through in delivering coded instructions to a baserunner, they typically don’t mean a thing until he hits his pre-designated indicator signal (such as, say, wiping across his belt buckle or touching his left shoulder), at which point the actual directive will follow. In this situation, changing signs can be as easy as switching the indicator.

Catchers’ signals are similar, in that many of the signs put down are subterfuge; the trick is knowing what to look for. It can be based on the count (a 3-1 count added together means the hot sign is the fourth one the catcher drops) or the number of outs or whether it’s an even- or odd-numbered inning. Sometimes the signs themselves are meaningless, and the pitcher is simply reading the number of pumps, or times the catcher flashes something. There are myriad possibilities, and for most players, changing from one to another is sufficiently simple to do multiple times during the course of a single game.

There’s also the reality that because many pitchers are particular about the signs they use, catchers have individual sets for different members of the pitching staff. This means that if a pitcher is traded, there’s a real possibility that he has little clue about what’s being used by any number of his former teammates.

This is a simplistic overview, of course, and teams can bring far more nuance to the practice—about which inside information may prove useful. Ultimately, though, I think there’s a straightforward answer to Olney’s question of whether sharing an ex-team’s signs is comparable to sharing intel about a pine tar habit: It isn’t. In Joel Peralta’s case, the fact that his pine tar was okay for the Nationals when he used it in Washington, but not okay for them once he left town, speaks to some hypocrisy. When it comes to signs, however, all teams use them, all players learn them, and they’re introduced with the understanding that, while they’re to be protected as closely as possible, they will inevitably have to be changed at some point.

If a former player hastens that inevitability, it’s simply part of the game.

Cheating, Joel Peralta

Pine Tar Discussion Moves Beyond the Boundaries of Washington

It’s one thing to listen to voices outside the clubhouse maintain or refute the propriety of Davey Johnson’s decision to have Rays reliever Joel Perralta ejected from a game last week because he had pine tar on his glove.

Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon publicly questioned the wisdom of the move, but his is obviously a biased opinion. Now we have some clarity from an unaffiliated source: Cleveland closer Chris Perez.

“If before every game if they stopped and checked everybody’s gloves or something there would be one or two guys on every team that would just get popped,” he said in an Associated Press report.

Which is exactly the point. Washington’s No. 4 starter, Edwin Jackson, spent three seasons in Tampa Bay under Maddon. Does he have any secrets Maddon might be able to exploit? Jonny Gomes was a member of the Nationals last season, but spent six years prior to that with the Rays. If he has any dirt on Washington, he could well have passed it along to his friends in Tampa. Would it be appropriate for Maddon to use this information punitively?

Of course not.

“It’s probably sticking in their craw a little bit,” said an anonymous former manager and executive in the Washington Post. “They love the guy. He pitched on short rest for the Nationals. They grew to respect him. Then the plug gets pulled on him

“I think the Rays are more mad about somebody calling them out,” said Perez. “It had to be somebody that knew—that used to play with them. I have old teammates that I could tell (manager) Manny (Acta) to call out, but I’m not going to. It’s not bush league, but it’s still not on the up and up.”

Perez clarified that he was not speaking specifically about the habits of any of his former Cardinals teammates, who were nonetheless quizzed in the AP story. The most outspoken of them was Kyle Lohse, who mirrored Perez’s opinions. “If you’re going to start throwing guys under the bus, then you’d better be sure there’s nobody on your own team doing it,” he said. “That’s all I have to say.”

Cheating, Joel Peralta, Pine Tar

Pine Tar Madness Grips Nation’s Capital!

What more fitting place than our nation’s capital for baseball’s latest incident involving high crimes and espionage, which we might as well call Pine Tar-gate right from the start because, well, somebody had to do it.

At one end of last night’s shenanigans was Rays reliever Joel Perralta, supplier of pine tar; at the other was Nationals manager Davey Johnson, who didn’t much care for the extra edge the substance may have afforded the opposing pitcher.

When Peralta came in to pitch the bottom of the eighth, Johnson asked plate ump Tim Tschida to check his glove. And with that, the right-hander was ejected before he even threw a pitch, for what Tschida later said was a “significant amount” of pine tar—a prelude to a likely 10-game suspension. On his way off the field, Peralta tipped his cap toward the visitors’ dugout, a sarcastic display that he later phrased in a Washington Post report as “Good for them.” (Watch it here.)

The moment held intrigue on several levels. One is the fact that the pitcher not only played for the Nationals, but absolutely blossomed for them, as well. At age 34, Peralta went from ERAs of 5.98 (with Kansas City in 2008) and 6.20 (with Colorado in ’09) to a splendid 2.02 mark for Washington in 2010. That season he led the team in WHIP, hits-allowed-per-nine-innings and strikeout-to-walk ratio.

We may now know the reason. Somebody in the Nationals organization obviously had inside information they were willing to share about Peralta’s extracurricular habits; on the coaching staff alone, Nationals bench coach Randy Knorr served as the team’s bullpen coach in 2010, and first base coach Trent Jewett managed Peralta in the minor leagues that same season.

Were either of these people—the Nationals insider who dropped a dime on Peralta, or the manager who was willing to exploit it—playing within the boundaries of the unwritten rules? The short answer is no, but comes with the caveat that Johnson clearly doesn’t care.

Davey Johnson

For proof of this, look no further than Game 3 of the 1988 National League Championship Series, when Johnson—then managing the Mets—asked the umps to check Dodgers reliever Jay Howell. Like Peralta 24 years later, pine tar was found on the laces of the right-hander’s glove. (Darryl Strawberry said that the extreme break on Howell’s pitches tipped Johnson off, but other sources fingered Mets minor league manager Tucker Ashford, who had played against Howell some years earlier.)

Unlike Tuesday’s game, that move appeared to be tactical; Johnson waited until Howell was trying to protect a 4-3, eighth-inning lead, with a full count on leadoff hitter Kevin McReynolds. Howell was summarily ejected, and his replacement, Alejandro Pena, quickly served up ball four, helping ignite a five-run Mets rally.

The Nationals organization also has a history with the topic. In 2005, then-manager Frank Robinson had umpires—oddly, Tschida was behind the plate in that game, as well—check Angels reliever Brendan Donnelly. He was tipped off by his outfielder, Jose Guillen, who had recently left Anaheim under acrimonious terms.

“There’s etiquette and there’s lack of etiquette,” said Donnely at the time, in a Washington Post report. Robinson’s behavior, he said, was “the latter.” Angels manager Mike Scioscia was furious, and threatened to “undress” Nationals pitchers in response. His reaction was not so far removed from that of Rays skipper Joe Maddon—who happened to be Scioscia’s bench coach at the time.

Maddon was peeved enough yesterday to order a retaliatory examination of his own; at the manager’s request, Tschida checked Washington pitcher Ryan Mattheus a half-inning after tossing Peralta, and found nothing amiss.

“Heads up,” Maddon sarcastically told reporters after the game, according to a MASN report, as he wiped his unblemished desktop with a paper towel. “The desk is a little sticky right there.”

His follow-up comments were pointed.

“Insider trading right there,” he said. “It’s bush. It’s bogus, man. That’s way too easy right there. If you had done some really good police work and noticed something, that’s different. But that’s way too easy. That was set up on a tee for them.”

Much of Madden’s disconcert concerns the substance in question. Pine tar is as benign a material as can be illegally found on a ballfield; it is so common that a bag of its powdered form, rosin, is kept atop every major league mound.

Unlike lubricants such as Vaseline or K-Y Jelly, which increase a pitch’s movement by decreasing friction as the ball rolls off a pitcher’s fingers—in effect, allowing it to squirt out rather than roll, with minimal backspin—pine tar adds tack. It’s primarily used by pitchers to get a feel for the ball on cold, wet nights, but—as may have been the case with Peralta, who was pitching in near-70-degree swelter—it can also add snap to a breaking ball.

Said 1997 AL Cy Young Award winner Jack McDowell: “The only [illegal substance] I ever saw was pine tar, and I guarantee 80 percent of the pitchers still use it.”

Apparently, Maddon agrees.

“You’re going to see brand new gloves throughout the major leagues, starting tomorrow—pitchers on every Major League ballclub,” he said after the game, suggesting that pitchers everywhere will be inspired by Tuesday’s events to lay low for a while.

“It’s kind of a common practice—people have done this for years,” he said. “To point one guy out because he had pitched here a couple of years ago, there was some common knowledge based on that. I thought it was cowardly. . . . It was kind of a (expletive) move. I like that word. (Expletive) move right there.”

Ultimately, Maddon is right: If Johnson wanted to play by the unwritten rules, he would either have ignored the pine tar on Peralta’s glove or handled the situation in a far less obvious manner. It’s a stretch to think that having the pitcher tossed even served to level the playing field, because it’s likely that both teams have one or more pitchers who search beyond the rulebook for a similar edge. (“Before you start throwing rocks,” said Maddon to Johnson, through the press, “understand where you live.”)

The standard bearer for Code-based reactions in this category is Tony La Russa, who, when confronted with the fact that Tigers pitcher Kenny Rogers clearly had a clump of pine tar on his left palm during the 2006 World Series, opted against having the pitcher checked—which would have almost certainly led to ejection and suspension—instead requesting only that the umpires make the pitcher wash his hands.

La Russa’s comment at the time: “I said, ‘I don’t like this stuff, let’s get it fixed. If it gets fixed, let’s play the game.’ . . . I detest any B.S. that gets in the way of competition.”

Johnson nailed his man on Tuesday, but it’s easy to feel like a touch too much of La Russa’s B.S. got in the way of Tampa Bay’s 5-4 victory. Then again, it is Washington D.C., a city whose political culture appears to have been built on the stuff.

Update (6-18): Johnson thinks Maddon is a “weird wuss.”

Update (6-20): Peralta got eight games.

Franklin Morales, Luke Scott, Retaliation

Great Scott! Red Sox, Rays Continue Decades-Long Dustup

Jeez. You go away for a long Memorial Day weekend, and all heck breaks loose. The nice thing about looking at situations like this in retrospect is the clarity afforded by the long view, in which the reactions to a given kerfluffle end up being more entertaining than the kerfluffle itself.

If there was smart money laid down on a weekend eruption, it would have been on the Rays and the Red Sox, two teams with no love lost, who just last week seized headlines when Adrian Gonzalez promised to hit a homer, and was by appearances drilled for it, by Rays rookie Matt Moore. (Retaliation was collected by Boston’s Felix Doubront, who drilled Luke Scott—a player whose name will be featured again prominently in this report, only two sentences from now.)

This latest round came in the sixth inning Friday, when Rays righty Burke Badenhop hit Dustin Pedroia. It was a stretch to consider it intentional, given that it brought David Ortiz to the plate as the tying run, but that didn’t keep Sox pitcher Franklin Morales from hitting Scott in the knee three innings later, two pitches after putting an offering behind his head. It might merely have been the spot in the order—Morales waited until there were two outs in the ninth, with nobody on—or it could have been Scott’s comments last month in which he called Fenway Park “a dump.” (Heck, maybe it’s that Morales, despite being from someplace other than the United States, is an Obama supporter.)

Or perhaps good fortune handed Morales the guy he wanted, precisely when he wanted him.

Players streamed from the dugouts, did a bit of shoving and tugging—Boston coaches Bob McClure and Tim Bogar, as well as manager Bobby Valentine, appeared to be more agitated than most players—and went on their ways. (Watch it here.) The Red Sox held on to win, 7-4.

Afterward, each manager had choice words for the other.

Rays skipper Joe Maddon, in addition to calling it a really weak, cowardly effort on the part of the Red Sox:

I’m kind of curious regarding who put out the hit, because I know it wasn’t one of their players. By the way their players reacted to the entire situation, I knew it did not come from them. It’s kind of incompetent behavior, it’s the kind of behavior that gets people hurt on your own side by choosing to do something so ridiculous.

Pedroia gets hit, not because we’re trying to hit him, he just got hit. We don’t want Papi coming up there with two guys on, are you kidding me? I don’t care who’s pitching for us. That’s truly somebody flexing their muscles on the other side that really needs to put them in their back pocket and understand that they can’t hurt their own team by doing something like that. . . .

To be really carelessly incompetent on their side, to truly, intentionally hit somebody, throwing behind somebody, then hitting them in the leg, for all the wrong reasons, whereas eventually they can get their own guys hurt with that kind of behavior . . .  I think it’s ridiculous, I think it’s absurd, idiotic, I’ll use all those different words.

Maddon later tweeted, “Very proud of our effort 2nite. What occurred in the 9th reeked of intent. Was ridiculous, absurd, idiotic, incompetent, cowardly behavior.’’

Valentine, in addition to suggesting the culprit to blame for Morales’ fastball was the Ghost of Fenway, guiding the ball in response to Scott’s “dump” comment:

I thought their coaches were really aggressive; as a matter of fact, I took offense to the aggressiveness of their coaches. I thought it was really unprofessional. . . . [Rays coaches] seemed very immature and out of control. Coaches are supposed to stop those things from happening and their coaches were aggravating, agitating, and instigating the situation.

Given all of this—plus the fact that Scott offered the warning, “At the end of the day, you reap what you sow”—it was a bit surprising that umpire Ed Rapuano declined to issue warnings prior to Saturday’s game. Turns out he didn’t need it; nothing incendiary happened. On Sunday, in fact, Matt Joyce wiped out Mike Aviles on a double play, and received a pat on the back for his efforts as he got up.

The Rays-Red Sox rivalry dates back to 2000, when Pedro Martinez hit Gerald Williams, and has since been fierce enough and consistent enough to merit its own section in The Baseball Codes. The teams meet again in July; we’ll see if we can’t add another chapter then.

Brad Penny, Thin Skin

Brad Penny Demonstrates his Love of Yelling. Again

Gif via Rays Index.

Being a known red-ass will occasionally work in a player’s favor. That’s because displays of jerkitude, should they fit a pattern of self-involved outbursts, are difficult to mistake for disrespect. “It’s just Bill being Bill,” an opponent might say, should such a red-ass be named Bill.

Tuesday, it was Brad being Brad.

Brad Penny, of course, is one of the most temperamental bastards in the game—and that’s not necessarily an insult. Fire has fueled him through a mostly successful 12-year career, but so too has it put him on the periphery of acceptable behavior.

As he pitched against the Rays, Penny drew attention for his response to Sean Rodriguez, Tampa’s second baseman who, on a seventh-inning popup, ran so hard he nearly reached second by the time left fielder Delmon Young caught the ball.

Penny, apparently upset at the audacity of hustle, first scowled at Rodriguez, then yelled at him. Rodriguez, sufficiently affronted, yelled right back. Rays manager Joe Maddon saw fit to call it out the following night, after another bit of Rodriguez hustle—he beat a two-out force play at second as the winning run crossed the plate in the 10th—was the difference in a Tampa Bay victory.

“For anybody to bark at another player for . . . hustling is absolutely insane, ludicrous,” said the manager, in a St. Petersburg Times report. “And if Sean had just charged the mound, I’d have been fine with that at that particular moment.”

Penny was being ridiculous, of course. Only a special kind of maniac can fault a guy for playing too hard—especially on a non-impact play. The thing is, according to Penny, he’s not that kind of maniac. He was getting on Rodriguez for yelling and cursing, of all things. “To me, that’s a sign of disrespect if you’re screaming that loud,” he said a day later in the Times. “All these kids can hear you; it’s not too loud in here. So to me, that’s not really professional.”

Really.

The problem with this logic is that a concern for the potential corruption of western Florida’s youth does not equal disrespect. And if Penny did feel disrespected, trying to justify his actions by hiding behind an it’s-all-about-the-children excuse is just sad.

But that’s the thing about Brad Penny. It was just last month that he got into an argument with his own catcher, Victor Martinez, about pitch selection, visibly berating him on the mound before a stadium full of people. (Watch it here.) He’s also been known to enforce legitimate tracts of Code when the mood strikes. (With the Marlins in 2001, for example, he drilled New York’s Tsuyoshi Shinjo for having swung at a 3-0 pitch while the Mets held an 11-3 lead a day earlier. While denying intent, he said afterward that Shinjo “did deserve to get hit.”)

Even if Penny was offended by Rodriguez’s choice of language—offered as it was toward nobody in particular, likely out of the hitter’s frustration at his own inability to execute—that’s okay because he seems to be offended by most of the things the people around him do on a regular basis.

It is, after all, just Brad being Brad.

– Jason