Don't Showboat, Jordany Valdespin

Valde-spun: Mets Players Fed Up With Hothead Teammate

Valdespin IVWhen Jordany Valdespin went 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.

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Bat tossing, Don't Showboat, Retaliation

Valdespin Pimps, is Plunked by Pittsburgh, Pouts

Valdespin 3Jordany Valdespin likes it flashy. The guy who made waves last year for comportment unbecoming of a rookie was at it again on Friday, hitting a second-deck homer at Citi Field, watching it, watching it some more, slowly sauntering toward first while dismissively flipping his bat, and only then settling into his home run trot.

The blast came in the ninth inning and served only to bring the Mets to within a 7-2 deficit against Pittsburgh. This may not have mattered when it came to the Pirates’ disdain for Valdespin’s display … but it sure didn’t help.

“When you hit the ball, you got to enjoy your hit,” Valdespin told the New York Daily News afterward. “Every time I hit the ball, homer or something, I enjoy that. Every hit, I’m enjoying, my family’s enjoying, my friends enjoying.”

Enjoyment, of course, comes at a cost. An evening of slurping whiskey sours can lead to dry heaves the next morning. An evening of pimping one’s meaningless homer can lead to Bryan Morris throwing a 94-MPH fastball into your arm the following day. (Watch it all here.)

Prior to Saturday’s game, Mets manager Terry Collins professed no idea of what was in store for Valdespin, although he told the New York Daily News that “fifteen years ago, the answer would’ve been yes [Pittsburgh would have thrown at Valdespin in retaliation]. … A lot of teams have long memories.”

To judge by his actions, however, Collins seemed certain of Pittsburgh’s response. He  inserted the targeted 25-year-old as a pinch-hitter with two outs in the seventh inning of a game in which the Mets trailed, 10-1—almost certainly to allow the Pirates a chance to respond directly, enabling both teams to move on without this particular dark cloud overhead.

When it happened, nobody in the Mets dugout appeared to take much issue (unlike Pittsburgh’s bench, which offered Morris hearty congratulations). Valdespin himself, however, was disgusted. He loitered near the plate (though he made no semblance of a move toward the mound) and sauntered slowly toward first. Afterward, he threw a fit in the dugout, hurling his helmet into a corner.

“Whether you like it or not, it’s just the way it is now,” David Wright told the Daily News, after Valdespin’s pimp, but before Pittsburgh’s retaliation. “I’d probably prefer a different way, but each guy has their own individual thing. I’m always with the theory that you don’t want to show anyone up. With that said, it is done a lot by a lot of people, not just by one individual.”

It is safe to assume that Wright is speaking for the team on this point. Valdespin has been causing organizational headaches since he was a minor leaguer—including issues with teammates at Single-A Savannah that led to a two-month exile in extended spring training, and a benching by Binghamton manager Wally Backman for a “lack of intensity,” according to a Metro WNY report.)

It is of particular organizational concern because situations like Friday’s can put Valdespin’s teammates in the crosshairs. (Because Valdespin did not start Saturday’s game, speculation had Wright becoming Pittsburgh’s target in his absence.)

In Newsday, David Lennon wrote that “Not once Saturday did any of the Mets say they don’t like to see one of their own get hit by a pitch—on purpose, no less. The discussion mostly involved talk about lessons learned and growing pains.” Collins was quoted as saying that “if nothing else, he grew by it, and that’s the most beneficial thing that could happen.”

In the New York Post, Wright soft-pedaled the message that, for Valdespin, “toning some of it down might be appropriate.”

Many in the sports world decry this form of baseball justice as unnecessary and brutal. Many of these same voices also bemoan the modern sporting landscape as having become too ego-focused, with too many look-at-me, eye-rolling moments to palate.

No matter how one feels about it, the dance done by the Mets and Pirates over the weekend is the best hope for professional American sports in this regard, a system of players keeping each other in check—no league mandates or threatened fines involved.  The game is to be played pride and respect, and players themselves ensure that this is so.

Whether Valdespin changes his behavior going forward is no sure thing. In 2011, his manager at Triple-A Buffalo, Tim Teuffel, said this about the outfielder: “Sometimes he looks at the ball when he hits it, doesn’t run as fast as his body will allow him. But I think he’s going to learn how to play the game a little bit more up here.”

For some people, information takes time to sink in. The lesson has been delivered; what Valdespin does with it is up to him. 

 

Jordany Valdespin, Rookie Etiquette

Valdespin Class: Mets Rookie Gets Some Schooling

For all the modernity in today’s game; for the allowances teams make when the opposition mobs one of their own after a game-winning hit; for the inter-team chatter around the batting cage; for pitchers willing to permit batters to crowd the plate and dig in; for the definition of “blowout” that has gone from five runs to six runs to eight runs or more—there is still something sacrosanct about the silent rookie.

This is the player who enters a big league clubhouse wide-eyed and ready to learn, partly because he’s willing, and partly because it’s expected. It’s the guy who keeps his mouth shut, the better to watch, the better to absorb.

“In my day, rookies didn’t speak unless spoken to,” said George Brett. “Nobody paid attention to you. You just kind of kept your mouth shut and did what was expected of you. You listened, observed and learned.”

Jim Davenport estimated that one needed 400 at-bats before he could speak up. Lefty Grove had already won four games for the A’s by the time team veterans so much as acknowledged his presence.

“As rookies coming up in Detroit, we were told to be seen not heard, and that’s what we did,” said former Mets manager Jerry Manuel. “We kept our place.”

The sentiment is no longer enforced with quite so much vigor as it was even a generation ago, but it still exists. Which is why veterans notice when a guy like Jordany Valdespin hits a clubhouse.

Valdespin has made quite the impression on his teammates since the Mets called him up in late April, not all of it good.

Reported the New York Times: “In this, his rookie season, [Valdespin] has become an unusual wild card, a player equally capable of providing an instant spark or a head-slapping blunder . . . whose judgment and maturity may still be a work in progress.”

Mets manager Terry Collins has expressed his own concerns, specifically addressing the value in rookies being “very, very quiet” as they earn their position. There’s a reason for this: Valdespin’s behavior, while not necessarily outlandish, has not exactly been rookie-like. His is an outsized personality, the kind that takes over the clubhouse stereo, and by multiple accounts he has not made much of an effort to fit into his expected role. His teammates, needless to say, have noticed.

They responded last week with a not-so-subtle reminder, in the way that veterans have long been not-so-subtly reminding rookies of things. Valdespin had worn a white T-shirt on the bus from the team hotel in San Francisco to AT&T Park, despite the dress code requiring collared shirts.

Following that night’s game, Valdespin arrived at his locker to find the sleeves of his T-shirt shredded, and colorful messages—“NY Loves Valdy” (complete with a heart in place of “loves”) on the front, and “El Hombre” (a reference to him referring to himself as “The Man,” after pinch-hitting a homer off Jonathan Papelbon in May) on the back .

El Hombre was not pleased. Angry, he began yelling in the crowded clubhouse about the inequity of it all.

This was the moment at which Valdespin could either have earned points with his teammates, or alienated himself further. During Chan Ho Park’s rookie season in 1996, his Dodgers teammates shredded his suit (which they later found out had been given to him by his mother), then watched, befuddled, as he threw food across the room, tossed his chair into a row of lockers and wept openly.

When rookie Armando Benitez found the clothing in his locker replaced by a dress, he pinned down a number of veterans against the far wall of the shower room with a steady barrage of baseballs picked out of a nearby bucket. (In the end, the pitcher refused to capitu­late, even after being told that his clothes had been packed and were already en route to the airport. “He wore a T-shirt and a pair of shorts on the frickin’ plane,” said one team member. “That didn’t sit too well with the veterans, I can tell you that.”)

Valdespin, however, appears to have learned an important lesson. He stormed to the back of the clubhouse after seeing his shirt in tatters, but—apparently after being talked to by some veterans, including David Wright—returned before long with a grin on his face, and proceeded to model the shirt, going so far as to pose for his teammates’ cell phone pictures.

“I got mad at that moment, but it’s funny now,” Valdespin said the following day, while wearing the shirt again. “It’s a process. I need to keep learning.”

Based on that statement alone, there’s hope for the kid yet.