Don't Showboat, Melky Cabrera

Take That, Atlanta: Cabrera Seizes Every Opportunity to Remind Braves That He’s on His Game

Memories can be long when it comes to failures of the past, and old bitterness sometimes dies hard. There’s little question after Wednesday night’s Giants-Braves game that Melky Cabrera harbors some old bitterness.

He never found his groove during his lone season in Atlanta, in 2010, receiving scant affection from fans, media and the organization itself. Of course, much of it was deserved—he showed up out of shape, hit only four home runs, finished eighth among team regulars with a .255 batting average, and dead last in OBP, slugging and OPS. He feuded with manager Bobby Cox, and the team released him after the season.

When Cabrera returned to Atlanta for the first time since then this week, he wasted few opportunities to make his feelings known. On Tuesday, he gestured (some say rudely) toward fans in the left field bleachers after catching a fly ball, and acted as if he would toss balls to the stands before reversing course and holding on to them. He spent some time admiring his home run off of Mike Minor on Wednesday. (Tater Trot Tracker listed it as the day’s fifth slowest circuit, out of 39.) With Jason Heyward at second on Wednesday, Cabrera caught a flyball and waved at him with his glove as if urging him to test the outfielder’s arm. When Brandon Crawford hit what turned out to be the game-winning homer in the 11th inning on Wednesday, Cabrera left the dugout and skipped up the warning track.

Things had built to such a degree that after he and Gregor Blanco scored on Blanco’s 11th-inning home run Wednesday (shortly following Crawford’s), their standard pelvis-thrusting celebration was taken by many to be inflammatory.

The Braves noticed all of it.

In the eighth inning Wednesday, reliever Eric O’Flaherty threw a high, inside fastball to Carbrera, knocking him to the ground. The gesture elicited a smile from the outfielder.

“That’s Melky, and that’s why he’s not here anymore,” Chipper Jones told the Atlanta Journal Contstitution after the game. “He got a little happy when Blanco hit the home run. It won’t be forgotten.”

(Jones got his own measure of revenge when, after homering in the 11th, he took even longer than Cabrera to round the bases.)

Speculation had Tim Hudson, starting Thursday for the Braves, offering further retaliation, but the score was close throughout, and Cabrera ended up going 2-for-3 with a walk without being hit.

For his part, Cabrera claimed to CSN Bay Area (through interpreter Angel Pagan) that it was all in good fun.

“Just trying to play hard baseball,” he said. “Sometimes when the adrenaline is really high, something might happen. It’s not trying to embarrass anybody. It’s just trying to play hard and competitive.”

Difficult as that may be to believe, Giants manager Bruce Bochy defended his player—although some of it was clearly lip service.

“I don’t think Melky means to [taunt],” he told the San Jose Mercury News. “I’m not into trying to show up other clubs and the guys know it. If you know Melky, he’s quiet and goes about his business. It was more about having fun.”

It’s true that Cabrera has been nothing but quiet and professional to this point in his San Francisco tenure, but it’s tough to mistake much of what he did at Turner Field as anything to do with “having fun.”

Atlanta visits the Giants in late August. Mark your calendars.

Fraternization, Melky Cabrera

Reach Out and Touch Someone … or Not: On Cano’s (Temporary) Lack of Love for Melky

In 1933, National League president John Heydler issued a memo to team presidents recommending against inter-team fraternization. By the end of the decade, Commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis had turned it into law. Umpires were tasked with sitting in the stands before games and taking names of those players willing to converse across borders, with fines levied against the guilty.

Because those mores were in line with the unwritten rules, not many fines were needed. Heck, in the 1965 All-Star Game, Bob Gibson wouldn’t talk to his own catcher, Joe Torre, because they played for different teams during every other game of the season.

“When I had the uniform on, somebody with the other uniform, I wanted to choke them,” said 1993 AL Cy Young Award-winner Jack McDowell. “I wanted to kill them. I’m sure as hell not going to go shake their hands and talk to them, even warming up before a game.”

These days, that mindset has faded, for one primary reason. “There’s interaction now,” said Dusty Baker. “High school games, section games, college games, Area Code games, Junior Olympic team, Olympic team, Pan Am Games—most of these guys know each other, and for a long period of time before they even get to the big leagues.”

Even with that in mind, Melky Cabrera tried to push the envelope following his fourth-inning homer in Tuesday’s All-Star Game. As San Francisco’s center fielder rounded first, he spied one of his best friends in the game, Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano. The pair had come up together through New York’s minor league system, and remain close.

As Cabrera approached second, he held out his hand to slap five with his pal—who, it should be re-stated, was playing for the other team.

How did it sit? Not well in Cabrera’s own clubhouse, likely. His manager for the day, Tony La Russa, is known to have some feelings on the subject. From Buzz Bissinger’s Three Nights in August: “It drives [La Russa] crazy when a hitter gets a single and starts chatting it up with the first baseman as if they’re distant cousins at a family reunion. He shares the fan’s view that it simply doesn’t look good: Baseball is meant to be a game of competition, not a game of whassup dog?

Whassup dog, however,  seemed to be on Cabrera’s mind. Cano refused to play along. (Watch it here.)

“He tried to give me a high five, and I know this is the All-Star Game, but I don’t want to look bad out there,” Cano said in a CBS Sports report. “It was fun, and if it was a closer game I might be having fun. I didn’t want to upset my teammates. We’re playing to win.”

It’s doubtful that Cabrera would have tried such a thing anyplace but an exhibition, but it was still an odd and awkward sight.

“Take ’em out to dinner,” said pitcher Dick Bosman of such encounters. “Sit in the lobby of the hotel. But whatever you do, you’re not supposed to be doing it out there on the field.”

Appropriate Retaliation, Carlos Carrasco, Retaliation

How Not to Retaliate When Getting Your Ass Kicked, Cleveland Edition

Duck, Billy, duck!

In baseball, retaliation is expected. Ill-timed stolen bases, drilled teammates, questionable slides: They all qualify for reciprocal strikes.

In the case of Melky Cabrera, showboating fits this particular bill. The Royals outfielder hit a grand slam against the Indians on Friday, then admired it in a manner battle-tested to effectively get under the skin of opposing pitchers. (Watch a little bit of hit here.)

At this point in the story, Indians pitcher Carlos Carrasco had three options: wait for the next time he faced Cabrera, when he could teach him a lesson; drill the following hitter, Billy Butler, because pissed-off teammates are frequently even more effective than direct retribution; or ignore the matter entirely.

Carrasco chose none of the above. What he did sort of resembled the second option, but although he threw at Butler, in so doing he violated an unwritten rule that holds far more weight than Cabrera’s theatrics.

The Cleveland right-hander threw at Butler’s head. It was a reaction borne of clear frustration: Cabrera’s blast served as the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh runs Carrasco had given up in 3.1 innings. Two of those runs had come in the first, courtesy of a Butler home run.

That the pitch didn’t connect—Butler ducked underneath it—saved Carrasco even more trouble than he’d just earned, but not much. (Watch it here.)

Plate umpire Scott Barry immediately ejected the pitcher. Indians catcher Lou Marson cut off Butler in case he had thoughts of settling things then and there, and the benches quickly emptied. No punches were thrown, but as players filtered back to their dugouts, Carrasco got into a shouting match with Jeff Francoeur, who angrily pointed toward his hip, indicating where the pitch should have gone.

“I understand the game,” said Francoeur afterward in the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “If he thought [Cabrera] pimped the home run, fine. Hit [Butler] in the side. Don’t hit him in the head. That’s why I was yelling at him.”

Francoeur’s opinion was spot on. Several Royals indicated that an appropriate drilling of Butler—in the hip or thigh, well below the shoulders—would have been readily accepted. (“Be a man—throw at his back, not his head,” said Alex Gordon in the Kansas City Star.)

Even more importantly, just as such an action could have served to set Cabrera straight by angering his own teammate, Carrasco’s stupidity has put a similar onus on the Indians. Kansas City has every right to retaliate, but because of the DH it’ll be another member of the Indians who wears one on Carrasco’s behalf. There will likely never be a mention of it in the press, but when it happens it won’t be met kindly within Cleveland’s clubhouse.

After Carrasco’s display, Indians pitching coach Tim Belcher cornered him and elucidated the repercussions of what he’d done.

“We don’t condone those types of things,” said Cleveland manager Manny Acta after the game, in the Plain Dealer. “Whether the ball got away from him or not, we don’t condone throwing at people’s heads. That’s a dangerous situation.”

For his part, Butler responded in the best way he could; five innings later, he hit his second homer of the day. (The poor guy seems to be a magnet for this kind of thing; earlier in the week Butler was drilled by Red Sox reliever Alfredo Aceves, possibly in response to a brushback pitch thrown earlier to Dustin Pedroia.)

“I barely got out of the way,” he said after the game in the Star. “It was right at my head, and there was no way around it. I usually don’t react that way. If I get hit, I get hit. I don’t have anything to say. But in that situation, I’m going to open my mouth.”

The Indians, shockingly, perhaps felt further need to respond to Cabrera; when he came up with the bases loaded in the fifth, reliever Chad Durbin greeted him with a high, inside fastball. Even in the Royals clubhouse, players acknowledged that the center fielder will be instructed to speed up future home run trots.

Both the initial parties issued standard denials, with Carrasco saying the fastball got away from him (although he did admit to having noticed Cabrera’s pimp work), and Cabrera insisting that disrespecting the pitcher was the furthest thing from his mind.

That, of course, is hogwash. The Royals will almost certainly notify him of that at the next available opportunity.

– Jason