No-Hitter Etiquette

No More Ninth Inning For No-No’s Now The New Normal

Remember when pulling a pitcher in the middle of a no-hitter was a big deal? Like, it was so unusual that there was a whole passage in The Baseball Codes about Padres manager Preston Gomez doing it to Clay Kirby in 1970, and I’ve blogged about the topic again … and again and again. And again, and then another five times.

Boy have things changed. Welcome to Baseball 2021, where starting pitchers average 5.1 innings and complete games are a near-impossibility. Take Saturday, for example, when Corbin Burns no-hit Cleveland through eight innings, and was pulled prior to the ninth owing to having thrown a career-high 115 pitches. In his second full years as a starter, Burnes is one of the NL’s best pitchers. He’s averaging six innings per start. With Milwaukee on the cusp of the playoffs, management figured that his long-term health was not worth the risk.

Think about that for moment. Burnes was at 115 pitches, not a huge number for a stress-free game, generally speaking. With three outs to go he was virtually there. Burnes was, in fact, the first pitcher EVER to have been pulled while allowing no hits and only one baserunner across the first eight innings of a start. (That stat courtesy of The Athletic, which offered a nine-point list explaining why Burnes was yanked. One detail not mentioned in the Athletic: Major League pitchers have reached the 120-pitch threshold all of five times this season.)

When Burns’ manager told him that he would not be going out for the ninth he didn’t even seem to view it as unusual. Maybe it was such new territory for him that Burns didn’t have an instinctive frame of reference. Maybe the Brewers just really respect manager Craig Counsell’s decision-making. Or maybe this is the way baseball is now.

This is interesting mainly because of how little interest it actually holds. This kind of thing is the new normal.

Oh well.

Retaliation

Non-Contact Suspension Leads To Questions About What MLB Has In Store

MLB has suspended Cubs reliever Ryan Tepera three games (and manager David Ross for one game) for throwing behind the legs of Milwaukee’s Brandon Woodruff on Thursday. On one hand, it’s an admirable effort to tamp down on-field animosity between teams before things spiral out of control.

On the other hand, it’s ludicrous.

There is much to criticize when it comes to the frontier-justice mentality of baseball’s unwritten rules, especially as pertains to pitchers drilling hitters. Tepera, though, picked a well-traveled middle lane, sending a message while offering no actual threat of harm.

This has been a trusted tactic in the major leagues since pretty much forever. Some recent examples:

Pittsburgh’s Chris Archer used it to protest a home run pimp job by Derek Dietrich that led to some on-field fireworks in 2019.

LA’s Joe Kelley used it to express his displeasure with the Astros’ sign stealing against the Dodgers in the 2017 World Series.

The Rangers did it to Manny Machado following Fernando Tatis’ infamous 3-0 swing in 2018.

Noah Syndergaard threw behind Chase Utley in 2016 to protest Utley’s takeout of Ruben Tejada during the previous season’s playoffs, bringing us the effervescent “ass in the jackpot” comment from umpire Tom Hallion. (Syndergaard was ejected due to the high-profile nature of the situation, but that’s very different than a league suspension.)

Sure, the rationale behind some of these events—particularly the one involving Tatis—is inane, but the idea holds: Pitchers standing up for their teammates by sending a non-impact message. No harm, no foul, right?

Not according to MLB. Tepera’s tactic has officially been put onto the no-fly list, sending a message to every team that even the small stuff will no longer be tolerated. It’s admirable in theory, but it sets baseball up for at least two scenarios in which things will get hinky:

  • It removes the power of response. Kneecapping a team’s ability to answer to liberties taken by the opposition—especially when it comes to responses that do not actually put players into harm’s way—seems rife with unintended consequences. Instead, teams might explore other avenues that fall more firmly into the gray area of accountability. Extra-hard tags? Takeout slides that adhere to the league rules while being extra vicious? Or will we simply enter the era of the extra-saucy revenge home-run pimp? We’ll find out.
  • Given the league’s willingness to put the hammer down on non-contact pitches, MLB will now be faced with dilemmas over how to respond to actual hit batters in situations where the pitcher has a degree of plausible deniability. More than ever baseball will have to judge intent via punative action that to this point it been extremely hesitant to engage, for good reason. The moment that pitchers start getting suspended for pitches that inadvertently run too far inside is the moment that pitchers stop pitching inside altogether, and baseball changes fundamentally.

It’ll be interesting to see how MLB handles yesterday’s incident in Chicago, in which Cleveland pitcher Aaron Civale hit Adam Eaton after Eaton’s minor dust-up with middle infielder Andrés Giménez, who he felt pushed him off the bag during a play at second base.

Maybe this is a whole lot of nothing, an anomalous blip on baseball’s disciplinary radar. In a world in which MLB is checking baseballs for pine tar and embracing rules changes the likes of which would have been unfathomable a decade ago, however, anything is possible. Look out.

Retaliation

Contreras Responds To Inside Pitching With Bat And Attitude Both

The Willson Contreras saga continues. What to make of a guy who gets hit so much and is willing to spark a benches-clearing incident over it despite leaning out over the plate like nobody’s business to the point that he led the big leagues with 14 HBPs last season?

Pertinent among those plunkings were four from the Brewers, who have hit Contreras more over the last two seasons than any team has hit any batter. The trend continued in unfortunate fashion last week, when defending NL Rookie of the Year Devin Williams fired a fastball into Contreras’ helmet. When the Brewers drilled Contreras again a day later—this time the batter all but leaned into an inside fastball—it reached the limits of the hitter’s tolerance, Contreras approaching the mound to deliver a verbal warning to the pitcher.

Yesterday it was more of the same, with Contreras being hit by the Brewers again. This time he rotated into an inside fastball from Brandon Woodruff to such a degree that Milwaukee argued he swung at the pitch. As clearly unintentional as it may have been, the Cubs were finally inspired to respond, with reliever Ryan Tepera throwing a 95-mph fastball behind Woodruff’s legs in the fifth inning. Woodruff was pissed, and benches were warned.

The real response came from Contreras himself, who in the eighth hit a key two-run homer off of reliever Brent Suter in what would be a 3-2 Chicago victory. And oh, the ensuing celebration.

There was the spin and disdainful underhanded toss of the bat toward the Cubs dugout. There was the finger raised skyward most of the way from first base to second. There was the series of finger-to-the-lips shhhhhh’s delivered to the crowd between second and third. There was the arms-wide-to-the-sky just steps past third, and then the hand clap, and then the crossing of the chest, and then literally walking the last five steps to the plate.  

In case the message wasn’t clear enough, Contreras spelled things out for reporters after the game. “It feels good to shut [the crowd] up,” he said. “We sent a message. I think they picked the wrong guy to throw at. That was a message sent.”

For a full accounting, it was also a message sent to Contreras’ teammates, who haven’t exactly been setting the basepaths aflame this season. Through their first 10 games the Cubs accumulated a total of 49 hits—their fewest over any 10 game span since 1901. Prior to Contreras’ homer on Tuesday, Chicago’s only run had scored on a sacrifice fly.

For now, things appear to be even, though with Contreras leaning over the plate and the Brewers having publicly stated their willingness to attack his weakest offensive zone—up and in—there’s a very real chance that things will ratchet up again before too long.

“There’s a lot more games coming up,” Contreras said after Tuesday’s contest. “Who knows what’s going to happen?”

The teams meet again today, and again for a three-game series in Chicago later next week.

The Baseball Codes

Willson Contreras Would Like To Inform You, Good Sir, That He Is Tired Of Being Hit By Pitches

Sometimes things accumulate.

Willson Contreras getting plunked by Milwaukee reliever Brad Boxberger last night should not have been a big deal. It was clearly unintentional, a pitcher who had just been activated trying to protect a 4-0 lead against the leadoff hitter in the ninth. The pitch barely ran inside to a batter known for leaning over the plate, and didn’t even hurt, plunking off of Contreras’ arm guard.

It would likely have gone unnoticed had Contreras not been hit in the helmet a night earlier.

Contreras was mad, but not mad enough for a full charge. Still holding his bat, he took several steps toward the mound, I guess so that Boxberger could more clearly hear whatever it was he was shouting, but never threatened physical contact. Catcher Omar Narvaez was coolly escorting Contreras to first base when benches emptied in an entirely unnecessary fashion, resulting in a whole lot of nothing.

In a general sense, people should be upset by head-high, inside fastballs. Also in a general sense, Contreras has now been drilled six times in his last 12 games against Milwaukee.

More specifically, however, is the reality of Contreras’ approach. The guy crowds the plate and leans into pitches, which had little to do with his helmet shot from a night earlier but quite a bit to do with the triggering pitch from Boxberger. Contreras led all of baseball in HBPs last season, for good reason.

The response wasn’t great, but it is better than a Cubs pitcher taking things into his own hands and drilling a Brewer in retaliation. Then again, this dustup came in the bottom of the ninth, after Cubs pitchers were finished for the day. The teams conclude their three-game series this afternoon, then meet again in Milwaukee next week. Here’s to cooler heads prevailing.

Don't Incite the Opposition

One Thing About Playing Baseball In 2020: People Can Hear You

When it comes to respect on the ballfield, 2020 is a particularly weird time.

We’ve long discussed the myriad ways that players can express displeasure with the opposition through their actions on the field, but have never encountered it being done via muttering from one’s own dugout.

With a deficit of crowd noise, that’s now a thing. Like on Tuesday, when St. Louis manager Mike Shildt nearly inspired a brawl over something he heard the Brewers say.

In started in the bottom of the fifth inning on Tuesday in Milwaukee, when plate ump John Bacon called a strike on a 2-1 pitch to Ryan Braun. The hitter disagreed, saying, “No, no, no, no—that is not a strike, man,” loudly enough to be picked up on the TV broadcast. (Again, not so difficult sans crowd noise.)

Bacon is in his second year as a major league umpire, and Braun appears to have thought that he was being intimidated by St. Louis catcher Yadier Molina. “Just because he gets mad at you,” he continued, “you can’t call that a strike, man.”

Later in the at-bat, Braun’s swing connected with Molina’s outstretched left wrist, resulting in only the third catcher’s interference call of Molina’s 17-year career—the first since 2006. Because the bases were loaded, the ruling brought home a run, extending the Brewers’ lead to 13-2. Even worse, Molina was injured, though he stayed in the game and X-rays later revealed no structural damage. As Shildt was checking on him, he heard something from Milwaukee’s bench that set him off, and he stomped all the way to the top step of the Brewers dugout to confront whoever said it. (What was said has not been disclosed by anybody on either side of the argument.)

“I don’t know where the insult came from,” said Shildt afterward, in an MLB.com report. “I feel like it was more directed to me, quite honestly. Did I do anything to warrant it? Perhaps. I was staring in the dugout. I will accept that. My hearing doesn’t suffer at all with a mask on.”

Shildt made clear that he was leveling no accusations against Braun, and that, above all, he had been frustrated by the interference call against a guy who simply does not draw interference calls. That didn’t make it okay with him, however.

“I’m not going to take it,” the manager said in a St. Louis Post-Dispatch report. “I’m not going to take any chirping out of the dugout. We’re not going to start things, but we’re not going to take it. Heard something I didn’t appreciate. I will always have our players’ backs. I will especially have a Hall of Famer and a guy who has the most physical, mental toughness that I’ve ever managed and may ever manage. I will always have his back.”

Moments after Shildt arrived at the Milwaukee dugout, players were littering the field, with Shildt and Molina being particularly expressive in their displeasure.

Nobody ended up fighting, but both managers—Shildt and Craig Counsell—were tossed. By the end of the frame the Brewers led, 17-2.

Shildt was ultimately suspended for second game of yesterday’s doubleheader. As it happened, Cardinals starter Johan Oviedo hit three Milwaukee batters in that game, including Braun. Nothing seemed to come of it, with opinions in the Brewers clubhouse chalking it up to wildness. Brawn even addressed the theory that he’d somehow intentionally hit Molina with his swing.

“I couldn’t do that, literally, even if I tried, and I don’t know any hitter that would or could do that intentionally,” he said. “Certainly, I would never want to see Yadi get hurt. He’s always been one of my favorite players to compete against.”

This all serves to illustrate that the new normal involves people being able to hear things they’d have had no chance of hearing in previous seasons. It might merit a whole new purpose for signs.

Yesterday was the end of a five games-in-three days run for these teams. They close the season with five more games against each other in St. Louis, starting on Sept. 24.

Update: 9/18: For those convinced that Braun somehow intentionally, impossibly hit Yadi on purpose, now there’s this.

Basepath Etiquette

Machado Adds Another Line To An Already-Packed Cheap-Shot Resume

Machado collides

Manny Machado is a dirty player.

He’ll insist otherwise, saying things like, “I play baseball,” and “that’s just baseball” and “call it what you want.”

Those are all comments he made when questioned about the latest episode in a career filled with dubious behavior, after he rammed into the right leg of Brewers first baseman Jesus Aguilar while crossing the bag on a groundout in last night’s Game 4 of the NLCS. Aguilar was positioned with his heel over the inside of the base, yet left plenty of room for the runner to pass. It is a play that Machado—and every player who has ever played baseball, all the way down to tee-ball leagues—has made repeatedly. Instead, he took the inside lane and plowed into Aguilar’s calf, appearing to kick the fielder as he passed. Had Aguilar’s spikes been planted firmly, it could have resulted in serious damage. The first baseman had words for Machado, Machado had words back, and the dugouts emptied with no small degree of confusion.

Ultimately, no blows were thrown and the only thing hurt was Machado’s reputation—which was hardly sterling to begin with. Hell, I was inspired to call the guy “among the most reckless, hard-headed and downright dangerous players in the game” way back in 2014.

Sadly, this type of play has come to define Machado’s career, which should otherwise be defined by on-field heroics befitting one of the sport’s best players. Recent reports have focused on plays earlier in this series in which Machado was docked for grabbing at the leg of Brewers shortstop Orlando Arcia on a slide into second (a doubly stupid effort given that Cody Bellinger would have been safe at first regardless, but was called out as penalty for Machado’s deviance). This following a similar (if slightly less egregious) Machado slide that was not penalized, mainly because Arcia did not try to complete the play.

That was Monday. It doesn’t take much digging to add to the list of Machado’s dirt:

The Brewers are aware of all of this. Standard protocol in this type of situation mandates a bland public response no matter how much a team might be seething, even if that team ends up doing something about it on the field. Machado’s actions have gotten so out of hand, however, that Milwaukee players opted to deliver some unvarnished truth to whoever would listen.

Christian Yellich, in part: “He is a player that has a history with those types of incidents. One time is an accident. Repeated over and over again. It’s a dirty play. It’s a dirty play by a dirty player. I have a lot of respect for him as a player but you can’t respect someone who plays the game like that. it was a tough-fought baseball game. It has no place in our game. We’ve all grounded out. Run through the bag like you’ve been doing your whole life like everybody else does.”

There’s also this:

Travis Shaw weighed in: “Dirty play. You saw the replay. He can say all he wants that he didn’t do it, but it’s pretty obvious he meant to do it. He’s shown it multiple times throughout his career. I mean, it’s just a dirty play. A kick to his leg right there. It was not by mistake.”

Even the Dodgers’ own Orel Hersheiser, on the team’s postgame show, offered a ruthless assessment, saying, “It’s embarrassing. It’s embarrassing to himself. It’s embarrassing to the game,” and adding, “I wish he wouldn’t kick first basemen.”

Machado himself, as he did following his injury to Norris in 2014, nonchalanted the entire affair, telling ESPN’s Pedro Gomez after the game, “His foot was on the bag. I kind of tripped over him a little bit. That’s just baseball.” He reportedly apologized to Aguilar, but neither player would discuss anything that was said between them.

All in all, it’s a terrible and enduring look for one of baseball’s superstars. Even Brewers manager Craig Counsel got into the act, responding to a question about whether Machado went beyond the grounds of playing hard by saying, “I don’t think he’s playing all that hard.”

This, of course, dovetails with Machado’s other NLCS controversy, in which he failed to run out a grounder and then told Ken Rosenthal, “Obviously I’m not going to change, I’m not the type of player that’s going to be ‘Johnny Hustle,’ and run down the line and slide to first base and … you know, whatever can happen. That’s just not my personality, that’s not my cup of tea, that’s not who I am.”

This being the playoffs, the only way a Brewers pitcher will offer up a retaliatory strike is in a game that is well out of hand, and even that is unlikely. If anything, they are far more likely to wait until next season, probably during spring training when games don’t matter. Even if they do, it is almost certain to have no affect on Machado’s future behavior, which seems beyond outside governance.

Until then, these teams will keep battling, hopefully in a way that doesn’t put anybody in unnecessary peril.

Update 10-17: MLB agrees, and has fined Machado an undisclosed amount.

Retaliation

Bumgarner Dots Braun, Gives Up Grand Slam, Makes Fans Wonder What The Hell’s Going On. Again.

MadBum-Braun

As if we didn’t already know it, Madison Bumgarner reminded us over the weekend that it’s probably best just to let him mutter like an insane person on the mound when he pitches. That’s because if you dare question his mutter-and-fussing, he will quickly transition from old-man-yelling-at-neighborhood-kids-from-his-porch to old-man-throwing-baseballs-at-neighborhood-kids-from-his-porch.

Just ask Ryan Braun.

In the sixth inning of Sunday’s game against the Brewers, MadBum threw a couple up and in to the former MVP. Given that Braun had already hit an RBI double against the lefty and sent another one to the wall in center, Bumgarner was in no mood for a response. When Braun suggested that the pitcher “just throw the ball,” it was more than enough motivation for Bumgarner to do just that.

His next pitch nicked Braun on the elbow. Message sent, I guess.

Then again, that message loaded the bases for the next hitter, Jonathan Schoop, who unloaded them with a grand slam. Given that the Giants led 2-1 before Braun’s at-bat, this was not an ideal outcome for Bumgarner. As the Brewers spilled from the dugout to greet Schoop, many of them took the opportunity to yell at the pitcher and had to be shooed off the field by ump Dan Bellino.

It was, of course, classic Bumgarner. (For previous examples of his exquisite red-assery, look here, here, here, here, here, here or here.)

The pitcher’s irascible farmer act is likeable, I guess, if you’re a Giants fan … except that I am a Giants fan, and this kind of thing rips me up. Stand your ground. Take no guff. Defend teammates. But when a pitcher has to invent conflict in order to motivate himself, and that conflict comes back to bite him and his team, it’s awfully hard to swallow.

Bumgarner’s act can play when he’s an ace. But when the velocity of his four-seamer has dropped nearly two miles per hour, and the pitch has gone from one he uses more than 40 percent of the time to one he uses .1 percent (that’s point one percent) of the time, and the spin rate has plummeted across his repertoire, and he’s given up 11 earned runs over his last two starts … well, when all that happens, these kinds of meltdowns don’t inspire much love from the base.

Pitch to Braun, not at Braun. Win baseball games, not arguments. Be a badass, not a bully. There is success to be found there, if only Bumgarner chooses to look.

 

Slide properly

Slide On Down: Baseball’s Newfound Sensitivity Problem When It Comes To The Basepaths

Sogard slides IIWho’d have guessed that the primary unwritten-rules-related topic of Major League Baseball 2018 wouldn’t be bat flips or even retaliatory pitches, but guys sliding into bases? In the modern world of fielder safety, we’ve reached the point that players are managing to get offended even on properly executed slides.

First case in point: Last Friday in Milwaukee, the slide of Brewers infielder Eric Sogard was cut off prematurely when Cardinals shortstop Yairo Munoz, shifting over to field the throw, impeded his progress. It was a clean play all around—these things sometimes happen—yet feelings nonetheless managed to get scuffed. Sogard got up talking (“The first words that came out of my mouth,” he told reporters after the game, “were ‘are you all right?’ “), Munoz got up angry, and within moments the benches had emptied.

Harrison slidesThen on Tuesday, Pittsburgh’s Josh Harrison slid forcefully into second base, upending Mets second baseman Asdrubal Cabrera. The slide was legit, and Cabrera didn’t seem to take offense—but New York pitcher Jeurys Familia did, starting a shouting match with Harrison that, like Sogard’s play in Milwaukee, drew both teams onto the field.

These follow a questionable slide already executed this season by Roughned Odor in Anaheim, tit-for-tat slides in Pittsburgh, a dustup over a slide in Wrigley Field, and a slide that left the Yankees and Red Sox brawling on the Fenway Park infield. Collectively, it’s served to illustrate the unintended consequence of Major League Baseball’s recent efforts to insure the safety of catchers and infielders via ever more restrictive regulations against impact. The tighter the rules, after all, the more likely it is that somebody will violate them … and the more likely that defenders will imagine violations where none exist.

Once, of course, it was legal to crash into any base in whatever way a runner saw fit, short of standing up to take a guy out. Hal McRae was the king of high barrel rolls into second base, knocking fielders backward with such viciousness that the play was eventually outlawed with an injunction that is now informally known as the Hal McRae rule. Even recently, however, low barrel rolls were seen as acceptable, none more exemplary than Alex Rodriguez’s slide into second that took out Jeff Kent’s knee in 1998. Kent was decidedly displeased, but on the whole, critics viewed the play as clean.

An example of barrel-rolling from the 1972 World Series, via SB Nation. Poor Dick Green.

After Don Baylor crashed into Cleveland second baseman Remy Hermoso in 1974 (a late feed from shortstop Frank Duffy had left Hermoso directly in Baylor’s path while awaiting the throw)—a blow that knocked the infielder out of action for nearly four months—Orioles manager Earl weaver had to convince Baylor that the play was clean, and that such collisions were simply part of the game. It was the only time in Baylor’s 19-year career, he said later, that he ever felt bad about taking out an infielder in such a manner.

Former Rangers manager (and career infielder) Ron Washington once explained to me that, as a coach, an appropriate response to such a play was not anger toward the opposition but better protection for one’s own infielders. “I told my guys to protect your ass at all times,” he said. “Don’t go across that bag on a double-play, lollygagging. You go across that bag with two things in mind: I’m gonna turn this sucker, and if anybody gets in my way I’m gonna blow him apart [low-bridging a throw, forcing the runner to hit the dirt to avoid it]. … I don’t care how simple the play is, you get yourself in a position of protection, because you never know.”

No longer. Dave Nelson talked about this very topic in an interview for The Baseball Codes in 2006, when he was a coach for Milwaukee.

“I’ll give you a good example,” he said. “Carlos Lee went into Todd Walker last year, hard, clean. Put Walker out of the game, hurt his knee. So one of my players, Russell Branyan says, ‘That’s a dirty play.’ And I said, ‘What? That’s not a dirty play. He went in there clean and hard.’ He said, ‘Yeah, but according to today’s standards, that’s dirty, because nobody does it.’ I said, ‘That’s the problem—nobody does it.’ He didn’t go out there to hurt him, he went out there to take him out of the double play. This is guys’ mentality today. This is how they think.”

That was before baseball implemented its current spate of rules.

I examined this evolution a couple years back, well before the current spate of basepath-related issues. What’s changed since that time is further restrictions on what players can legally do. Now, it seems, anything outside the proscribed guidelines—and sometimes well within them—is spurring players to anger. It goes a long way toward illustrating the effect of inherent competitiveness on a constrained landscape. The window for what is considered to be appropriate behavior in this regard is more diminutive than ever (even while the window for appropriate behavior as pertains to celebrations has been thrown wide open). Ballplayers have gained a new layer of entitlement, and damned if they’re not going to leverage it for all it’s worth.

After the Pirates-Mets game in which Josh Harrison was upbraided by Jeurys Familia for a perfectly acceptable slide, the Pittsburgh infielder took a reasoned approach to the situation.

“Apparently he said, ‘Play the game the right way,’ ” Harrison told reporters after his dustup with Familia. “If you go back and look at the footage, I think I played the game the right way. Didn’t touch the guy, broke up a double play without hurting the guy or touching the guy. At the end of the day, I think that’s playing the game the right way.”

It is. Here’s hoping that the rest of baseball can come to recognize as much before too much longer.

The Baseball Codes

RIP Dave Nelson

Dave Nelson cardBrewers analyst Dave Nelson, who played in the big leagues for 10 years, was an All-Star in 1973, and served as a major league coach for 14 seasons, passed away today. Nelson was a firecracker of a player, stealing 94 bases between 1972 and 1973, but he was an even better interview. He was easily one of the most informative players I talked to for The Baseball Codes, spending the better part of an hour with me in the visitors’ dugout at AT&T Park before a Giants-Brewers game.

Herein are some of the best stories he told that day:

“I almost got into a fight in the major leagues one year because I stole home when we had a four-run lead in the seventh inning. It was against Blue Moon Odom, who was with the White Sox then. Paul Richards was their manager. I was playing for Kansas City, and Whitey Herzog was my manager. I stole home because Odom wasn’t paying attention, and he got all upset and said the next time he faced me he was going to hit me in the head. I’m saying, ‘Wait a minute. Did I do anything wrong?’ I was always taught was that managers would like to have at least a five-run lead going into the ninth inning, so at least they know a grand slam can’t beat them. We had a four-run lead, but this was the seventh inning and the White Sox had an awesome offensive team.

“So before the next game I was running in the outfield because we were getting ready to take batting practice. Their pitchers were running on the left field line. I’m running toward center from right, and Odom stopped running and began to yell at me, saying that he was going to hit me in the head. So I went up to him and asked, ‘Hey, what’s your problem?’ He said, ‘You showed up me and my team.’

“So I went over to Paul Richards, who was their manager, and I asked him, ‘Did I embarrass your team? Because I don’t think I did anything wrong.’ He said, ‘Dave, you didn’t do anything wrong. It was a great play on your part.’ I had already asked Whitey Herzog about it, and Whitey said it was a great play. But if Paul Richards thought it was a bad play, I was going to apologize to him. But he said, ‘No, that was great. It was Blue Moon’s fault for not paying attention to you. You can’t assume anything in this game.’

“We almost got into a fight over that. I always try to win, but I don’t want to do anything dirty to win.”

***

“One of my greatest thrills was playing against Mickey Mantle. By the time of my rookie year, Mantle was playing first base because his knees were bad. I’m leading off for the Indians in a game against the Yankees, and I push-bunt a ball between the pitcher and Mickey for a base hit. I was walking back, thinking, ‘Boy, what a great thing I did,’ and Johnny Lipon, our first base coach, says, ‘Dave, you don’t bunt on Mick out of respect.’ I said, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s right. He can’t move, but he’s a great player. So I’m standing on first base, and I’m thinking Mickey is going to say, ‘If you ever do that to me again I’m going to pinch your head off,’ or something like that. But he pats me on the butt and says, ‘Nice bunt, rook.’ I look at him and say, ‘Well, thanks, Mr. Mantle.’ Underneath my breath I said, I’ll never do that again. I was just thinking about how I want to get on base. I never thought about how revered this guy was.

“Later in the game he hits a bullet toward second base. I dive to field it and throw him out. He says, ‘Hey rook—give me a break, would you?’ ”

***

“In the old days, a manager would say, ‘I want you to knock this guy down. I want you to drill him.’ Billy Martin would say it. I remember in 1975, playing a game with the Rangers during spring training when Bill Virdon was managing the Yankees. Billy was our manager. We had hit Elliot Maddux, and I’m coming up to face a former teammate of mine, Denny Riddleberger. I just kind of knew that I was going to get drilled or knocked down because I was leading off the next inning. Well, the pitch came, and—boom!—knocked me down. It was good, old-fashioned chin music, and I hit the ground. So I said, okay, it’s all over and done with.

“Well, the next pitch—foom!—almost hit me in the head. I got up and I charged the mound. And Denny stood there and just looked at me and dropped his hands and said, ‘Dave, I’m sorry—I was ordered to do it.’ So what could I do? I can’t hit this guy. He’s my buddy, plus he was saying that he was ordered to do it. He had to save face. If your manager tells him to drill somebody or knock him down, then you’d better do it.

“So now there’s yelling and screaming going around, and Bill Virdon comes out and says, ‘That’s right, I told him to do it. How about that?’ I said, ‘Well, you’re the guy I ought to swing at!’ and I took a swing at him. He was a ways away from me, with some people between us, so I never made contact. He’d probably have tore me up. That guy was strong, boy.

“So I got kicked out of the game and all that stuff, but the funny thing about it was that later that year I had surgery on my ankle that was going to put me out until August. We had this charity golf tournament in Arlington Texas, and I was riding around in a golf cart. The Yankees had an off-day, and Bill Virdon was playing in that tournament. He sees me and says, ‘You’re a scrappy little guy, aren’t you?’ I said, ‘I just don’t like being thrown at. I have to defend myself, because if people throw at me and I don’t say anything about it, then they’re going to continue to do it. I just want people to know that I’m not going to take it.” He said, ‘Well, that’s the way to go.’ ”

***

“One time, playing against the Milwaukee Brewers in 1974, Bob Coluccio was the hitter. He hits a double, the throw comes in to me at second base, I tag him and Bill Kunkel, the umpire, says, ‘Safe!’ I said to Bob, ‘Hey, why don’t you step off the bag and let me clean the dirt off of it.’ He steps off, and BOOM. It wasn’t the hidden ball trick or anything like that. He steps off the base, I tag him and the umpire calls him out. He kind of laughed about it, but when he went to the dugout, his manager, Del Crandall, jumped all over him.

“So now he comes back out as I’m running off the field after the third out, and he says, ‘You embarrassed me and my team, and I’m going to kick your butt.’ He says, ‘You better watch out when I come in to second base.’

“I said, ‘I didn’t embarrass your team, you did—for being stupid enough to step off the base.’

You try to do anything you can to win, as long as it’s not trying to embarrass somebody or do something dirty. But that’s just . . . that’s just playing baseball.”

Don't Swing on the First Pitch After Back-to-Back Home RUns, Evolution of the Unwritten Rules, Intimidation, The Baseball Codes

Brewers Never Answer the Question: How Many Homers is Too Many Homers?

Harper mashesOnce upon a time, in a different era of baseball, pitchers thought nothing of throwing at hitters’ heads. That’s changed.

In a different era of baseball, pitchers would drill a guy not only for his own success, but for the success of his teammates. The player in front of you hits a homer? Expect to wear one. That, too, has changed.

Both of those developments are unequivocally for the better.

But then we have something like last night, when four members of the Washington Nationals went deep in the span of five batters—four of them in a row—during a single inning, part of an eight-homer day. It was a ridiculous show of firepower, and the Milwaukee Brewers didn’t do a thing to slow it down.

Before proceeding, I offer a snippet from an interview with former Brewers pitcher and current Phillies hitting coach Bob McClure, conducted years ago for The Baseball Codes:

We were in Yankee Stadium one time, and I gave up back-to-back home runs to two left-handers. I’d given up back-to-back home runs before, but not to two lefties. Dave Kingman was up next. [Catcher] Charlie Moore called for a fastball away. He knew better, anyway. He was just going through them all. Fastball away. No. Curveball. No. Changeup. No. Fastball in. No. And then he goes [McClure flicks his thumb from out of his fist, under his index finger, the universal symbol for knock him down]. So I threw it, and it was a good one—it went right underneath him and almost flipped him. He hit the dirt and was all dusty. His helmet was off. He grabbed his bat and his helmet and gets right back in there. I threw him a changeup and he popped up to first base.

The upshot, from McClure: “Back then, we were taught the 0-2 up and in. Home run, next guy: boom! Knock him down.”

McClure was not trying to hit Kingman, or to hurt him. He was trying to disrupt his comfort in the batter’s box. Be clear about that distinction, because it could have done Brewers pitcher Michael Blazek—who gave up every one of Washington’s fifth-inning homers yesterday—a bit of good. The Nationals were clearly relaxed in the batter’s box. Utilizing inside pitches—not to hit anyone, but to move their feet, back them off the plate and make them consider the possibilities—could have disrupted that comfort. It did not appear to have any place in Milwaukee’s game plan, and the assault continued.

Historically, the most glaring example of this type of thing came from Paul Foytack, the first of the four pitchers (including Blazek) ever to give up four straight homers. While with the Los Angeles Angels in 1963, against Cleveland, Foytack surrendered three straight—to Woodie Held, pitcher Pedro Ramos (batting a robust .109 at the time) and Tito Francona—and set out to knock down the next batter, rookie Larry Brown. Even that didn’t go quite as planned, as Brown ended up hitting his first career home run. “That shows you what kind of control I had,” Foytack told reporters later.

The modern game, however, has eschewed inside pitching to such a degree that the idea never appeared to cross Blazek’s mind, nor—given that it was the pitcher’s first-ever big league start—that of his manager, Craig Counsell. What we’re left with is a record-tying performance that Blazek would rather have no part of.

***

Those four homers gave us another example of the evolution of the unwritten rules, which had more to do with the hitters than with Blazek. A generation ago, the code dictated that a batter would take the first pitch following back-to-back home runs. It was a courtesy offered a struggling opponent.

Take it from three-time All-Star Hal McRae: “Someone would pull you to the side and say, ‘Look, there have been two consecutive home runs hit. The third batter doesn’t swing at the first pitch.’ Take the first pitch. Alert the pitcher that you’re not swinging, that you know he’s out there, you respect him and you respect the job that he’s trying to do. So you take the first pitch, saying, ‘I’m not going to try to come up here and try to hit the third consecutive home run.’ After the first pitch, it’s okay for you to do your job.”

Yesterday, Blazek’s first pitches to Wilmer Difo and Bryce Harper—the second and third of the quartet of consecutive-homer hitters—were out of the strike zone, and taken. His first pitch to the fourth member of that group, Ryan Zimmerman, was down the pipe, and blasted over the left-center field fence.

The interesting part of this is not that the Nationals didn’t observe an obscure unwritten rule, but the extreme probability that nobody in their clubhouse apart from manager Dusty Baker and perhaps a coach or two has even heard of it. The idea of sacrificing statistics for a bit of kindness to an opponent is so beyond the pale in the modern game (and, frankly, has been that way since the 1980s), that it’s almost beyond comprehension.

It does serve, however, as a marker for how far the game has come, and the extreme evolution of its moral compass.