Angel Campos, Matt Treanor, Ned Yost, Umpire Relations

Young Umps at it Again: Royals Catcher Tossed for No Good Reason

Matt Treanor and Angel Campos share some thoughtful opinions.

What is it with the Kansas City Royals and fill-in umpires? Last year it was Jason Kendall getting shown up, then ejected by a recent call-up from Triple-A. Today it was Matt Treanor.

The incidents have one thing in common, apart from the ejections of each catcher and manager Ned Yost: neither Kendall or Treanor did anything wrong.

Sunday’s run-in began immediately after Royals pitcher Everett Teaford walked Colby Rasmus. Treanor had some things to say to plate ump Angel Campos—he insists that they had nothing to do with balls and strikes, which is an ejection-worthy offense—but never turned around as he spoke.

This is key. The umpires’ code—which every catcher knows intimately—mandates that catchers and hitters have significant leeway when addressing an umpire, but the moment they turn around to do so—in other words, when they make it look like they’re saying something contentious—whatever ice they may be standing on grows quickly and dangerously thin.

This wasn’t Treanor’s problem. He was in his squat, facing the pitcher’s mound, when Campos ejected him. There was no indication they were even having a discussion.

According to Treanor, Campos roamed to the front of the plate to address him just prior to their fateful exchange, but that was not caught on the Royals’ broadcast. (Watch it here.)

“I basically told him not to show me up by coming around the plate,” Treanor said in the Kansas City Star. “I’m not doing anything to disrespect him. I was just trying to ask him some questions. He came back around the plate, said he had enough of me.”

The motivation of a young umpire to interject himself so forcefully and ignorantly into game action is tough to explain, especially now that it’s happened twice in two seasons to the Royals. Minor league umps are generally instructed to have shorter leashes than than their big league brethren, which may have played a part in this, but it’s hardly an excuse. Baseball has enough problems with a small handful of veteran umps thinking they’re bigger than the game; if they allow young umps to grow unchecked into that role, it’s going to make for some very rocky exchanges in the future. Especially for Yost.

“Treanor did a great job in that situation,” said the Royals manager on MLB.com. “Nobody in the park knew that they were arguing. Nobody. And to eject the guy under those circumstances isn’t right.”

Perhaps Yost should write a new line in the Codebook for his catchers: If you’re wearing powder blue and there’s a young ump behind the plate, keep your mouth shut at all costs—no matter how correct you might be.

– Jason

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Brian Cashman, Jorge Posada, Respect Teammates

Oh, Jorge – Things Turn Ugly in a Hurry in New York

The most important factor in the Posada Madness pandemic that erupted over the weekend in New York is the ongoing viability of Jorge Posada—both as an everyday player or even somebody meritous of a roster spot.

The big picture will likely be sorted out in short order. Aging and ineffective performers—even those as vital to their teams’ recent history as Posada—are rarely granted much leeway.

More interesting to the purposes of this blog is how it played out. Both sides—Posada on one and the Yankees (particularly GM Brian Cashman) on the other—set about shredding standard decorum under the increasingly gleeful glare of the New York media. A quick recap, in case you were taking your five-year-old daughter on her first ski trip, like me, and missed the entire thing:

  • Saturday night: Joe Girardi pencils Posada, New York’s designated hitter, into the No. 9 spot in the order—the first time the 39-year-old has been positioned so low since 1999.
  • An hour or so before first pitch Posada asks out of the lineup.
  • According to New Jersey Record columnist Bob Klapisch, Posada doesn’t explain himself, and Girardi doesen’t press him. Accounts differ about what is said, but multiple sources tell multiple media members that Posada feels insulted. The term “hissy fit” was used at least once to describe the encounter between player and manager. Considering when the request came—prior to a nationally televised game against the Red Sox—and who it came from—Girardi, a guy Posada has reportedly not much liked since their days together as co-catchers on the Yankees—perhaps this should not be surprising.
  • Cashman intervenes, urging Posada to reconsider his decision. Posada does not reconsider.
  • Cashman takes the audacious step of meeting with reporters in the press box during the game, to clarify that Posada is healthy, and that management has nothing to do with his absence from the game.
  • With timing that one can only assume is in response to Cashman’s impromptu press conference, Posada’s wife, Laura, counters that claim, tweeting that Posada’s back is too stiff to play.
  • After the game, Posada downplays his physical ailments (he hadn’t, after all, previously raised the issue with Girardi or team trainers), and says he just needed time to “clear his head.” He then sets his sights on Cashman, saying, “I don’t know why he made a statement during the game. I don’t understand that. That’s the way he works now.”
  • On Sunday, Posada apologized to both Girardi and Cashman, saying, “All the frustration came out. It was just one of those days you wish you could take back.”
  • The Yankees, in turn, decline to discipline their former star, who in the three games since has appeared only once, as a pinch-hitter.

Ultimately, nobody came out looking too good. Girardi, by way of essentially staying out of it (Everybody needs a breather now and again, he told the press, rather than justifiably lighting into his catcher), is the least scathed. Posada and Cashman: not so much.

Posada: An unwritten rule mandates that managers refrain from removing position players from the middle of innings except in cases of injury. The counter to this rule holds that players not remove themselves from the lineup while at the wrong end of a hissy fit.

Big league clubhouses are rife with what is commonly referred to as a “warrior mentality.” The term isn’t particularly accurate in this case, in that warriors go to battle against opponents. In this case, Posada needed to be in the lineup to prove his allegiance, not his ability, to his teammates—not the Red Sox. For a veteran, a proven winner, to turn his back on his teammates in a key game for reasons that can only be construed as personal is inexcusable. Posada is no different than any other ballplayer in this regard; his ego will never be as important as the success of his team. His teammates know it, and his position in the clubhouse hierarchy depends upon it.

A reader asked how Posada’s move compares to Cal Ripken removing himself from the Orioles’ lineup in 1998. Ripken was, like Posada, in the late stages of his career. Ripken’s consecutive-games streak had grown so mountainous by that point that it trumped any move manager Ray Miller could have made that involved his star shortstop spending a game on the bench. Ripken was hampering himself and his team by staying in the lineup every day. He ended his streak for the greater good, and was lauded for it.

Another example, from earlier this season, saw Giants outfielder Pat Burrell ask out in the middle of a game. His reason:  Tim Lincecum was throwing a no-hitter, and Burrell didn’t want his sub-par glove and lack of range to be the reason Lincecum gave up a hit. Like Ripken, he did it for the greater good. (Lincecum did indeed give up a hit in the seventh inning—the same inning in which Burrell was removed. This brings up the topic of changing nothing during the course of a no-hitter, including defensive players, but that’s a topic for another post.)

The primary guy to have Posada’s back through his ordeal has been Derek Jeter, who told the New York Daily News that he “didn’t think it was that big a deal. If you need a day, you need a day.”

Whether or not the captain actually believes this is incidental. Perhaps he’s sticking up for Posada because that’s what teammates do, but it’s hard to imagine that Jeter picturing his own neck on the chopping block didn’t play a part.

Cashman: The guy is a veteran, and no matter how well he does his job, he probably puts up with more grief from the New York media than the next several most second-guessed GMs combined. He, of all people, should understand the machinations of communication in the big leagues, and that going through the media for any of it rarely turns out well.

On one hand, Cashman’s method of delivery added layers of importance and urgency to his message. Short of suspending Posada or releasing him outright (both of which would have brought their own headaches), there was no less equivocal way for Cashman to inform the veteran that he was not messing around.

Wrote Buster Olney on ESPN.com Insider, Cashman “is not only willing to be the instrument of change with the team’s older players, he views it as his responsibility to the Steinbrenners.”

That has to be a particularly difficult place to inhabit, especially when it comes to icons like Posada and Jeter, and Cashman is taking a hard-line approach. (Telling Jeter to test the waters during off-season contract negotiations was a clear step in this direction.) To do it the way he did it, however—not just publicly, but in a manner so unusual that the delivery itself brought attention, independent of the message delivered—was to ignore the service and success that Posada has given the organization over the last 17 years.

Even the enemy was motivated to chime in, with David Ortiz telling the Boston Herald that “they’re doing (Posada) wrong.”

Ultimately, Posada’s actions amounted to nothing more than a really bad day. Holding him accountable is reasonable. Benching him for lack of production is also reasonable. From a baseball (if not contractual) standpoint, giving him his outright release would be entirely justified.

From former GM Jim Bowden, on ESPN.com: “Until you are ready to . . . ask Posada to step aside, and keep him out of the lineup for good, you PROTECT HIM! He’s a Yankee, a five-time world champion Yankee who is known for his class and dignity. Show him the same.”

Taking it public like Cashman did serves only one purpose. It tells the rest of the aging roster—Jeter in particular—that when it’s time to go, they better not mess around.

Time will tell if the ends were worth the means, but as of right now it’s not looking too good.

– Jason

No-Hitter Etiquette

No-Hitter Etiquette Picks Up Steam in Spate of May Games

Justin Verlander, enjoying the fruits of his accomplishment.

Last week we heard about the superstitious behavior of the Twins as Francisco Liriano worked through his no-hitter against the White Sox.

This week: An additional spate of such behavior as pitchers around the league flirted with their own no-no’s—and in the case of Justin Verlander, actually completed it.

Which seems like a good place to start.

A primary piece of no-hitter etiquette has to do with avoiding the pitcher in any way possible and under no circumstances mentioning the fact of the no-hitter. This happened during Liriano’s feat, but not in Verlander’s—at least as far as the pitcher was concerned.

This is where already having a no-hitter on his resume came in handy. As evidenced by Verlander’s post-game calm, the right-hander felt little of the pressure normally associated with such feats. He went so far as to dissipate dugout nerves himself, seeking out teammates with whom to interact. (No report yet about how those teammates handled it.)

A secondary rule holds that those in the dugout maintain whatever it is they’re doing—sitting in the same seats, flipping a ball up and down, & etc.—since that action is clearly responsible for the events on the field. (In The Baseball Codes, Bob Brenly talks about spending innings on end rapping on the knob of Matt Kata’s bat during Randy Johnson’s perfect game, despite the increasing rawness of his knuckles.)

In Toronto, Verlander’s teammate, Alex Avila, took things a step further, refraining from using the restroom despite an increasing need from the sixth inning on. “I was too afraid to go,” he told the Detroit Free Press.

Even after Verlander completed his feat, Avila was compelled to take part in the celebration, both on the mound and in the clubhouse. It wasn’t until 10 minutes afterward that he was finally able to hit the head.

On the air, Tigers broadcasters Mario Impemba and Rod Allen refused to reference the feat during the game. This is a contentious point, as many in the business feel that a broadcaster’s primary job is to inform the audience about what is going on.

The Detroit duo had at least one defender—Free Press columnist Terry Foster, who wrote about being “stunned” when a fellow parent at his kid’s soccer game told him of Verlander’s feat, in progress. Ultimately, though, he did come around. A little. “I forgive those parents . . . only because it worked out,” he wrote. “We know who to blame if Toronto managed a cheap hit at the end.”

A quick rundown of other would-be no-hitters that didn’t quite reach completion:

  • Jamie Garcia vs. Milwaukee, May 6 (broken up in the eighth): The left-hander was alone by the sixth inning. “What are you going to say? ‘Ain’t this great?’ ” said Tony La Russa in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “We all had our thoughts.”
  • Yovani Gallardo vs. St. Louis, May 7 (broken up in the eighth): Same teams as Garcia’s game, different outcome one day later. Gallardo had thrown 104 pitches through seven innings, raising substantial concerns that Brewers manager Ron Roenicke might remove him. In response, fellow starters Randy Wolf and Shaun Marcum stood guard in the dugout. “The other starting pitchers wouldn’t let me take him out,” said Roenicke in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. “They put a block on me. I really didn’t have a choice.”
  • Anibal Sanchez vs. Washington, May 8 (broken up in the seventh): Sanchez was over 100 pitches in the seventh, putting Marlins manager Edwin Rodriguez in much the same position as Roenicke. “We were paying a lot of attention to the pitch count,” Rodriguez said in the Miami Herald.

Save for Verlander, of course, none of these pitchers was able to finish what he started—developments that had nothing to do with the perpetuation of superstition in their own vigilant dugouts.

Then again, it’s not like it would have mattered.

“If a pitcher tells you he’s not thinking about it, it’s not true,” said Gallardo in reference to people trying to avoid the subject with him. Which is entirely the point.

– Jason

Francisco Liriano, Gamesmanship, No-Hitter Etiquette, Ron Gardenhire

Liriano’s No-Hitter Rife with Unwritten Rules

As you may have heard, Franciso Liriano threw a no-hitter this week. And of course, the Code was involved—because the Code is always involved in no-hitters.

Like many of his no-hit-pitching brethren, the Twins left-hander insisted that he wasn’t even aware that he hadn’t allowed a hit until late in the game. It was only when he became a dugout pariah in the eighth inning, he said, his teammates avoiding him at any cost, that he grokked what was going on.

“When everybody was walking away from me and nobody was talking to me, I was like ‘What’s going on?’ ” he said in USA Today.

(When told that Liriano said he didn’t realize he had a no-hit bid until the eighth inning, Twins catcher Drew Butera said, in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, “He’s lying. I think they all realize it.”)

* * *

Elsewhere on the field, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire stuck to the unwritten rule mandating ultimate respect for a feat like Liriano’s. Despite the fact the right-hander’s pitch count was at 116 with one out to go, and despite the fact Liriano hadn’t thrown more than 97 pitches in a game this season, and despite the fact that he had never thrown a complete game in more than 200 professional starts, and most of all despite the fact that the winning run was at the plate in a 1-0 game and Liriano was clearly tiring, Gardenhire left him in.

“I wasn’t walking out there to the mound, I’ll tell you that,” he said in the Star Tribune. “He looked like he was doing fine. It was cool night. It was his ballgame the whole way.”

Asked if he was prepared to stick with Liriano all the way, Gardenhire said: “How far is all the way? He can only load the bases and then probably something’s gotta happen.”

Gardenhire didn’t show nearly that much restraint last season, when he pulled Kevin Slowey from a game in which he had similarly given up no hits. The difference: Slowey was battling an elbow so sore that he had missed his previous start, and after seven innings had already thrown more than Garendhire was comfortable seeing. Eight days later, Rangers manager Ron Washington did something similar with Rich Harden.

Also last year, Yankees manager Joe Girardi said that he was ready to pull C.C. Sabathia from his early-season start even before he gave up his first hit of the game, in the eighth inning.

The standard-keeper for yanking pitchers from the midst of perfection is Preston Gomez, who did it twice, with two different teams. If nothing else, the guy was clearly a man of conviction.

* * *

One more Code-based moment occurred during Liriano’s gem, when umpire Paul Emmel ruled that Minnesota first baseman Justin Morneau tagged Chicago’s Gordon Beckham as the White Sox second baseman raced by him in an effort to beat out a double-play grounder.

Had Morneau tagged him? Of course not. Did he sell it as if he had? Of course he did. That’s what ballplayers do. If the game is willing to tolerate the great lengths to which players will go to gain an advantage—bat corking and ball scuffing and sign stealing and etc.—it’d be a tall order to expect a player to give up a free out granted him by an unsuspecting umpire.

It’s why diving outfielders act as if they’ve caught balls that they know they trapped, why hitters facing three-ball counts will sometimes lean toward first after the next pitch, trying to influence ball four even if they felt it was a strike.

It’s all part of baseball. Now enjoy that no-hitter.

– Jason

Bat tossing, Don't Showboat, Josh Beckett, Luke Scott

Scott Flips Bat, Beckett Flips Out

With all the recent flap about Felipe Lopez’s bat flip against the White Sox, it seems worth pointing out that he’s not the only guy doing such things this season.

Last week, Orioles outfielder Luke Scott tossed his bat with considerable verve after hitting a monster home run against Josh Beckett. This may have gone unnoticed had Beckett not tried to shout him down in the aftermath, then gotten into an argument with the umpire over it.

(Unfortunately, MLB.com’s video cuts away before the bat flip on every single replay.)

After the inning, Beckett was approached by plate ump Fieldin Culbreth, which culminated in an animated conversation during which the pitcher gestured toward the Orioles dugout. One possibility: Culbreth was warning him against retaliation. (If so, it worked; Beckett faced Scott once more in the game, retiring him on a fly ball.)

For a guy so clearly perturbed, Beckett wasn’t much in the mood after the game to deconstruct the moment with reporters.

“What is this, TMZ?” he said. “I thought we were talking about a baseball game. You want to know about bat flips and talking to umpires. I think, why don’t we just stick to the game.”

It’s a fair enough tactic. If Beckett expressed sufficient outrage it’d be all the easier to pin him with the drilling for which Scott seems destined. The one clue Beckett offered up to the press: “These things have a way of working themselves out.”

The teams next meet May 16.

– Jason

Bunting for hits, Don't Play Aggressively with a Big Lead

Bunt on the Giants? Not These Days

Props to Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle, who invoked the Code to describe the offensive woes of the Giants, losers of eight of their last 11—a span during which they’ve scored two or fewer runs eight times. Also, they’ve been shut out in three of their last six games by some very ordinary pitchers.

From the Chronicle:

The Giants need to send Nationals rookie Danny Espinosa a message pitch next time they meet. He tried to bunt for a hit late in Monday night’s game, and baseball etiquette says you don’t do that when your team has an insurmountable lead.

It was the eighth inning and the score was 2-0.

Classic.

– Jason