Tag Archives: new york yankees

Bryce Harper and Sergio Romo: Secretly Simpatico?

Keep calm

For a while, it seemed like yesterday would belong to Bryce Harper’s views about baseball’s unwritten rules.

Then Goose Gossage opened his mouth. In what appears to be coincidental timing, the Hall of Fame reliever unloaded to ESPN about noted bat-flipper Jose Bautista being “a fucking disgrace to the game,” among other choice sentiments that ran directly counter to Harper. Gossage, of course, is his generation’s It-Was-Better-When-I-Played standard-bearer, the guy to turn to for strident opinions.

His comments came in response to a benign question about new Yankees reliever Aroldis Chapman, and quickly veered not only to slamming Bautista, but to complaints about how “fucking nerds” who “don’t know shit” are ruining the game from front-office positions, that “fucking steroid user” Ryan Braun gets ovations in Milwaukee, and that modern relievers are too focused on pitch counts and not enough on the game itself.

Gossage, a world-class griper, was simply doing what he does best.

He would have been easier to dismiss had not Giants reliever Sergio Romo—one of the game’s free spirits, a guy loose enough to rock this t-shirt at the Giants’ 2012 victory parade—himself dismissed Harper later in the day.

“Don’t put your foot in your mouth when you’re the face of the game and you just won the MVP,” Romo said about Harper in a San Jose Mercury News report. “I’m sorry, but just shut up.”

In response to Harper’s comment that baseball “is a tired sport, because you can’t express yourself,” the reliever offered a succinct takedown.

“I’m pretty sure if someone has enough money,” he responded, “he can find another job if this is really tired.”

Thing is, Romo and Harper actually seem to agree about most of what they said. Romo is himself demonstrative on the mound, showing more emotion while pitching than perhaps anybody in Giants history. He took care to note, however, the difference between excitement and impudence.

“As emotional and as fiery as I am, I do my best not to look to the other dugout,” he said. “I look to the ground, I look to my dugout, to the sky, to the stands. It’s warranted to be excited. But there is a way to go about it to not show disrespect, not only to the other team but the game itself.”

With those four sentences, Romo cut to the heart of the issue. Contrary to those trying to position this as a cross-coast battle of wills, Harper did not say much to contradict that sentiment.

Baseball’s unwritten rules have changed markedly over the last decade. There is more acceptance of showmanship now than at any point in the sport’s history, and scattershot blasts from the likes of Goose Gossage will not slow that momentum. Because the Code has changed, however, does not mean that it is failing.

The real power of the unwritten rules lies in the maintenance of respect—between teams, within clubhouses and, as Romo went out of his way to note, for the game itself. This core value has not eroded at all.

What has changed over time is ballplayers’ ability to distinguish displays of emotion from displays of disrespect. When the mainstream decides  that bat flips are an acceptable form of self-expression, they no longer have the power to offend.

The reason this hasn’t already gained universal acceptance is that not all bat flips (used here as a proxy for any number of emotional displays) are equal. Bautista’s display during last season’s playoffs was magnificent. Some bats are flipped, however, not with celebration in mind, but in an effort to denigrate the opposition. It might, as Romo noted, include a staredown of the pitcher (as Harper himself has been known to do). It might be some extra lingering around the box, or a glacial trot around the bases. At that point, the method of the opposition’s response—which includes the option of not responding at all—becomes a valid concern.

Romo talked about this distinction, and its importance to the game. Surprisingly, so did Harper.

The MVP noted that Jose Fernandez “will strike you out and stare you down into the dugout and pump his fist.” Because Harper doesn’t take it as a sign of disrespect, Harper doesn’t care. And if Fernandez does not intend it as such, nobody else should, either. (Worth noting is that Fernandez learned an important lesson in this regard early in his career.)

The main fault with Romo’s diatribe was that he inadvertently piggybacked it atop Gossage’s inane old-man ramblings. Still, he lent some nuance to a discourse which sorely needs it, and perhaps inadvertently pointed out that he and Harper have more in common than either of them might otherwise believe.

Ultimately, the question seems to be less “Can’t we all just get along?” than “Why haven’t we figured out that we’re getting along already?”

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Filed under Bryce Harper, New York Yankees, San Francisco Giants, Uncategorized, Unwritten Rules, Washington Nationals

Yogi Berra, RIP

Yogi 1

Baseball lost a great one when Yogi Berra, an unbelievably winning player with an even more unbelievably winning personality, passed away on Tuesday. In his memory, here’s a suitable passage from The Baseball Codes. The story is ostensibly about Berra’s teammate, Yankees pitcher Bob Turley, and his propensity for stealing the opposing team’s signs, but it ends up being about Yogi, because of course it does.

Turley’s relay system was simple—he’d whistle whenever a pitch was different from the last one. Hitters would start every at-bat looking for a curveball, and if a fastball was coming, so was Turley’s whistle. He’d then stay silent until something else was called. The pitcher was so good that when he went on the disabled list in 1961, manager Ralph Houk wouldn’t let him go home, instead keeping him with the team to decipher pitches. (Roger Maris, in fact, hit his sixty-first home run of 1961 on a pitch he knew was coming because third-base coach Frank Crosetti, doing his best Turley imitation after watching the pitcher for years, whistled in advance of a fastball.)

Eventually, people began to catch on. Among them was Detroit Tigers ace Jim Bunning, who grew increasingly angry as Turley whistled and the Yankees teed off during one of his starts. Finally, with Mickey Mantle at bat, Bunning turned to Turley in the first-base coach’s box and told him that another whistle would result in a potentially painful consequence for the hitter. Sure enough, Turley whistled on Bunning’s first pitch, a fast­ball at which Mantle declined to swing. With his second offering, Bun­ning knocked Mantle down. The on-deck hitter, Yogi Berra, could only watch in horror. When it was his turn to bat, Berra turned toward the mound, cupped his hands around his mouth, and shouted, “Jim, he’s whistling, but I ain’t listening.”

Berra was unique on the field and off, and it says something that the flood of obituaries and remembrances over the last day or so involve his kindness of spirit as much as or more than his baseball prowess. We lost a good one on Tuesday.

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Filed under New York Yankees

Even The Tolerant Have Little Use For Gusto When Down By Nine

Gomez shoutsCarlos Gomez is at it again. The man who was called out by Brian McCann more visibly than perhaps anybody, ever, was at it again on Tuesday—against McCann’s new team, the Yankees, no less. (The catcher wasn’t on the field for this one, though.)

Start with an RBI double in the first, in which Gomez tossed his bat and held his hands high, then dove recklessly into second, nearly taking out second baseman Brendan Ryan, who was striding away from him, toward the outfield.

Follow with a popup in the sixth, on a pitch near Gomez’s ankles, after which he slammed his bat to the ground in frustration. The New York dugout was all over him as he trotted to first. Gomez, never one to shy from confrontation, jawed back—he could be seen shouting “Shut up” on the replay—and benches quickly emptied. (No punches were thrown.)

On one hand, Gomez has long since made clear who he is and what he does, in which light it was obvious that his actions had nothing specifically to do with the Yankees. On the other hand, even tolerant teams can grow grumpy when down 9-0, as New York was at the time of Gomez’s histrionics. The same mindframe that warns against things like aggressive baserunning and pitchers nibbling when holding a large lead is true here, as well. In those moments, streamlining the process is a priority, and Gomez was not playing by those rules.

In addition to McCann, Gomez has blustered at Gerrit Cole and Joe Mauer and Ian Desmond. The guy is clearly going to have his say. Teams keep trying—and failing—to teach him lessons. Wonder who’s going to learn first?

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Filed under Bat Flipping

This Weekend’s Lesson in Facing Failure: Drilling A-Rod Isn’t the Answer

Oberholtzer tossed

The act of a pitcher hitting a batter on purpose is inherently divisive. Some (mostly outside the game) see it as an outdated form of brutality that lost all reasonable claims to relevance the day that Don Drysdale … or Bob Gibson … or Nolan Ryan retired. Others maintain that it helps keep order in the sport, and that its underlying purpose—to maintain respect among baseball’s ranks—is utterly justified.

But everybody, no matter how divided of opinion or dogmatically entrenched in their respective camps, can agree that Brett Oberholtzer acted like a punk on Saturday.

Houston’s 25-year-old starter, in his third major league season, had a rough go of it against the Yankees. He gave up a double to the first batter he faced, Brett Gardner, then walked a guy, then walked another guy. With one out, Brian McCann touched him for a grand slam. Five batters, four runs.

His second inning wasn’t much better. After getting a quick out, Gardner again touched Oberholtzer for a double, then scored on Chris Young’s home run. At that point, the young pitcher had several options. He could turn toward grit, and steel himself to make the best of a bad situation. He could turn toward optimism, and the self-belief that absence of success in the past does not necessarily equate to absence of success in the future. He could have just gone into auto-pilot mode and thrown whatever the hell his catcher called, consequences be damned.

Oberholtzer chose instead to drill the next hitter, Alex Rodriguez. So blatant was the intention that plate ump Rob Drake tossed him immediately. The pitcher submitted fully to the fact that he was simply unable to get anybody out, and gave in to his basest levels of frustration. (Watch it here.)

Such action was not always viewed so negatively. Back when pitchers went after hitters with relatively impunity, players paying for teammates’ success was commonplace. “In 1974 I was playing for the Yankees, and I hit behind Graig Net­tles the whole month of April,” said first baseman Mike Hegan in The Baseball Codes. “And Graig hit eleven home runs. And I was on my back eleven times. That’s just the kind of thing that happened. I got up, dusted myself off, and got ready to swing at the next pitch. It’s just what you do.”

For a more in-depth tale, we turn to Phillies pitching coach Bob McClure, who talked about his time as a lefty reliever with the Milwaukee Brewers in the mid-1980s:

“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. And [6-foot-6, 210-pound slugger] Dave Kingman was up next, and I remember [catcher] Charlie Moore calling for a fastball away. He knew better. I shook him off. He went through them all. Fastball away. No. Curveball. No. Changeup. No. Fastball in. No. And then he goes [flip sign, indicating a knockdown pitch]. I nod. I threw it and it was one of those real good ones—it went right underneath him and almost flipped him. He was all dusty and his helmet was over here and he was grabbing his bat and his helmet, and he gets right back in there. I threw him a changeup and he popped up to first base. And as he made the out, he rounds first base and is coming toward the mound. I’m trying to get my glove off, because I’m figuring to myself, if I’m going to die I’m getting the first punch in. And he came right up to the dirt and then just went around it. He pointed at me and said, ‘There’ll be another day, young man,’ and just kept on going. I saw him about 10 or 12 years after that said, ‘Dave, do you remember that incident?’ He looked me right in the eye and said, ‘No.’ Just like that.

“What I’m saying is that back then, we were taught: Home run, next guy: boom! Knock him down.”

The modern landscape is different, of course. Even with increased awareness that hit batsmen are of little benefit to the game at large, had Oberholtzer utilized the lessons of his forebears and simply knocked Rodriguez down rather than hit him, he would have received no more than a warning.

Instead, he begged out of a game in which he stunk, in the most obvious way possible. No longer able to face his own failure, he emptied his aggression onto an opponent, and paid the price.

“I’m going on the record and saying that’s not how we operate around here,” said Houston manager A.J. Hinch in an MLB.com report. “Obviously for all the adrenaline that goes on at the beginning of the game when we’re getting down, we don’t operate that way, we won’t operate that way. It’s not a reflection of anyone around here, including [Oberholtzer]. The Yankees know, I’ll make sure Alex knows. There’s no place in our game for that kind of activity.”

So little place that after the game, Oberholtzer was optioned to Triple-A Fresno.

The ultimate takeaway was elucidated by Hinch the following day, when he informed reporters that he had reached out to Yankees manager Joe Girardi to make sure that those in the New York clubhouse understood that things had been handled internally, and that nobody bore more ill-will against Oberholtzer’s act than the Astros themselves. In so doing, he cut to the core of baseball’s unwritten rules, and what makes them special.

It was, he said in the Houston Chronicle, “important to respect the opponent and let them know your perspective, and they would do the same. That’s a general respect that goes across baseball.”

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Filed under Appropriate Retaliation, Retaliation

Armando Benitez Drilled Tino Martinez 17 Years Ago Today. No, He Was Not Playing by the Unwritten Rules

Seventeen years ago today, Armando Benitez intentionally drilled Tino Martinez after the preceding batter, Bernie Williams, hit a dramatic three-run homer. The event was more noteworthy for the ensuing mayhem—the fight ended up spilling into a dugout and resulted in suspensions for five players—than for the deed itself.

The moment merits current notice for the fact that decriers of baseball’s unwritten rules—pundits like Hardball Talk’s Craig Calcaterra—are using it to blame baseball’s Code for just how ludicrous this kind of behavior is. Referencing then AL President Gene Budig’s harsh words about Benitez when handing down the ensuing eight-game suspension for Benitez, Calcaterra wrote:

I do get the sense sometimes that no one inside the game thinks of throwing at guys as a bad thing in the sorts of terms Budig uses here. [Budig said, among other things, “The location of the pitch was extremely dangerous and could have seriously injured the player.”] It’s all thought of as self-policing and part of the game and stuff. Maybe the violence is reduced because people don’t want to risk player health, but the idea that sometimes, well, you gotta throw at someone still lingers. It’s an odd little thing.

The point that is consistently overlooked by people who disagree with these methods of play is that Benitez’s strike wasn’t a product of the Code, it was directly contravening it. The unwritten rules aren’t set up to give license to guys who want to indiscriminately drill opponents whenever the mood strikes them. To the contrary, they present a framework for dealing with that type of thing when it happens.

You can disagree with Hideki Irabu responding on the Yankees’ behalf by plunking both Mike Bordick and Brady Anderson the next day, but the truth is that not only did he do it correctly (below the shoulders), but those Orioles were then within their rights to subsequently tell Benitez to knock off his shenanigans, because he was putting his teammates in harm’s way. Irabu gave the Yankees closure, and at the same time proactively dealt with Benitez’s future actions. (That latter note is strictly theoretical. The incident in question was actually the second time Benitez drilled Martinez following a teammate’s homer—the first occurred in 1995, when Martinez was with the Mariners—which does not speak well to the pitcher’s ability to listen or absorb.)

I have no problem with people criticizing a culture in which ballplayers throw baseballs at each other in anger. Usually I agree with them. All I ask is for a reasonable assessment before laying down judgement. The system can certainly be the problem, but sometimes it’s just a rogue player within it. Take the time to examine the difference.

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Filed under Baltimore Orioles, New York Yankees, Retaliation

‘What an Idiot!’ Say, Mike Napoli, What do you Really Think?

Napoli's blastMike Napoli had come through with the heroics, but he didn’t seem to believe it. One out away from a complete-game shutout, Yankees pitcher Masahiro Tanaka fed the Red Sox first baseman a 1-2 fastball out over the plate instead of the pitch Napoli expected—a splitter low in the zone, which had already served to strike him out twice on the night. It was a gift. Napoli treated it as such, hammering it over the right-field fence at Yankee Stadium for a game-winning two-run homer.

Napoli’s problems began with his incredulty that Tanaka would throw him anything in that situation but the same unhittable pitch he’d already proven unable to hit. They manifested when he reached his dugout after rounding the bases. Even before he entered, he was shouting at his teammates, “What an idiot! What an idiot!” (Watch it here.)

The comments were picked up by TV cameras, of course, which is why this is a controversy. Napoli oviously did not intend to show up Tanaka; his comments were directed toward his teammates, not toward the field, and were made amid the rush of his success. Also, Napoli was right—Yankees catcher Brian McCann did all he could to have Tanaka throw the splitter, but was shaken off repeatedly. Still, any player in the modern era should know better—especially talking, as he did, from field level at the lip of the dugout, without even the cover of a position deep on the bench.

Such was the impact that Red Sox manager John Farrell was compelled to address it on Sunday.

“The one thing we don’t ever want our players to be is non-emotional,” he said in an MLB.com report. “I’m aware of the comment made last night. I didn’t hear it at the time. But I know this: We’ve got the utmost respect for Tanaka and I know Mike Napoli does.”

It’s reminiscent of a scene from The Baseball Codes, in which a youthful Eric Chavez was being interviewed before his A’s played the Yankees in Game 5 of the 2000 ALDS.

Responding to a press-conference question about his opponents, who had won the previous two titles, Chavez talked about how great the Yankees had been in recent years, what a terrific job they’d done, and how difficult it was to win as consistently as they had. He also added that they’d “won enough times,” and that it would be okay for somebody else to play in the World Series for a change. Chavez was twenty-two years old, wide-eyed and hopeful. There was nothing malicious in his tone.

Unfortunately for the A’s, the press conference at which Chavez was speaking was being broadcast live on the Oakland Coliseum scoreboard for early-arriving fans. Also watching were the Yankees, on the field for batting practice. “So he’s dropping the past tense on us? Did you see that?” spat third baseman Scott Brosius from the batting cage. One New York player after another—Derek Jeter, Paul O’Neill, Bernie Williams—took Chavez’s comments and blew them up further. The Yankees hardly needed additional motivation, but now they had it. Their first three hitters of the game reached base, four batters in they had the lead, and by the end of the frame it was 6–0. The A’s were in a hole from which they could not climb out before they even had a chance to bat.

The Yankees didn’t have any such swing of success against the Red Sox on Sunday—they lost, 8-5—but it underscores the importance of understanding where you are and who can hear you before speaking your mind with anything resembling too much impunity.

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Filed under Don't Incite the Opposition

Yankees Somehow Forget to Tell Pineda Not to Be Stupid. Red Sox Help Out

This one’s on the rest of the Yankees.

When Michael Pineda was caught by TV cameras with pine tar on his palm last week in a game against Boston, talk centered around whether use of pine tar is even considered cheating, and why the Red Sox opted not to have him prosecuted for it.

John Farrell seems to be viewing it similarly to the way many in the game approach opponents stealing signs from the basepaths: It’s hardly egregious, and every team does it to some degree—but when you’re caught, you have to stop … or at least make it less obvious.

Pineda failed on both counts.

It was under Farrell’s watch last week that Pineda was first caught, and Farrell was again in the opposing dugout when Pineda tried it again yesterday—this time with the substance on his neck. The manager was right in letting it slide the first time, and he was right in putting a stop to it the second, with the operating theory being, Guy’s dumb enough to get caught twice, he deserves whatever he gets. (Watch it play out here.)

(Farrell himself said in his pregame presser, “I expect that if it’s used, it’s more discreet than the last time.” Can’t be much more clear—or accommodating—than that.)

Where were the rest of the Yankees after the first incident? Who took the youngster aside and tutored him in the high art of pitch doctoring, or at least the lesser art of simply laying low?

The Captain could have said something, but Jeter’s not a pitcher. C.C. Sabathia has certainly been around long enough, but either kept to himself or did not promote sufficient urgency in his tutoring. The team’s next two most prominent starters are from Japan, and may have either little experience with pine tar, or little enough comfort with either the language or their standing in the clubhouse to lecture on the subject.

This is where a leadership void comes at a cost. (Joe Girardi, we’re looking at you.) Pineda faces a 10-game suspension, minimum. It’s difficult to picture things playing out like this on Yankees teams of recent vintage featuring the likes of Pettitte, Cone, Wells and Clemens. Some of them may have lectured Pineda about knocking it off, while others whispered hints about how to do it right.

It’s rare to see such a clear example of the importance of team leadership. The Yankees dropped the ball on this one.

Exactly.

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Filed under Cheating, Pine Tar