Gamesmanship

By Any Means Necessary: Pinder Channels Brando In Effort To Reach Base

Pinder bunts

In the greater scheme, it wasn’t much of a moment—an inside fastball that was fouled off on a bunt attempt for the first strike of an inning.

But, oh, the details behind it.

The fastball was thrown on Wednesday by Cleveland’s Corey Kluber to A’s second baseman Chad Pinder, leading off the fifth. Kluber had to that point had struck out seven A’s, so Pinder tried to mix things up and small-ball his way aboard. The pitch ran inside, however, and hit the batter in the hand. Plate ump Tom Hallion awarded him first base.

But then! Replays showed that the ball didn’t hit Pinder at all—his reaction was pure pantomime. The ball had contacted the bat squarely between his hands, but Pinder, who may initially have reacted with shock and surprise, did nothing to deter the umpire from his decision. (Watch it here.)

Because Major League Baseball has become a replay-driven league, the call was overturned, and Pinder returned to the batter’s box with a 0-1 count. (He ended up grounding out to shortstop.)

The obvious question is, did Pinder act appropriately? According to baseball’s code, he did. Free bases are free bases, and far be it from a player—whose goal is to put his team into its best position to win a game—to snub a generous offer. It’s why outfielders who knowingly trap balls act like they’ve caught them. During his days as a catcher, longtime A’s manager Connie Mack would make a clucking sound on check swings in an effort to fool the ump into thinking that the pitch had been tipped. After Willie Stargell and Dave Parker collided while going after a popup in 1976, Pittsburgh second baseman Rennie Stennett reached for the ball—obscured on the ground between their bodies—and, in the guise of checking on his fallen teammates, placed it into Stargell’s glove. (It worked.)

More pertinent to Pinder, this exact scenario took place in 2010, featuring no less a figure than Derek Jeter, who not only acted as if a pitch had hit him, but worked hard to sell it, grabbing his arm and pirouetting out of the box on a ball that connected with the knob of his bat as he tried to spin out of the way.

If the Captain can try to pantomime his way on base, who’s to tell Chad Pinder to knock it off?

[H/T Cleveland.com]

 

No-Hitter Etiquette

No-No No Mo’: On Yanking One’s Pitcher in the Middle of a No-Hitter

Manaea

The unwritten rule—not to mention conventional wisdom—is that one doesn’t pull one’s pitcher while he’s throwing a no-hitter. Managers have gone to great lengths to protect this credo, notably during Johan Santana’s 134-pitch no-no in 2012, which left him with an indelible mark on history … and ruined his arm forever. (Santana put up an 8.27 ERA in 10 more starts for the Mets that season before being shut down, and hasn’t pitched in the big leagues since.)

Santana’s manager in that game, Terry Collins, left him in for a variety of reasons, among which was the Mets having never thrown a no-hitter. Over the weekend, A’s skipper Bob Melvin and Marlins boss Don Mattingly were under no such constraints.

On Saturday in Oakland, 25-year-old Sean Manaea came hot out of the gate against the Astros, cruising through the first five innings, during which he struck out six, walked two and gave up no hits.

Then came the sixth. With the A’s holding a 5-0 lead, Manaea walked the first batter, then the second, then the third. It took him only 15 pitches to do so, the last eight of them balls. When Carlos Correa smoked a line drive that ricocheted off the glove of shortstop Adam Rosales, leading to two runs, Melvin had seen enough.

Manaea, in only his third start of the season, was at 98 pitches. Even if he stayed in, there was virtually no chance he’d be able to finish the game. Melvin pulled him.

This was nothing like Clay Kirby being pulled from a no-hitter in 1970 because his team was losing and his manager wanted a pinch-hitter. It was more like the moves made by Ron Gardenhire and Ron Washington, managers who, in the span of about a week in 2010, each yanked a no-hit pitcher whose workload was growing untenable.  Same with Dave Roberts, last year.

(It should be noted that Melvin had been primed to do the same thing five years ago—the day after Santana’s feat—as Jarrod Parker spun no-hit ball, but Parker gave up a hit before his manager could take action.)

On Sunday, Mattingly found himself in similar circumstances when Marlins pitcher Dan Straily entered the sixth without having given up a hit. After Straily walked consecutive batters, however—giving him five on the day and bringing him to 93 pitches—he was sent to the showers. Noteworthy was that Miami led only 1-0 at the time, and Mattingly’s maneuver was aimed as much toward securing a victory as it was protecting Straily.

 

That the Astros, after being no-hit into the sixth inning, ended up scoring 10 runs on the day, is interesting. So is the fact that in Miami, J.T. Riddle hit his first career homer only moments after the would-be winning run was thrown out at the plate, to salt the game away for the Marlins.

Neither detail, however, superseded the fact that Melvin and Mattingly pulled their pitchers in the middle of no-hitters, not to mention that both moves were the right thing to do.

 

Dynastic, Bombastic, Fantastic, Retaliation

When Getting Knocked Down Works Out In Your Favor

Fosse cardGoing through old A’s interviews while prepping for an upcoming presentation about my new book, Dynastic, Bombastic, Fantastic, I found this unwritten-rules nugget from catcher Ray Fosse, who told me about an incident on July 31, 1971, before he joined the A’s:

I’m with the Indians, playing Oakland in Cleveland. [Bert] Campaneris is at first, another runner [Dick Green] is at third, and a squeeze bunt is put on—a busted squeeze. Graig Nettles is playing third for us. I caught the ball and started running down the line to force the rundown. Out of the corner of my eye I see Campy rounding second, so I threw the ball to Nettles, then went to third and called, “Graig, Graig!” So he tagged [Green] and threw it back to me.

I crushed Campy with the tag. Crushed him. It was unintentional, but my momentum took me as he came to the bag and I went down and just fell on him. He was safe. I didn’t think anything about it, but [A’s pitcher] Chuck Dobson comes to bat the next inning and tells me, “You gotta go down.” I said, “What?” He said, “Yep, I got instructions. I got to throw at you.” Here’s the pitcher who’s actually going to be doing it, at the plate saying, “You got to go down.”

I said, “Are you kidding me? Because of what I did at third base with Campy?” He said, “Mm-hm.” So I come up to hit, Dobber threw a ball over my head and knocked me to the ground. I got up pissed off, and hit a double. When I got to second base, I looked at A’s dugout and said, “Stick that up your …” I was so pissed, I said it right to [A’s manager] Dick Williams. The last thing I ever thought was that I would be traded to Oakland.

So after I was traded, we’re sitting in Cleveland, getting ready to catch a commercial flight—to Cleveland, of all places. We’re at the airport, and Dick’s in the restaurant, by himself, and I walk up to him and say, “Skip, this has been on my mind. Do you remember the play?”

He said, “I remember it.” I said, “The last place I thought I would ever be traded was here.” He says, “I remember that play, and that’s why we want guys like you.” Because I was willing to do that to one of his players, unintentionally as it was, and then  responded by looking into the dugout after they decked me. He said, “I like that.”

After four seasons in Cleveland, of course, Fosse experienced his first-ever  winning record with the A’s, followed in short order by back-to-back championships. If you’re not already following it, check out @DynasticBook for a day-by-day account of Oakland’s 1972, 1973 and 1974 championship seasons.

Retaliation

Never Too Foggy For Retaliation

ken-holtzmanIn support of my latest book, Dynastic, Bombastic, Fantastic: Reggie, Rollie, Catfish, and Charlie Finley’s Swingin’ A’s — available March 7 at fine bookstores everywhere — I’ve been re-poring over old Oakland Tribunes and tweeting this-date-in updates for each of the team’s three championship seasons. Sign up at @DynasticBook to relive those magical seasons, one day at a time.

If you do, May 22 will bring you the bones of the following tale of retaliation, told in significantly more complete form here. From that day’s issue of the Oakland Tribune, 1972:

Ken Holtzman was sailing along with a 2-0 lead in the second inning when he grounded to Royals first baseman John Mayberry, 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds.

Mayberry took the ball, ambled over to the bag to make the third out, but stopped instead of crossing over toward the dugout. The 165-pound Holtzman, running full speed, crashed into Mayberry and went down as if knocked out by Joe Frazier.

When Lou Piniella led off the next inning, the still-shaken Holtzman threw the first ball over his hat.

“I don’t know where I was,” Holtzman said. “I was so dizzy and so mad, I thought Piniella was Mayberry so I threw the ball over his head. When I got back to the dugout they told me what I’d done.”

Piniella is shorter and doesn’t weigh as much as Mayberry. And not only is Piniella white and Mayberry black, but Piniella bats right and Mayberry left.

By the time Mayberry came up again, Holtzman’s head had cleared. He threw a ball over HIS head and then struck him out.

There’s nothing funny about concussions, of course, but Holtzman threw five more innings of one-run ball, then pitched complete games in five of his next seven starts without missing a turn. Seems like he was okay. And dedicated to sending a message.

Boy, was that a different time.

 

The Baseball Codes

On Workplace Sanctity and the Digging of Holes, or: Hey Coco Crisp, Keep Your Cleats to Yourself

After walking in the first inning yesterday, Oakland’s Coco Crisp dug himself a little foothold near first base, to get a better jump should he decide to take off for second. Red Sox first baseman Hanley Ramirez immediately strolled over and rubbed it out with his cleat. (Watch it here.)

What in the name of Mo Vaughn was going on?

Ramirez may be all of 30 games into his initial season as a first baseman in 15 years as a pro, but he clearly has firm ideas about propriety surrounding his new position.

His reaction brings to mind the kerfuffle started by Alex Rodriguez in 2010, after he flied out against those selfsame A’s. On his way back to the visitors’ dugout at the Oakland Coliseum, he crossed atop the pitcher’s mound, a gesture that A’s starter Dallas Braden did not appreciate. The lefthander gave Rodriguez an earful as he trotted away.

The ensuing fallout was massive, the topic dominating national media conversation for weeks afterward—including the overwhelming sentiment that Braden had overreached, having little right to so much as notice Rodriguez’s actions, let alone grow irate over them.

I said then, and still believe, that Braden was justified. The mound is sacred space for a pitcher, and those who have no business atop it better treat it accordingly. Similarly, the area around first base is Hanley Ramirez’s office, and he’s entitled to enforce his own reasonable standards within its boundaries while on duty. Denying Crisp the slight advantage of digging a toehold falls well within those boundaries.

Had Crisp taken umbrage—had he gotten into Ramirez’s face and argued for his right to kick dirt around as he pleased—many more people would be paying attention right now. Instead, he laughed the whole thing off, and everybody moved right along.

Which is exactly as it should be.

Oakland A's

RIP Ron Bergman, the Best to Ever Cover the Oakland A’s

Mustache GangAs I put the finishing touches on the first draft of my upcoming book about the championship A’s teams of the early 1970s (to be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt next March), I am once again appreciating how much easier—and how much more enjoyable—my work has been thanks to the exceptional skills of Ron Bergman. Bergman covered the team for the Oakland Tribune during its entire championship run, starting from the moment they moved to Oakland in 1968, and also wrote for The Sporting News during the championship years. His book about that era, “Mustache Gang,” remains the best of a quality crop of contemporary accounts. He was connected, insightful and so witty it makes one’s teeth ache, to borrow one of his own phrases.

Bergman passed away yesterday, at age 80. He’d been in failing health for some time, to the point that he was unable to speak to me during the process of my reporting. Once upon a time, however, I got to encounter him with some regularity in the press box at AT&T Park. It was the early 2000s, and I was just coming up through the Bay Area sportswriting ranks. He was a columnist on the verge of retirement. To my uninformed self he was little more than an old guy with a thing for outsized leather jackets. I had no idea about his history or his ability, which is, enduringly, my own loss.

What Bergman did with those A’s was remarkable. He was so embedded that he became a regular in the bridge game run by pitchers Ken Holtzman and Rollie Fingers. He mined his sources with such authority that team owner Charlie Finley came to refer to him as “that little shit-stirrer”—a label that, even as it earned Bergman scant goodwill in the executive suite, garnered lasting respect from the rest of the press corps. (How far under Finley’s skin did he get? After Bergman wrote in The Sporting News that “In listening to the A’s play-by-play announcers you get the impression that there’s some sort of contest as to which one can make the most complimentary remarks about Charlie Finley,” the owner kicked him off the team’s charters and personally cancelled his hotel reservation for the next stop on the road trip.)

During the course of my reporting I read every issue of the Oakland Tribune between 1971 and 1976—a process that started out as “have to,” and ended up as “get to.” Bergie’s work made what could have been a mundane process insightful, educational and unforgettable. It seems only fitting to pull just a few highlights from my notes:

  • In response to the 62 transactions Finley made during the course of the 1972 season, and the fact that Oakland suited up 48 players on the year, Bergman wrote, “Once an Athletic, always an Athletic … or if not once an Athletic, then eventually an Athletic.”
  • He described Rollie Fingers during a hot streak as “on the verge of being declared unfair to hitters.”
  • Discussing the strength of Oakland’s reserves in comparison to Cincinnati during the 1972 World Series, he wrote, “The A’s have a great bench. Theirs is lowercase. The Reds’ Bench is tremendous. The Reds’ bench is underwhelming.”
  • Describing executive John Claiborne, who had just quit Oakland’s dysfunctional front office: “Unlike most office help hired by Finley in his baseball operations, Claiborne had some unusual handicaps. He wasn’t related by either blood or marriage to the owner. He had some baseball experience before joining the A’s. And he was competent.”

After the San Jose Mercury pulled its writers off the road in 1974, Bergman was the only one left traveling with the team. Said Jon Miller, one of the club’s broadcasters that season, “We would go into a city like New York, where they’d have eight or nine writers, and they’d come on the press box PA and say, ‘We want to welcome the Oakland press corps: Ron Bergman.’ He was it.”

He was it, in so many ways.

Cheating, Oakland A's, Pine Tar

Give a Man Some Pine Tar and He’ll Cheat for a Day; Show Him How to Cheat and He’ll Cheat for a Lifetime

Cheat to Win

So Dallas Braden says that not only did he use foreign substances while pitching, but the A’s had a full-blown cheating station in spring training, to show guys how it’s done, conveyor-belt style.

Both GM Billy Beane and pitching coach Curt Young denied any knowledge, of course, but those types of denials are part of their job descriptions. Until John Farrell’s call for a universally approved substance comes to fruition, a cheating station might serve the likes of Will Smith and Brian Matusz pretty well.