Dynastic, Bombastic, Fantastic, Superstition

It’s Mustache Time In Oakland Again

In 2018, the Oakland A’s introduced a Kelly green alternate jersey that is an unmistakable throwback to their look from the Swingin’ A’s days of the early 1970s.

Last week, A’s first baseman Matt Olson introduced a hairy upper lip that is similarly reminiscent.

Taking a page from the team that inspired the Hairs vs. the Squares moniker against the Reds in the 1972 World Series, Olson sought a way to bust out of an early-season slump. Sometimes totems can be just the thing.

“I didn’t do it to look good,” Olson said Thursday in a San Francisco Chronicle report. “You know what they say, it’s never too early to hit the panic button.”

Olson had started the season 5-for-36, but after debuting his lip sweater on Wednesday homered twice, and then again on Thursday. After the latter, his teammates held index fingers horizontally atop their lips as he rounded the bases. “I think it has to [stay] now,” Olson said of his ’stache. “Not even by choice.”

Back in 1972, of course, the lip hair came courtesy of owner Charlie Finley’s offer to pay $300 to every player who grew out his own mustache in advance of the team photo on June 18. I wrote about it in Dynastic, Bombastic, Fantastic:

Baseball was a clean-cut sport in the early 1970s, and had been for the better part of a century. While ballplayers were known to grow mustaches over the winter months, they’d invariably shave them prior to the season, frequently as a rite of spring training. In 1972, however, Reggie Jackson did no such thing. When his lip hair remained in place through the duration of the Arizona exhibition schedule, his teammates took notice.

Whisker prohibition hadn’t always been enforced. Abner Doubleday himself wore a mustache in the 1830s. A photographic portrait of the first professional team, the Cincinnati Red Stockings of 1869, depicts eight of nine members sporting facial hair. But ballplayers of the early 1900s were seen as ruffians, low-ranking members of society whose reputations hindered the marketing of the sport; clean-shaved faces were part of reversing that image. In 1914, A’s catcher Wally Schang became the last major league regular to wear a mustache. Until Reggie.

“Reggie was being his basic hot dog self, wanting to do whatever he wanted to do, and no one was going to tell Reggie what to do,” said Rollie Fingers, who, along with most of his teammates, was appalled by Jackson’s new look. Understanding their inability to sway the superstar, Fingers, Catfish Hunter, Darold Knowles, and Bob Locker took a different tack, theorizing that growing their own mustaches would draw a blanket rebuke from Finley, who would in turn command every player, including Jackson, to shave.

The Owner learned about it on the team plane. There was Jackson, mustache in place, and the quartet of pitchers, similarly adorned. Instead of getting angry, however, Finley was thunderstruck. Always on the make for unique promotional opportunities, he let it be known: any player or staff member who grew a mustache by June 18, the date of the team photo, would receive a $300 bonus. He decreed it Mustache Day, with mustachioed fans admitted to the game free of charge. Most players jumped right on board. “For $300,” said Ken Holtzman, “I would grow hair on my feet.” Only three players—Sal Bando, Mike Hegan, and Larry Brown—remained reticent and clean-faced. During an ensuing conversation with the Owner, Bando soon found out exactly where he stood on the subject. “Mr. Bando,” Finley said to him, “I would like you to grow your mustache. We want to do it as a team, and we all are the same.” With that, the holdout players acceded. (Finley himself did not grow one, of course. He never for a moment viewed himself as being on the same level as his players.)

By June 18, not only was Finley’s own squad fully ’stached, but six members of the visiting Cleveland Indians grew out mustaches of their own, despite threats of fines from manager Ken Aspromonte if they didn’t shave after the series finale. Finley presented gold mustache spoons, with attached covers for eating soup, to players, staff, and the participating members of the Indians. At the Coliseum, 7,607 men got in free with the promotion. Plate umpire Marty Springstead took one look at third-base coach Irv Noren before the game and said, “Jesus, Irv, when are you going to shave that off?” Noren didn’t hesitate. “As soon as the goddamn check clears,” he said.

Current A’s third baseman Matt Chapman has been known to grow his own slump-buster mustache from time to time, though manager Bob Melvin took care to distinguish it from his teammate’s. “Olson’s got a little more growth going on than Chapman,” he said. “I think Chapman, it would take him a couple of years to get a mustache that actually looks like a mustache.”

Meanwhile, Olson is styling and raking in equal measures. Who knows—maybe he’ll start another trend.

Retaliation

Baseball 2020: When Fighting Words Should No Longer Matter, But Still Somehow Do

Let’s start by noting that the pitch that precipitated Sunday’s mess did not hit Ramon Laureano intentionally. It was a 77-mph, full-count curveball from Humberto Castellanos, a 22-year-old pitching in his third big league inning, in only his eighth appearance above Single-A.

Then again, Laureano had already been hit in the game … by Brandon Bailey, a 25-year-old (who the A’s traded to Houston straight up for Ramon Laureano!) making his fourth big league appearance after jumping directly from Double-A.

Then again again, Laureano was also drilled in the first game of the series on Friday … also by Castellanos, back in his second-ever major league game. This one was a fastball, but at 88 mph, it was the slowest of the four that the right-hander threw during the at-bat. Also, the game was tied 1-1 in the 12th inning and, with runners already at first and second, it loaded the bases with one out.

So it’s safe to say that Ramon Laureano was not being targeted by the Astros over the weekend. It’s also safe to say that, when a player gets dotted three times over the course of a series—and his team five times, without a whiff of retaliation—regardless of intention, he’s entitled to be annoyed. And Laureano was. After the last incident, he chirped at Castellanos (strangely, it looked like he was showing the pitcher how to release a curveball), but it never appeared that he seriously considered charging the mound. Once Laureano reached first base, it seemed as if the game would proceed apace.

That’s the build-up.

The real issue was Astros hitting coach Alex Cintron, who stood on the lip of the first-base dugout and, once Laureano had taken his base, lit into him. Instigation by a coach is particularly weak, especially with manager Dusty Baker—who’d been ejected an inning earlier for arguing balls and strikes—not being around to control it. What Cintron said has not yet been revealed, but it was enough to draw the baserunner’s attention. When Cintron took a challenge step toward the field, Laureano charged.

Before we get into the real issue here, let’s say for the record that charging an opponent near his own dugout is never a good idea, no matter who’s doing the charging. The attacker is wildly outnumbered, and, with baseball fights being group affairs, his chances to so much as land a blow are minimal.

But we’re playing in a time of pandemic, when Major League Baseball has expressly forbidden this kind of thing. From the 2020 operations manual: “Fighting and instigating fights are strictly prohibited. Players must not make physical contact with others for any reason unless it occurs in normal and permissible game action.”

So of course we had a scrum. Astros catcher (and former Athletic) Dustin Garneau tackled Laureano before he ever reached Cintron, and members of both teams ended up milling about, nose to nose, as ballplayers do. A’s catcher Austin Allen briefly scrapped with Houston catcher Martin Maldonado. Laureano and Allen were ejected.

It’s another instance of high-profile athletes willfully ignoring their civic and personal responsibilities. On one hand, if the A’s and Astros want to keep playing baseball, they should do all they can to insure that COVID never reaches their clubhouses. Yesterday’s dustup was the opposite of that. We’ve already asked once this season whether love of baseball will be able to outstrip some of its athletes’ baser competitive instincts, then asked it again only one day later when Joe Kelly taunted these selfsame Astros into another confrontation. Do we love baseball enough? The answer is still unclear.

Beyond that, there’s the example that these athletes are setting for the rest of us. If a few angry words are worth the potential cost of sparking a 50-person scrum, what does that say to the public at large about the importance of safety? Cintron acted like a meat-headed moron, and Laureano should have known better than to take the bait.

The message from all of these men, intentional or not, is that machismo trumps common sense. It’s short-sighted and stupid. Nobody is innocent here.

MLB has been doing its part, suspending Kelly for eight games—more than 13 percent of the truncated season—for his idiotic behavior two weeks back. Similar penalties are in line for yesterday’s participants.

Baseball fights are traditionally free-range affairs, rarely coming to anything serious, specifically because so many players end up involved that it’s difficult to get any actual fighting done. Maybe there was some benefit to that, pre-COVID, but no more. For the first time ever, we need our ballplayers to be more than baseball-smart. We need them to be actual-smart. The big picture is no longer about a game or a series or even a season. It’s about helping to show that we’re all in this together and are doing what we can to help the common cause.

Be better, baseball.

Update 8/11: MLB decided that as the instigator, Cintron would be suspended for 20 games, or one-third of the truncated season. It’s the longest suspension for on-field behavior in 15 years, and the longest for a coach or manager since Pete Rose was shelved for 30 games after shoving an umpire in 1988. Laureano was docked six games for his actions. Both decisions seem about right.

Communication, Retaliation

Text Diplomacy Staves Off Bad Blood Between A’s, Royals

A little communication can go a long way.

On Tuesday, Kansas City pitcher Jorge Lopez drilled Oakland’s Mark Canha, which Canha viewed suspiciously given that it came the next pitch after teammate Matt Olson drilled a massive, game-tying homer.

Canha, an emphatic bat-flipper, is no stranger to being drilled. (He’s tied for the American League lead with 17 HBPs this season.) Still, this one stuck in his craw. He was stewing over it after the game when teammate Homer Bailey approached him, phone extended.

Bailey, who played for the Royals last season, had just received a text from Lopez, and wanted to share it. It was, said Canha in the San Francisco Chronicle, “a pretty apologetic text message.”

“[Lopez] said he knows it looked bad, and he promises he wasn’t trying to do anything,” Canha said. “That says something. I’m not a big retaliation guy. I just really want to move on.”

Even A’s manager Bob Melvin, who’d described Lopez’s approach as “weak” immediately afterward, softened his stance. “You get a little emotional after games,” he said in retrospect. “I probably said something out of turn, but I don’t know what anyone’s thinking. I’m just saying what it looked like at the time.”

If only the rest of us could get along so well.

Fights, Intra-Team Fights

Mariners Confrontation Nothing New In Clubhouse Annals

Reggie 'n Billy

Given the clubhouse confrontation between teammates Dee Gordon and Jean Segura in Seattle earlier this week—apparently over a dropped flyball in a game the Mariners eventually won—it’s only appropriate to reference the greatest group of brawlers that baseball has ever seen, for whom I hold a particular affinity (and for which this post is in no way related to the fact that the paperback was just released on Monday).

I’ve already disseminated, via Deadspin, the passage from Dynastic, Bombastic, Fantastic detailing Reggie Jackson’s 1972 fight with Mike Epstein. So here’s a different fight story about the Swingin’ A’s, from the book, about the culmination of a weeks-long feud between Jackson and outfielder Billy North in 1974:

Jackson spent the afternoon of June 5 at a hotel in downtown Detroit with NBA players Archie Clark, Charlie Scott and Lucius Allen. There are at least two versions of what happened next. In one, a lady called for one of the basketball players, and when she found out that Reggie was there, asked to speak to him. She was North’s girlfriend (or ex-girlfriend), who may or may not have been an airline stewardess, and, having heard that he and Reggie weren’t getting along, took the opportunity to prod Jackson for details. In another version the girl came on to Reggie at a bar some weeks earlier when North was not around, only to be rebuffed by the ballplayer. Both versions were told by Jackson at different times.

The way North reacted, there may well have been a third option. He arrived at Tiger Stadium a bit later than the rest of the team, already afire. At that point, the clubhouse—a tiny space, with lockers consisting of mesh metal frames sticking out at right angles from the white-tiled wall every three feet or so—was sedate. The scant area in the middle of the room contained a table where the team’s regular bridge players—Holtzman, Fingers, Green and Knowles—were mid-game. Ray Fosse sat nearby, looking on. Reggie, naked save for a towel, entered the clubhouse from the adjacent trainer’s room just as North arrived. The center fielder started in on him as soon as he walked through the doorway. “Superstar, my ass!” he shouted, striding toward Jackson. “You’re a fucking jerk, you know that?” When North got close enough, he reared back and punched Reggie in the face, twice. Jackson was stunned, but absorbed the blows without falling. Then he lowered his shoulder and charged. “It was surreal, like, ‘Is this shit really happening?’ ” said Herb Washington, who, having spent the afternoon with an increasingly irritated North, had a good idea of what was about to go down.

North and Jackson scuffled up one side of the room and down the other, ultimately falling hard to the concrete floor. The men playing bridge in the center of the room looked up disinterestedly and returned to their card game. “I had a slam bid I wanted to play, and damned if people were fighting,” said Green. “I still played it.” Fingers was even more blasé, saying, “They’re just going to fight later anyway if we break it up now.”

That meant that the only peacemakers on the scene were Blue Moon Odom and Vida Blue (the same Odom and Blue who nearly fought each other in the same clubhouse following a playoff game two seasons earlier). With Blue scheduled to pitch that night, collateral damage became a real concern, so Fosse jumped up to help. By that time North was on top of Jackson. Blue pulled on North, Fosse pulled on Blue, and everybody fell backward, Fosse crashing into a locker divider on his way down.

Everything stopped. Fosse shakily picked himself up. Jackson and North scrambled to their feet, took some deep breaths, and eyed each other warily. The peace lasted about three minutes, until North began shouting (according to Reggie), “You know damn well what this is about! You’re trying to steal my girl from me is what this is about!”

Reggie did his best to settle his teammate. “Hey man, I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about,” he said. “I talked to a girl … that’s all. I didn’t ask her for a date. I didn’t ask for anything. I don’t want anything from her. I don’t want your girl. I don’t want anything from you.”

The only reason Reggie didn’t want her, taunted North, was because his sexual proclivities did not lean toward her gender. Jackson flashed and, still naked, went after him again. Again the pair stumbled across the floor. Reggie clipped a locker with his shoulder and fell awkwardly, and North leapt atop him and began swinging.

Across the room, Bando looked at Tenace. “What are you doing?” he said.

“What do you mean, what am I doing?” asked Tenace.

“Why are we letting it go on like this?” asked Bando.

“Did you see what happened to the last guy who tried to break it up?” said Tenace, referring to the still-woozy Fosse. “I ain’t going to be a stinking statistic.”

“Get over here,” said Bando, pulling his teammate toward the players. Bando grabbed North, Tenace grabbed Reggie. Alou, Campaneris and Washington raced in for damage control.

Once the fisticuffs ended, Jackson decamped to find ice for his aching shoulder and North stomped off to change into his uniform. Bando looked around and clapped his hands in mock satisfaction. “Well, that’s it,” he said. “We’re definitely going to win big tonight.”

The A’s did win that night, 9-1 over the Tigers, but Jackson hurt his shoulder in the scuffle, precipitating a protracted slump. Hurt even worse was catcher Ray Fosse, who in an effort to break things up injured two vertebrae and ended up missing most of the rest of the season.

By all accounts, things weren’t that bad between Gordon and Segura in Seattle (or between broadcasters Mario Impemba and Rod Allen in Detroit).

Then again, the A’s went on to win the World Series that year, something that seems decidedly unlikely for the Mariners or Tigers.

Bat Flipping, Retaliation, The Baseball Codes

Mark Canha: Unrepentant Bat Flipper

Canha flips

That Mark Canha flipped his bat after homering against the Giants in San Francisco on Saturday night was hardly noteworthy. It was a small affair, more toss than flip. The Giants did not appear to notice, at least so much as they let on.

It was Canha’s response to the flip, much more than the flip itself, that truly reflected the modern game.

“Growing up in San Jose and being a Giants fan and coming to all those games as a kid, it was nice to finally pop one and, given the situation, I was excited,” the Oakland outfielder told the media after the game. “So I got on Twitter and got out in front of this a little bit. I’m sure a lot of San Franciscans are offended by that, and I’m sorry.”

That wasn’t the good part. The good part is what came next.

“You know what, people getting offended by bat flips is so silly,” Canha continued. “I’m not sorry. I’m not really sorry. It’s part of our game. Everybody does it. If someone is going to throw at me because of it, I’ve got thrown at in the past this season for bat flipping. I clearly didn’t learn my lesson. If you’re offended by that, I don’t care.”

Now we’re cooking.

We’ve seen comments like these before, usually from Latin America-born players, who have tried for years to explain how celebratory displays are part of the baseball they grew up with, and how they make the game better. For a certain subset of critics, however, those guys are too other for traditional tastesforeign voices that have no business telling Americans how their sport should be played.

Mark Canha was born and raised a Giants fan in Northern California. He went to U.C. Berkeley. He now plays for the A’s. There are few better examples of a Bay Area baseball kid made good. (And, okay, maybe some of those same critics who decry foreign voices will now dismiss Canha as a West Coast liberal, as if that has anything to do with anything, never mind that the guy’s politics are closeted to the point that I have no idea what they are.)

The point isn’t that Mark Canha is trying to move the needle. It’s that he’s being honest about the fact that the needle has already moved. This is Major League Baseball, 2018, and Canha is simply a product of it.

***

Also intriguing is Canha’s claim that he’s been thrown at this season in response to bat flipping. There are no direct tiesseries in which he homered and was subsequently drilled. The best bet is a flip against Seattle, on May 2, of which you can catch a fleeting glimpse here.) Canha skated through the next day’s game unscathed, but was drilled by Mariners starter Mike Leake the next time the teams met, on May 22.

Then again, Canha said only that he was thrown at, not hit, in which case all box-score divination is moot. I’ll be sure to ask him about it next time I’m in the A’s clubhouse.

 

No-Hitter Etiquette

No-Hitter In Oakland Had Its Share Of Superstition

Manaea no-no

The no-hitter thrown by Oakland pitcher Sean Manaea against the Red Sox on Saturday gave us more than a dominating outing against baseball’s best team. It also gave us another peek into the superstitious morass found in major league dugouts when it comes to jinx avoidance.

For Manaea’s part, he said he didn’t even realize that he had a no-hitter going until the eighth, thanks to a tough error charged on Marcus Semien in the fifth, a play the pitcher assumed was ruled a hit.

Manager Bob Melvin, of course, was under no such misconceptions. “I didn’t even look at [Manaea] after the sixth inning,” the skipper said in a San Francisco Chronicle report. The idea, of course, is that mentioning a no-hitter during a no-hitter will somehow jinx the no-hittter. Looking at Manaea would have been a surefire way for Melvin to guarantee Boston’s first hit.

There’s an entire chapter devoted to this in The Baseball Codes. Manaea and Melvin are no strangers to the dance, the latter having removed the former from the middle of a different no-hitter almost exactly a year ago.

The manager was worried about having to do something similar again on Saturday, only this time in the ninth inning. The right-hander walked Andrew Benintendi with two outs, Hanley Ramirez and J.D. Martinez were the next two Sox hitters, Manaea was over 100 pitches for the first time this season, and the A’s led only 3-0. For Melvin, one of the more superstitious managers in the sport, having his closer so much as throw a warm-up pitch in the bullpen had the potential to anger the Baseball Gods. With that in mind, Blake Treinen began to stretch, but never picked up a ball.

It worked. Ramirez grounded to shortstop, the A’s forced Benintendi at second, and Manaea had his no-no.

The Red Sox, of course, were under no such auspices. Their Twitter feed did whatever it could to sway history.

It didn’t work. Congrats, Sean.

Retaliation, spring training

Dyson Deals, Davis Ducks: Spring Dustup Has Giants, A’s in Midseason Form

Dyson-Hundley

Intent is everything. If a pitcher wants to hit a batter, and then hits that batter, you can be certain that the batter knows what happened, and why.

When the pitcher didn’t mean to do it, though, things are usually different. Balls slip, plans go sideways, and sometimes hitters have to wear one just because that’s the way the game sometimes works. For the most part, everybody understands this and moves right along without devoting too much energy to the proceedings.

Usually.

Spring training is, by design, a place for players to work the winter kinks out of their games, so it should come as little surprise when the occasional fastball gets away from the occasional pitcher and ends up someplace it oughtn’t. Such a thing happened yesterday, and the A’s weren’t at all pleased.

Giants reliever Sam Dyson didn’t even have to hit the batter, Oakland slugger Khris Davis, to ignite anger. He only brushed him back with something high and tight.

Then again, Dyson had just given up three straight hits, including a double, an RBI single, and a two-run homer to Franklin Barreto, before Davis came to the plate, so perhaps the pitcher was acting in frustration. Ultimately, whether he meant it doesn’t really matter. The plausibility of intent was undeniable, and optics are everything when it comes to this kind of stuff.

Davis immediately had words for Dyson, and Giants catcher Nick Hundley had words for the A’s dugout. Dyson ended up rocked for four runs in two-thirds of an inning.

So a maybe-he-meant-it-but-probably-he-didn’t HBP went from nothing to something based on Davis’ reaction to Dyson, and Hundley’s ensuing reaction to Davis’ teammates. Things grew further inflamed when Roberto Gomez, the pitcher to follow Dyson, hit the first batter he faced, A’s prospect Ramon Laureano, on the hand. At that point intent ceased to matter. The Giants were officially throwing at Oakland, and Oakland felt the need to respond.

The mantle was taken up by right-hander Daniel Gossett, who got into 18 games for the A’s last year as a rookie and is hoping to land a rotation spot this season. After retiring the first four batters he faced, he planted a fastball into the back of Orlando Calixte, inspiring umpire Mike DiMuro to warn both benches against further such displays.* Calixte appeared to want a piece of the pitcher after scoring on Jarrett Parker’s double, but was instead directed to the dugout with no small urgency by teammate Mac Williamson.

Afterward, Giants manager Bruce Bochy didn’t want to talk about the confrontations, and A’s manager Bob Melvin dismissed the entire affair with the sentiment, “Boys will be boys.”

The Giants and A’s face each other six times this (and every) season (and once more in a split-squad game on Saturday), but this kind of thing will almost certainly be left behind in Arizona.

* When it comes to Gossett and Laureano alike, there’s no better way for a new pitcher to earn respect in a clubhouse than by standing up for his teammates. And there’s no more obvious way to stand up for teammates than a well-timed message pitch in response to some perceived injustice.

 

 

Dynastic, Bombastic, Fantastic

Recalling the First Guy to Play All Nine

Campy-Campaneris-Night

In the wake of Detroit’s Andrew Romine playing all nine positions during a game against the Twins, it seems pertinent to call up a shard that was trimmed from an early version of “Dynastic, Bombastic, Fantastic,” concerning the early years of Charlie Finley’s Kansas City Athletics.

Whereas Romine’s stunt appears to be motivated by manager Brad Ausmus’ simple appreciation of him as a player, when Campy Campaneris became the first guy ever to pull the trick in 1965, it was all about draw:

By 1965, Finley’s master plan of building from the ground up was not close to paying off. His two key pieces from baseball’s first-ever player draft, Monday and Bando, were still years away from big league playing time, and even with future stalwarts like Campy Campaneris, Dick Green and Catfish Hunter, the A’s finished 59-103—a level of futility that did little to help an apathetic fanbase overcome their dislike of the Owner. So Finley had to come up with other ways to draw a crowd.

One of them happened on Sept. 8, when he ordered manager Haywood Sullivan (who would go on to an extensive career in the front office of the Boston Red Sox) to play Campaneris at all nine positions, shifting him after every inning. It was a bald-faced promotional stunt; nothing like it had ever happened in major league baseball and for good reason—it had no on-field value. Still, with the A’s already approaching 90 losses and sitting 35.5 games out of first place, it might just get people to come out. An advertisement for that night’s game read:

“CAMPY” CAMPANERIS NIGHT
TONIGHT
FOR THE FIRST TIME IN THE
HISTORY OF THE MAJOR LEAGUES,
CAMPY WILL PLAY EVERY POSITION FOR ONE INNING
INCLUDING PITCHING AND CATCHING
For the most exciting and enjoyable evening of the 1965 season
* DON’T MISS THIS THRILLER *
Purchase Tickets Early—Available at all A’s Outlets

It worked. The gate of 21,576 doubled the previous night’s attendance and blew the following night’s 1,271 entirely out of the water. The only trouble was that the game went 12 innings, and the A’s might actually have won had they not been preoccupied with shuffling their Cuban missile all over the field.

In the sixth inning, Campaneris, playing right field, dropped a fly ball for an error that allowed California’s Albie Pearson to score, putting the Angels ahead, 2-1. In the eighth, with Campaneris on the mound (as promised), California scored its third run on two walks and a Joe Adcock single. Then in the ninth, the lightweight Campaneris, playing catcher for the first time in his big league career, was leveled by 200-pound Ed Kirkpatrick on a play at the plate. Campy held the ball for the final out of the inning but was carted off to the hospital with an injured shoulder. Kansas City still managed to score two in bottom of the frame to tie it, then held on for four more innings before succumbing, 5-3. Campy ended up missing four games. It was, said Sullivan after the fact, “a silly thing to do.”

 

 

Don't Peek, Sign stealing

The Pitcher Is That Way, Sir, Out Toward The Middle of The Diamond

Chapman peeks

While accusations continue to fly in Boston about high-tech sign-stealing espionage, similar gripes arose in Oakland on Wednesday that appear mainly to do with batters peeking at the catcher. Apparently, Moneyball budgets don’t cover Apple watches.

In the second inning, Angels catcher Juan Graterol began a discussion with the hitter, Oakland outfielder Mark Canha, that grew animated enough for plate ump Mike Everitt to separate them. TV cameras picked up Everitt informing LA’s dugout that the catcher suspected A’s players of stealing signs. Canha said later that Graterol told him to quit looking back at his signals, and that the catcher had already delivered a similar message to infielder Chad Pinder.

“I’ve never [peeked] in my career,” Canha said in a San Francisco Chronicle report. “I thought it was just a Scioscia-Angels-Graterol tactic to make young players get uncomfortable, just get in my head. I was just like, ‘OK, play your little games and I’m just going to focus on the task at hand.’ ”

The issue came to a head in the fourth inning, shortly after Oakland’s Matt Chapman stepped into the batter’s box, when he and Graterol went nose to nose. According to Chapman, the second-inning exchange was only the latest example of LA accusing Oakland players both relaying signs from second base and peeking back at the catcher pre-pitch to pick up additional information.

“The catcher kept staring at the hitters as they were digging into the box,” Chapman said. “That’s not a very comfortable feeling having the catcher staring at you. It’s a little disrespectful. So when I got into the box, I just let them know we were not stealing signs and there was no need to be staring at us. He obviously didn’t take too kindly to that.”

It’s a thin argument. Just across the bay, Giants catcher Buster Posey—one of the sport’s headiest players—looks up from the squat at batters’ eyes all the time. Nobody has yet accused him of making them feel bad by it.

Angels manager Mike Scioscia offered a straightforward assessment. “They have a habit of glancing back,” he said about A’s batters. “On a day game or a night game when you can see shadows and a catcher’s head, it’s easy to look back and pick up some locations. So, Juan was just saying, ‘Hey, man, don’t look back.’ ” Given that Scioscia was among the best defensive catchers of his generation, it’s safe to assume that he knows whereof he speaks.

Graterol offered his own version of his conversation with Chapman. “I told him, ‘Don’t peek at the signs,’ because I saw him,” he said. “Chapman told me, ‘We don’t peek at the signs.’ I said, ‘Yes, you did.’ ”  At that point, Everitt stepped between them. When Chapman continued to chirp, he was ejected for the first time in his big league career.

To gauge by the clip above, Chapman was indeed looking backward when he stepped into the box. Maybe it was in response to chatter from his teammates about Graterol giving hitters the evil eye, and he wanted to check it out. Maybe he was peeking for signs or location. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter—because Chapman offered the appearance of malfeasance, he left the Angels little recourse but to believe that was his intent.

Just as the primary responsibility for a team that’s getting its signs nabbed is to change the signs, Graterol had a number of options. He could have set up late in the sequence, once the hitter’s full concentration was on the pitcher. He could have set up early in one spot, and then shifted. He could have slapped his glove on one side of the plate while setting up on the other. Or he could have utilized the most surefire—and dangerous—peeker deterrent: calling for something away while he and the pitcher both understood that the next pitch would be high and tight. The Baseball Codes discussed a 1979 incident in which Rangers pitcher Ed Farmer gave suspected peeker Al Cowens just such a treatment, throwing a high, inside fastball after catcher Jim Sundberg had set up outside. Farmer caught Cowens leaning over the plate, with disastrous results:

The ball crashed into Cowens’s jaw, crumpling him instantly. Pete LaCock, who had been standing in the on-deck circle, was the first member of the Royals to arrive. “His glasses were still on and his eyes were bouncing up and down and I didn’t know if he was still breathing or not,” said LaCock. “I reached into his mouth and grabbed his chew, and right behind it came pieces of teeth and blood. It was an ugly scene.”

“I have to say he was throwing at me, maybe not in the face, but it was intentional,” Cowens said angrily after the game through a wired-together jaw. “That was his first pitch, and the two times before, he was throwing outside. He pitched me so well before. I can’t figure out why he pitched on the outside corner, struck me out, and then hit me.”

Farmer’s reply was equally pointed, though he avoided a direct accusa­tion. “[Cowens] thinks I’m guilty of throwing at him,” he said shortly afterward. “I think he’s guilty of looking for an outside pitch and not moving.” It may not have been the result he intended, but the pitcher felt justified in protecting his own interests. “It’s a fine line out there,” he said. “You don’t want to hurt anybody, but you don’t want anybody to take advantage of you.”

In that regard, Graterol’s handling of the situation was downright genteel. Regardless, even though it was the final meeting between the teams this season, it’s unlikely that Chapman & co. will take similar liberties—or anything that resembles them—in the future.

 

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]