Home run pimping, Let The Kids Play, Retaliation

Rangers Are The Latest To Have Trouble Letting The Kids Play, And Ramon Laureano’s Bat Bears The Brunt Of Their Agita

We’ve repeatedly discussed the disconnect between MLB’s official “Let the Kids Play” stance and the reality on the ground when it comes to actually letting the kids play. As is frequently the case, the male ego is a complex creature, and memories can be long.

The latest example began on June 8, in Arlington, when Rangers pitcher Adrian Sampson stepped on Ramon Laureano’s bat—with malice aforethought said the slugger and various A’s officials—after striking him out to end the fourth inning. It was likely in response to the home run-watching habits of Laureano’s teammate, Mark Canha, who’d homered off of Sampson earlier in the frame, earning an earful from the pitcher in the process. “There’s no place for that in this game,” Sampson said afterward, calling Canha’s display “just disrespectful.”

Laureano was so angry about Sampson’s bat trodding that he waited an hour-and-a-half after the game to confront the pitcher, though the players’ paths never crossed.

Fast forward to last Saturday in Oakland. Laureano got his revenge, homering off of Sampson, then stared at the pitcher while walking toward first, and got some things off his chest while gesturing to the bat that he had yet to drop. “I said, ‘Do you remember when you stepped on my bat? You can step on it again,’ ” Laureano recalled for reporters. He had some more words as Sampson began to approach, before finally starting to jog toward first even as both teams surged toward the edges of their respective dugouts and t-shirt designers got busy.

“There’s no room in this game for that,” Sampson told reporters after the game.

In the eighth, Rangers reliever Rafael Montero threw two inside pitches to Laureano before getting a mid-at-bat visit from pitching coach Julio Rangel. Two pitches later, Montero drilled the hitter with a 93-mph fastball. Benches cleared, no punches were thrown, and, because warnings had already been issued, Montero and Ranger manager Chris Woodward were tossed.

That’s all just details, though. The bigger picture—independent of whether Sampson intended to step on Laureano’s bat or what Laureano thought of it or whether Montero’s HBP was intentional—is whether players are actually ready to let the damn kids play.

Let’s check in with Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus about that.

“They’re pimping every homer,” an exasperated Andrus said after the game, in an MLB.com report. “I didn’t know about the beginning of everything [in June], but I was like, well, as a hitter, if you start pimping balls after you hit a homer, there are going to be consequences. At that point it’s a man’s sport in here. If I was a pitcher I’d be pretty pissed off if you freakin’ pimp a homer in the first inning. So after that, I didn’t know it was going to get out of hand, but it’s a bunch of men out there, it gets physical, especially later in the game.”

What Andrus was talking about is a bit unclear. Laurano did the opposite of pimping his homer against the Rangers, going so far as to set the bat down softly. He took his time getting out of the box, of course, but that was in service of delivering a message, not celebrating. Whatever exception the Rangers may have taken, it’s inaccurate to call it pimping.

If Andrus was talking about Canha, the home run back on June 8 came in the fourth inning, not the first, so who the hell knows. (For what it’s worth, Canha was also drilled on Saturday, by Sampson, after homering in his previous at-bat, in the second inning. He did not pimp that one, given that it barely cleared the fence.)

It was at that point in Andrus’ discourse that he reached the crux of his message: “The guys that hit a homer, they’re like 30 years old. [The “Let the Kids Play” campaign] counts for like 20-year-olds—that’s a kid to me. If you’re 30, it doesn’t count as let the kids play. It says ‘Let the kids play,’ not ‘Let the old guys play.’ ”

Laureano turned 25 two weeks ago, and is in his second big league season. Canha is indeed 30.  I guess that makes him an old guy.

Never mind that the marketing staff at MLB certainly had no intentions about limiting the scope of its intended demographic. Or that the narrator of the initial TV spot, Ken Griffey Jr., is 49 years old. What we’re left with is another chapter in a persistently developing landscape that has baseball urging its players toward colorful displays on the field, even as an ever-growing bunch of players takes exception to said displays.

Sometimes, that exception results in a trod-upon bat, which cascades downward in a series of you-did-that-so-I’ll-do-this behavior that ends up with Ramon Laureano getting drilled.

Leave the last word to Canha, the 30-year-old spokesman for the Kids. “I just feel like we need to throw all (the unwritten rules) out the window,” he said in an NBC Sports report, “and just play baseball and have fun.”

Advertisements
Retaliation, Tag Appropriately

Is That Your Glove in my Gut, or Are You Just Happy to See Me?

Machado tagOpponent of baseball’s unwritten rules: The Code exists as a means of allowing overly sensitive players to exact nonsensical macho bullying on each other under institutional cover.

Counter to that argument: Friday evening at Camden yards.

A generation ago, infielders—primarily first basemen, in the process of fielding throws to first while trying to keep baserunners close to the bag—utilized hard tags as a weapon, a means of relaying to an opponent that issues were afoot. Runners, familiar with the framework, understood this and took it accordingly. Should the message skew out of line, they had their own means of response.

Today, nobody seems to know anything. This is the only explanation for a play in which a baserunner goes ballistic after having been put out by an entirely ordinary tag. In the third inning on Friday, Manny Machado, on second base following a single and fielder’s choice, tried to take third on Adam Jones’ groundball to Oakland third baseman Josh Donaldson. Machado clearly did not expect the play; there were two outs and Donaldson could easily have thrown to first to end the inning. Instead, seeing Machado crossing his path, Donaldson stayed close to home.

In his surprise, Machado tried to jackknife out of the way. Donaldson thrust his glove at the evasive runner, his only intention being to make sure he did not miss.

The off-balance Oriole angrily spiked his helmet to the ground even as he was tumbling backward. Donaldson offered only a confused smile, wondering why the hell his opponent was upset in the first place. (Watch it here.)

“I was actually walking over there to pick his helmet up for him, and then he jumps up and starts yelling at me,” said Donaldson in an MLB.com report. “I have nothing against the kid. I don’t understand where it came from.”

Which brings us to the point at which we offer a rebuttal to the sentiment in the first sentence of this post. Pick apart the Code all you want, but it’s impossible to see one of Machado’s forebears so much as blinking at this kind of play. It’s easy to criticize those who take things too far in the name of some imagined construct that dictates propriety on a ballfield, but that construct also serves to give players a baseline for knowing what is and isn’t appropriate. Had Machado been aware of this in the first place, he never would have reacted like he did.

As if to double down on the lunacy, the Orioles then backed Machado’s hissy fit as a team. In the seventh inning, pitcher Wei-Yin Chen first brushed Donaldson back with a pitch near his head, then hit him on his left forearm.

This, then, is the dark side of the unwritten rules (critics, cue the echo chamber): rogue justice meted out without regard for merit. But even in this (an act—hitting a batter out of anger—that is patently ridiculous) we can see some greater purpose. Chen was doing his duty as a teammate, backing backing one of his own, even if he did not agree with him, because that’s what teammates do. There’s no quicker way for a pitcher to build respect in his clubhouse. Still, the the Orioles would have been better served had a player with some seniority pulled the 21-year-old Machado aside and, rather than taking it out on the A’s, suggested forcefully that he check himself. And it’s possible that happened.

Warnings were not issued (perhaps to give Oakland a chance to retaliate for a lunatic outburst), and Donaldson had words for the Orioles dugout as he made his way to first base. The game was too close from that point for things to progress from there, and no response of note was seen on Saturday. If the A’s are smart, they’ll leave this one alone, knowing they have nothing to gain by prolonging hostilities. If the Orioles are smart, they’ll have already dealt with Machado themselves.

 

 

 

Don't Call out Opponents in the Press

Oakland’s One Clap is One Too Many for Some Members of the Yankees

When one plays for the Yankees, who not so long ago were cruising toward the playoffs but who suddenly find themselves desperately trying to keep the Orioles at bay, one can get touchy during the course of getting one’s butt kicked by the team with the American League’s lowest payroll.

At least Eric Chavez did. After New York’s 10-9 win in 14 innings at Yankee Stadium Saturday, he told the New York Post that, following each of Oakland’s three homers in the 13th inning, A’s players partook in some “orchestrated clapping, chanting,” which Chavez described as “high school-ish,” “pretty unprofessional” and something “that crossed the line.”

The antics were described in the San Jose Mercury News:

The routine the A’s did is based on the Randy Moss-related “One Clap” song and video clip that was all the rage on YouTube. Gomes often played that song during spring training, and he said the A’s have done the routine all season in the clubhouse and on the team bus.

Somebody yells “One Clap!” and teammates respond with a clap.

The reason it should not have troubled Chavez, said Jonny Gomes, “is it happened in our dugout. It didn’t happen between the lines.” (To judge by the TV replays, which are far from comprehensive, it’s difficult to discern anything objectionable happening in the A’s dugout on the first, second or third home runs of the inning.)

For Chavez to get riled about such a thing is a tad ironic. When he was a young player with the A’s—playing the Yankees, no less—he learned a difficult lesson about speaking out a bit too quickly about the opposing nine.

From The Baseball Codes:

Nearly as innocent were the comments made by A’s third baseman Eric Chavez before his team faced 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.

How one feels about this apparently depends on the dugout in which one happens to sit. The day after Oakland’s one-clap hysteria, Nick Swisher responded by hitting a home run for New York, then lingering for a beat in the batter’s box to admire it. (Watch it here.) Asked about it in the Post, he said, “Like Jonny Gomes says, what’s the hurry?”

Jeff Wilpon, Retaliation

Owner Gets Ornery: Wilpon Clamors for Mets Retaliation

Brad Ziegler can't believe he just hit Justin Turner.

It started on Wednesday, when Mets second baseman Justin Turner was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded in the 13th inning, driving home the winning run against the A’s. The problem with the play, as far as the A’s were concerned, was that Turner made no effort to avoid the pitch, which barely grazed his jersey. (Watch it here.)

Whether this had any bearing in what happened next is uncertain,  but in Turner’s first at-bat Thursday, A’s right-hander Graham Godfrey hit him in the leg—something seen by many in the New York clubhouse as clear retaliation.

There are many problems with this scenario, primary among them being the written rules of the game. Rule 6.08(b)(2) says that a batter takes first base after being hit by a pitch unless he “makes no attempt to avoid being touched by the ball.” Turner rotated his torso—barely—which was apparently enough for plate umpire Fieldin Culbreth. And in a situation like this, if the umpire has no beef, the opposition shouldn’t, either.

Perhaps it was an attempt by new A’s manager Bob Melvin to set a tone with the team. (Unlikely.) Or maybe it was Godfrey, all of three games into his big league career, trying to establish some bona fides in the Oakland clubhouse. (He’s no stranger to hitting guys, having done so 38 times over four-plus minor league seasons.)

Or maybe it was strictly incidental, no more than a case of rookie nerves or a pitch that got away. This is how the Mets treated it, opting to ignore the incident and get on with what would be a 4-1 victory.

One guy, however, was less than pleased. According to ESPN New York, Jeff Wilpon—the team’s COO, and son of owner Fred—took to the team’s clubhouse following the game and admonished his players for their timidity. He said, according to the New York Times, that he would cover pitchers’ fines for such actions. Unlike the ominous tone set by ESPN, the Times called Wilpon’s interaction “playful.”

No matter how he meant it, this is a dangerous road to travel. There’s a reason that modern managers and coaches tend to shy away from directly ordering retaliatory action. They don’t want to be responsible for unforeseen consequences, and they—having all played the game at various professional levels—understand that most big league pitchers understand appropriate retaliatory tactics (and that if they don’t, their teammates will inevitably instruct them in such).

Jeff Wilpon primarily supervises the construction of buildings, in his role as executive vice president of his father’s real estate company. He is not a baseball man, at least to the point at which he has any business ordering his players to do anything on the field. He clearly likes the gunslinger mentality of retaliating for retaliation’s sake, but hasn’t likely considered the negative repercussions. Should the A’s respond to Wilpon’s response, the likely target would shift from Turner to somebody like Jose Reyes or David Wright.

Picture for a moment Reyes getting sidelined for six weeks due to a cracked rib suffered at the wrong end of a retaliatory fastball—disabling him straight through the trade deadline.

Leave retaliation to the pros, Mr. Wilpon. You just put a target on your team, as far as any examination the league might take when it comes to any future bad exchanges of bad blood.

Also realize that in 1998, your manager was suspended while at the helm of the Angels for his part in retaliating against Kansas City after Royals infielder Felix Martinez sucker-punched Anaheim’s Frank Bolick during a game.

Terry Collins is able to recognize retaliation-worthy offenses. Let him. Stay in the owner’s box, where you belong.

– Jason