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 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