Retaliation

Scratch Those Premature Obituaries, Baseball’s Unwritten Rules Are Alive and Well

 

RamosII

We’ve spent a long time—years now—wondering whether baseball’s unwritten rules, the sport’s code of conduct, were slowly meeting an inexorable irrelevance. Bats are flipped, celebrations are celebrated, and teams mostly go about their merry ways, unperturbed by the spectacle.

Fair enough. If that’s how big leaguers are playing it, that’s how things are. This blog isn’t bent on prescription of the sport’s unwritten rules so much as documentation of how they’re enacted by those who matter.

Then Monday happened. Fastballs flew at batters, some intentional, some not, some difficult to ascertain. But they elicited response. Oh, did they elicit.

In San Francisco, Diamondbacks starter Taijuan Walker drilled Buster Posey in the helmet. It was the first inning, there was a runner on second and Walker had already faced the Giants once this season without incident. So unless something happened back on April 5 that irked Walker something fierce while going entirely unnoticed by the media on hand, the pitch was clearly a mistake.

Still, it was a 94 mph fastball that knocked the Giants’ best player from the game and landed him on the 7-day disabled list.

Until recently, this would have unquestionably merited response, be it a pain-inducer (fastball to the ribs) or a warning shot (brushback). In the current version of Major League Baseball, of course, nothing is typical as regards the unwritten rules. Things are calmer, more relaxed. Vendettas are strictly an old-school affair.

So it seemed only normal when Walker escaped unscathed. Neither of his subsequent at-bats were ideal for retribution—with one out and nobody on in the third, he hit a fly ball to right field; in the fifth, with two outs, a runner on second and the Giants leading 3-0, he whiffed—but neither were they unacceptable.

From there, though, things grew interesting. In the eighth inning, Giants starter Matt Moore plunked David Peralta in the back. Then, in the first inning of yesterday’s game, Giants pitcher Jeff Samardzija plunked Arizona’s cleanup hitter, Paul Goldschmidt, in the backside—the ages-old response of “your best hitter for our best hitter.”

Bochy refused to discuss Samardzija’s pitch, and offered up an interestingly vague comment about Moore’s, saying in a San Jose Mercury-News report that “a pitch got away from him—I’ll leave it at that.”

Despite a pro forma post-game denial about wanting to pitch Goldschmidt inside, Samardzija had clear intentions for his target. Because the pitch was professionally delivered—into the posterior, nowhere near the head—the slugger took it without complaint. He knew the drill.

Why hadn’t it been Walker? Could be many reasons, though none resonate so firmly in a close game as not wanting to forgo an easy out by drilling the pitcher when one can send as firm a message against a far more dangerous hitter. Why Samardzija and not Moore? Might be a matter of personality, or the fact that the severity of Posey’s injury wasn’t known until after Moore’s game had ended.

***

Across the country, Phillies pitcher Edubray Ramos entered a tie game in the eighth inning and threw a one-out fastball well over the head of Asdrubal Cabrera. It didn’t come close to making contact, but was enough to elicit warnings from plate ump Alan Porter, and the subsequent ejection of Phillies manager Pete Mackanin for arguing a hair too vociferously. (Watch it here.)

The backstory seems pretty obvious. Ramos last faced Cabrera in September while gunning for his first big league save. Cabrera wrecked it, then did this:

Retaliating for a game-winning celebration is some old-school mentality. And here’s the thing: for all the noise coming out of the World Baseball Classic about how Latin players like to celebrate their achievements on the field, Ramos—a native Venezuelan—was having none of the exuberance of one of his fellow countrymen. Or maybe that latter detail offers another wrinkle to their relationship about which we aren’t yet aware. Whatever it was, it stuck in the pitcher’s craw.

So there it is: On the West Coast, a passel of Americans participated in all-American retaliatory daisy chain; on the East Coast, two Venezuelans did the same. (Worth noting is that Ramos’s teammate, Odubel Herrera—another Venezuelan—is a bat-flipping savant, while Mackanin, Ramos’ manager, is himself no fan of the flips.)

The unwritten rules may be inexorably changing, but it all serves to show that one should never place too big a bet on who their champion might be.

Retaliation

Lesson of the Day, 1980 Edition: Don’t Swing at Pitches You’re Not Supposed to Swing At

mcgraw-lopesMore fun historical moments from my New Secret Project. (Try to pick up a pattern as items appear sporadically in this space.) This one’s from the New York Daily News, Aug. 27, 1980, and touches on a retaliation-worthy incident from a previous era:

Don’t invite Davey Lopes and Tug McGraw to the same party.

“There will be a day when McGraw hits,” Lopes said, “and he’ll be dead and you can put that in the newspapers.”

Okay, Dave.

After Dusty Baker’s ninth-inning single had snapped a 4-4 tie in a game the Dodgers went on to win 8-4 Monday night, Philadelphia’s McGraw was trying to intentionally walk Joe Ferguson to load the bases and set up a potential double play. Ferguson, however, had other plans. On the second pitch, he leaned across the plate and lined a two-run single to right.

McGraw was not happy and took out his frustration on shortstop Bill Russell, the next batter. His first three pitches were tight and the fourth one plunked Russell, who charged the mound, starting off baseball’s latest beanbrawl. Lopes was outraged that McGraw would stoop to such a level.

“That was bush,” Lopes said. “He’s got his day coming. I don’t care if it’s eight years from now. I thought he had a little more class. I guess he doesn’t.” …

“It was as plain as the nose on your face that he should have been thrown out and heavily fined,” Lasorda said. “What gives him the right to throw four balls at a guy who has nothing to do with [Ferguson’s hit]?

It should be noted that the Dodgers beat McGraw’s Phillies in the NLCS in both 1977 and 1978, so some degree of intolerance between the clubs would be only natural.

It’s also not surprising that Lopes—the most outspoken player on that Dodgers team—took up the cause with reporters after the game while Russell himself, notoriously reticent, kept quiet.

Also noteworthy is the comment from Lasorda. His outrage was no doubt genuine, but so was the hypocrisy; as a pitcher the guy was famous for knocking down opponents. Even once he became a manager he couldn’t stop getting into fights. As a Giants fan growing up, I hated that guy. As a baseball fan, though, it’s hard not to love him.

 

Retaliation, Uncategorized

Cueto Goes Gunslinger: A Lesson on the Merits of Retaliation

Cueto-Franco

We’ve been thinking a lot about baseball retaliation this season—what it means in the modern landscape, and when (and if) it’s ever justified. We’ve thought about it so much, in fact, that one of our most noted bat-tossers had to clarify the idea of “a baseball play,” distinguishing between game action and sideline stupidity, and how a hard slide into a red-ass Rangers infielder should not lead to fisticuffs.

On the other end of the spectrum is Diamondbacks exec Tony La Russa, noting that retaliation is merited even in some cases of unintentional HBPs, should a pitcher with shaky command insist on working the inside edge—a tactic he decried as “intentionally careless.”

Which brings us to Johnny Cueto.

Yesterday in San Francisco, Phillies starter Aaron Nola was terrible, giving up 10 hits and five earned runs over 3 1/3 innings. Also, he hit three batters along the way. Nola is known for his outstanding control (indeed, he didn’t walk a batter against the Giants), but, given his awful June (he became the first Phillies pitcher since 1982 to go four straight starts with fewer than four innings pitched, during which he put up a 15.23 ERA), it’s difficult to mistake any of his mistakes as intentional.

His first and second HBPs, in the first and third innings, each loaded the bases. His third came one batter after his second, and drove in a run. Two of the three came on curveballs.

It mattered little to Cueto. Granted a 5-1 lead with two outs in the top of the fourth, the right-hander planted a fastball into the ribs of cleanup hitter Maikel Franco. Intent was obvious, and plate umpire Doug Eddings immediately warned both benches against further hijinks. (Watch it here.)

We can debate the merits of Cueto’s actions (while making note that the guy has some history with this kind of thing), but more pertinent to this conversation are the consequences.

Cueto, who had allowed one hit prior to drilling Franco, walked the next batter and then gave up back-to-back singles, scoring two runs. An inning later he gave up two singles, a double and a walk, leading to two more runs and a 5-5 score. In the sixth, the Giants having taken a 6-5 lead, Cueto gave up a leadoff homer to Odubel Herrera, costing himself a decision in what otherwise could have been his 12th win. It was his worst start of the season.

Did hitting Franco have anything to do with it?

After the game, Cueto denied intent, then blamed his downturn on Eddings having shrunk the strike zone. Giants manager Bruce Bochy was more clear-eyed, noting that Cueto looked rattled after the warning.

If there is an enduring lesson here, it is that any pitcher who decides to take up for his teammates in such a fashion—whether or not his teammates actually desire such a thing—must be able to withstand whatever repercussions come his way.

On Sunday, that was not Johnny Cueto, who by every reasonable interpretation should have known better.

Quick Pitching, Retaliation

Was Bowa Angry About a Quick Pitch or a Bat Flip? Does it Even Matter?

Bowa bites

Even as many tenets of baseball’s Code slip into the ether—witness the preponderance of bat flips and home plate scrums and Twitter-driven talk about no-hitters in progress—the quick pitch endures. The pitcher, having received a go-ahead from the plate umpire, hurriedly delivers ball to plate in hopes of surprising a batter who is not yet settled.

Batters do not like this. Neither does Larry Bowa.

On Tuesday, Mets reliever Hansel Robles quick pitched Darin Ruf, who, while technically in the batter’s box hadn’t yet settled in to await the delivery. Umpire Dan Bellino waved off the pitch, but Bowa, Philadelphia’s bench coach, exploded from the dugout, as did outfielder Jeff Franceour. (Ruf himself didn’t seem even mildly perturbed.)

Bowa stormed the field, directing his ire toward Mets first baseman Daniel Murphy—screaming “Fuck you” repeatedly and pointing toward his ribs as if to show Murphy where he’d soon be hit by a pitch. Murphy had tossed his bat after homering on Monday, but Bowa later denied that had anything to do with his rant.

“When you’re in the box, and the first thing you do is you check your stance, and your head’s down and you look up and the ball’s right here, someone’s going to get hurt,” said Bowa in a Newsday report. “And if it hits somebody in the face, they could get killed.”

The nonsense about Ruf’s life being endangered aside, Bowa did bring up an interesting point: Is it ever okay to quick pitch a guy? The Mets, according to the New York Post, “have been employing the tactic with some regularity.”

The quick pitch is against the written rules—8.05e, which says that “A quick pitch is an illegal pitch. Umpires will judge a quick pitch as one delivered before the batter is reasonably set in the batter’s box. With runners on base the penalty is a balk; with no runners on base, it is a ball. The quick pitch is dangerous and should not be permitted.”

The quick pitch—even those that meet criteria allowed by the rule book—is also against the Code. Baseball’s unwritten rules were established to maintain respect and fair play, and attacking an opponent while he’s unprepared is certainly not that. Wednesday came and went, however, with neither Murphy, nor anyone else from the Mets, getting plunked. Mets manager Terry Collins addressed Murphy’s bat flip by saying that he—along with the rest of baseball’s mainstream—no longer even notices such things. “You see it everywhere—I mean you see it everywhere,” he said in a NJ.com report. “And you see stars doing it. So I shrugged it off. Dan Murphy, that’s not even part of his makeup. He hit a homer and he took one second and tossed the bat aside. He didn’t really flip it up in the air or anything drastic.”

I love Bowa for his old-school sensibilities, but Collins is in the right on this one. Focusing on Murphy after a quick-pitch that he had nothing to do with, then decrying the pitch as potentially fatal, then denying that Murphy’s bat flip was unrelated to his anger does little more than paint Bowa as the crank he is. Visually threatening Murphy with physical violence makes the old coach seem unhinged. Sometimes acting the crank can make Bowa loveable. This time it just makes him wrong.

Gamesmanship

If a Hitter Calls Time and Nobody Hears Him, Did He Make a Sound?

Quick pitch!

Kevin Slowey quick-pitched Sean Rodriguez on Monday. Sean Rodriguez did not approve … especially after he struck out. He had words for Slowey after the inning, and then again at the start of the next inning.

The devil here is in the details. Rodriguez asked for time … but did so after Slowey had begun his windup. Plate ump Chad Fairchild did not grant it and called a strike on the pitch. That last fact has everything to do with the hitter’s poorly timed request—and Fairchild’s option to deny poorly timed requests—and little to do with Slowey. Hell, baseball seems desperate to speed up its games. Let’s celebrate the guys who appear willing to help. (Watch it all here.)

“If you want to take it out back, meet me in the parking lot,” Rodriguez told the pitcher, outing himself as a rock-headed bully. The quote was relayed in an MLB.com report by Phillies first base coach Juan Samuel, who was himself ejected, along with Pirates third base coach Rick Sofield, after the two got into their own shouting match following the altercation. Neither Slowey nor Rodriguez was tossed from the game.

(Slowey, on the other hand, had this to say: “It surprises me to be that upset, and challenging somebody to a physical altercation hardly seems like the best way to resolve your frustrations. I was kind of taken by surprise at his animosity after his at-bat. I know the kind of guy that he purports to be. That surprised me that that would be his choice of words and reaction. I guess I understand the frustration of a singular failure. It’s a game of failures. But to react that way to me was very surprising.” Altercation. Animosity. Purports. Look at the big brain on Kevin. Bully? Who knows. Rock-head? Definitely not.)

Spring training is traditionally a time for players to settle old scores, under circumstances in which they feel free to drill opponents with relative impunity since the games do not count in the standings. It is not, however, an environment to invent new scores, especially ones that are probably your own fault to begin with.

Don't Bunt to Break Up a No-Hitter

When Unwritten Rules Collide: Proper Shift Etiquette During a No-No

You don’t break up a no-hitter with a bunt. It’s a cornerstone of baseball’s unwritten rules. I’m giving you my best as a pitcher, and I expect your best as a hitter, the theory goes, and with this much on the line, ticky-tack small-ball tricks hardly count as anyone’s best.

Except for one caveat: If it’s a close game, everything’s in bounds. If your team needs a baserunner, then by golly you go out and become that baserunner the most effective way you know how.

On Monday, the Padres added another caveat to the list. With Andrew Cashner working a no-no one out into the fifth, Dominic Brown pushed a bunt down the left field line. Nobody came close to making a play, and Brown was on with a single. It was only a 1-0 game, and as the possible tying run Brown had every right to do what he did.

Especially when the Padres put on the freaking shift.

Which brings us to No-Hitter Etiquette Exception No. 2: If You Don’t Want a Guy to Get a Hit, Try to Avoid Making the Process Unduly Easy for Him.  That this is the Padres—at this point known primarily as the only franchise never to throw a no-no—makes it all the worse. Since the Padres came on the scene in 1969, they’ve been at the wrong end of nine of them. The Dodgers have thrown two this season.  The St. Louis Terriers, who played in the Federal League in 1914-15, have a no-hitter to their name. But not the Padres.

And still, manager Bud Black put on the shift. When Brown bunted the ball down the third base line, it was fait accompli.  Alexi Amarista was the closest guy to it as it rolled down the line, and he was playing shortstop. At the very least, Black was defying the baseball gods by ignoring another no-hitter rule: Don’t change anything up—not a spot on the bench between innings, not a guy warming up in the pen, and especially not an overt defensive assignment.

Which brings us to the third rule the Padres broke. That would be, Don’t Complain When Somebody Exploits your Shift During a No-Hitter. Especially When it’s 1-0. Cashner was visibly displeased on the mound, but settled down to end the inning. (He eventually gave up a second hit, to Marlon Byrd.) There was some dugout grumbling and the fans booed wildly. (Which is not to say that everybody in the home clubhouse was crying. “This is baseball,” said catcher Rene Rivera in an MLB.com report. “If you’re going to give a guy that side of the infield, why not take your hit?”)

It brings to mind that only two seasons ago, Jarrod Saltalamacchia also bunted against a shift to break up a no-hitter, which, like this one, was a fine thing to do. It also brings to mind that earlier this season, Colby Lewis got upset when somebody bunted to break up his no-hitter in the fifth inning, despite it being a perfectly acceptable thing to do. What it really brings to mind, though, is the most famous no-hitter-destroying bunt in history, which also involved the Padres, though in 2001 it was one of their own doing the bunting. And Ben Davis didn’t even bunt into a shift when he did it.

As for Brown, he said afterward that he wouldn’t have bunted had it been the ninth inning, but in the fifth all bets are on the table. It showed good awareness of the rules, though it probably won’t buy him any goodwill from the Padres fans who were ignorant enough to boo him in the first place.

 

Mound Conference Etiquette

The Waiting Game: or What to Do When Approached on the Mound by a Manager, in One Easy Step

Kendrick cardKyle Kendrick was frustrated on Saturday. He was pitching well right into the sixth, had helped his team to a 5-1 lead. Then, after a Buster Posey leadoff single, Pablo Sandoval popped up for what should have been the inning’s first out. But the ball fell between Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, at which point Utley tried to flip the ball to second for the force … which would have worked, had his throw not pulled Jimmy Rollins off the bag.

The next batter, Michael Morse, doubled home a run, and Ryne Sandberg came out to the mound for a chat. Kendrick, with little interest in conversation, did not wait for his manager, storming off to the dugout while Sandberg was en route, handing him the ball as they passed.

If the basis of the Code is respect, waiting for one’s manager to reach the mound is a baseball bedrock, even if the pitcher doesn’t agree with the decision to make a change. Especially if a pitcher doesn’t agree with his decision to make a change. Put differently: a red-assed pitcher irked by a hitter digging into the batter’s box is following a narrow band of his precedent-setting forebears, but a manager angry at being abandoned by his pitcher in front of a stadium full of people is directly in line with every guy who’s ever managed in the big leagues.

Seems like a decent segue into the A’s. As some of you know, I’m under contract to write a book about Oakland’s teams of the early 1970s (somewhat breaking news: the story is so large, with so many pieces, that the publication has been moved back to 2016 so I have the space to tell the story in the way it deserves to be told), and this story falls right in line with an incident from 40 years ago.

In 1974, Alvin Dark took over as manager of the two-time defending champions, and in the early going, his methodology was not well received by his players. In particular, Dark had a problem with pitcher management, frequently giving his starters early hooks that ended up backfiring when the bullpen blew some sizeable leads. The most egregious of these instances came in the season’s third game, when Dark was still trying to figure out his roster. He yanked Vida Blue two batters into the fifth inning, with Oakland leading Texas, 5-1. Rollie Fingers allowed both runners to score, and Blue became ineligible for the victory since he had not gone the requisite five frames. From that moment on, Blue held some pretty serious antipathy against Dark.

Fast forward to mid-July. Blue was pitching well enough, entering the fifth inning in New York with a 3-1 lead. But even as the pitcher began to struggle, Dark wanted to let him finish the inning, to become the pitcher of record. But Vida imploded, with four hits and two walks turning Oakland’s lead into a 6-4 deficit. Dark had to pull him with two outs in the frame to stem further damage. When he approached the mound, however, Blue walked straight past him and tossed the ball backward. Dark let it drop onto the ground. It was as insolent a move as could be imagined from a player who had just coughed up a lead. Not only that, but it was the second time in recent history that an A’s pitcher had done it; after the first time, by Ken Holtzman, the manger threatened a $250 fine for any subsequent miscreants.

When the team arrived at Shea Stadium for a doubleheader the following day (New York was a one-ballpark town while Yankee Stadium was undergoing renovations), the manager called them together. It had been precisely 100 days since the season opener, and Dark finally had had enough. They sat in a semicircle in the locker room, while the manager stood in the middle. He usually liked to pace when he addressed a group like this, but this time he stayed in one spot. He did not shout and he did not curse. More impactfully, for the first time that anyone could remember, the uber-religious Dark did not quote the bible even once.

“I’ve never been more disappointed in a group of young men in my life,” he said, according to his book, When in Doubt, Fire the Manager. “I’ve never been more disappointed in a team of world champions. If being a world champion makes you act the way some of you are acting, no thank you. I don’t care to be one.”

“Vida, you and I are even now,” he said. “I screwed you out of a game your first start of the season, and I was never more sorry in my life. But we’re even now. I left you out there yesterday, trying to get you a win, and I’m the one who suffers. You degraded the position of manager. Not me, the position, by acting like a bush kid.” Dark confirmed the $250 fine, and said that it would cost $500 if it happened again. He didn’t want to play catch with his pitchers when he removed them from games, he said.

The Phillies don’t have quite as much drama in their clubhouse as those A’s did—nobody has quite as much drama in their clubhouse as those A’s—but the lesson holds. Afterward, Sandberg labeled Kendricks’ action as no big deal (although he did see fit to talk to the pitcher about it on Sunday), and Kendrick confessed to letting the pressure get to him. “I didn’t handle it right,” he said in a CSN Philadelphia report.

Kendrick is barely hanging on with a 5-11 record and 4.90 ERA, and has plenty of reason to be frustrated. All in all, however, this seems like a decent learning experience for the eight-year vet and the rookie manager, both in the nature of comportment, and how to handle oneself should things break down.

For another example of the concept, this one featuring Frank Robinson and discussed in The Baseball Codes, click here.

[H/T Hardball Talk.]