Earning respect, Umpire Relations

Rizzo Rapid to Render Respect

rizzo

Whether or not one agrees with their implementation, the underlying nature of baseball’s unwritten rules—respect each other and the game at large—is difficult to quibble with. We saw one of its most basic elements yesterday, courtesy of Anthony Rizzo.

In an at-bat earlier in the game, Chicago’s first baseman had incorrectly assumed ball four from Pedro Baez, but as he was heading toward first base plate ump Angel Hernandez informed him that, no,  it was actually a strike.

There’s no indication that Hernandez was upset with Rizzo, but the hitter took it upon himself during his next at-bat, when the game paused for a mound conference, to make sure everything was square between himself and Hernandez. Watch for yourself:

On one hand, there’s self-preservation involved in the strategy. The more an umpire likes a player—or, more pertinently, the less he doesn’t like a player—the better the chances that close calls will go that player’s way. More important, however, is the basic decency of the gesture. There was a chance that Hernandez read something in Rizzo’s actions that Rizzo did not intend, so Rizzo took care of it as soon as he could.

“I don’t like showing up the umpires,” he said after the game. “They’re out here working their tails off 162 like we are. … I just let him know that, hey, my fault there. I probably should have waited a little longer and not just assumed that it was a ball.”

Turns out that a little bit of introspection suits ballplayers nicely.

[H/T Hardball Talk]

 

 

Earning respect, Uncategorized, Unwritten Rules

What the Hell is Wrong With Craig Counsell?

Segura

 

At one end of baseball’s unwritten-rules spectrum, angry pitchers try to justify their desire to throw baseballs at hitters. At the other end, celebration-minded batters ignore the Code entirely while seeing how high they can flip their bats.

On Friday, Brewers manager Craig Counsell broke new ground among their ranks, and not in a good way.

Start with the details. In a game against Arizona, Milwaukee second baseman Orlando Arcia, making only his third major league appearance, collected his first hit as a big leaguer—an RBI single to right field. So far, so good.

When the ball was returned to the infield, however, Arcia’s counterpart, D’Backs second baseman Jean Segura—the man who Milwaukee traded in January, in part to clear space for Arcia—took note of the moment and tossed the ball into the Brewers dugout for safekeeping. It was a nice, anticipatory gesture on behalf of a young player, and prevented the Brewers from having to waste time by halting play and requesting the ball themselves.

Counsell’s reaction was pure bush league. He protested to the umpiring crew that Segura removed the ball from play without first calling for a time stoppage. The umps agreed, Arcia was awarded two extra bases, and Segura was tagged with a thoroughly unearned error. (Watch it here.)

“I get it,” said Counsell after the game in an MLB.com report, “but you have to wait.”

In soccer, players’ code dictates that the ball be intentionally kicked out of bounds when an opponent goes down with a legitimate injury, nullifying an unearned extra-man advantage. In cycling, a race leader who has suffered a mechanical breakdown or other stroke of bad fortune will frequently be granted some slack by his pursuers. Yes, these things aid the opposition, but they also maintain honor.

Where the hell does honor fit into Counsell’s game plan? His move was less gamesmanship—taking advantage of a chink in the system—than sheer, calorie-free bravura, emotional junk food that, while giving his team a slight advantage, diminished himself and the game at large. As a player, Counsell made something of a habit of stealing bases while his team held big leads late in games, so maybe this is just business as usual for him.

Leaving the play alone—letting his ex-player, Segura, do something nice for his current one, Arcia—wouldn’t have drawn notice, because it would have been expected. By calling out a letter-of-the-law violation, however, Counsell painted himself as petty and self-involved.

Ultimately, Arcia was stranded at third base, and Arizona won, 3-2, on a bases-loaded walk, in 11 innings.

Could have been the baseball gods sending Counsell a message.

Unwritten Rules

On Successful Homecomings and Misread Grins: The Tale of the Trying Smile, by Ian Kinsler

GrinslerAh, respect. She is a vexing mistress.

Ian Kinsler, reluctantly departed from his career-long home in Arlington after an off-season trade with Detroit, returned for the first time yesterday as a member of the visiting team. He promptly took former Rangers teammate Colby Lewis deep.

And what did he do? He gave a little wave to his pals in the Rangers dugout. He couldn’t suppress a smile as he went around the bases. There was no animosity here; this was friendly stuff—a we’re-in-different-uniforms-but-I-still-like-you-mooks moment. To everybody, it seems, but Lewis. (Watch it here.)

Give the pitcher some leeway—he had just put his team in a first-inning hole and ended up taking the loss with a mediocre outing, and now boasts a 5.94 ERA on the season after missing all of last year due to elbow and hip injuries. His team has as many wins as the Astros. He deserves to be frustrated. But to take that personally? (If anybody possibly could, it would be Rangers GM Jon Daniels. But Lewis?)

“I guess ‘disappointed’ is the best word to describe it,” the pitcher said after the game in an MLive report.

There are lots of legitimate gripes in baseball about improper displays of respect, which can be dealt with in any number of time-tested ways. Lewis obviously wants other players, particularly those he knows personally, to be sensitive to his struggles. But Kinsler himself described the trip to Arlington as “my return home” (which was more than metaphor: his house and family are still there), and talked after the game about being “lucky enough to square one up.” If he lacks any respect for Lewis, he did a pretty good job of hiding it.

There was no showboating here, nothing intended to call extra attention to Kinsler. It was just a guy soaking in a moment. Lewis should have let him have it.

 

Brian Cashman, Jorge Posada, Respect Teammates

Oh, Jorge – Things Turn Ugly in a Hurry in New York

The most important factor in the Posada Madness pandemic that erupted over the weekend in New York is the ongoing viability of Jorge Posada—both as an everyday player or even somebody meritous of a roster spot.

The big picture will likely be sorted out in short order. Aging and ineffective performers—even those as vital to their teams’ recent history as Posada—are rarely granted much leeway.

More interesting to the purposes of this blog is how it played out. Both sides—Posada on one and the Yankees (particularly GM Brian Cashman) on the other—set about shredding standard decorum under the increasingly gleeful glare of the New York media. A quick recap, in case you were taking your five-year-old daughter on her first ski trip, like me, and missed the entire thing:

  • Saturday night: Joe Girardi pencils Posada, New York’s designated hitter, into the No. 9 spot in the order—the first time the 39-year-old has been positioned so low since 1999.
  • An hour or so before first pitch Posada asks out of the lineup.
  • According to New Jersey Record columnist Bob Klapisch, Posada doesn’t explain himself, and Girardi doesen’t press him. Accounts differ about what is said, but multiple sources tell multiple media members that Posada feels insulted. The term “hissy fit” was used at least once to describe the encounter between player and manager. Considering when the request came—prior to a nationally televised game against the Red Sox—and who it came from—Girardi, a guy Posada has reportedly not much liked since their days together as co-catchers on the Yankees—perhaps this should not be surprising.
  • Cashman intervenes, urging Posada to reconsider his decision. Posada does not reconsider.
  • Cashman takes the audacious step of meeting with reporters in the press box during the game, to clarify that Posada is healthy, and that management has nothing to do with his absence from the game.
  • With timing that one can only assume is in response to Cashman’s impromptu press conference, Posada’s wife, Laura, counters that claim, tweeting that Posada’s back is too stiff to play.
  • After the game, Posada downplays his physical ailments (he hadn’t, after all, previously raised the issue with Girardi or team trainers), and says he just needed time to “clear his head.” He then sets his sights on Cashman, saying, “I don’t know why he made a statement during the game. I don’t understand that. That’s the way he works now.”
  • On Sunday, Posada apologized to both Girardi and Cashman, saying, “All the frustration came out. It was just one of those days you wish you could take back.”
  • The Yankees, in turn, decline to discipline their former star, who in the three games since has appeared only once, as a pinch-hitter.

Ultimately, nobody came out looking too good. Girardi, by way of essentially staying out of it (Everybody needs a breather now and again, he told the press, rather than justifiably lighting into his catcher), is the least scathed. Posada and Cashman: not so much.

Posada: An unwritten rule mandates that managers refrain from removing position players from the middle of innings except in cases of injury. The counter to this rule holds that players not remove themselves from the lineup while at the wrong end of a hissy fit.

Big league clubhouses are rife with what is commonly referred to as a “warrior mentality.” The term isn’t particularly accurate in this case, in that warriors go to battle against opponents. In this case, Posada needed to be in the lineup to prove his allegiance, not his ability, to his teammates—not the Red Sox. For a veteran, a proven winner, to turn his back on his teammates in a key game for reasons that can only be construed as personal is inexcusable. Posada is no different than any other ballplayer in this regard; his ego will never be as important as the success of his team. His teammates know it, and his position in the clubhouse hierarchy depends upon it.

A reader asked how Posada’s move compares to Cal Ripken removing himself from the Orioles’ lineup in 1998. Ripken was, like Posada, in the late stages of his career. Ripken’s consecutive-games streak had grown so mountainous by that point that it trumped any move manager Ray Miller could have made that involved his star shortstop spending a game on the bench. Ripken was hampering himself and his team by staying in the lineup every day. He ended his streak for the greater good, and was lauded for it.

Another example, from earlier this season, saw Giants outfielder Pat Burrell ask out in the middle of a game. His reason:  Tim Lincecum was throwing a no-hitter, and Burrell didn’t want his sub-par glove and lack of range to be the reason Lincecum gave up a hit. Like Ripken, he did it for the greater good. (Lincecum did indeed give up a hit in the seventh inning—the same inning in which Burrell was removed. This brings up the topic of changing nothing during the course of a no-hitter, including defensive players, but that’s a topic for another post.)

The primary guy to have Posada’s back through his ordeal has been Derek Jeter, who told the New York Daily News that he “didn’t think it was that big a deal. If you need a day, you need a day.”

Whether or not the captain actually believes this is incidental. Perhaps he’s sticking up for Posada because that’s what teammates do, but it’s hard to imagine that Jeter picturing his own neck on the chopping block didn’t play a part.

Cashman: The guy is a veteran, and no matter how well he does his job, he probably puts up with more grief from the New York media than the next several most second-guessed GMs combined. He, of all people, should understand the machinations of communication in the big leagues, and that going through the media for any of it rarely turns out well.

On one hand, Cashman’s method of delivery added layers of importance and urgency to his message. Short of suspending Posada or releasing him outright (both of which would have brought their own headaches), there was no less equivocal way for Cashman to inform the veteran that he was not messing around.

Wrote Buster Olney on ESPN.com Insider, Cashman “is not only willing to be the instrument of change with the team’s older players, he views it as his responsibility to the Steinbrenners.”

That has to be a particularly difficult place to inhabit, especially when it comes to icons like Posada and Jeter, and Cashman is taking a hard-line approach. (Telling Jeter to test the waters during off-season contract negotiations was a clear step in this direction.) To do it the way he did it, however—not just publicly, but in a manner so unusual that the delivery itself brought attention, independent of the message delivered—was to ignore the service and success that Posada has given the organization over the last 17 years.

Even the enemy was motivated to chime in, with David Ortiz telling the Boston Herald that “they’re doing (Posada) wrong.”

Ultimately, Posada’s actions amounted to nothing more than a really bad day. Holding him accountable is reasonable. Benching him for lack of production is also reasonable. From a baseball (if not contractual) standpoint, giving him his outright release would be entirely justified.

From former GM Jim Bowden, on ESPN.com: “Until you are ready to . . . ask Posada to step aside, and keep him out of the lineup for good, you PROTECT HIM! He’s a Yankee, a five-time world champion Yankee who is known for his class and dignity. Show him the same.”

Taking it public like Cashman did serves only one purpose. It tells the rest of the aging roster—Jeter in particular—that when it’s time to go, they better not mess around.

Time will tell if the ends were worth the means, but as of right now it’s not looking too good.

– Jason