Retaliation

Edwards Gets Chatty About Retaliation

Carl Edwards Jr.

Maybe Carl Edwards Jr. needs more time to work into midseason form. He’s having an outstanding spring, posting a 1.93 ERA and striking out more than a batter per inning for the Cubs, but one part of his game shows clear signs of rust: After drilling Seattle’s Austin Nola on Tuesday, he came out afterward and admitted to reporters that he meant to do it.

Kris Bryant and Willson Contreras had hit by pitches earlier in the game—Bryant’s been hit three times in 36 plate appearances this spring, Contreras three times in 31 plate appearances—and, Edwards said, he’d had enough. Via MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian:

“Yeah, I did. It’s just, honestly, it’s like the nature of the game, spring training or not. It’s just you get to a point where you’re kind of tired of the guys getting hit. I mean, those are our big guys. That’s 25-man roster. Those are guys that are going to help us win championships, help us win ballgames. And, you know, all due respect, but it’s the nature of the game. And it just gets to a point where you just get tired, you know? Yes, it was Willy and a couple innings before it was KB.”

The idea is that Edwards’ response will serve to curtail teams from taking similar liberties in the future with Chicago’s middle-of-the-order guys. It also suggests that a 40-man guy or non-roster invitee might not have received similar protection from the reliever.

Except that Seattle’s pitchers, Cresbitt and Mills, are both non-roster players, targeted for the minor leagues. The entire Mariners lineup, in fact, was Triple-A-level at best, considering that the big leaguers had already departed for Japan. Stepping in against wild youth during March games can be a crapshoot, and Edwards’ message pitch probably held little resonance for guys who weren’t trying to drill anyone in the first place.

At the very least, the right-hander let the rest of the Cubs roster know that he’s looking out for their best interests. Maybe—like Dock Ellis, who drilled three straight Reds players to open a game in 1974—he simply felt too much complacency on a team with playoff aspirations. Where he went wrong was talking about it. From The Baseball Codes:

When a pitcher confesses to hitting a batter intentionally, it’s an admission that, at best, strikes an odd note with the view­ing public. People inside baseball understand appropriate doses of retalia­tion, but the practice represents a level of brutality that simply doesn’t translate in most people’s lives.

This is the reason that such admissions leave the commissioner’s office little choice but to levy punishment. It’s why Frank Robinson—one of the most thrown-at players of his generation and in possession of a deep understanding of baseball’s retaliatory code—was so heavy-handed when he served as Major League Baseball’s director of discipline, long after his playing career had ended. It’s why Jose Mesa was suspended for four games in response to hitting Omar Vizquel after saying he would do pre­cisely that, even though he wasn’t even thrown out of the game in which it happened. It’s why normally outspoken White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen responded with nothing more than a knowing smile when asked whether he’d ordered one of his pitchers to throw at his former outfielder Carlos Lee during a 2006 spring-training game. It’s why, after Dock Ellis famously and intentionally hit three batters in a row to open a game in 1974, Pirates catcher Manny Sanguillen proclaimed to the media that he had never seen anybody so wild, despite having been briefed by Ellis about his plan prior to the game. It’s why, when Mickey Lolich of the Tigers and Dave Boswell of the Twins exchanged beanballs in a 1969 con­test, each said afterward that his ball had “slipped.”

If the defendant confesses to a crime, the hanging judge has little choice but to act. Don’t be surprised when MLB hands down a suspension for Edwards in the coming days.

 

Advertisements
Retaliation, Umpires Knowing the Code

That Time When Syndergaard vs. Utley Brought Us ‘Ass In The Jackpot’ In All Its Glory

Syndergaard tossed

Way back in 2016 I wrote about Noah Syndergaard’s ejection against the Dodgers, for a pitch he threw behind Chase Utley in response to Utley’s having broken the leg of shortstop Ruben Tejada during the previous season’s playoffs.

Which brings us to video of umpire Tom Hallion trying to cool the situation, and barely succeeding. (The clip came out last June, but is somehow making the rounds again now. Which is reason enough to dive in with gusto.)

The umpire seems to understand that baseball has a method for delivering retaliation, and even appears receptive to looking the other way. Except, he tells the pitcher, “that’s the wrong time to do it.”

This is where things get confusing. There was one out in the third inning of a scoreless game when Syndergaard threw his pitch well behind Utley. The right-hander had already faced him once, leading off the game, and struck him out. There was also the not-inconsequential detail that the Mets had faced Utley five times, covering 19 plate appearances—including five the previous day—since he’d injured Tejada without so much as a whiff of controversy. If Syndergaard’s timing was wrong, what timing would have been better?

When Terry Collins gets involved, he tells Hallion: “You gotta give us a shot!”

Hallion’s response: “You get your shot. You had your shot right there. … You know the situation, Terry.”

Collins was, of course, talking about a repercussion-free shot, not one in which one of his aces gets tossed in the third inning after throwing only 33 pitches. The best guess here is that Hallion didn’t mean a word he was saying, and was just trying to cool the situation as quickly as possible.

The most vital part of the conversation—and this cannot be understated—came when Hallion broke out the phrase that has since gained him infamy: “Our ass is in the jackpot.” Twice.

The situation is old, the insight is new, and spring training is in full swing. Welcome back to baseball, everybody.

Retaliation, Teammate Relations

When Bad Things Happen To New Teammates: Welcome To Philly, Bryce Harper

Hamels vs. Harper

Remember back in 2012, Bryce Harper’s rookie year, when the guy was the most hyped teenage phenom baseball had seen in a generation? Remember when, in his first at-bat in his eighth game ever, Cole Hammels drilled him, just because?

Hamels admitted to it and everything, as reported right on this here blog, as a way of putting the upstart rookie in his place.

This is relevant today because, while Hamels has moved on (first to Texas, then to the Cubs), the Phillies manager then, Charlie Manuel, is still a special advisor with the club … which, as of last Saturday, has a new superstar right fielder. So of course the incident came to mind, and the former skipper made sure to get out in front of the situation.

“I didn’t tell Hamels to hit you,” Manuel told Harper prior to his introductory press conference, according to The Athletic’s Matt Gelb.

Okay, then. I guess that’s that.

***

Actually, baseball history is rife with examples of guys who have beefed having to join forces in the same clubhouse. Inevitably, players manage to put aside their differences, or at least lower the volume a little bit. In 1940, for example, Cardinals catcher Mickey Owens went after Dodgers player-manager Leo Durocher after the infielder started jawing at him following a play at second base. The full-fledged fistfight was the culmination of a series of events that included the beaning and subsequent hospitalization of Dodgers second baseman Joe Medwick a day earlier, and a near brawl between Durocher and Cardinals manager Billy Southworth over breakfast that morning. Owens, who was fined $50 for his actions by commissioner Ford Frick, could not have been more firm in his ill feelings about Durocher.

Less than six months later, he was traded to Brooklyn. Somehow, Owen and his new skipper existed copacetically for the next five seasons.

In 1975, after Rangers second baseman Dave Nelson bunted on Gaylord Perry for a base hit, the pitcher exacted revenge by throwing a ball at his head, which missed its mark only because Nelson deflected it with his arm. Later that season Perry was traded to Texas, and Nelson was notably cool upon the pitcher’s arrival. Eventually Perry approached his new teammate. “Hey, Dave,” he said. “I enjoyed the competition.” Nelson couldn’t believe it. He exploded about the right-hander’s head-hunting ways, and Perry took the time to explain his mindset. Nelson didn’t agree, but he at least appreciated the response. “I didn’t have much respect for him until he became a teammate,” Nelson said later.

Much more fun than either of those instances was Mike Piazza’s reaction following the incident during the 2000 World Series when Roger Clemens threw a shard of bat at him. Piazza opted against going after the pitcher at the time, and perhaps regretted having missed the opportunity. In 2004, he got another chance, teaming with Clemens (who had since joined the Houston Astros) on the National League All-Star roster. The rest comes straight from The Baseball Codes:

The National League’s starting battery was Clemens and Piazza; despite sharing the home clubhouse, the pair was noteworthy for their avoidance of each other. Not only did a public reconciliation fail to materialize, but the two shared not so much as a handshake, and Clemens spent much of his pre­game time on the field warming up in the bullpen with someone other than Piazza.

Then the fireworks started. Clemens lasted just one inning in his home ballpark, giving up six runs on a single, double, triple, and two home runs. Through it all, Piazza never once visited the mound to calm him. After­ward, the theorists started in: Had Piazza attained a measure of revenge by tipping the hitters to what was coming? The chance to embarrass Clemens in front of his hometown fans had to be appealing. But Piazza’s not talking. Neither are the American League hitters. The plate umpire, Ed Montague, swears that he didn’t hear a thing. And as far as Roger Clemens is concerned, the less he knows the better.

The pressure Bryce Harper will face over the next 13 seasons in Philadelphia will be significant, but,  none of it should resemble any of that. At least he has that much going for him.

Retaliation

One Pitcher From Last Season’s Yanks-Rays HBP Flap Spared, And It’s Not Sabathia

CC yells

It was kind of a big deal last September when, in his final appearance of the regular season, CC Sabathia responded to a head-high fastball thrown at one of his teammates by drilling an opponent of his own. It was kind of a big deal because warnings had already been issued, and Sabathia knew that he’d be ejected for the action, two innings from triggering a $500,000 bonus clause in his contract. He considered it money well spent.

At the time, a number of critics (myself included) suggested that the Yankees should pay him anyway. In December, they did.

Now the other half of the equation—Rays reliever Andrew Kittredge, whose head-high fastball to Austin Romine, itself a response to various teammates being tagged by Yankees pitchers, initially triggered Sabathia—was similarly relieved of a burden. MLB suspended him for three games at the time, a penalty that it rescinded yesterday. This is especially pertinent since Kittredge has been outrighted off Tampa Bay’s 40-man roster, and a suspension—to be served whenever he returns to the big leagues—would obviate the necessity to call him up for short-term help.

Sabathia, meanwhile, is still saddled with a five-game suspension, which doesn’t mean much to a starter who can easily be slotted behind Luis Severino, James Paxton, Masahiro Tanaka and J.A. Happ. Sabathia will likely get his first start bumped back by a day or two, and that will be that. At the very least, it will serve as a tangible reminder of the lengths he’s willing to go to to stand up for his teammates.

Retaliation

What Price Respect?: CC Sabathia’s Half-Million-Dollar Pitch Speaks Volumes

CC drills 'em

In the world of pro sports, money frequently equates to respect. In major league baseball, a team coming up with big contract dollars for a player shows—in the eyes of an abundance of those players—that he is respected. Alternatively, if a team presents budget constraints during negotiations, it shows that they do not. Look no further than escalating salary clauses that guarantee a player will sit at a given rank among the highest-paid in his sport; they are less concerned with how much a player makes than that he rates highly among his peers. It’s an easy way to insure more money, of course, but it also insures respect.

Which is what makes CC Sabathia’s decision yesterday all the more remarkable. For a moment, anyway, money didn’t equal respect in baseball. Quite the opposite.

In the sixth inning, two frames from triggering a half-million-dollar contract bonus in his final start of the season, Sabathia opted to stand up for his teammates by drilling a member of the opposition. With warnings already in place from an earlier incident, the pitcher knew he’d be tossed for it. He didn’t care.

In question was a fastball thrown a half-inning earlier by Rays right-hander Andrew Kittredge, at Yankees catcher Austin Romine—as obvious as a retaliatory pitch can be. It was ostensibly in response to the compounding numbers of Tampa Bay players being drilled by New York pitchers. On Tuesday, Luis Severino hit Tommy Pham. On Wednesday, Masahiro Tanaka hit Kevin Kiermeir, fracturing his foot. Yesterday, one inning prior to Kittredge’s response, Sabathia hit Jake Bauers. None of those drillings appear to have been intentional—Sabathia’s pitch was an 87-mph two-seamer that broke in on the hitter’s hands—but at some point it’s tough to criticize a team for wanting to respond.

The primary problem with Kittredge’s pitch lay in its execution—it was a first-pitch fastball fired directly at the ear hole of the Romine’s helmet, which the hitter barely managed to avoid. Most ballplayers are willing to tolerate retaliatory tactics within certain parameters, none of which include pitches thrown above the shoulders; there is no more universally loathed tactic in all the sport. The offering was so blatant that plate ump Vic Carapazza immediately warned both benches.

This is what Sabathia had to consider as he stewed in the dugout while the Yankees batted.

It’s extremely rare that an athlete has such clear and diametrically opposed options available during the course of play. Sabathia could have ignored Kittredge’s pitch, or even just brushed a Rays hitter back in response, and still have been able to cash in. Instead, he followed what he considered to be the correct path. With the score 11-0, timing didn’t matter at all. This is why, with his first pitch of the following inning, Sabathia drilled Rays catcher Jesus Sucre in the backside. He was immediately tossed, as he knew he would be, his bonus money all but forfeited on the spot.

CC Sabathia is 38 years old and an 18-year veteran. He came back to the Yankees this season on a one-year contract offered as much to secure his leadership as his pitching. With first-year manager Aaron Boone at the helm, the left-hander was expected to be a stabilizing force in the clubhouse.

This, then, is what leaders do.

Some people decry the idea of drilling a batter intentionally under any circumstance. In many instances—in response to some sort of celebration, for example, or whatever else can be considered as showing up an opponent—this is a majority opinion even within big league clubhouses. But when a pitcher deliberately puts one of your own in peril—and without question, that’s what Kittredge did to Romine—players demand response. There’s an element of macho posturing to it, but there’s more to it than that. It is a tangible consequence of a team taking liberties with an opponent, a tactic that forces the offending squad to confront its own conduct and, ideally, to act differently in the future. Hell, it’s the same thing that inspired Kittredge in the first place, except that unlike Sabathia, his response was outside the boundaries of accepted behavior.

That Sabathia has earned more than $250 million over the course of his career in no way means that he sees $500,000 as anything less than a significant amount of money. It was a sacrifice on his part, made willingly and without complaint in the name of respect and clubhouse standing.

If the Yankees want to do the right thing, they’ll pay him anyway.

Retaliation

Bumgarner Dots Braun, Gives Up Grand Slam, Makes Fans Wonder What The Hell’s Going On. Again.

MadBum-Braun

As if we didn’t already know it, Madison Bumgarner reminded us over the weekend that it’s probably best just to let him mutter like an insane person on the mound when he pitches. That’s because if you dare question his mutter-and-fussing, he will quickly transition from old-man-yelling-at-neighborhood-kids-from-his-porch to old-man-throwing-baseballs-at-neighborhood-kids-from-his-porch.

Just ask Ryan Braun.

In the sixth inning of Sunday’s game against the Brewers, MadBum threw a couple up and in to the former MVP. Given that Braun had already hit an RBI double against the lefty and sent another one to the wall in center, Bumgarner was in no mood for a response. When Braun suggested that the pitcher “just throw the ball,” it was more than enough motivation for Bumgarner to do just that.

His next pitch nicked Braun on the elbow. Message sent, I guess.

Then again, that message loaded the bases for the next hitter, Jonathan Schoop, who unloaded them with a grand slam. Given that the Giants led 2-1 before Braun’s at-bat, this was not an ideal outcome for Bumgarner. As the Brewers spilled from the dugout to greet Schoop, many of them took the opportunity to yell at the pitcher and had to be shooed off the field by ump Dan Bellino.

It was, of course, classic Bumgarner. (For previous examples of his exquisite red-assery, look here, here, here, here, here, here or here.)

The pitcher’s irascible farmer act is likeable, I guess, if you’re a Giants fan … except that I am a Giants fan, and this kind of thing rips me up. Stand your ground. Take no guff. Defend teammates. But when a pitcher has to invent conflict in order to motivate himself, and that conflict comes back to bite him and his team, it’s awfully hard to swallow.

Bumgarner’s act can play when he’s an ace. But when the velocity of his four-seamer has dropped nearly two miles per hour, and the pitch has gone from one he uses more than 40 percent of the time to one he uses .1 percent (that’s point one percent) of the time, and the spin rate has plummeted across his repertoire, and he’s given up 11 earned runs over his last two starts … well, when all that happens, these kinds of meltdowns don’t inspire much love from the base.

Pitch to Braun, not at Braun. Win baseball games, not arguments. Be a badass, not a bully. There is success to be found there, if only Bumgarner chooses to look.

 

Retaliation, The Baseball Codes

Acuna Drilled For Being Too Hot: When Will Baseball Be Through With Old-School Nonsense?

Acuna drilled

Jose Urena’s first-pitch assassination attempt on Ronald Acuna’s elbow yesterday brought to the fore an interesting tension for traditionalist lovers of old-school baseball, those who beat the drum loudest for playing the game “the right way” while calling for a return to the approach employed by previous generations of ballplayers. These fans yearn for a return to the time before prohibitions against collisions, when men were allowed to play with unbridled ferocity and vigor. Back then, of course, pitchers were allowed to throw the ball wherever the hell they wanted, with scant repercussion. In bygone eras, what Urena did yesterday was downright mainstream.

Acuna is the game’s hottest hitter, homering eight times in eight games prior to yesterday, including five straight, while leading off three in a row against the Marlins with longballs. Urena didn’t give him the chance for a fourth, planting a 97.5-mph fastball—the fastest first pitch he’s thrown all year, and in the 99th percentile of the 2,125 pitches he’s thrown overall, in terms of velocity—into Acuna’s elbow. It was unmistakably intentional.

There used to be a notion about drilling a hitter who was having too much success. The prevailing wisdom held that if a guy was seeing the ball well, that meant he was comfortable. And if a pitcher wants to get a guy out, part of his job is to remove as much of that comfort as he can. Any attention paid to avoiding baseballs, of course, is not attention paid to hitting them.

That’s more or less what Urena said after the game, when he told reporters in a rambling monologue that he was just trying to move Acuna’s feet—to make him less comfortable.

It was hogwash, of course. Urena led the league last year with 14 hit batters. Acuna was his 11th of this season. But the pitcher’s strategy was rooted in history.

In 1954, Joe Adcock set a record with 18 total bases, including four home runs, in a game against the Brooklyn Dodgers. After he doubled again the next day, Clem Labine drilled him.

In 1969, Willie Stargell homered and singled in his first two at-bats against Bob Gibson, and was very intentionally drilled during his third. At least Gibson, probably the most notorious headhunter of the modern era, understood both sides of the dynamic. Once, when teammate Curt Flood demanded retaliation after Don Drysdale drilled him in the ribs, Gibson offered a simple response: “If you had eight hits in a row off me, roomie,” he said in a Newsday account, “I’d hit you, too.”

Hall of Famer Johnny Mize recalled getting hit in the head by pitchers Harry Gumbert and Harry Brecheen. “Were they throwing at me?” he speculated in the classic book, “Baseball When the Grass was Real.” “I don’t know. But one of them was a sinkerball pitcher; the other one was a control pitcher. And on each occasion I’d hit a home run the time before.”

During Don Baylor’s rookie year in 1972, he reached base in his first five at-bats against Andy Messersmith, including a double and a homer. In his sixth, Baylor told The New York Times, Messersmith “didn’t even look in to take a sign from the catcher. He just wound up and hit me in the back. As I’m walking to first, he calls over, “Well, don’t you think it’s about time?”

In 1987, after Andre Dawson hit three homers and a double in two games against the Padres, Eric Show hit him in the cheek with a pitch, requiring 24 stitches. (The teams ended up brawling, and Cubs rookie Greg Maddux responded by drilling Padres catcher Benito Santiago. After Maddux was ejected, his replacement, Scott Sanderson, threw three pitches at Tony Gwynn, missing each time. “Today was the first time in my life that I’ve been scared to go to the plate,” Gwynn said afterward, in the Chicago Sun-Times.)

After that game, Cubs manager Gene Michael typified the difference in attitude between baseball then and baseball now, saying, “Headhunting and drilling somebody are a big difference. When you risk careers and lives, it has no place in baseball.”

Those stories are fun, in part because they describe a game that is barely recognizable today. In the modern game, throwing at a hitter, even well below the shoulders, is always questionable. When the reason for it is as petty as Urena’s—Acuna was having too much success, so he had to go down—it’s downright unconscionable.

There are many reasons for this evolution, none more vital than the fact that, unlike in its heyday, baseball, lagging behind the NBA and NFL in youth demographics, is a sport that needs marketing. More than ever, MLB needs its young stars to do star-like things, and when one of the brightest of them, in the middle of the best run of his career, is senselessly cut down by a meathead pitcher, it diminishes the entire sport.

People who decry the sport’s unwritten rules as baseless and outdated fail to recognize that the Code shifts with the times—has always shifted with the times—and because something was once acceptable does not make it so today. For those like Keith Hernandez, who uttered the below inanity into a microphone that he knew was live …

… it’s time to realize that the sport you grew up playing is not the same sport that Major League Baseball is trying so carefully to cultivate today. Urena wasn’t playing by the modern version of the unwritten rules, he was playing against them.

There is simply no place in baseball for Jose Urena, or those like him. Suspension—real suspension, not some five-game nonsense under which Urena doesn’t even have to miss a start—is the best way to send a message that this kind of behavior will not be tolerated. If Major League Baseball truly wants its players to recognize that times have changed in this regard, it has to start leading the charge.

Update (8-16): MLB has suspended Urena six games. Way to decidedly not make a stand, baseball.