Dynastic, Bombastic, Fantastic, Retaliation

When Getting Knocked Down Works Out In Your Favor

Fosse cardGoing through old A’s interviews while prepping for an upcoming presentation about my new book, Dynastic, Bombastic, Fantastic, I found this unwritten-rules nugget from catcher Ray Fosse, who told me about an incident on July 31, 1971, before he joined the A’s:

I’m with the Indians, playing Oakland in Cleveland. [Bert] Campaneris is at first, another runner [Dick Green] is at third, and a squeeze bunt is put on—a busted squeeze. Graig Nettles is playing third for us. I caught the ball and started running down the line to force the rundown. Out of the corner of my eye I see Campy rounding second, so I threw the ball to Nettles, then went to third and called, “Graig, Graig!” So he tagged [Green] and threw it back to me.

I crushed Campy with the tag. Crushed him. It was unintentional, but my momentum took me as he came to the bag and I went down and just fell on him. He was safe. I didn’t think anything about it, but [A’s pitcher] Chuck Dobson comes to bat the next inning and tells me, “You gotta go down.” I said, “What?” He said, “Yep, I got instructions. I got to throw at you.” Here’s the pitcher who’s actually going to be doing it, at the plate saying, “You got to go down.”

I said, “Are you kidding me? Because of what I did at third base with Campy?” He said, “Mm-hm.” So I come up to hit, Dobber threw a ball over my head and knocked me to the ground. I got up pissed off, and hit a double. When I got to second base, I looked at A’s dugout and said, “Stick that up your …” I was so pissed, I said it right to [A’s manager] Dick Williams. The last thing I ever thought was that I would be traded to Oakland.

So after I was traded, we’re sitting in Cleveland, getting ready to catch a commercial flight—to Cleveland, of all places. We’re at the airport, and Dick’s in the restaurant, by himself, and I walk up to him and say, “Skip, this has been on my mind. Do you remember the play?”

He said, “I remember it.” I said, “The last place I thought I would ever be traded was here.” He says, “I remember that play, and that’s why we want guys like you.” Because I was willing to do that to one of his players, unintentionally as it was, and then  responded by looking into the dugout after they decked me. He said, “I like that.”

After four seasons in Cleveland, of course, Fosse experienced his first-ever  winning record with the A’s, followed in short order by back-to-back championships. If you’re not already following it, check out @DynasticBook for a day-by-day account of Oakland’s 1972, 1973 and 1974 championship seasons.

Bat Flipping, Retaliation

This Kid Better Hope he Never Faces Jake Arrieta

There’s this kid in Texas who’s pretty good at hitting baseballs. He does things like this …

… and this …

We already know Arrieta’s thoughts on the topic. Young players who flip their bats, he said, “might wear the next one in the ribs.”

While it’s unlikely that Arrieta was referencing amateur teenagers, DJ might want to keep his head on a swivel while walking to the team bus. Wrigley Field is only 1,100 miles away.

 

 

Bat Flipping, Retaliation, Veteran Status

Arrieta Already in Midseason Form, Calls Out Bat-Flippers Across the Land

That’s Jake Arrieta Tuesday, on Chicago’s ESPN 1000.

We’ve heard so much recently about bat flipping and showboating and personal expression—just two days ago Yasiel Puig modeled his latest flip for a spring training crowd …

Puig flip

… that it’s nice to hear something from the other side.

Forget for a moment that intentionally planting a fastball into a young player’s ribs is no longer a viable means of response, or that Arrieta himself has bristled at such treatment. The pitcher’s point is as much about veteran status as anything.

Which is valid. For as long as baseball’s had unwritten rules, one of them has been You earn what you get. Players who have walked the walk get more leeway than fresh-faced rookies, and justifiably so. Back in 1972, Mudcat Grant summed up the sport’s salary structure by saying, “Baseball underpays you when you’re young, and overpays you when you’re old.” The same holds true for respect. In the eyes of many veterans, those who haven’t earned their big league stripes have no business acting as if they run the place.

For a guy like Arrieta, this includes showboating at the plate.

While I disagree with the sentiment of visiting physical peril on the opposition, I love that somebody is willing to recognize a merit-based hierarchy within the sport’s structure. No participation trophies here. You earn what you get.

If Arrieta and like-minded pitchers come off as stodgy in the process of voicing their opinions, so be it. All players shouldn’t be treated the same, just as people in any workplace environment in any industry shouldn’t be treated the same. In an ideal world, those who deserve promotion get promoted. And those who make too much noise with insufficient accomplishments to their name merit their own response.

What that response looks like is up for interpretation, but in this instance I’m kind of wild about that aspect of baseball’s old guard.

 

Retaliation

Never Too Foggy For Retaliation

ken-holtzmanIn support of my latest book, Dynastic, Bombastic, Fantastic: Reggie, Rollie, Catfish, and Charlie Finley’s Swingin’ A’s — available March 7 at fine bookstores everywhere — I’ve been re-poring over old Oakland Tribunes and tweeting this-date-in updates for each of the team’s three championship seasons. Sign up at @DynasticBook to relive those magical seasons, one day at a time.

If you do, May 22 will bring you the bones of the following tale of retaliation, told in significantly more complete form here. From that day’s issue of the Oakland Tribune, 1972:

Ken Holtzman was sailing along with a 2-0 lead in the second inning when he grounded to Royals first baseman John Mayberry, 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds.

Mayberry took the ball, ambled over to the bag to make the third out, but stopped instead of crossing over toward the dugout. The 165-pound Holtzman, running full speed, crashed into Mayberry and went down as if knocked out by Joe Frazier.

When Lou Piniella led off the next inning, the still-shaken Holtzman threw the first ball over his hat.

“I don’t know where I was,” Holtzman said. “I was so dizzy and so mad, I thought Piniella was Mayberry so I threw the ball over his head. When I got back to the dugout they told me what I’d done.”

Piniella is shorter and doesn’t weigh as much as Mayberry. And not only is Piniella white and Mayberry black, but Piniella bats right and Mayberry left.

By the time Mayberry came up again, Holtzman’s head had cleared. He threw a ball over HIS head and then struck him out.

There’s nothing funny about concussions, of course, but Holtzman threw five more innings of one-run ball, then pitched complete games in five of his next seven starts without missing a turn. Seems like he was okay. And dedicated to sending a message.

Boy, was that a different time.

 

Don't Play Aggressively with a Big Lead, Retaliation

Chase Utley and New Levels of Dedication to Code Adherence

Dodgers second baseman Chase Utley takes batting practice before NLCS Game 6.So Peter Gammons relayed an anecdote involving a team stealing a base with a big lead, and the opposition sending a message. This tale, however, has a twist:

Coaches tell the story of a game in which the Dodgers had a big lead in the top of the eighth inning when one younger, enthusiastic teammate stole second base, which ticked off the opposition. When [Chase] Utley got to the plate in the ninth, he told the opposing catcher to have the pitcher drill him. Then his teammate would understand there are consequences for showing up the opposition.

This is a terrific tale—a hard-nosed veteran insisting on propriety at his own expense in order to teach a lesson to a young teammate.

The problem is, it doesn’t appear to have happened—at least not according to the details provided. Utley’s been hit by 17 pitches as a member of the Dodgers, and never after an ill-timed stolen base while Los Angeles held a big lead.

The closest match I could find happened last Sept. 12, when Los Angeles led the Yankees Yankees 5-1. With two outs and men at first and third, Howie Kendrick—the runner at first—took off for second. The throw from catcher Brian McCann was wild, allowing Josh Reddick to score from third, making the score 6-1. Andrew Toles then struck out looking.

Utley led off the following frame. Reliever Richard Bleier drilled him.

There are two primary problems here. One is that in the modern era, a four-run lead is hardly considered safe. The other is that the action went down in the third inning. No problem there.

So what happened? Gammons said that Utley asked to be drilled, not that he was drilled. Or, it could have happened in a spring training game. It might even have been while Utley was with the Phillies, the details twisted in the retelling.

But that’s the thing about baseball—tall tales have a way of sticking. Hell, legacies are built upon them. Whether or not Utley’s story actually happened, it could have happened, and that’s enough to bring a smile to one’s face over morning coffee.

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

Temperatures Top Out in Toronto Over Tepid Toss

happ-headly

Yesterday we had a nice, nuanced discussion about the propriety of infield dekes, with multiple viewpoints weighing in on a play Jung Ho Kang made on Sunday. It was a reminder about why baseball’s unwritten rules are fun and valuable, and how they can affect the execution of the game on a very real level.

Then the Yankees and Blue Jays started throwing baseballs at each other, and all that goodwill went to hell.

It started with New York’s Luis Severino hitting Josh Donaldson in the first inning Monday with a clearly unintentional fastball that grazed the hitter’s elbow. Blue Jays starter J.A. Happ nonetheless responded an inning later by throwing a pitch behind Chase Headly, and then hit him in the hip with his next offering. (Watch it here.)

What was the point? For the Blue Jays to show that they will not abide pitchers coming inside to their MVP candidate? Even for those who see such a response as entirely justified, Happ had his chance and he missed. Hitting Headly at all is weak sauce, but to take another shot after the first one failed is even worse.

It also set some damaging precedent. Responding to Happ, Severino went after Justin Smoak in the bottom of the inning, but, like Happ, missed. Then, also like Happ, he finished the job a pitch later. (Watch it here.) All told, the events inspired two benches-clearing incidents in which punches were thrown. Severino and New York manager Joe Girardi were ejected.

Unless there’s some backstory about which I’m unaware, there’s little place in the game anymore for Happ’s sort of reaction—brutality for brutality’s sake—to an unintentional HBP.

It was an old-school and outdated approach to Code enforcement, but at least we had Mark Teixeira to lend some new-school levity to the proceedings. After tying the game with a solo homer in the ninth, and celebrated like this:

He said later that it was the first time he’d ever flipped a bat.

It was the final meeting between the teams this season. Here’s hoping they’re able to start the 2017 season with fresh eyes.

Update (9-27): Looks like the Baseball Gods have spoken.