There are two directions an umpire can go in instances of retaliation that occur under his watch.
He can let the situation play out, offering the other team a chance to respond before bringing down the hammer with warnings.
Or he can go quick-draw in an effort to immediately tamp down further inflammatory actions.
In the latter scenario, the offended party will inevitably be displeased about being handcuffed in its response. Which is exactly what happened to the Indians over the weekend.
It started with Asdrubal Cabrera mashing a ball down the line, an an all-or-nothing shot certain to clear the fence. He watched it fly, to see whether it went fair or foul.
It went foul. As did Tigers pitcher Rick Porcello, who by appearances felt shown up by Cabrera’s lingering presence in the batter’s box. He put his next pitch behind Cabrera’s back.
The Cleveland shortstop glared toward the mound, but his progress in that direction was stopped by plate ump Paul Schrieber, who issued quick warnings to both benches. Indians manager Manny Acta was not pleased. (Watch it here.)
“When that happens, you don’t need a warning to throw the guy out of the game,” he said in a Fox Sports report. “If you do not throw the guy out of the game then you should not issue a warning because then we’re not getting our shot.”
If only everyone was so clear, concise and correct. The manager has every right to expect a chance to respond to such a blatant Code violation—or, alternatively, have the ump collect a pound of flesh on his behalf. This doesn’t happen every time, of course; ever since umpires were instructed to tighten their trigger fingers, countless players and managers have been upset at lost retaliatory opportunities.
Acta, however, verbalizes his frustration better (read: more candidly) than most.
He was forced to specifically instruct pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez to avoid responding; it was still early in the game and he didn’t want to burn his bullpen. (His message was effective—Jimenez refrained from taking action, but that’s not always the case. Joe Torre recalls a time when he managed the Braves, in which he told pitcher
Ray King Donnie Moore to leave well enough alone at the tail end of a volatile situation—before recognizing the situation for what it was. “‘I have no chance. I’m talking to a deaf man,” he said of the conversation. “I walked back to the dugout and he hit Graig Nettles. You can talk until you’re blue in the face, but it’s guys defending each other. That’s what it’s about.”)
Acta also talked about the nature of Cabrera’s blast (“The guy was just standing there looking at a foul ball. It was a foul ball. That was all”) and the blatant nature of the drilling (“Everybody, including the vendors in the stadium, knew that he threw at him”), but it was his touchstone summary of the Code and some of its modern interpretations that was truly impressive. The gems included:
- A mini-treatise on the relative safety of retaliation for AL pitchers, as well as the inherent risks: “Guys who do that in the American League, all they’re doing is putting their team in jeopardy because they don’t hit. Guys in the National League who hit guys are the guys that show me something because they have to get up to the plate.”
- A polemic on the inter-team chumminess of modern players: “None of these guys want to fight. The game has changed so much, it’s a joke. All we’ve got to do is watch BP (batting practice). They’re all hugging and laughing (with opponents). Look on the bases, how you’ve got three, four guys (on opposite sides) talking to each other.”
- A sidebar on players’ softness (directed toward Porcello), pointing out one player who did not fit that bill—Francisco Rodriguez. While with the Mets, the closer took exception to comments made by Yankees pitcher Brian Bruney about his animated nature, and confronted him before a game. Acta: “You want to know who’s tough? Frankie Rodriguez is tough. He didn’t like what some guy did a couple years ago, he went out at stretch time. . . . That’s being tough, not throwing a ball at a guy and not even facing the guy. If you have to get up to the plate (to hit), then maybe I can see you being tough.”
Porcello offered standard denials about the pitch getting away from him, but if even the vendors could read his intent it doesn’t hold much water. The teams meet again on Sept. 5. Hold onto your hats.