Passing Rules Down, Rookie Etiquette, The Baseball Codes

Archer Sets Tone in Rays Camp

Those who thought that the Chris Archer’s outstanding 2015 season—in which he made the All-Star team and finished fifth in the American League Cy Young voting—might be taken as an excuse to ease off the gas pedal are sorely mistaken.

On the very first day of workouts in Port Charlotte, Fla., Archer pulled aside two young pitchers, Jacob Faria and Blake Snell, for showing up late to a team meeting. How late were they? It was 8:28 a.m. The meeting started at 9.

For Archer, it was all about tone.

“You guys are the last two pitchers here,” he scolded in front of reporters, according to a Tampa Bay Times report. “You guys have zero service time. You got no right to be coming in after me, really. I get here super early. I wouldn’t expect you to be here at 6:30, but 8:30?”

With that gesture, Archer provided a baseline expectation about accountability—an especially important measure considering the youth of Tampa Bay’s staff. This is the basis for winning clubhouse atmospheres.

Dusty Baker tells a story about showing up one minute late to the hotel lobby during his rookie season, to catch a ride to the ballpark with some teammates. It was 4:01 p.m., and he had been in his room, catching the end of Gunsmoke on TV. The group he was to meet waited for him to arrive, and as soon as he saw them sped off. “I had to run behind the truck all the way to the ballpark,” Baker said. Lesson learned. The incident helped to inform an approach to the game that he carries with him to this day.

“What you learn in this game is not yours to pos­sess, but yours to pass on,” Baker said in The Baseball Codes. “I believe that, whether it’s equipment, knowledge, or philosophy, that’s the only way the game shall carry on. I believe that you have to talk, communicate, and pass on what was given to you. You can’t harbor it. You can’t run off to the woods and keep it for yourself, because it isn’t yours to keep. And what you teach other guys is the torch you pass. I don’t make this up—it was passed to me.”

Archer seems to be right on board. “I remember being in some of these younger guys’ shoes,” he said in the Rays spring training clubhouse last week. “Hopefully I can have the same impact that James Shields and D.P. [David Price] had on me.”

If his recent actions are any indication, the Rays are in good shape in that regard.

Rookie Treatment

Rookie Lesson: Mealtime is for Meals, Baseball Time is For Baseball

Noah SyndergaardSo Noah Syndergaard thought he’d grab a between-meals bite during a Mets scrimmage in Florida. David Wright and Bobby Parnell thought better, tossing his food into the trash and pointing him back toward the dugout.

A big deal, this refusal to let rookies eat during games in which they’re not even participating? More of the hazing upon which society has so firmly turned? Hardly. As a rookie, Syndergaard has a lot of baseball to learn, and, as the Mets vets so ably demonstrated, he’s not going to learn much of it indoors with his nose in a plate of baked beans. On their own the young pitcher’s actions are hardly offensive, but Wright and Parnell have taken the admirable tack of setting tone in the clubhouse, making it clear to young players and veterans alike that full effort is more than just a suggestion. That includes paying attention during games; one never knows what one might pick up.

It’s a throwback move. Ron Fairly told his own story about coming up with the Dodgers: “You had to show Pee Wee [Reese] you wanted to play this game of baseball—show him how badly you wanted to play. Pee Wee said he’d take a guy of lesser ability who really wants to play than a guy with a lot of ability who doesn’t give it a good effort all the time. Pee Wee was the captain, the one that controlled that, and if he ignored you, the other players would ignore you.”

Show you want it. It’s the least any veteran should ask.

Rookie Hazing, Umpire Relations

Rookie Tossed, Manager Tight, Tradition the Same as it Ever Was

Matheny tossedMike Matheny is apparently not a fan of rookie treatment, at least when it comes to umpires. On Thursday, St. Louis’ first-year first baseman Matt Adams struck out in the ninth inning, on what he considered to be a high, inside pitch. He questioned plate ump Dan Belino, then, on his way back to the dugout, turned around and questioned him again.

Belino shooed him away. The gesture was more than Matheny was willing to tolerate. Once closer Kevin Gregg had sealed the Cubs’ 3-0 victory moments later, Matheny raced toward Belino, to the point of necessitating restraint from the rest of the umpiring crew. (Watch it here.)

His frustration, he told reporters after the game, had less to do with the strike call than “with the umpire and how he mistreated one of our players, Adams.”

“It’s ridiculous,” Matheny said. “You can’t take your mask off and motion somebody away. We had not had any trouble. We hadn’t been complaining all game long. He wanted to be seen, so now he’s going to be seen.”

There is, however, something else at play: If the unwritten rule that labels such a display disrespectful constitutes one side of the coin, the other side is covered by the notion that rookies must earn their place in the game. This is true within clubhouse hierarchies, and it is true when it comes to umpires. Although it is generally less prevalent now than in past generations, umpires throughout the game’s history have taken the position that young players must earn their respect, and will test them accordingly to push the issue.

Last year Bryce Harper felt it with Angel Hernandez’s strike zone. If it was a test, Harper failed, badly.

A similar story comes to us courtesy of Hall of Famer Catfish Hunter. In his autobiography, Catfish: My Life in Baseball, he described a confrontation during his rookie season in 1965:

One of the biggest lessons I learned came courtesy of senior umpire Ed Runge. “You’ll like this guy, Cat,” my teammates told me the first time Runge was behind the plate. “He gives you everything.”

Great. A friend in high places. I fired my first pitch, a fastball, right down the middle.

“Ball,” screamed Runge, yanking off his mask like someone had just yelled “Fire!” He stared out at the mound, begging me to argue. I didn’t say a word.

Another pitch. Another fastball right down Main Street.

“Ball two!”

Same yank. Same look. Still I don’t say boo.

We play the same game a couple of more times—me throwing strikes, Runge playing hard to please—and still I don’t let out a peep. A few weeks later Runge is set to go behind the plate again. Before the game, we happened to meet.

He gives me a quick once-over. “I see you don’t argue with umpires, kid.”

“No, sir,” I said.

A smile. “It’s a good thing.”

From then on I was a card-carrying member of the Ed Runge Club. Anything close was a strike. I’d passed the test.

Credit Matheny for protecting his players, but if Belino was hoping to see from Adams something similar to the deference that Runge got from Hunter, he’s going to have to wait a while.

No-Hitter Etiquette, Rookie Hazing

Yu Who? Backpack Season is Upon Us

Rangers backpackWith Yu Darvish’s near-perfect game Tuesday came the inevitable cries of jinx. It didn’t hurt that the TV broadcast included the comment, “Darvish looking for number six, and the second perfect game …” precisely as the right-hander released the two-out, ninth-inning pitch that Marwin Gonzalez would slap to center for Houston’s first hit.

Sure, there were those who tried to jinx it, and those who decried it being jinxed. Of semi-related interest, however, Darvish’s gem allowed the Mickey Mouse backpack worn by Texas reliever Joe Ortiz to be put on televised display as the game ended.

The backpack, of course, is a tradition in which the least-tenured member of a team’s relief corps is forced to lug around the bullpen’s candy supply, as well as finger fixers like nail clippers, frequently in as humiliating a satchel as possible.

If Ortiz thinks he has it bad, however, he has nothing on A’s reliever Sean Doolittle.

I was in the Oakland clubhouse yesterday, where Doolittle was fixing up the greatest candy bag I have encountered in many years on the Rookie Embarrassment beat.

Doolittle is the one doing the toting. That the left-hander appeared in three postseason games for the A’s last year counts for little; he’s still some 80 games behind teammate Evan Scribner when it comes to big league seniority. And he was sick of last season’s beat-up Hello Kitty bag.

Teammate Jerry Blevins acquiesced and purchased a new one—a fuzzy white, google-eyed unicorn, with pink hooves and a gold horn. Unfortunately, the new bag was far too small to hold the necessary supplies. Solution: affix old bag to new. Blevins began the process with safety pins, but left it to Doolittle himself to finish the job—akin, I thought, watching Doolittle struggle with the task, to having a victim dig his own grave. (See the bag in action here.)

“What can I say?” Doolittle said, affixing super glue just so. “I’m just doing what has to be done.”


Rookie Hazing, Yasmani Grandal

Ice Ice, Baby: Grandal, Frozen Out, Doesn’t Miss a Beat

Click for GIF.

There are a lot of reasons to like Padres rookie catcher Yasmani Grandal. His first three hits as a big leaguer have been home runs, including one yesterday. He became the first player in Major League history to homer from both sides of the plate in the same game for the first two hits of his career.

If you think those homers showed composure, they were nothing compared to the rookie’s reaction to the silent treatment he received in the dugout following his first longball. Faced with a shortage of actual teammates to congratulate him, the guy high-fived imaginary Padres instead. (Watch the whole thing here.)

(New York’s Daniel Murphy did something similar last week after snapping a 352-at-bat homerless streak dating back to last season, pumping his fists in the air after his teammates similarly iced him out.)

After all, why wait for others to come through when you can provide for yourself?

(Thanks to reader Steve Kelley for the heads-up. GIF via Gifulmination.)

Brett Lawrie, Rookie Etiquette

Lawrie Draws Buzz: One Kind from Teammates, Another from Opponents

Brett Lawrie celebrated, and Yunel Escobar was drilled as a result. (At least that’s the way it seems.)

In Wednesday’s game against Oakland, Lawrie hit the first grand slam of his nascent big league career, and was met with enthusiasm from teammates both as he crossed the plate and once he returned to the dugout, where he emphatically gave high fives and flung his helmet. (Watch it here.)

A touch too exuberant? Perhaps, but the kid is entitled to his moment. Even the A’s recognized that much, and let it go uncontested.

Two innings later, however, when Lawrie scored from second on a single to make it 8-4, then exulted as he crossed the plate, it appeared to cross the A’s line. Oakland reliever Jordan Norberto drilled Escobar with his next pitch, and dugouts emptied, though no punches were thrown.

The likely root of the problem is not so much the celebrations themselves as the tenure of the guy at their center. Lawrie has been in the big leagues less than a week, and the Code stipulates that players earn whatever leeway they’re given—a process that takes time. (Cincinnati’s Jordan Smith learned this lesson last year, as it pertains to umpires.) The fact that Lawrie is one of the game’s more heralded prospects probably works against him in this regard.

“I probably wouldn’t have chosen to celebrate it that way,” said reliever Craig Breslow, whose pitch Lawrie hit for the grand slam, in the San Francisco Chronicle.

It’s one of those things that doesn’t make much sense from the outside, and occasionally doesn’t make sense from the inside, either.

Steve Lyons recalls playing center field early during his rookie season, and calling off the right- and left-fielders on various fly balls, only to have them step in front of him to make the catch. Lyons was abiding by the rule of thumb that corner outfielders defer to the center fielder, but teammate Reid Nichols set him straight, telling Lyons that he had to “gain their respect.” Said Lyons: “I’m like, ‘While I’m gaining their respect, are we going to fuck up a few balls in left and right field?”

During Sparky Lyle’s rookie year with the Red Sox, he twice shook off catcher Elston Howard en route to walking a batter, and was promptly removed by manager Dick Williams. Recounted Lyle in “The Bronx Zoo”:  “After the game (Carl Yazstrzemski) cornered me in the locker room and said, ‘I want to know one thing. How can a guy who’s been in the big leagues two weeks shake off a guy who’s been catching fourteen years?’ ”

These are examples featuring teammates. When it’s an opponent who sees a rookie overstepping his bounds . . . well, suffice it to say that Yuni Escobar doesn’t end up all that pleased. Lawrie takes pride in his enthusiasm, and it’s certainly worked in his favor in his ascension through the minors.

Part of his initiation into the big leagues is learning that not everybody he encounters shares that view.

– Jason