Cheating

More Pine Tar Found In New York. It Continues To Not Be Much Of An Issue

We have the season’s second incident of a pitcher being too brazen for his own good. In April, it was Noah Syndergaard. On Wednesday it was Seattle left-hander Yusei Kikuchi. Their problem: not hiding pine tar well enough.

For Kikuchi, there was so much stuff slathered beneath the bill of his cap that fans in the second deck of Yankee Stadium were screaming for the umpire to check him. Fans, however, don’t have the power to make that request. Yankees manager Aaron Boone did, and opted against it.

Meanwhile, Kikuchi had a no-hitter through five innings and pitched into the eighth as the Mariners won, 10-1.

Pine tar, of course, adds grip for a pitcher. Where a slippery substance like Vaseline lends movement by removing spin from the baseball, pine tar can help (to lesser degrees) by increasing snapability. For somebody like Kikuchi, whose success depends on placement of breaking pitches, it can make a difference. The result of Wednesday’s game is evidence. (Whereas somebody like Syndergaard may have been tempted to use it during a frigid game in April, the Seattle Times informs us that Kikuchi might use it because he sweats a lot.)

So why didn’t the Yankees make a stink? Because, as we know by now, pitchers on virtually every team use pine tar—if not more nefarious substances—and rare is the manager who wants to get into an escalating battle of if-you-check-my-pitcher-then-I’ll-check-yours.

From my post about Syndergaard a few weeks back:

That’s hyperbole, but probably not by much. When Detroit’s Mike Fiers tossed a no-hitter against Los Angeles in 2015, he did so with a shiny substance that many took for pine tar adhered to his glove. Dodgers players knew all about it and didn’t say a thing. When Kenny Rogers was caught with pine tar on his hand during the 2006 World Series, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa didn’t even have him ejected, wanting only to make sure that  the pitcher’s hands were clean (literally and figuratively) and that the cheating stopped. When Clay Bucholz was caught with slick stuff loaded onto his arm in 2014, his opponents—despite what seemed like the entire mediasphere piling on—refused to indict him. Bucholz was never checked, and everything proceeded more or less apace. Even the instances in which players are called out tend to back up this mindset. After Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez had Brewers reliever Will Smith tossed from a game in 2015, all he said afterward was, “Every pitcher does it—just hide it better next time.”

MLB didn’t even comment on the matter, let alone take action. Yankees outfielder Cameron Maybin may as well have been speaking for everybody when he said after the game (via NJ.com). “Nobody noticed it, nobody said anything. We’ve got a lot bigger worries, trying to manufacture runs, trying to get on base, but I don’t think that had anything to do with it.”

Kikuchi has been in the big leagues for less than two months. He clearly knows how to cheat. Now he just has to learn to be more subtle about it.

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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.

 

Fights, Intra-Team Fights

Mariners Confrontation Nothing New In Clubhouse Annals

Reggie 'n Billy

Given the clubhouse confrontation between teammates Dee Gordon and Jean Segura in Seattle earlier this week—apparently over a dropped flyball in a game the Mariners eventually won—it’s only appropriate to reference the greatest group of brawlers that baseball has ever seen, for whom I hold a particular affinity (and for which this post is in no way related to the fact that the paperback was just released on Monday).

I’ve already disseminated, via Deadspin, the passage from Dynastic, Bombastic, Fantastic detailing Reggie Jackson’s 1972 fight with Mike Epstein. So here’s a different fight story about the Swingin’ A’s, from the book, about the culmination of a weeks-long feud between Jackson and outfielder Billy North in 1974:

Jackson spent the afternoon of June 5 at a hotel in downtown Detroit with NBA players Archie Clark, Charlie Scott and Lucius Allen. There are at least two versions of what happened next. In one, a lady called for one of the basketball players, and when she found out that Reggie was there, asked to speak to him. She was North’s girlfriend (or ex-girlfriend), who may or may not have been an airline stewardess, and, having heard that he and Reggie weren’t getting along, took the opportunity to prod Jackson for details. In another version the girl came on to Reggie at a bar some weeks earlier when North was not around, only to be rebuffed by the ballplayer. Both versions were told by Jackson at different times.

The way North reacted, there may well have been a third option. He arrived at Tiger Stadium a bit later than the rest of the team, already afire. At that point, the clubhouse—a tiny space, with lockers consisting of mesh metal frames sticking out at right angles from the white-tiled wall every three feet or so—was sedate. The scant area in the middle of the room contained a table where the team’s regular bridge players—Holtzman, Fingers, Green and Knowles—were mid-game. Ray Fosse sat nearby, looking on. Reggie, naked save for a towel, entered the clubhouse from the adjacent trainer’s room just as North arrived. The center fielder started in on him as soon as he walked through the doorway. “Superstar, my ass!” he shouted, striding toward Jackson. “You’re a fucking jerk, you know that?” When North got close enough, he reared back and punched Reggie in the face, twice. Jackson was stunned, but absorbed the blows without falling. Then he lowered his shoulder and charged. “It was surreal, like, ‘Is this shit really happening?’ ” said Herb Washington, who, having spent the afternoon with an increasingly irritated North, had a good idea of what was about to go down.

North and Jackson scuffled up one side of the room and down the other, ultimately falling hard to the concrete floor. The men playing bridge in the center of the room looked up disinterestedly and returned to their card game. “I had a slam bid I wanted to play, and damned if people were fighting,” said Green. “I still played it.” Fingers was even more blasé, saying, “They’re just going to fight later anyway if we break it up now.”

That meant that the only peacemakers on the scene were Blue Moon Odom and Vida Blue (the same Odom and Blue who nearly fought each other in the same clubhouse following a playoff game two seasons earlier). With Blue scheduled to pitch that night, collateral damage became a real concern, so Fosse jumped up to help. By that time North was on top of Jackson. Blue pulled on North, Fosse pulled on Blue, and everybody fell backward, Fosse crashing into a locker divider on his way down.

Everything stopped. Fosse shakily picked himself up. Jackson and North scrambled to their feet, took some deep breaths, and eyed each other warily. The peace lasted about three minutes, until North began shouting (according to Reggie), “You know damn well what this is about! You’re trying to steal my girl from me is what this is about!”

Reggie did his best to settle his teammate. “Hey man, I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about,” he said. “I talked to a girl … that’s all. I didn’t ask her for a date. I didn’t ask for anything. I don’t want anything from her. I don’t want your girl. I don’t want anything from you.”

The only reason Reggie didn’t want her, taunted North, was because his sexual proclivities did not lean toward her gender. Jackson flashed and, still naked, went after him again. Again the pair stumbled across the floor. Reggie clipped a locker with his shoulder and fell awkwardly, and North leapt atop him and began swinging.

Across the room, Bando looked at Tenace. “What are you doing?” he said.

“What do you mean, what am I doing?” asked Tenace.

“Why are we letting it go on like this?” asked Bando.

“Did you see what happened to the last guy who tried to break it up?” said Tenace, referring to the still-woozy Fosse. “I ain’t going to be a stinking statistic.”

“Get over here,” said Bando, pulling his teammate toward the players. Bando grabbed North, Tenace grabbed Reggie. Alou, Campaneris and Washington raced in for damage control.

Once the fisticuffs ended, Jackson decamped to find ice for his aching shoulder and North stomped off to change into his uniform. Bando looked around and clapped his hands in mock satisfaction. “Well, that’s it,” he said. “We’re definitely going to win big tonight.”

The A’s did win that night, 9-1 over the Tigers, but Jackson hurt his shoulder in the scuffle, precipitating a protracted slump. Hurt even worse was catcher Ray Fosse, who in an effort to break things up injured two vertebrae and ended up missing most of the rest of the season.

By all accounts, things weren’t that bad between Gordon and Segura in Seattle (or between broadcasters Mario Impemba and Rod Allen in Detroit).

Then again, the A’s went on to win the World Series that year, something that seems decidedly unlikely for the Mariners or Tigers.

Bunt appropriately

Gallo Learns The Hard Way That Bunt Madness Knows No Bounds

Gallo

By now we know that certain members of the Twins don’t appreciate players bunting against the shift while a Minnesota pitcher is throwing a one-hitter in the ninth. But do we know how the Mariners feel when Joey Gallo bunts against the shift while leading 5-2 in the fifth?

 

We might have found out on Sunday, when Gallo did just that. His attempt rolled foul. The next pitch from Mariners right-hander James Pazos drilled him.

Afterward, Gallo attributed no hard feelings to the play, attributing it merely to a pitcher trying to come up and in. Rangers manager Jeff Bannister made clear his intentions while facing future shifts, saying in a Dallas News report: “If you don’t want him to bunt, then don’t give it to him. Other teams have to play their game and we are going to play ours. We aren’t going to stop trying to win baseball games.”

It’s crazy that this is even a topic. Baseball would be a better place if everybody bunted against the shift all the time until teams simply stop shifting. Enough with the sensitivity, people.

Don't Bunt to Break Up a No-Hitter

Verlander’s No-No Beaten By Bunt, and Nobody Seems to Mind

Dyson bunts

It’s a convoluted question, so bear with me: Can the circumstances following a clear violation of the unwritten rules somehow alter how that rule is perceived?

In other words, might the end of a play justify the means?

The play in question is Jarrod Dyson’s bunt in the sixth inning of yesterday’s game against the Tigers, which broke up Justin Verlander’s perfect game.

Such a thing, of course, has long been frowned upon by baseball moralists as disrespectful of a pitcher’s attempt at greatness. To challenge a guy fully, the theory goes, one must do so in a straightforward manner, without trickery or deceit.

The most famous example of this, as outlined in The Baseball Codes, was the bunt laid down by Padres catcher Ben Davis against Arizona’s Curt Schilling in 2001. Davis was San Diego’s 23rd batter of the night but the first—after his ill-executed attempt managed to drop between the mound and second base—to reach safely. Afterward, Diamondbacks manager Bob Brenly called the play “chickenshit” and said that Davis “has a lot to learn about how the game is played.”

Part of it was the intrusion on attempted perfection. Part of it was that Davis was a slow-footed catcher for whom bunting and speed were hardly part of his repertoire. Part of it was that the attempt came in the eighth inning, with Schilling only five outs from immortality.

One detail, however, served as adequate cover. The score was 2-0, and Davis had managed to bring the tying run to the plate. No matter how much animosity his bunt engendered in the opposing dugout, it is impossible to ignore the prime directive governing baseball’s unwritten rules: Winning trumps everything, and Davis had given his team its best chance on the day to win. Justification.

The circumstances yesterday in Seattle were somewhat different. Dyson’s bunt came in the sixth inning—early enough, perhaps, to validate it on its own merits. Take it from a different Seattle player, Jarrod Washburn—who pitched for the Mariners for four seasons, through 2009—whose own no-hitter was broken up by a bunt from Tampa Bay rookie Ben Zobrist in 2006. Like Dyson, Zobrist did it in the sixth inning, and it didn’t bother Washburn a bit. “If it was the eighth or ninth, maybe that would have rubbed me the wrong way,” he said at the time, “but bunting is just part of the game, and he was just trying to make something happen.”

Also in Dyson’s favor is that, unlike Davis, speed is an integral part of his game. Still, the play occurred while the Tigers held a 4-0 lead, and Dyson hardly represented the tying run. Sixteen years earlier, Davis could have creditably claimed that winning informed his strategy, but down four runs, Dyson’s rationalization was considerably more specious … save for two little words: And then.

And then, pitching out of the stretch for the first time all night, Verlander walked Mike Zunino. And then Jean Segura collected an infield single to load the bases. And then Ben Gamel scored Dyson with a single to center. And then, after Verlander struck out Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz brought home two more with a double. And then it was 4-3 and Verlander’s day was over. After retiring Seattle’s first 16 hitters, he retired only one of its next six, including Dyson’s bunt. Seattle scored four more against Detroit’s bullpen, and went home with a 7-5 victory.

Regardless of how things may have seemed at the moment Dyson laid down his bunt, there’s no questioning that the effort played a significant role in his team’s victory. Justification.

After the game, Verlander said that he had no problem with Dyson’s strategy. The best summation, however, came from Schilling, in reference to his own spoiled no-hitter all those years earlier. “Unwritten rules or not, you’re paid to win games,” he said in The Baseball Codes. “That’s the only reason you’re playing in the big leagues.”

 

Retaliation, The Baseball Codes

Internalizing a Horrible Outing Takes Different Shapes for Different People, or: Emotional Atunement Might Not Be For Everybody

Mariners Rangers

Two games in, and we got beef. For the Mariners, it’s entirely justified.

Reliever Tom Wilhelmsen—with Seattle for the first five seasons of his career, but as of last November a member of the Rangers—did not have a good game. After entering in the eighth inning with his team trailing, 4-2, he did this:

  • First batter, Robinson Cano: first-pitch homer.
  • Second batter, Nelson Cruz: double.
  • Third batter, Kyle Seager: double.
  • Fourth batter, Seth Smith: first-pitch homer.

For his encore, the frustrated right-hander drilled the inning’s fifth hitter, Chris Ianetta, with his first pitch. The 94-mph fastball, which ran straight into Ianetta’s hamstring, was as clear a message of frustration as can be delivered on a ballfield. (Watch it here.)

Ianetta stormed to first base, screaming toward the mound as Seattle’s dugout tentatively emptied. The most noteworthy part of the scrum was each team’s manager shouting F-bombs at the other.

This in itself is noteworthy inasmuch as Mariners manager Scott Servais is in his first year at the helm of a big league club and may well have seen this as an excuse to set tone, letting his team know that he’s looking out for them in every facet of the game. Texas skipper Jeff Bannister, even more fiery during the confrontation, is in his second year and likely felt similarly.

There’s little to justify Wilhelmsen’s action. It was once acceptable baseball practice to drill a guy for his teammates’ success. Hell, it took far less provocation than two homers and two doubles. The modern game, however, is less tolerant of violent  acts, and the weak sauce ladled out by Wilhelmsen has become patently unacceptable. (Umpire  Marvin Hudson agreed, ejecting the pitcher.)

At least Wilhelmsen handled things as well as he could after the game without crossing the line of actually admitting to anything. When he was asked whether anything in particular angered Ianetta, he managed to say, “Probably the fact that I hit him,” with a straight face.

Yep. Lotta baseball left to play this season.