Showing Players Up

Who Needs MadBum? Hundley Joins SF’s Pick-On-Puig Parade

Puig n Hundley

Bobby Thomson vs. Ralph Branca it ain’t, but this thing Yasiel Puig has going on with the Giants sure makes for some compelling theater. Up till now it’s mostly been beefs with Madison Bumgarner. On Tuesday, catcher Nick Hundley got involved. The theme, however, seems consistent: The Giants apparently want Puig to play the game the right way.

With two outs and nobody on in the seventh inning, and the Giants nursing a 1-0 lead, Puig fouled off a 1-1 slider from lefthander Tony Watson. Spinning from the batter’s box, he angrily snatched at his bat, clear frustration over missing a pitch—which, indeed, came in flat and hittable—that he felt he should have handled. A curse word was uttered.

Hundley didn’t like it. According to Puig, the catcher told him to “stop complaining and get back into the box.”

Puig did not take kindly to the sentiment, Hundley did not take kindly to Puig’s lack of taking kindly, Puig shoved the catcher, and benches emptied. A couple of Puig slaps to Hundley’s mask was about it for the physicality (excepting Hundley’s dramatic, if inadvertent, takedown of Dodgers coach George Lombard), but given the participants, none of it came as too much of a surprise.

Could Hundley have let the display go? Of course. Puig’s action wasn’t in any way directed toward the Giants. He spun away from the mound and was clearly talking to himself, not the opposition.

Could Puig have reacted a bit more calmly to the catcher? Let his own postgame statement—“When I got into his face he told me to also get out of his face, so that’s when I got upset”—answer that question.

More pertinently, the question raging this morning involves the notion that the Giants have somehow become baseball’s one-stop fun-police shop for play-the- right-way baseball. Maybe this is true, but up until yesterday it was almost entirely a Bumgarner-driven affair. Hell, just a night earlier the pitcher appeared to take exception when Puig offered a similar display of frustration in the batter’s box. Perhaps this is why Hundley was particularly sensitive to it on Tuesday. “It doesn’t happen with other teams, and it doesn’t seem to happen when we’re in San Francisco,” Puig told reporters after the game. “It usually seems to happen when we’re here, and I’m not going to let them act like that in our house.” (Puig might be right, but MadBum has had plenty of issues with plenty of other guys, too.)

Maybe it’s Puig himself. Maybe the most polarizing guy on the Dodgers, the King of the Bat Flippers, has simply become a personification in San Francisco of the Giants’ most bitter rivalry, a stand-in for the concept of Dodgerdom at large. Bumgarner aside, San Francisco players don’t seem to be a particularly uptight bunch, so perhaps Puig is just a straw man who the Giants (or some among their ranks) have propped up to help focus their competitive nature.

Whatever it is, it certainly hasn’t hurt—with a 2-1 victory, San Francisco has now taken two straight in Dodger Stadium, and sits only three games back of LA, and five out of first place. The teams play again tonight, then close the season with three games in the Bay Area.

 

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Respect Teammates, Showing Players Up

Attention Astros: Do Not Show Each Other Up On Jose Altuve’s Watch

McCullers glares

What with baseball’s Code being all about respect, and what with the topic frequently having to do with showing players up (see, bat flips, pitcher gesticulations and even the occasional kiss), it’s easy to overlook that the players a guy shows up don’t have to be on the other team.

Take Saturday’s game in Cleveland, for example. Lance McCullers, pitching for the Astros, had allowed runners at the corners with nobody out in the second, when Melky Cabrera smacked a ground ball right through first baseman Yuli Gurriel, playing in, for an error. McCullers did not take it well, showing visible frustration as he spun from the play, while screaming what looks on replay like an expletive.

The right-hander didn’t think any more of it until after the inning, when, approaching the dugout, he stuck out his glove for an attaboy from Jose Altuve. Instead, Altuve swatted McCullers’ glove away, spiked his cap, and proceeded to give the 24-year-old an impromptu etiquette lesson, at volume.

As it happens, ballplayers have a low tolerance for this kind of thing. The guy with perhaps the most pronounced reputation for such behavior is Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry, whose competitive instincts and take-no-prisoners attitude helped him win 314 big league games over 22 seasons. Those same attributes also helped  alienate scores of teammates.

“He’d glare at you,” said Dave Nelson, Perry’s teammate with the Texas Rangers. “Glare at you. And that bothered me, because nobody glared at him if he gave up a home run or something like that. I always felt like I deserved the same respect because I’m out there busting my butt just like he is. It wasn’t like I made that error on purpose.”

Oscar Gamble, Perry’s teammate in Cleveland, San Diego and with the New York Yankees, recalled a game in which Perry was throwing a shutout in Milwaukee. “The batter drilled it all the way to the wall,” he recalled in an interview for The Baseball Codes. “It was a little bitty guy, one of the infielders—he wasn’t supposed to hit the ball that far. And I ran about a mile to get to the ball. It seemed like I ran forever. I almost got to it, but if I’d caught the ball I’d have gone straight into the brick wall out there, and I ended up pulling up. Gaylord was going, ‘Oh, no,’ because he wanted his shutout so bad. He threw his hands up in frustration.”

The difference between Gamble’s story and others told about Perry in this context is that Gamble understood where the pitcher was coming from.

“Gaylord just loved to win so much,” he said. “You know, a lot of guys like to win, but he was one of those guys who, if you slacked on a ball, he would let you know about it. He was hard-nosed. He wanted every ball caught when he was pitching. Nothing wrong with that. I had so much respect for him because he just hated to lose. If you don’t do right, if you miss a ball you should have caught, you expect the fans to boo you. And this fan—Gaylord—was a player. That’s the way I looked at it. Some of the guys didn’t look at it like that.”

***

In reviewing McCullers’ play, the broadcast crew referenced an incident that occurred between Derek Jeter and David Wells, but omitted many pertinent details. The play in question occurred in 1998, after Wells elicited a popup from Baltimore’s Danny Clyburn, which fell between Jeter and outfielders Ricky Ledee and Chad Curtis (the latter two players serving as defensive substitutes in a blowout). The Yankees already held a six-run lead, but that didn’t stop the pitcher from staring down the trio—all of whom had played the ball too tentatively—from aside the mound, hands on hips. Wells proceeded to give up three more singles, and was yanked from the game. It culminated a stretch in which he gave up 13 earned runs over 19.1 innings across three starts.

Frustration aside, it didn’t take the pitcher long to recognize the error of his ways. “It was totally unprofessional on my part, and I plan on apologizing to all of them for it,” Wells told reporters after the game, according to a New York Daily News report. “These guys have been making plays behind me all year and don’t deserve that.”

Because Wells handled it expediently, and because he was a veteran on a veteran team, the slip-up did no lasting damage. Wells went on to win 18 games, and the Yankees won the World Series.

(Then again, New York traded him to the Blue Jays during the off-season as part of a package for Roger Clemens.)

(That said, the Yankees signed him again three years later as a free agent.)

Wells and Perry are hardly alone in their actions. Bob Gibson tells a story about throwing a fastball to Jim Pendleton of the Houston Colt .45’s during a game in 1962—not because he wanted to throw a fastball, but because Cardinals catcher Carl Sawatski demanded it, first by ignoring Gibson’s shake-offs, and then through a direct confrontation on the mound. Sawatski was 34 years old and a 10-year veteran, and Gibson, a decade younger, deferred to the veteran’s wisdom. Pendleton crushed the pitch deep over the left field wall.

In the aftermath, Gibson stood on the mound, hands on hips, and pouted. Sawatski wasn’t about to let it slide. “Goddamn it, rook”—Gibson was actually in his fourth season and on the cusp of making his first All-Star team, but the catcher wasn’t about to give him that much credit—“don’t you ever show me up like that again!”

Gibson, who possessed one of the hardest edges major league baseball has ever known, immediately saw Sawatski’s point.

“He was absolutely right,” the pitcher theorized in his book, Stranger to the Game. “That was the last time I ever expressed any emotion on the field. From that day on, I never showed anybody up.”

Whether McCullers has it in him to make a similar adjustment has yet to be seen, but to judge by the pitcher’s comments after the Cleveland game, he’s well on his way.

“I was real immature and let my emotions get the best of me,” the pitcher—who is the same age now that Gibson was at the time of his incident—told the Houston Chronicle. “I showed my frustration and Altuve was letting me know that we’re beyond that. I’m not 21 anymore. I’ve been around for enough—this is my fourth season with this team—and I know how hard they work and I know how hard they try. I feel really bad about letting my emotions get the best of me and I spoke to them, I apologized and it won’t happen again. He was just letting me know that, if I’m going to pitch with emotion like I do, which is great—that’s part of what makes me good—channel it for the right things.”

Being that the pitcher’s father, Lance McCullers Sr., himself played in the big leagues for seven seasons, Junior has a wealth of experience from which to draw. It’d be surprising if this was an issue again.

Celebrations, Showing Players Up

Javier Baez Is In No Mood For Your Gesticulations, Mr. Pitcher

Baez v Garrett

Turnabout is fair play. The shoe’s on the other foot. Something about geese and ganders. When a player like Javier Baez takes exception to an opponent’s display of emotion on the field, one can’t help but think about such phrases. Also, hypocrisy.

On Saturday, Reds reliever Amir Garrett whiffed Baez to close out the top of the seventh, and grew somewhat animated on his way down the hill, loosing what Cubs manager Joe Maddon later called “a Lion King’s type of roar.”

There is, of course, some history. On May 18, 2017—one day short of one year earlier—Baez touched Garrett for a grand slam at Wrigley Field, and did just a touch of home run pimping.

As is the way of big leaguers, Garrett has a long memory and an overt willingness to respond in kind. Baez didn’t appreciate it. Following his strikeout, he and the pitcher had words, and benches emptied. The surprising part about it is that Baez, the guy behind this:

… and this:

… and oh hell yeah this:

… even took the time to consider his opponent’s reaction.

Baez (and some of his teammates) pointed out after the game that Cubs celebrations are strictly intramural, and not in any way directed at the opposition. So how about Garrett, a guy also known to occasionally show some emotion on the mound? Even if the pitcher’s Lion Kinging was directed at Baez (which it was probably was), there’s plenty of gray area when it comes to Baez’s own roaring. At some point, when a player is simply howling into the wind, it becomes difficult to draw too many distinctions.

Mostly, this seems like protracted frustration drawn quickly to the surface. At the time of the incident, Baez was 2-for-his-last-22, with nine strikeouts. The slugger has hit only .226 since April 26, watching his batting average fall from .310 to .265 in the process, with a meager .410 slugging percentage. He hasn’t drawn a walk since April 11. Suffice it to say that he’s in no mood for these types of shenanigans.

None of that, however, is particularly relevant. Javier Baez has rightly become a prominent face in the Let Ballplayers Celebrate movement, which is predicated on playing with emotion. Even if some of his points about Saturday’s game have merit, the overall optics of a guy like that calling out a response like Garrett’s doesn’t do much to further the cause.

Garrett himself said it perfectly after the game, in a Chicago Tribune report: “You dish it, you have to take it.”

 

Showing Players Up

Josh Donaldson Whets His Whistle In Toronto, And All Is Okay In The World

Donaldson whistles

For those decrying baseball’s unwritten rules in the wake of last week’s debacle over bunting in Baltimore comes a pleasant measure of where such things actually sit in the modern game. Before going into it, allow me, please, to paint a picture.

The hypothetical year is 1965. Bob Gibson has just given up a home run to Frank Robinson, and is stunned when, after crossing the plate, Robinson turns toward the St. Louis dugout and whistles in delight. Such a display of arrogance and disrespect is all but foreign to a major league ballfield, let alone Gibson’s ballfield.

There’s no way that Robinson avoids Gibson’s fastball in an ensuing at-bat.

Sure, Bob Gibson was one of the most intimidating pitchers ever to play the game, so maybe he’s not a great example. It could have been Mike Caldwell in 1982, or Preacher Roe in 1952, or Wes Ferrell in 1930—three guys picked more or less at random, who combined to pitch 812 innings in the years in question without hitting a single batter. Even then the hitter in question, should he have whistled in such a manner, would have invariably been knocked down, or drilled later by one of the pitcher’s teammates.

Why is this noteworthy? On April 2, Toronto’s Josh Donaldson played the role of Frank Robinson against the White Sox, homering against Reynaldo Lopez, then miming a whistle at the Chicago dugout while hopping back to his dugout. The most noteworthy part about it: The White Sox didn’t care.

There is, of course, some backstory.

White Sox first base coach Daryl Boston has for several years used an actual whistle to get the attention of his outfielders when he wants to reposition them from the dugout. He also toots it to celebrate good plays, behavior that has not gone unnoticed around the league. Before the game, Donaldson was talking to White Sox hitting coaches Todd Steverson and Greg Sparks, for whom he played in the A’s system, and mentioned that he’s not a particular fan of Boston’s whistle.

Of course, this information was relayed to the coach, and of course the coach responded via whistle—“a little peep-peep” is how Boston put it in a SportsNet report—at Donaldson when he stepped into the on-deck circle during the game.

So, after homering, Donaldson felt free to do what he did. And Boston loved it.

“I got a kick out it because I didn’t find it disrespectful at all,” the coach said. “The downside of it is I may have got caught on video laughing after us giving up a home run. That’s the one thing I felt bad about. But other than that, it’s all in fun.”

The following day, Donaldson used Too$hort’s “Blow the Whistle” as his walk-up song.

All in fun, indeed. There is still a place for players who hew to the serious business of respecting each other, but there are moments in the modern game like never before, when one can cut loose and simply have fun without fear of thin skin or repercussions. The Puerto Rico team showed us that implicitly in last year’s World Baseball Classic, and MLB appears to be following right along, to varying degrees.

Look no farther than Donaldson for evidence. “The whole time I was [blowing the whistle] to [Boston] he had the biggest smile on his face,” he said. “It was good and I’m glad—you always hear about these unwritten rules of baseball and all that jazz—well, I think you’re starting to see some of that change in a positive manner. Not to where I’m trying to disrespect them or they’re trying to disrespect me. We’re out there having fun and competing against each other.”

If there’s an actual quibble here, it’s with Boston, not Donaldson. Various members of the Kansas City Royals have already taken issue with his whistle practice, and it’s not beyond the pale to think that other opponents might also consider celebratory whistling to be juvenile and rude. Even in the modern embrace-the-celebration landscape, a coach with a whistle does seem a bit odd. Mostly, though, it serves to recall a story from The Baseball Codes, concerning the ability of former New York Yankees pitcher Bob Turley to quickly decipher an opposing catcher’s signs while stationed in the first-base coach’s box:

Turley’s relay system was simple—he’d whistle whenever a pitch was different from the last one. Hitters would start every at-bat looking for a curveball, and if a fastball was coming, so was Turley’s whistle. He’d then stay silent until something else was called. The pitcher was so good that when he went on the disabled list in 1961, manager Ralph Houk wouldn’t let him go home, instead keeping him with the team to decipher pitches. (Roger Maris, in fact, hit his sixty-first home run of 1961 on a pitch he knew was coming because third-base coach Frank Crosetti, doing his best Turley imitation after watching the pitcher for years, whistled in advance of a fastball.)

Eventually, people began to catch on. Among them was Detroit Tigers ace Jim Bunning, who grew increasingly angry as Turley whistled and the Yankees teed off during one of his starts. Finally, with Mickey Mantle at bat, Bunning turned to Turley in the first-base coach’s box and told him that another whistle would result in a potentially painful consequence for the hitter. Sure enough, Turley whistled on Bunning’s first pitch, a fast­ball at which Mantle declined to swing. With his second offering, Bun­ning knocked Mantle down. The on-deck hitter, Yogi Berra, could only watch in horror. When it was his turn to bat, Berra turned toward the mound, cupped his hands around his mouth, and shouted, “Jim, he’s whistling, but I ain’t listening.”

 

 

Showboating, World Baseball Classic

There’s A Party Goin’ On Right Here/Just Watch Out For a Fastball In Your Ear

celebrationFollowing up yesterday’s post about the joy embraced by players from various countries in the World Baseball Classic (and how such embrace is frequently at odds with their big league counterparts), today I bring you a quote from Eric Thames.

Thames, of course, is the new Brewers first baseman, having spent the last three seasons playing in South Korea. (South Korea, you might recall, is known for some outlandish behavior by its ballplayers.)

While in Asia, Thames stepped up his pimp game. From Sports Illustrated’s baseball preview issue:

Thames wore metallic gold arm and leg guards and celebrated home runs with a choreographed two-man skit that ended with a teammate tugging his beard and the two of them spinning on their heels to give a military-style salute to the home fans.

“Uh, not here,” says Thames, who this spring wore white body armor. “You want me to get hit in the ribs?”

Yesterday, I pointed out that the joyful celebration shown internationally is having an effect upon the staid response to success in the majors. So why is Thames toning it down?

Because there is a difference. Because somebody responding to success openly and without filters is celebratory, but somebody pantomiming pre-planned shtick is more boastful than joyous. (Recall, if you will, another bit of home-plate soft-shoe perpetrated by these selfsame Brewers a number of years back.)

The line between those approaches dissects even bat flips. The ones from Korea seem to be self-indulgent ways of garnering attention. The South Korean players who make their way to the U.S. acknowledge as much. The flip by Jose Bautista following his ALDS-clinching homer against Texas in 2015, however, was none of that. They are distinct entities.

Baseball diamonds contain plenty of space for joy. There is far less leeway, however, for acts masquerading as joy. As Eric Thames noted, ballplayers can tell the difference.

Al Alburquerque, Showing Players Up

Kiss Me, Al: Tigers Pitcher Turns Baseball into Blarney Stone, Sparks Minor Uproar

A kiss is just a kiss—unless it happens in the ninth inning of a playoff game. Then, all hell breaks loose.

Tigers reliever Al Alburquerque put it to the test on Sunday. With the game tied, runners at the corners and two outs, the right-hander was called upon to face A’s slugger Yoenis Cespedes, who he retired on a comebacker to the mound. Before tossing the ball to first, however, Alburquerque planted a wet one on the horsehide. (Watch it here.)

“Did I see what I just saw?” Tigers catcher Gerald Laird, who had been removed for a pinch-hitter a half-inning earlier, recalled thinking. “Obviously,” he said later, “I did.”

So did the A’s. After the game, outfielder Josh Reddick told reporters that he “didn’t appreciate it,” that he “thought that was immature” and “not very professional.” Cespedes said that he may kiss his bat the next time he connects against Alburquerque.

By Monday afternoon, however, during an off-day at Oakland’s O.co Coliseum, the A’s were downplaying the incident as a non-story.

“What am I going to do, yell at them?” asked Jonny Gomes. “That doesn’t take care of anything. Bash them in the media? That doesn’t take care of anything. Just let the baseball gods take care of it. That’s why the baseball gods are there.”

For his part, Alburquerque, 26, said Monday that he intended no disrespect to Cespedes or the A’s, and that his actions were colored by “the emotion of the game.” Regardless, the second-year pitcher, a native of the Dominican Republic, was pulled aside after the game by Miguel Cabrera, Alex Avila and Octavio Dotel, who explained to him the reality of the situation.

“We just talked common sense,” said Avila. “First, you don’t want to kiss a baseball that you’re about to throw to first base, because if he does that and throws it over Prince [Fielder]’s head, it doesn’t look so good. Also, the last thing you want to do is fire the other team up.” (The rest of the Tigers later took to jibing Alburquerque fairly relentlessly, including asking the flummoxed pitcher if the ball kissed him back.)

While this particular antic isn’t exactly commonplace, it does have some historical precedent when it comes to similar showmanship. Perhaps the most prominent example occurred during Game 7 of the 1982 World Series, when St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Joaquin Andujar fielded a grounder by Milwaukee’s Jim Gantner, then held the ball while watching watch Gantner run until the final possible moment, firing the ball to first base just in time.

Gantner turned and called the pitcher a hot dog (among other things), Andujar responded with a parade of his own curse words at high volume, and the pair had to be separated.

Closer to the tenor of Alburquerque’s display was Sammy Sosa, who in a spring training game in 1999 hit two home runs against Arizona’s Todd Stottlemyre, and bowed to the crowd, Japanese-style, after each. Sosa said afterward that his intent was to show respect to the fans.  Stottlemyre didn’t buy it.

“I sure don’t remember Mickey Mantle bowing after home runs,” he told the Associated Press. “I guarantee Joe DiMaggio didn’t bow.”

In neither case did the pitcher retaliate. In fact, the most appropriate form of retaliation is the one utilized by Philadelphia in 1993 against Bryan Hickerson, after the Giants reliever snared a line drive by Wes Chamberlain to end the sixth inning and spiked the ball into the turf.

“That infuriated us,” said Phillies outfielder Milt Thompson. Dusty Baker, then the Giants manager, said that Hickerson’s display was not directed at the opposing dugout, and that if the Phillies wanted to take it personally, it was up to them. They did, and it was; Philadelphia, down 8-3 at the time, came back to win, 9-8, in 10 innings.

This is exactly the type of thing that the A’s, down two games to none, have in mind. “Our best retaliation,” said Brandon Inge,” is to win three in a row.”

Ultimately, Avila had the most concise take on the subject.

“It’s baseball, not a soap opera,” he said. “It’s probably not the best thing to do in a playoff game, but at the same time there are much more important things going on.”