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.”

 

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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.”

Chris Perez, Showing Players Up

Celebrate Good Times, Come On!, Chris Perez Edition

Old school, meet new school. On-field celebrations in baseball have become commonplace, mostly in the form of home plate scrums around a guy who has just scored the winning run. It’s gone from unheard of to accepted with the span of just a few years, and, Kendrys Morales aside, nobody has much of a problem with it.

The primary factor in this recent acceptance is that it’s celebration of a victory. (Such a display mid-game would be taken very differently.) It’s also why the one position that can get away with comparable shenanigans is a closer, following the final out of a win. Think Dennis Eckersley’s six-shooters, or Brian Wilson’s crossed-arm salute.

In that regard, Cleveland closer Chris Perez isn’t so unique, freely exuberating on the mound following a job well done.

Well, he did his job on Thursday, and Alex Rios didn’t appreciate it. Perhaps it was because Rios had just made the final out of the game, grounding to shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera to close Cleveland’s 7-5 victory over the White Sox. Perhaps it was because Perez was not just gesticulating, but yelling in celebration. Maybe it was because the pitcher had also snuck in a self-congratulatory fist pump after striking out A.J. Pierzynski a batter earlier.

No matter, Rios barked at Perez as he returned to the Chicago dugout in a clear display of displeasure and frustration. (Watch it here.)

“Well, I don’t know what was wrong with [Perez],” said Rios after the game, in an MLB.com report. “He just started yelling for no reason. I don’t know why he started yelling, and that’s it. When I hit that ground ball, he was yelling when [Cabrera] was throwing to first. He was yelling the whole way. I couldn’t tell what he was saying. He was just staring and saying something.”

Because Perez does this kind of thing frequently, it’s unlikely that his comments were directed toward Rios or the White Sox. According to Rios, that hardly matters. “If he was celebrating, that was not the right way to do it,” he said.

Which is what makes this juncture in baseball history so interesting. A generation ago, Rios’ sentiment would have been gospel. Eckersley and a few rogue pitchers aside, players generally had better control of their celebratory quirks. Today, with enforcers like Nolan Ryan—who would voice his displeasure through any number of fastballs thrown at an opponent who had just shown him up—increasingly rare, acts like Perez’s are common.

It’s the game as we now know it. Seems like it’d behoove Alex Rios to come to grips with it.

(Via Hardball Talk.)

Andres Torres, Chad Qualls, Showing Players Up

One Man’s Celebration is Another Man’s Disrespect, Chad Qualls Edition

The play that started it all.

There’s a reason that baseball doesn’t have the chest-thumping of the NBA, or the equivalent of a football player leaping up after a two-yard carry with a first-down signal.

Baseball doesn’t have much tolerance for that kind of thing. Save for game-winning plays, look-at-me moments are nearly universally frowned upon.

Which is part of the reason that Andres Torres and the Giants aren’t looking at Chad Qualls in a friendly light today.

With the Giants trailing 5-3 in the seventh, Torres won his first battle with Qualls, working back from a 1-2 count to see 16 pitches—fouling off 11 of them in an at-bat that took more than eight minutes—before drawing a base on balls. He then stole second, and advanced to third on an infield grounder.

That’s where he was when a Qualls pitch squirted away from catcher Nick Hundley; after delaying to assess the situation, Torres belatedly broke for home.

Hundley’s toss to Qualls, covering the plate, was in plenty of time. Qualls went into a bit of a slide while making the tag and essentially sat on the plate to keep Torres from touching it; the putout ended the inning with San Francisco’s best hitter, Pablo Sandoval, up to bat and the tying run at second. (Watch it here.)

It’s understandable that Qualls was pleased with the development, especially in light of the frustration he must have felt after Torres’ marathon at-bat. Which doesn’t diminish the fact that he spiked the baseball and yelled at Torres on his way back to the dugout.

“That’s not professional,” Torres told reporters after the game. “I don’t believe in making a show on the field.”

Torres talked about respect, both for the game itself and for one’s opponents. He got passionate when discussing his own protracted path to the big leagues, intoning that he’s come to far, at too great a price, to be disrespected like that on the field. (Watch the entire exchange here.)

Direct payback for Qualls is unlikely, since, as a reliever, it’s a longshot that he’ll come to bat against the Giants. Retaliation against one of the Padres’ hitters isn’t out of the question but is similarly unlikely unless San Francisco breaks through with a passel of early runs today, giving their pitchers a bit of leeway when it comes to things like settling scores.

Then again, these teams face each other 14 more times this year. There is, as the saying goes, a lot of baseball yet to be played.

Update: This just in from Dan Brown of the San Jose Mercury News, who tracked down Qualls before today’s game: The reliever doesn’t feel good about what he did. “I’m sorry that it happened,” he said. “I meant no disrespect. That’s not what I intended. I play this game with passion and to, me, that situation was as elevated as it gets for my type of inning.”

– Jason