The Cardinals believed that Mike Yastrzemski was stealing signs from second base yesterday. Yastrzemski knew this because the pitcher, rookie right-hander Johan Oviedo checked the card in his pocket to make sure that he was on the same page with catcher Andrew Kinzner. Then he checked it again. And again.
At that point, Yastrzemski decided to play the part, shifting and shuffling in ways that could easily be construed as signaling the hitter. Which was the point. Oviedo, thoroughly rattled, finally spun and yelled at Yastrzemski to “shut the fuck up.”
Thanks to the Astros, baseball has dealt with a lot of sign-stealing drama over the last couple of years, but nobody, then or now, has taken too much issue with a guy at second picking up whatever he can from his unique vantage point.
The great part about this is that Yastrzemski denied everything, saying that he figured that the Cardinals were getting paranoid, and so played it up.
“I didn’t want it to get to that extent,” said Yastrzemski in his postgame press conference. “I just wanted him to throw a fastball down the middle so [the hitter, Wilmer Flores] could hit a homer.”
Sure enough, Oviedo threw a fastball about as down the middle as a pitch can be. Flores flied out to end the inning.
“You just got to sell it sometimes,” Yastrzemski said. “We’re in the entertainment business. It’s just another way you can impact the game.”
Whether or not Yaz was actually stealing signs, this is wonderful. It’s reminiscent of Gaylord Perry fidgeting like mad on the mound, going to his cap, to his sleeve, to his mouth, to his collar and to his cap again, pitch after pitch, even when he wasn’t trying to load up the baseball. Perry knew that every ounce of energy a hitter devoted to figuring out whether or not he was reaching for some grease was an ounce of energy not devoted to an optimal hitting approach. And damned if it didn’t work.
It worked for Yastrzemski, too. Sort of. Oviedo lasted four innings and the Giants won the game.
The stain was right there for all to see, on television no less, an outlawed substance used by pitchers to help them grip—and spin—baseballs. The pitcher in question had been dominant of late, and Tony La Russa had seen enough. He asked the umpires to do something about it.
La Russa was in the opposite dugout yesterday when St. Louis reliever Giovanny Gallegos was stopped by umpire Joe West before he could throw a pitch after entering the game against the White Sox in the seventh inning. At issue was the right-hander’s cap, which bore a visible smudge atop the brim—pine tar, to judge by the educated guesses to follow. West took the cap, Gallegos got a new one and the game continued apace.
That’s not what we were talking about in the first paragraph, though. What we were talking about in the first paragraph happened in 2006, during the second game of the World Series. La Russa was managing the Cardinals at the time, and his opponent—Detroit Tigers pitcher Kenny Rogers—had some literally shady things going on.
The tell—a brown-hued discoloration on Rogers’ palm—was so obvious that Joe Buck and Tim McCarver discussed it at length on the telecast. It wasn’t long before La Russa got involved.
The consequences were enormous. At age 41, Rogers had dominated opponents throughout those playoffs despite an All-Star career that had come to be defined by postseason failure. From The Baseball Codes:
“In ﬁve wretched playoff starts prior to 2006, Rogers was 0-2, with a 10.26 ERA (plus another loss pitching in relief for the Mets in 1999, when he walked in the winning run of the NLCS), not once making it out of the ﬁfth inning. So it was something of a surprise when, in 2006’s earlier rounds, Rogers ran off fourteen consecutive scoreless frames against the Yankees and Athletics. When footage from those starts was reviewed, the same brown smudge showed up on the same spot on his palm. What else could it be?”
Only two seasons earlier, La Russa’s own pitcher, Julian Tavarez, had been suspended 10 games for having pine tar on his cap. The manager, clearly willing to accept a certain level of cheating, was unwilling to turn those particular tables. Rather than have Rogers checked—which could have led to ejection and suspension—La Russa, decrying what he later termed “bullshit baseball,” merely requested that umpires have the pitcher clean his hands. Which he did.
At that point, Rogers did the only thing he could reasonably do—15 postseason shutout innings with an obvious foreign substance were followed by seven shutout innings without it. After washing up he allowed only two hits over eight shutout innings in a Tigers victory, evening the Series at a game apiece.
Maybe we’d remember it better if that hadn’t been Rogers’ only appearance of the Series—the Cardinals won the next three to take the title in five—but the core components are similar to those spurring Wednesday’s controversy. Pitchers continue to use tacky, illegal substances to increase grip and, subsequently, spin. The primary difference is that they’re doing it more frequently and with less impunity and—this part is key—far more effectively than ever. It has become Trevor Bauer’s league, with artificially induced spin rate leading to an unending stream of 97-mph fastballs with unhittable movement, supplemented by equally unhittable sliders and other breaking stuff.
To Gallegos’ credit, he earned five outs in the span of 16 pitches against Chicago, even without his suspect cap.
This year the commissioner’s office said that it would be cracking down on such things, but apart from pulling a few balls from an early-season Bauer start for examination—about which we have subsequently heard not a peep—Wednesday’s Great Cap Confiscation was pretty much the first sign that anybody in charge is paying attention.
Afterward, Cardinals manager Mike Shildt went off on the discrepancy.
“This is baseball’s dirty little secret,” he told reporters. “And it’s the wrong time and the wrong arena to expose it.”
* Pitchers throughout the league use a sunscreen/rosin combination, or something similar, to increase their grip on the baseball. Hitters don’t mind because it helps with control, and nobody wants to get inadvertently drilled. What hitters don’t like, he said, is “the stuff that’s making the ball do wiffle ball stuff.” Based on yesterday’s action, some hitters are themselves starting to speak up.
* Some pitchers are getting away with far more devious things, in far more overt manners and to far greater effect, and haven’t been stymied by the league at all. The manager didn’t call out Bauer by name, but Bauer is clearly who Shildt was talking about.
Some highlights of the manager’s rant:
“Gio wears the same hat all year. Hats accrue dirt. Hats accrue substances, stuff. We pitched him in a day game. Did Gio have some sunscreen at some point in his career to make sure he doesn’t get some kind of melanoma? Possibly. Does he use rosin to help? Possibly. Are these things baseball really wants to crack down on? No. It’s not. I know that completely firsthand from the commissioner’s office. That is not anything that is going to affect his ability to compete.”
“There are people that are effectively not even trying to hide, essentially flipping the bird at the league with how they’re cheating in this game with concocted substances. There are players that have been monetized for it. There are players that are obviously doing it, going to their glove. There’s clear video of it. You can tell the pitchers that are doing it because they don’t want to go to their mouth, which Gio does off the rubber.”
“Major League Baseball is trying their best to [police] this in a manner that doesn’t create any black eyes for the integrity of the game that we love. But speaking of integrity, how about the integrity of the guys that are doing it clean? How about the guys that are pitching their tails off in MLB that are doing it clean and have an unfair competitive advantage for the guys who are clearly loading up concoctions that they actually advertise, don’t do anything to hide, even in plain view? That’s the guys I’m speaking for. I’m speaking the hitters who have a living to make based against stuff that’s already very, very good.”
Ultimately, this is exactly what Bauer wanted. He came out against overt cheating a couple of years back, complained that MLB wasn’t doing anything to curb it, began overtly cheating himself in order to prove his point, and ended up winning a Cy Young Award. If baseball continues to do nothing, Bauer seems content to continue his domination. If baseball cracks down, then the pitcher will have achieved what he asked for in the first place.
Yesterday, Tony La Russa had nothing to do with Gallegos’s cap being confiscated. That was all Joe West, with an assist from second-base umpire Dan Bellino, who initially spotted the discoloration. In fact, La Russa’s position seems to be entirely consistent with where he stood 15 years ago regarding Kenny Rogers. He is an old-school manager, and the old school says that there’s nothing wrong with a little pine tar on a baseball.
What we still don’t know, based on this season’s withering response, is whether MLB agrees.
Well, of course Joe Girardi wanted Genesis Cabrera tossed.
With Cabrera’s first pitch of the day, to start the sixth inning, the St. Louis reliever put a 97-mph fastball into Bryce Harper’s face. To judge by the left-hander’s pained response, let alone the fact that it was a 3-3 game with nobody out, there was clearly no intention behind the pitch. Still, it was concerning enough that Cards manager Mike Shildt said later that maybe he should have replaced Cabrera at that point.
But he didn’t. And with his very next pitch, Cabrera punched Didi Gregorius into the dirt with a fastball to the ribs. Again, the pitcher’s body language said it all: this was no grudge-settling moment, only a struggling ballplayer being completely lost on the mound.
This is when Girardi emerged from the dugout to have his say. He wanted Cabrera ejected not because he felt that Phillies hitters were being targeted, but because Phillies hitters weren’t being targeted, and they were getting hit anyway. And with baseball’s new three-batter minimum mandate in effect, the only way to get Cabrera out of there before he had a chance to drill somebody else was for an umpire to toss him.
What really got under Girardi’s skin, though, was an ages-old dilemma for which baseball has uncovered few good answers: Following Gregorius’ plunking, both benches were warned. Should any flames be further fanned, ejections would come hard and heavy.
The anti-escalation intent behind the warning was obvious. The practicality of the matter, however, was quite different. On one hand, Girardi and his pitchers were banished from any measure of retaliation. Given the rarity of such measures in today’s game, let alone the unintentional nature of the HBPs, it is questionable whether such a warning was necessary. Still, should anybody in the Philadelphia dugout be so inclined, they will now have to wait for an appropriate moment later in the season, at which time fire will emerge from both benches as if it had never been extinguished in the first place.
From The Baseball Codes:
Another downside of the warning system—in which an umpire sensing trouble issues a cease-and-desist order to both dugouts, with immediate ejection for both player and manager should any violation occur—is that it negates the time-tested practice of checks and balances. Once a warning is issued, retaliation is essentially legislated out of the game. This increases the risk of lingering bad feelings without an appropriate way to channel them. Some managers even go so far as to instruct their pitchers to take the ﬁrst shot in a bad-blood situation quickly, which basically gives their team a free pass before warnings are issued and the business of tit-for-tat is shut down for the night.
“It was a lot better [under the old rules],” said longtime Braves manager Bobby Cox. “It was over with and done. Guys knew to expect it, and it was done right. We still do it, but you’ve really got to pick your spots.”
More pertinently, probably, was that the Phillies, who had done nothing wrong, were now playing under the same restrictions as the Cardinals—specifically, any pitcher wishing to come inside had to consider the ramifications should he miss by a hair too much. Such a mindframe is not beneficial to quality pitching.
And so Girardi raved. And plate ump Chris Segal tossed him.
Who Segal did not toss was Cabrera, who made it three pitches into Andrew McCutchen’s at-bat before serving up an RBI single, at which point, quota fulfilled, Shildt yanked him from the game.
Those wondering just how fired up the Phillies were about all of this needn’t look too far. Rhys Hoskins spent long minutes staring daggers toward the Cardinals after Gregorius was drilled, and Sam Coonrod, after pitching the eighth, yelled and pointed toward the St. Louis bench.
In their postgame comments, the Cardinals did their best to smooth relations between the clubs. Cabrera was contrite, saying, “I want to again apologize for all of the action that happened, especially to Harper …The game got away from me at that point. I’m really sorry for everything that happened today. None of it was intentional.”
Shildt went so far as to compliment Girardi’s tirade. “I completely understand their aggressive response,” he said. “Joe handled it appropriately. I can’t speak for him, but he has to stand up for his guys.” The manager went on in respectful and understanding tones about the Phillies’ discontent, and made sure to claim lack of intent behind either HBP.
Notably, Shildt also said that he would have yanked Cabrera immediately after Harper’s HBP had rules not prevented him from doing so. Now umpires have one more wrinkle to consider in the same spirit as bench warnings: Those times when ejecting a pitcher for his own good might actually serve to cool tensions from both sides of the field.
Nick Castellanos dislikes getting hit by pitches, and was in especially fine form on Saturday in that regard. There are plenty of cues pointing toward why his drilling by St. Louis reliever Jake Woodford may have been intentional. It was the first pitch of an at-bat (check) that came with two outs and nobody on base (check and check) after the Cards had already been forced to dip into their bullpen in the third inning (not necessarily a check, but let’s go with it anyway). There’s also the detail that the quickest way for a rookie like Woodford to ingratiate himself with veteran teammates is to carry out retaliatory strikes on their behalf. Also, it sure looked intentional.
Why would Woodford be gunning for Castellanos? Could be that the right-hander—or some of his teammates—was ticked off about Catstellano’s home run pimping from opening day. (Are we in for another season of random pitchers throwing fits over Letting the Kids Play? Might could be.)
After being hit by a fastball, Castellanos chatted with St. Louis catcher Yadier Molina, took his time removing his PPE and went out of his way for the unnecessary step of offering the ball back to Woodford. Was that disrespectful? Some in the St. Louis dugout thought so. More on that in a moment.
Castellanos went to third on a single and scored on a wild pitch, after which he made sure to flex over Woodford, who was on the ground after covering the plate on the play. That was likely where things would have ended had everybody let it play out. Apart from the play itself, Castellanos didn’t touch Woodford, and was returning to his dugout when Molina raced over and shoved him from behind. Why? According to starting pitcher Adam Wainwright, it was all about offering the ball back to Woodford. “That’s tired,” Wainwright said after the game.
Nothing much came of Molina’s shove save for some action in the outfield that cropped up among relief pitchers. Castellanos was ejected, but Molina—despite being the one getting physical—remained in the game. Crew chief Jim Reynolds explained the decision as Castellanos having “re-engaged the pitcher in unnecessary fashion.” So he was tossed for showboating, which is either a one-off Jim Reynolds thing or a new directive from MLB.
The league’s official response—suspending Castellanos for two games—further muddies the waters. Given that neither Woodford (whose intent behind the pitch is under legitimate question) or Molina (the guy who shoved first) were similarly suspended is beyond logic. Beyond his initial flex, Castellanos was effectively a bystander for the ensuing melee. These decisions lead to questions about whether Castellanos’ actions would have been worthy of ejection or suspension had Molina not made things physical, and how this precedent all might affect similar judgement calls in the future.
Nothing further came of the incident in Sunday’s series closer, but it’s a long season. These teams face each other 16 more times, including again later this month.
Castellanos may have gotten boned by the league ruling, but at least he came up with the line of the day. In response to a question about Molina having shoved him, he said: “That guy could punch me in the face and I’d still ask him for a signed jersey.”
When it comes to respect on the ballfield, 2020 is a particularly weird time.
We’ve long discussed the myriad ways that players can express displeasure with the opposition through their actions on the field, but have never encountered it being done via muttering from one’s own dugout.
With a deficit of crowd noise, that’s now a thing. Like on Tuesday, when St. Louis manager Mike Shildt nearly inspired a brawl over something he heard the Brewers say.
In started in the bottom of the fifth inning on Tuesday in Milwaukee, when plate ump John Bacon called a strike on a 2-1 pitch to Ryan Braun. The hitter disagreed, saying, “No, no, no, no—that is not a strike, man,” loudly enough to be picked up on the TV broadcast. (Again, not so difficult sans crowd noise.)
Bacon is in his second year as a major league umpire, and Braun appears to have thought that he was being intimidated by St. Louis catcher Yadier Molina. “Just because he gets mad at you,” he continued, “you can’t call that a strike, man.”
Later in the at-bat, Braun’s swing connected with Molina’s outstretched left wrist, resulting in only the third catcher’s interference call of Molina’s 17-year career—the first since 2006. Because the bases were loaded, the ruling brought home a run, extending the Brewers’ lead to 13-2. Even worse, Molina was injured, though he stayed in the game and X-rays later revealed no structural damage. As Shildt was checking on him, he heard something from Milwaukee’s bench that set him off, and he stomped all the way to the top step of the Brewers dugout to confront whoever said it. (What was said has not been disclosed by anybody on either side of the argument.)
“I don’t know where the insult came from,” said Shildt afterward, in an MLB.com report. “I feel like it was more directed to me, quite honestly. Did I do anything to warrant it? Perhaps. I was staring in the dugout. I will accept that. My hearing doesn’t suffer at all with a mask on.”
Shildt made clear that he was leveling no accusations against Braun, and that, above all, he had been frustrated by the interference call against a guy who simply does not draw interference calls. That didn’t make it okay with him, however.
“I’m not going to take it,” the manager said in a St. Louis Post-Dispatch report. “I’m not going to take any chirping out of the dugout. We’re not going to start things, but we’re not going to take it. Heard something I didn’t appreciate. I will always have our players’ backs. I will especially have a Hall of Famer and a guy who has the most physical, mental toughness that I’ve ever managed and may ever manage. I will always have his back.”
Moments after Shildt arrived at the Milwaukee dugout, players were littering the field, with Shildt and Molina being particularly expressive in their displeasure.
Nobody ended up fighting, but both managers—Shildt and Craig Counsell—were tossed. By the end of the frame the Brewers led, 17-2.
Shildt was ultimately suspended for second game of yesterday’s doubleheader. As it happened, Cardinals starter Johan Oviedo hit three Milwaukee batters in that game, including Braun. Nothing seemed to come of it, with opinions in the Brewers clubhouse chalking it up to wildness. Brawn even addressed the theory that he’d somehow intentionally hit Molina with his swing.
“I couldn’t do that, literally, even if I tried, and I don’t know any hitter that would or could do that intentionally,” he said. “Certainly, I would never want to see Yadi get hurt. He’s always been one of my favorite players to compete against.”
This all serves to illustrate that the new normal involves people being able to hear things they’d have had no chance of hearing in previous seasons. It might merit a whole new purpose for signs.
Yesterday was the end of a five games-in-three days run for these teams. They close the season with five more games against each other in St. Louis, starting on Sept. 24.
Update: 9/18: For those convinced that Braun somehow intentionally, impossibly hit Yadi on purpose, now there’s this.
In baseball, the lights shine brightest during October. Those who embrace that notion are already halfway to stardom.
In that vein, anybody in St. Louis who hadn’t heard of Juan
Soto before the NLCS kicked off last night sure as shootin’ knows who he is
Soto went a quiet 1-for-5 with two strikeouts against the Cardinals in Washington’s 2-0 Game 1 victory, so it wasn’t his play that turned heads at Busch Stadium. It was what he did between plays that drew ire.
In Washington, they call it the “Soto shuffle”—a between-pitches routine in which the hitter squats, scrapes his feet through the box and shimmies his shoulders in a way that falls someplace between a samba and performance art. He will occasionally lick his lips and adjust his cup, the latter tending to particularly rankle given that he undertakes the entire affair while staring down the pitcher—some of whom tend to take exception.
Last night, that was St. Louis’ Miles Mikolas.
There are pitchers for whom such a display—and let’s be fair here: that was the Soto Shuffle on steroids—might inspire a retaliatory fastball. Whether Mikolas is among their ranks has yet to be seen, as, nursing a one-run deficit, the right-hander had no wiggle room with which to yield a free baserunner to the opposition. Instead, after wriggling out of a bases-loaded jam in the fifth inning, he grabbed his crotch right back at Soto.
Soto has said that his batter’s box choreography helps him synch his timing. Indeed, he did it against Milwaukee’s Josh Hader in the wild-card game, just before sealing Washington’s 4-3 win with a three-run single in the ninth. Then again, last week he also said that “I like to get in the minds of the pitchers, because sometimes they get scared.” Gamesmanship at its finest.
After the game, Mikolas laughed off Soto’s act, saying in a Washington Post report that “I was just having fun,” while adding that Soto is a great hitter, “and great hitters have routines.”
“That’s part of his routine,” he said, “his shtick.”
In the Nationals clubhouse, Soto took a similar tack, saying, “He got me out so he can do whatever he wants. … I’m just going to laugh about it.”
The thing is, the Cardinals—team and fans alike—hew toward traditionalism. Showboating has no place in their ballpark (with a few notable exceptions). Just last week, closer Carlos Martinez got into it with Atlanta’s Ronald Acuña Jr. over the hitter’s celebratory practices. Hell, Cards catcher Yadi Molina has already disparaged Soto this season for taking too much time between pitches. Their fans offered requisite verbal confirmation of this displeasure, raining boos down upon Soto.
Even Soto’s own manager, Dave Martinez—something of a traditionalist himself—stumbled when asked about the player’s routine, saying in the Post: “I thought, you know . . . it’s a little, you know . . .”
At that point, Martinez quickly shifted into manager mode, where protecting his players becomes a priority and his feelings about the Soto shuffle take a distant backseat to making sure its progenitor is in a proper place to give his best possible performance. If that means harboring the occasional unseemly display, so be it.
“After talking to him and watching him, it’s a routine that
he uses to get to the next pitch,” Martinez continued. “I mean, when you talk
to him he really feels like that’s his batter’s box, he owns that batter’s box.
And when he does that, it’s basically just saying, ‘Hey, I’m going to get back
in here and I’m going to get ready to hit the next pitch.’ ”
As noted in the Post,
last season Soto did something similar to Aníbal Sánchez, then pitching for the
Braves. Sánchez, who can freely talk about it now that he’s Soto’s teammate in
Washington, said that he’d never seen anything like it in his 13 years as a big
leaguer. “I’m like, ‘What’s going on here?’ ” Sánchez said. “I thought this guy
was going to fight with me. It was kind of funny to me at that point.”
Sánchez, however, handled it perfectly, being more amused by
it than anything else. Soto ended up going 0-for-6 against him across three
He also went 0-for-3 with a strikeout against Mikolas.
Perhaps the rest of the Cardinals staff has something to learn from their
Tensions are heightened come playoff time, which may explain why Ronald Acuña Jr.’s excitable response to his ninth-inning, two-run homer off of Carlos Martinez in Game 1 of the NLDS proved so annoying to the St. Louis pitcher. Acuña had absolutely smashed the ball—455 feet, as measured by Statcast—to close the Cardinals’ lead to 7-5, and gesticulated wildly toward his teammates in the Braves dugout as he rounded the bases.
This followed a notable moment in the third, when Acuña failed to run hard out of the box on what he assumed would be a home run, but which ended up as a single when the ball bounced off the wall. Acuña ended up stranded on base when he might otherwise have represented what would be a vital run for his team.
Acuña’s home run celebration was enough to shake Martinez to the point that he had to be calmed down by Yadi Molina. The right-hander then gave up an even longer home run two batters later, to Freddie Freeman, although he did finally close out what would be a 7-6 victory. Martinez was so upset after the game that he closed out the game by screaming at the Braves dugout, then said afterward: “I wanted [Acuña] to respect the game and respect me as a veteran player.”
And so we find ourselves back in the no–man’s–land of baseball celebrations, which have been officially sanctioned by the commissioner’s office even while a number of pitchers continue to bristle at them. Would Acuña’s antics have drawn notice had his Game 1 homer given his team the lead, rather than coming as it did with the Braves up, 3-1? Would Martinez have cared less had Acuña not already pulled something similar, with disastrous results, earlier in the game? Who knows?
Typically, the postseason is not a place to settle old
scores. Even a remote possibility that an ill-timed retribution HBP can come
back to bite you is enough to keep teams in line until stakes are lower. Sure
enough, the series’ second, third and fourth games never saw either club with a
lead of more than three runs.
Game 5, however, was different. St. Louis scored 10 in the first, one in the second and two more in the third, and led 13-1 when Acuña stepped in against Jack Flaherty with two outs in the fifth inning. Flaherty drilled him in the upper arm. Acuña slowly made his way to first base, chirping toward the mound all the while.
The evidence against the pitch being intentional: There was a runner on; it came on the fifth pitch of the at-bat, with three of those pitches being strikes (including a foul ball); it was a fastball, but not Flaherty’s fastest, the two-seamer coming in at just 90 mph.
The evidence for it being intentional: Apart from the history between the teams, it was mostly the Flaherty’s comments after the game. Via Jeff Jones: “It hit him. He took exception to it. That’s the guy he wants to be. That’s how it is. He’s been having all his antics all series. The guy hits a ball off the wall, he gets a single out of it. So he wants to take exception to it, he can do whatever he wants. He can talk all he wants. But we tried to go in, we talk, our scouting report is go in, we go in. So it got away, it hit him. He wants to take exception to it, he can do whatever he wants.”
Sure sounds to me like a guy with a grudge.
Flaherty denied intent as part of his diatribe against Acuña, but Cards skipper Mike Shildt seemed to feel otherwise in his postgame speech to the team after they finally put Atlanta away.
The primary takeway after a game like that is that with a 12-run lead, pitchers with malice aforethought have leeway to do whatever they think is right, even during a playoff game. The Braves have all winter to consider this, and how they might respond come next spring.
The Cardinals, meanwhile, now on to the NLCS, have more pressing matters on their minds.
It became a national story, propelling a book about baseball’s unwritten rules that had been released only a few weeks earlier waaaaay up the Amazon charts. (Shortly thereafter, The Baseball Codes crested at No. 34 overall, which in my new-author mind was nice, but hey, it’s a good book, so why not? Having since published two more titles, my stance is now more along the lines of Holy hell, did that actually happen?)
It took a while after Rodriguez, but somebody again crossed a mound in noteworthy fashion.
On Sunday, in the fourth inning of the first game of a doubleheader, St. Louis starter Miles Mikolas got Cincinnati’s Freddy Galvis to fly out to center field. It was nondescript: a routine flyball, the second out of what would be a three-up, three-down frame … until Galvis returned to his dugout. Rather than trotting around the mound, he jogged straight over it. It was, after all, in the middle of his straightest path of return.
Mikolas was having none of it.
“I asked him politely to use the grass,” the pitcher recalled after the game in a St. Louis Post-Dispatch report. (What Mikolas actually said, at least according to the lip-reading skills of @Jomboy, was “You walk around that shit. You run around the fucking mound.”)
At this point in the exchange it becomes obvious that Galvis was guilty only of ignorance. At first, he was confused about why he was being shouted at. Then he grew indignant. When Cards catcher Yadi Molina preemptively cut off Galvis’ route to the pitcher, benches and bullpens quickly emptied.
Nothing came of it, of course, the relief pitchers from both
teams only making it about halfway to the infield before things calmed down.
Still, there is plenty to unpack. Mainly: Why should a pitcher even care?
Mikolas offered one avenue of response, saying: “We do a
tremendous job of taking care of that mound—your landing spot, the rubber, kind
of keep it nice for the guys coming out of the bullpen. No one wants to come
out of the bullpen with the mound all chewed.”
The pitcher’s mound is unlike any other space on a baseball diamond. Pitchers use it to literally survey the field from their vantage on high. Braden’s taken some flack for calling the mound the center of the universe, but that’s exactly what he was taught. It’s the point of origin for every play on a baseball diamond, a notion that can, for those who care to run this deep, lend a sacredness to it.
Ultimately, Braden laid down the gauntlet back in 2010, sending a message to Rodriguez through the press: “If he wants to run across the pitcher’s mound, tell him to do laps in the bullpen.”
Mikolas has Braden as precedent, and Braden had plenty of precedent of his own. A sampling:
Bert Blyleven: “I used to really get pissed if a guy flew out, say, and he came back and stepped on my mound. I used to say something to some of the hitters. Just don’t run on my mound. That was my mound that day.”
Jamie Quirk: “Stay clear of the mound. It’s his area; don’t try to run across it or toward him. Just go back to your dugout and stay clear. That’s just courtesy of doing things the right way.”
Dave Roberts: “That’s his office, his domain. To run across it is disrespectful.”
Jim Price: “I’ve seen that happen, and then there was retaliation.”
Bob Gibson: “(Steve) Carlton and I shared one pet peeve relating to the office [the term Carlton used to refer to the mound]. We hated when hitters crossed behind it on their way back to the dugout. We took down names.” (From Stranger to the Game.)
It’s tough to fault Galvis for not knowing what he’s never been taught. Upon hearing about it from the opposition, however, it would have been a better look for him and the Reds both had he quietly gone about inquiring in his own dugout whether Mikolas might actually have a point. Manager David Bell—the son and grandson of former big leaguers—would be a great place to start.
The reality, of course, is that many big leaguers have likely done precisely the same thing, unnoticed because the pitchers whose mounds they crossed either didn’t notice themselves or didn’t bother to make an issue out of it.
There wassomediscussion this morning about Pirates broadcasters Greg Brown and Bob Walk lambasting the Cardinals’ decision to steal two bases yesterday—both by Yairo Munoz, in the span of two pitches—while holding an 11-4 lead. Suffice it to say that the Bucs’ broadcasters were not impressed.
Brown and Walk are unequivocally old-school, going so far as to initially misidentify the ensuing boos as being directed at the Cardinals’ perceived breach of etiquette rather than at the home team’s sloppy play. Walk even alluded to retaliation, saying, “I know exactly what would happen now, in a different era.”
Holy hell, guys—it was the fourth inning. Under even the kindest reading of the code—even the code from Walk’s era (he pitched from 1980 to 1993)— that’s way too early to expect behavior modification. In The Baseball Codes, we broke the idea down via a series of quotes intended to convey the diversity of opinion on the subject about when a team should take its foot off the gas in a blowout game:
* “It used to be that [running with] anything more than a four-run lead was wrong, and you’ve got to be careful with that.”—Tony La Russa
* “When I was playing, if you had a four-run lead it was a courtesy not to run. But you can do that now.”—Ozzie Guillen
* “Once I had you by ﬁve runs and you couldn’t tie me with a grand slam, that was it.”—Sparky Anderson
* “I was always taught you shut it down at ﬁve runs after six.”—Dusty Baker
* “Five runs in the sixth, I’m not stopping there. We get into the seventh inning, then I’ll start chilling a little bit.”—Ron Washington
* “We play [to shut it down] if you’re up seven runs in the seventh inning.”—Jim Slaton
“From the seventh inning on, if one swing of the bat can tie you up, it’s game on,” said ex–ﬁrst baseman Mark Grace in 2006. “If it’s 4–0, you have Jason Schmidt on the mound, and he’s only given up one hit, you still go for it if Ray Durham gets on base in the eighth inning. Now, if it’s 6–0, you’re in territory where you might get a player hit in the brain in response.”
The first three bullet points fail to mention timing, but the other four take care of that. In the homer-happy, run-barrage landscape of modern baseball, in which comebacks are more likely than ever, is it weird to think that a seven-run lead in the fourth inning is safe? Of course not. Hell, even the Pirates thought so, having first baseman Josh Bell hold Munoz on first base prior to his initial steal (despite the insistence of pitcher Luis Escobar to steadfastly ignore him).
And why wouldn’t they? It was the fourth inning for crying out loud.
Who’d have guessed that the primary unwritten-rules-related topic of Major League Baseball 2018 wouldn’t be bat flips or even retaliatory pitches, but guys sliding into bases? In the modern world of fielder safety, we’ve reached the point that players are managing to get offended even on properly executed slides.
First case in point: Last Friday in Milwaukee, the slide of Brewers infielder Eric Sogard was cut off prematurely when Cardinals shortstop Yairo Munoz, shifting over to field the throw, impeded his progress. It was a clean play all around—these things sometimes happen—yet feelings nonetheless managed to get scuffed. Sogard got up talking (“The first words that came out of my mouth,” he told reporters after the game, “were ‘are you all right?’ “), Munoz got up angry, and within moments the benches had emptied.
Then on Tuesday, Pittsburgh’s Josh Harrison slid forcefully into second base, upending Mets second baseman Asdrubal Cabrera. The slide was legit, and Cabrera didn’t seem to take offense—but New York pitcher Jeurys Familia did, starting a shouting match with Harrison that, like Sogard’s play in Milwaukee, drew both teams onto the field.
Once, of course, it was legal to crash into any base in whatever way a runner saw fit, short of standing up to take a guy out. Hal McRae was the king of high barrel rolls into second base, knocking fielders backward with such viciousness that the play was eventually outlawed with an injunction that is now informally known as the Hal McRae rule. Even recently, however, low barrel rolls were seen as acceptable, none more exemplary than Alex Rodriguez’s slide into second that took out Jeff Kent’s knee in 1998. Kent was decidedly displeased, but on the whole, critics viewed the play as clean.
An example of barrel-rolling from the 1972 World Series, via SB Nation. Poor Dick Green.
After Don Baylor crashed into Cleveland second baseman Remy Hermoso in 1974 (a late feed from shortstop Frank Duffy had left Hermoso directly in Baylor’s path while awaiting the throw)—a blow that knocked the infielder out of action for nearly four months—Orioles manager Earl weaver had to convince Baylor that the play was clean, and that such collisions were simply part of the game. It was the only time in Baylor’s 19-year career, he said later, that he ever felt bad about taking out an infielder in such a manner.
Former Rangers manager (and career infielder) Ron Washington once explained to me that, as a coach, an appropriate response to such a play was not anger toward the opposition but better protection for one’s own infielders. “I told my guys to protect your ass at all times,” he said. “Don’t go across that bag on a double-play, lollygagging. You go across that bag with two things in mind: I’m gonna turn this sucker, and if anybody gets in my way I’m gonna blow him apart [low-bridging a throw, forcing the runner to hit the dirt to avoid it]. … I don’t care how simple the play is, you get yourself in a position of protection, because you never know.”
No longer. Dave Nelson talked about this very topic in an interview for The Baseball Codes in 2006, when he was a coach for Milwaukee.
“I’ll give you a good example,” he said. “Carlos Lee went into Todd Walker last year, hard, clean. Put Walker out of the game, hurt his knee. So one of my players, Russell Branyan says, ‘That’s a dirty play.’ And I said, ‘What? That’s not a dirty play. He went in there clean and hard.’ He said, ‘Yeah, but according to today’s standards, that’s dirty, because nobody does it.’ I said, ‘That’s the problem—nobody does it.’ He didn’t go out there to hurt him, he went out there to take him out of the double play. This is guys’ mentality today. This is how they think.”
That was before baseball implemented its current spate of rules.
I examined this evolution a couple years back, well before the current spate of basepath-related issues. What’s changed since that time is further restrictions on what players can legally do. Now, it seems, anything outside the proscribed guidelines—and sometimes well within them—is spurring players to anger. It goes a long way toward illustrating the effect of inherent competitiveness on a constrained landscape. The window for what is considered to be appropriate behavior in this regard is more diminutive than ever (even while the window for appropriate behavior as pertains to celebrations has been thrown wide open). Ballplayers have gained a new layer of entitlement, and damned if they’re not going to leverage it for all it’s worth.
After the Pirates-Mets game in which Josh Harrison was upbraided by Jeurys Familia for a perfectly acceptable slide, the Pittsburgh infielder took a reasoned approach to the situation.
“Apparently he said, ‘Play the game the right way,’ ” Harrison told reporters after his dustup with Familia. “If you go back and look at the footage, I think I played the game the right way. Didn’t touch the guy, broke up a double play without hurting the guy or touching the guy. At the end of the day, I think that’s playing the game the right way.”
It is. Here’s hoping that the rest of baseball can come to recognize as much before too much longer.