Friday, June 16, 2006

A Coach Unworthy Of The Game

I love Baseball. When I became an umpire, part of the reason was a strong desire to be part of the game, to help keep it strong where it mattered most. As an umpire, my job was sometimes tough, but always founded on three simple objectives:

1. Keep it safe.
2. Keep it balanced.
3. Keep it sporting.

Sportsmanship has always been at the heart of Baseball, and I have seen more than a few men whose character and integrity had been forged in their time playing the Game.

So it is, that I regard with utter contempt those petty men who cannot respect the Game, who believe they are entitled to strip away honor if it means gaining an advantage in the moment, especially in some vindictive manner. This is especially true in pitching. And so I put keyboard to action, to rebuke the cowardly and thuggish actions of Ozzie Guillen, whose version of Baseball is closer to Gang Warfare, with similar vocabulary and tactics.

A sad example is the incident at Wednesday’s game against the Rangers, reported by Sports Illustrated’s Jacob Luft, where Guillen brought in pitcher Sean Tracey for the express purpose of hitting a batter with a fastball. Even a White Sox fan site admitted the intent was obvious.

Now, I am hardly na├»ve about professional sports. I even got to work a minor league exhibition game once, and it’s certainly different from college or high school, to say nothing of PONY or Little League. The players more than earn their money in situations where they have to do things differently than they are used to doing, but there again I take the pros to task; despite the lame excuses they very much are role models for the kids, who can be counted on to imitate what they see a Major Leaguer do. And so while I understand that control is a problem sometimes, and that a brush-back pitch is part of the battle for control of the plate, a pitcher who would deliberately hit a player is scum, and a manager/coach who would order it should get jail time, not just a fine/suspension. 90+ mph pitches break bones and put people in hospitals, so deliberately hitting someone with a fastball at that level is nothing short of criminal. Ask Don Zimmer about fastballs hitting people, or the families of Ottis Jackson, "Stormy" Davis, or George Tkach, all of whom died from being beaned by a pitch.

Tracey, to his credit, had a hard time complying with Guillen's thuggish demand. I have seen pitchers become unable to find the strike zone after an intentional walk in a pressure situation, so I can only imagine what a pitcher would go through when ordered to deliberately hit a batter, a thing which all of Baseball rightly rejects at every other level. Here in Texas, the UIL has a no-nonsense attitude to deliberate hits; a pitcher will be ejected as soon as the umpire believes he was trying to hit a batter, and a repeat can cost a pitcher eligibility for a season is proven (and in these days of videocams, that's more common than you might think). My understanding is also that the NCAA similarly takes a dim view of any pitcher trying to hit a batter. So it comes as no surprise to me that Sean Tracey was finding it difficult to obey his coach yet maintain his self-respect; Guillen might as well have asked Tracey to molest a child, as to deliberately hit a batter. So it was that Sean Tracey found himself unable to hit Hank Blalock with a pitch, and so he met with the ire of Guillen. Guillen pulled Tracey from the game, and then kicked him down to the Minors. OK, maybe Tracey's control issues would have sent him there anyway, but the way Guillen chose to do this was classless and may have done serious damage to Tracey's development - I mean, if Tracey gets his control at AAA and impresses folks, his reward is - swell - to go back to the White Sox, where Guillen's sub-decent management style will be waiting. I'd call that a conflict in motivation.

The fact that the White Sox are not punishing Guillen at all for this obvious and dishonorable decision, lowers my estimation of the White Sox organization and the city of Chicago by a large measure.


JB said...

OK DJ, I usually love your posts, but I couldn't disagree with you more on this one...well, on half of the issue anyway. I agree that Ozzie was way out of line for ordering his pitcher to bean Blalock. That's not the manager's job. It's up to the players to police their own game. I know it rubs people the wrong way, though it's mostly people who either never played or never played at a competitive level, but beanballs are a legitimate part of the game.

When it's legitimate to do is entirely up to the players and is dictated by events that took place on the field. The biggest deterrent to a pitcher hitting someone is his own teammates. If a pitcher beans an opponent, or is just wild and plunking hitters, it's very likely someone on his team will get one too. If I'm a pitcher, I don't want my teammates pissed at me for getting them plunked. It's all about control of the inside half of the plate DJ. If I know your team won't fight back, I'm gonna abuse that inside half to keep your guys off the plate then get them out low and away. If I hit a few, so what, your team can't fight back. On the other hand, if I know one of my guys is going to get one in return, I'm going to be more carefull when pitching inside. you sound like one of these worried soccer moms who wants all the kids to wear helmets and no balls kicked above the ground.

Can someone get hurt? Sure. But not usually. An intentional knockdown pitch will usually be a 80% fastball that gets you in the ass. Pitchers will almost never go for the head. Think about it, if I throw at your head, what are the chances of me getting through the game without getting my ass kicked or one of my teammates plunked...who in turn will have words for me for starting the whole thing. You are more likely to get hurt having someone slide hard into you legs breaking up a double play. Are you going to start arresting players who roll hard into second onto the shortstop's leg...yeah, lock em up. that'll teach 'em. I guess for safety sake, he should have bowed out of the way and let them get the double play?

This issue must remain on the field for the players and umpires to handle. To talk of it being a crime to hit a batter is ridiculous. Are you suddenly a mind reader who can tell the intent of the pitcher. Greg Maddux could knock a gnat off a fence post...does that mean that every time he hit someone it must have been intentional? How could a guy with that kind of control ever possibly hit someone. And what if the same guy had homered off him in his last at bat? Well, for the safety of everyone, better lock'em up. And when Jackson slid into third, his spikes came up into smith's leg...I think it was intentional, lock'em up. get friggin real.

You said, "Guillen might as well have asked Tracey to molest a child, as to deliberately hit a batter." I'm sorry DJ, I'm a fan, been reading you for a long time, but, that has to be one of the stupidest things anyone has ever said about the game of baseball.

I don't know how the inside of my car works. Therefore I don't tell my mechanic how to fix it. if you don't know baseball, well....

Anonymous said...

Oddly enough, the Texas Rangers were the team that actually DID hit a player, TWICE. Yet, you ignore that fact in your comments. Not once did I see the name "Vincente Padilla" ... you know, the guy who actually DID hit someone. Those are actions that actually occurred, not supposition and "could haves."

Then again, the comments, the ignorance for events that actually occurred and the projection of blame on other parties than those you wave the pom poms for seems to fit the general tone and tenor of this blog...

DJ Drummond said...

The word you both are missing is 'deliberate'.

Hitting a batter happens, and sometimes a pitcher does it on purpose. jb suggests that a good umpire can't tell when a pitcher hits someone on purpose, but I know from direct experience that at least sometimes you can. And there is only one thing worse than a pitcher who deliberately puts a fastball into a batter - a coach who tells him to do that.

Yes, the Rangers pitcher hit 2 batters, but the umpire did not rule it intentional, and he had the best look and the experience to make that call. Ozzie clearly ordered the hit, was so obvious that even the MLB office is going to have to do something about it, and in that course of action damaged one of his prospects.

I made a point to say that a pitcher and batter battle for plate space, and a good umpire lets them do their thing - unless he observes intent to deliberately hit a guy, in which case the guy is no longer a baseball player, but merely a strangely-dressed mugger.

Ozzie is just a petty, selfish bully. He does not belong in Baseball.