Old rules of baseball etiquette are taking a bashing from
today's young players
The topic has come up so often lately that Robin Ventura and
Todd Zeile of the Mets joke about sitting down and, like a
couple of baseball-savvy Emily Posts, writing a book. "We'll
call it The Rules for the New Millennium," Zeile says. "You
can't bunt to break up a no-hitter, you can't swing on 3 and 0,
things like that."
While Ventura and Zeile are unlikely to put pen to paper anytime
soon, there has been enough contention this season over how the
sport's unwritten code of etiquette has evolved that perhaps the
fine points do need clarifying. On May 26 a furor erupted over an
eighth-inning bunt single by Padres catcher Ben Davis that broke
up Curt Schilling's perfect game. Two days earlier Mets
outfielder Tsuyoshi Shinjo drew the Marlins' ire when he hacked
at a 3-and-0 pitch with New York leading by eight runs in the
eighth; righthander Brad Penny plunked him the next day. On April
11 Dodgers centerfielder Marquis Grissom incensed the
Diamondbacks by stealing second in the fourth inning of a game
Los Angeles led 8-0. A few days before that Mets reliever Turk
Wendell drilled Expos slugger Vladimir Guerrero in the back a day
after Guerrero had driven a 3-and-0 pitch from Wendell to the
centerfield wall with Montreal ahead 10-0. "Even before I was
playing, there were no 3-and-0 swings [in a blowout]," Expos
manager Felipe Alou said after that game. (Alou, 66, was the
oldest manager in the majors until he was axed last Thursday.)
"Once it's seven runs, there are no stolen bases and no 3-and-0
Not anymore. Many traditions seem outdated in an era when home
runs and big innings are so common. "The game has changed because
of the emphasis on offense, so teams try to score as many runs as
possible," says Giants shortstop Rich Aurilia. "Playing at Coors
Field, for instance--how many runs does it take to have a safe
Thus, except in the latter stages of the most lopsided blowouts,
almost anything goes as long as it's done in an attempt to win.
"Until the pitcher tells me what's coming and stops trying to get
me out, I'll try everything I can to get a base hit," says Zeile.
"What code?" Brewers hitting coach Rod Carew replies when asked
if Davis's bunt, which Arizona manager Bob Brenly labeled
"chickens---," was a violation of protocol. "The code is to try
to win. The score was 2-0. If he gets on and the next guy hits a
home run, you have a tie game."
With players reaching the big leagues at a younger age than their
predecessors, a generation gap may be developing when it comes to
etiquette. Though most players, managers and scouts say it was a
good play, Brenly says that Davis's bunt didn't jibe with
Brenly's "old-school" philosophy. San Francisco skipper Dusty
Baker doesn't object to the play, but does say that he would have
been "too proud" to try a similar trick when he was a player.
Alou benched Guerrero for the game after the 3-and-0 hack against
the Mets and told him not to swing in that situation again. "The
young guys have changed," says 39-year-old Andres Galarraga of
the Rangers. "They seem to feel more relaxed up here, not as
respectful as new players used to be."
Also, with rosters more diverse than ever, the gap may be
cultural as well. For example, Shinjo says that he was unaware of
the inappropriateness of the 3-and-0 swing and that in his native
Japan hitters are expected to attack pitches in that situation.
The one rule that crosses all lines is that players should do
whatever they can to win without embarrassing opponents or
overvaluing individual achievement. "What if Ryan Klesko had hit
three home runs in a row and came to bat in the bottom of the
eighth?" Cardinals manager Tony La Russa says, in response to
Brenly's bunt complaints. "If [the Diamondbacks] had a two- or
three-run lead and an open base, would they have to pitch to him
because he's got a chance to tie a record? No."
Wobbly but Hanging In
After the Indians activated righthander Charles Nagy from the DL
last Friday, their pitching rotation appeared to boast an
embarrassment of riches. They had five starters good enough that
Nagy, 34, who won at least 15 games for Cleveland in every season
from 1995 through '99, would, for the first time since a brief
stint in '90, be relegated to the bullpen.
The surplus didn't last the night. Lefthander Chuck Finley,
suffering neck spasms, was scratched from his scheduled start,
and on Saturday was dispatched to the DL. Nagy started on Sunday
against the Yankees; he threw seven innings of four-hit ball in a
4-3 Indians win.
Had Nagy remained a reliever, he would have had plenty of
exercise. This season Cleveland manager Charlie Manuel has burned
up the phone line to the bullpen like a go-getting telemarketer,
because his relief corps has been the lifeline for a rotation
whose 23-15 record masks its ineffectiveness. Through Sunday,
Indians starters ranked 12th in the AL in ERA (5.16) and 11th in
innings per start (5.6).
Meanwhile, the bullpen had thrown 58 innings in Cleveland's last
16 games. Says righthander Dave Burba (7-2, 5.31 ERA), whose
pitch count has been limited by a strained groin muscle, "The
relievers are doing such a great job, if you can get through five
or six innings, chances are you're going to win." Sometimes even
five innings aren't necessary: rookie C.C. Sabathia (6-2; 5.36
ERA) got a four-inning victory on Friday against the Yankees when
rain ended his game in the sixth.
The bullpen workload has been so heavy it prompted closer Bob
Wickman (12 saves in 26 appearances, 2.59 ERA) to voice his
concern over Memorial Day weekend to Manuel, who told him
reinforcements were on the way. (Righthander Jake Westbrook was
called up May 29 from Triple A to work in long relief.) None too
soon: With Nagy and righthander Jaret Wright recuperating from
elbow and shoulder surgery, respectively, righthander Bartolo
Colon (4-6 with a 4.43 ERA, including 0-4 in his last five
starts) complaining of pain in his pitching elbow, and the
20-year-old Sabathia still developing, a significant chunk of
Manuel's rotation has a limit on how deep into games it can go.
"We've got guys hurt, guys coming back from being hurt and guys
who are very young," says Manuel. "It's something we have to work
through." --Daniel G. Habib
Kendall Switching Positions
Catching On in The Outfield
A tip for young players: If you want to be a major league
catcher, it helps to be a good hitter. Not too good, however. If
you become too much of an offensive force, your team may well
find you another position. That's the situation Pirates catcher
Jason Kendall is in. On May 23 in the second game of a
doubleheader he played leftfield against the Phillies, his first
major league start at a position other than catcher, as part of
manager Lloyd McClendon's plan to ease the physical burden on
three-time All-Star Kendall and to gain more offensive
production from him. "I think you're doing yourself an injustice
to have his bat out of the lineup 35 or 40 games a year," says
McClendon, referring to the frequent rests most catchers
require. "I'd like to write his name in the lineup 160 times a
Kendall played flawlessly in his first five starts in left.
McClendon says that for now Kendall's outfield time will come
when Pittsburgh plays a day game after a night game or when a
regular needs a rest. However, Kendall's days as a regular
behind the plate may be numbered.
Kendall has been more than receptive to the move. "I never knew
how hard catching was," he said after his first game in left.
"Playing in the outfield was relaxing on the mind. It was
relaxing on the body. I felt like I could hit three
inside-the-park home runs. Normally, after the fifth inning my
legs are tired."
The move also may have reenergized his swing. Before the second
game of the May 23 doubleheader, Kendall, a lifetime .314 hitter
coming into this season, was batting .250. Since then, through
Sunday, he had hit .356 and was 8 for 21 (.381) as an
outfielder. "I'd like to win a World Series catching," Kendall
says, "but I feel playing the outfield could add five years to
my career--and that's after one game."
Big Hurts Are Slow to Heal
He has only two home runs, was on the disabled list for six
weeks, now plays every other day and doesn't always go nine
innings, but Mark McGwire is still the most productive of this
season's holy trinity of injured superstars. The Cardinals, Reds
and Red Sox each spent the first third of the season treading
water until Big Mac, Ken Griffey Jr. and Nomar Garciaparra--the
centerpieces of their respective lineups--returned from injuries
that have severely limited their playing time. McGwire had only
21 April at bats before discomfort in his surgically repaired
right knee forced him to the DL; he was activated last week and
will be eased back into the lineup until he regains his timing
at the plate and feels strong enough to play every day. "There's
nothing that's going to [hurt the knee]," McGwire said after
homering against the Brewers in his first game back, on Memorial
Day. "That's why I'm out there playing, because we've done
enough to stress it, to regain the strength in [the muscles that
surround] the knee."
Griffey and Garciaparra haven't been as lucky. Cincinnati has
been kept on pins and needles by Griffey's unexpectedly slow
recovery from a torn left hamstring. Thought to be suffering from
a mere strain in spring training, Griffey went 0 for 12 as a
pinch hitter in April, and then was placed on the DL after
tweaking the hamstring while grounding out on April 28. He has
been in a holding pattern since, not traveling with the team,
doing rehab exercises for as many as five hours a day and
shagging an occasional fly ball. He has also been taking batting
practice for the past two weeks.
When might Griffey return? Because hamstring injuries are rarely
operated on and are notoriously slow to heal, no one knows the
answer to that question. Griffey said recently that he hopes
he'll be back in about three weeks, but Cincinnati medical
director Dr. Timothy Kremchek has said it's "possible" Junior
could miss the entire season. Says Griffey, "I'll play when I can
run and not feel like I'm going to fall down on each step."
The Red Sox predicted a midsummer return for Garciaparra after he
had Opening Day surgery to repair a split tendon in his right
wrist. "Our guideline all along has been for [a return] after the
All-Star Game, and we're still aiming for that," says Boston
general manager Dan Duquette.
Last weekend Garciaparra, who now wears a removable cast on the
injured wrist, was preparing to progress from range-of-motion
exercises to strengthening drills and remained at least three
weeks from working on baseball skills. A fitness fiend, he spends
about three hours a day on a workout regimen designed to keep the
rest of his body in shape without putting any stress on his
Meanwhile, through Sunday, the Red Sox held a two-game lead in
the American League East despite a patchwork at shortstop that
had been solid defensively but unimposing at the plate. The
quartet of Mike Lansing, Craig Grebeck, John Valentin and Lou
Merloni had made only three errors, second fewest in the majors,
but Boston's offensive production at the position--a .186 average,
two home runs, 12 RBIs and a .240 on-base percentage--had been the
weakest in its league.
Umps Waiting for a Sign
Welcome Mat Not Out Yet
The fallout from the umpires union's ill-conceived 1999 mass
resignation continued last month, when an arbitrator in
Philadelphia declared that Major League Baseball must take back
nine of the 22 umps who lost their jobs. Still, through Sunday,
none of the reinstated umps--a group that includes veterans Drew
Coble, Frank Pulli, Terry Tata and Joe West--was any closer to
calling balls and strikes than before the ruling.
The rehired umpires faced a June 8 deadline to file a motion in
Federal court that would force baseball to comply with the
arbitrator's decision. The commissioner's office faced the same
deadline to lodge a legal protest against the arbitrator's
ruling. Unless baseball voluntarily complies with the decision,
which seemed doubtful as of Monday, the case is likely to slog
through the legal system and keep the nine umps in limbo for the
rest of this season.
Baseball has not said how the new-old umpires would be folded
back into major league service, if and when they do become
eligible to return. A full complement of 68 umpires already is on
staff, and the commissioner's office hasn't discussed how more
would fit in. Nor is there a plan for getting the old umps up to
speed on the new strike zone and rule changes.
The arbitrator's ruling, if it is upheld, will probably have more
impact on such issues as monetary compensation than it will on
staffing. Pulli and Tata have already said they intend to retire,
and a source familiar with the case says a third umpire has
similar plans. That means only six umps would return to the
field. Tim Welke, secretary-treasurer of the World Umpires
Association, the new union that rose from the ashes of the Richie
Phillips-led group that collapsed after the resignation fiasco,
says such a small number easily could be absorbed by Major League
Baseball. "It seems baseball is understaffed, when you take into
account injuries and time off," Welke says. "At times nine Triple
A umps are working in the big leagues. They do a great job, but
adding umps with experience wouldn't overstaff the leagues."
June 8-10, Astros at Rangers
Most interleague matchups, their novelty long worn off, carry no
more cachet than any other sleepy midsummer series, but this year
at least there are two new ones to break the monotony. While the
Diamondbacks face the Royals for the first time this weekend, the
matchup more likely to become an interleague hit is the first
Lone Star Showdown. Expect some Texas-sized run totals. Through
Sunday, the Astros had allowed more home runs (82) than any other
team in the National League; the Rangers had hit the most (86) in
the majors. What's more, Texas's sorry pitching staff, a
liability against any opponent, is sure to have trouble with the
National League's third-highest scoring lineup.
For scores, stats and the latest news, plus more from Tom
Verducci and Stephen Cannella, go to cnnsi.com/baseball.
COLOR PHOTO: DAMIAN STROHMEYER Yankee Alfonso Soriano swiped this base in a one-run game, but steal with a big lead and sparks fly.
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN IACONO Back from the disabled list, Nagy spent a scant day in the pen before rejoining Cleveland's achy rotation.
COLOR PHOTO: TOM DIPACE A lifetime .314 hitter, Kendall sees a move from catcher to outfielder giving him extra years at bat.
Rising to the Occasion
Each June the major league team with the worst record in the
previous season makes the first selection in the amateur draft.
There have been 36 such drafts, and only two teams with the top
pick--the 1989 Orioles and the '95 Angels--were in first place the
day they made their choice. Through Sunday this year's leadoff
team in the draft, the Twins (69-93 in 2000), was atop the
American League Central by a half game and had a record of 36-18
(.667)--assuring it of the best record ever of any team to pick
first. Here are the No. 1 choices by the teams with the next 10
best records on draft day. --David Sabino
TEAM, YEAR RECORD FIRST PICK
Angels, 1995 20-13, .606 Darin Erstad
White Sox, 1977 29-21, .580 Harold Baines
Orioles, 1989 30-22, .577 Ben McDonald
Mariners, 1987 27-23, .540 Ken Griffey Jr.
Mets, 1984 23-23, .500 Shawn Abner
Senators, 1969 27-28, .491 Jeff Burroughs
Mariners, 1993 26-27, .491 Alex Rodriguez
Mets, 1994 25-26, .490 Paul Wilson
Brewers, 1985 22-23, .489 B.J. Surhoff
Astros, 1976 28-30, .483 Floyd Bannister
Two advance scouts, one from each league, reflect on what they
saw and heard last week:
I'm really impressed with the Red Sox, especially catcher Jason
Varitek. He handles that staff well, calls a good game and does
a great job of blocking the ball. Also, if Boston gets rid of
manager Jimy Williams and replaces him with Felipe Alou, (as it
has been rumored it will), I'll take Jimy for my team in a
Righthander Willis Roberts (5-5, 5.10 ERA) has been a
real find for the Orioles. He was always a hard thrower, but
pitching coach Mark Wiley has done a great job of turning him
into a pitcher....
The Marlins want to move reliever Dan Miceli, but that's a lot
of money ($2 million) to take on for a pitcher with an ERA over
7.00. Plus, Florida is asking for a lot: It was close to a deal
with the Rockies, but Colorado didn't want to give up a top
pitching prospect plus a major league pitcher....
There's talk that outgoing Indians general manager John Hart will
end up as the Rangers' G.M. next season. That creates an
interesting possibility: Cleveland plans to slash payroll next
year, and if it doesn't re-sign Juan Gonzalez, don't be surprised
if he follows Hart back to Texas....
The A's have played better lately, but they haven't made up
ground on the Mariners. The only way Seattle will lose the
division is if there's an injury to Edgar Martinez, John Olerud
or Bret Boone....
The White Sox are the first team in panic mode this season, and
they'll soon start dumping guys. There's lefthander David Wells,
of course, but righthander James Baldwin could be an interesting
pickup for a team that needs pitching. I wouldn't give too much
for him, because who knows what he has left in his surgically
repaired right shoulder, but he's worth the gamble for half a
in the Box
RED SOX 2, BLUE JAYS 1
Most players who become switch-hitters do so to avoid difficult
lefty-lefty or righty-righty matchups with pitchers. Boston's
Carl Everett, never one to hew to orthodoxy, apparently just
likes having options. Leading off the ninth inning with this game
tied 1-1, Everett--who often bats lefthanded against soft-throwing
lefthanders--hit from the left side against hard-throwing southpaw
reliever Dan Plesac. Fresh in his mind was the previous night's
game, in which he had batted righthanded and struck out on a
stream of changeups from Plesac. "I knew I wasn't going to get
anything to drive or get up in the air batting righthanded,"
Everett said after Saturday's victory. "With Manny [Ramirez
hitting] behind me, I was trying to hit a ball in the gap so he
could drive me in."
Everett did a little better than that. Plesac, who had held
lefthanded hitters to a .167 average before this at bat, threw a
slider that didn't slide, and Everett crushed it for a
game-winning home run.