May 29, 2014; Boston, MA, USA; Atlanta Braves relief pitcher David Carpenter (48) pitches during the eighth inning against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Unwritten Rules, David Carpenter and the Braves

Yesterday as the Braves lineup once again stumbled in the hitters paradise that is Coors field, two unfortunate incidents occurred. The first was catcher Gerald Laird being whacked on the jaw by the bat of Corey Dickerson as he followed through with his swing. This was a totally innocent event caused by hitters creeping farther and farther back in the box and catchers creeping forward in their box; more on that later. The second was the disgraceful plunking of Dickerson in the right hip with David Carpenter’s next pitch. It was obviously intentional but it cannot and should not be wrapped in the unwritten mantle. This was not sticking up for your guy after he’s been wronged by the opposition – the context and rational for this particular unwritten rule -it was deliberate and unprovoked aggression and stupidity. Plate umpire Jordan Baker immediately and quite correctly tossed Carpenter from the game and no one from the Braves dugout came out to support or even discuss it; they knew Carpenter was wrong.

Dickerson was understandably incensed and yelled out at Carpenter who seemed to want the fight that – fortunately – never happened. The usually mild mannered Rockies’ manager Walt Weiss wanted to give Carpenter his wish. As a result he was ejected along with Carpenter. The Braves de facto leader Freddie Freeman put himself between Dickerson and Carpenter to prevent it from escalating further.  I hope he told Dickerson that they would take care of this internally.

The next inning Nick Masset correctly applied the unwritten rule by plunking Evan Gattis. Masset was ejected and got high fives in the dugout unlike Carpenter who was greeted with silence. Gattis acted like the true professional and mature adult he is by simply laying his bat down and trotting to first.  No word on whether he cornered Carpenter later, showed him the bruise and said “I got this because you were stupid. Don’t be stupid again,” but again I hope so.

Safety

MLB needs to look at the way Laird and others have been hit in relation to the rules of the game. The rules specify the size and shape of the catcher’s box but that’s routinely ignored and last weekend we watched on TV as one umpire took his foot purposefully erased it before allowing the game to start. Over the years catcher’s have begun to set up outside the box and recently – with the return of speed to the game – crept forward in the box in order to gain that split second advantage in throwing runners out and getting into to position to block pitches. In this case Laird moved inside and was already up close.  Hitters just as routinely stretch the intent of the rule by moving back onto the back line of the batter’s box. About 15 seconds into the game the batters have erased that back line and foot placement is largely ignored. The result is a greater incidence of catcher interference (bat to glove) and catcher’s being hit with a batter’s follow through – usually we take note of it because they get hit on the back of the head but sometimes it’s on the shoulder, arm and this time as we saw on the Jaw. There’s no intent to injure or be injured they are simply trying to gain an advantage against the plethora of hard throwers they see over a season. It is however, a serious, potentially life threatening injury waiting to happen.

The Braves TV team noted that the hockey style mask would have protected his jaw. That may be true but it also leads to more concussion by transferring all the energy of a foul tip directly onto the head. The catcher’s gear like the hitter’s pads gives them the courage to move more deeply into the danger zone.  We’ve seen the rule on blocking home plate modified to eliminate collisions but collisions are a small part of the pounding catcher’s take. Something must be done to restore the separation between catcher and hitter before a player’s career is ended by a back swing. Simply telling hitter that inside the box means inside the box  – not as one umpire told a reporter recently as long as any part of his foot is inside – would be an improvement.  The toe of a hitters back foot touching the outside edge of the line puts him four inches closer to the catcher. As hard as it is, catcher’s must stay back. The catcher’s interference rule was designed to keep them from interfering with the swing but far too many are far too close these days and we see more interference calls as a result. Still most of this is the hitter creeping back and that’s what should be addressed first.

MLB has never been quick to act on things like this. Batting helmets were scorned like collisions at the plate because to avoid getting injured is somehow not manly.  Coaches wear head gear now only because of the tragic incident that saw Tulsa Drillers coach Mike Coolbaugh die  after being struck in the head by a line drive as he stood in the first-base coach’s box. He wasn’t the first to get hit but he was the first I know of who died and his story went nationwide instantaneously. PEDs which damage players internally were ignored by players and management until it was no longer possible because congress got involved.  Sadly we still have kids getting smacked by line drives as they sit in back of the dugouts yet no one has moved to put up the netting that would prevent those injuries as well as keeping flying bats at bay. Those things indicate we won’t see any movement on this until a player is seriously injured and that’s just a shame.

Editorially Speaking (A rant)

The modern game of baseball has changed a lot from the game I knew and grew up with. Hitters today seem to think that they can crowd the plate with impunity. Some wear padding giving them the confidence to get even closer. Meanwhile pitchers know they must pitch inside to keep the hitter honest yet the use of aluminum bats means they don;t learn how to to it properly until they sign with a major league team.

Likewise hitters rarely see inside and tight pitches until pro-ball and aren’t adept at getting out of the way, another reason to hate aluminum bats. Inevitably then hitters will get plunked now and then. Some understand that they put themselves in harms way and trot down to first. They’ll try to get even by stealing a base or taking him deep later. Others with bigger egos or maybe just having a bad day throw a tantrum or charge the mound; how dare a pitcher throw a ball in proximity to them!

Umpires have been instructed to recognize intent and issue warnings. That’s a good idea that just doesn’t work. All it does is punish the injured team further by restricting their pitcher’s ability to throw inside.  Enforcement is uneven and gives umpires who love being the star of the game a reason to prance. It also puts umpires who are less that sensitive to the game situation under pressure to throw out a pitcher whose 73mph curve doesn’t and hits a player when there was obviously no intent.

The game got by for years without warnings. This isn’t to say they should be abandoned rather that they should be applied more judiciously without penalizing the wronged party. Teams and players used to be really good at knowing what was on purpose, what wasn’t and took care of incidents their own.

Look, I get it. Getting hit by a 90+mph heater hurts like hell. Sometimes it’s on purpose and deserves retribution; mostly it doesn’t. Players would do well to understand that charging the mound doesn’t work. Pedro Martinez saw several hitters charge him and he pitched inside until the end. Robin Ventura can detail what happens if the pitcher doesn’t choose to run away and Paul Wilson can explain what he feels like to be tossed to the ground by Kyle Farnsworth. I’ve never seen a batter win nor have I seen a pitcher stop throwing inside as a result of confrontation It just doesn’t work.   Batters need to accept that they played a part in getting plunked to being with as well.

If you – the hitter – choose to crowd the plate you are more likely to get hit. If you act like every home run is cause for the fans to be in awe of your wonderfulness you should consider how much you’d like it if  following a strikeout the pitcher pumped his fist and ran a victory lap around the mound.

This is a kids game but there’s no need to be childish.  You’re grown men get paid enormous sums of money to to play like a kid every day. Act like you know that. I know it’s work but it should be fun and when you feel as if it’s not, look at your bank balance and remember that it is.  When do something extraordinary you don’t have to pose and prance, act like you’ve done this before and expect to do it again. Those who appreciate your feat will know what you did and those to uninformed will never know no matter what pose you strike.

Every home run doesn’t deserve a bat flip and a pose for your next baseball card. Standing and watching how far a ball flies isn’t about anything but you saying “look how great I  am.”  Hit the ball, toss the bat away and run.  If you want to pose get a mirror or have your lady take pictures for your album or Instagram. Home runs that mean something – yes I know they all mean something but get real – comeback walk-offs, playoff or posts season winners you can celebrate with everyone; it’s not you it’s the team remember?  Otherwise as my dad would have said, act like you’ve been there, belong there and will be there again. The fans will know who’s worthy of awe and who’s all show and no go.

That’s A Wrap

There are unwritten rules in every sport and in every walk of life. All of this crying about not knowing what they are is a farce. Players know. It’s simply really.

  • Treat the game and the opposition with respect
  • It’s not about you it is about the team
  • Don’t endanger an opponent on purpose and
  • Play the game hard but fairly

Some try to spin those to justify their actions but they fool no one who understands the game. Nothing justifies an irrational or self centered act and tossing out the unwritten rule red herring is just a way of diverting attention from yourself. Speaking of irrational acts brings me back to Carpenter.

This incident was about David Carpenter having what my British friends would call a rush of blood to the head. It was not as one Rockies blogger suggested, about the Braves being guardians of the unwritten rules.  Carp hasn’t been good of late and it gnaws at him even though he say publicly it doesn’t.  He’s worried about it, fretted over it, and cooked in his own stew until Dickerson’s accidental injury to Laird made it boil over and he did something silly. The team didn’t endorse or support what he did. They accepted the umpire’s decision and took the plunking of Gattis in stride. From the Braves players point of view this shouldn’t have happened and is over.  I expect MLB to punish Carpenter harshly and Masset perfunctorily. I hope the Braves internally punish Carpenter as well. His actions endangered his teammates and will cost them his services during the suspension. Carpenter should just accept whatever he’s given, no appeal just do the time. He screwed up, no one else, and should accept responsibility like an adult. Like Manny Machado’s bat flip, Carpenter childishly acted out. The umpire took the calm adult role and sent him to his room to consider his actions.

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