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Yankee Panky # 44: Hanky, and the Unwritten Rules
2008-03-11 05:35
by Will Weiss
Note: The Bronx Banter blog has moved to bronxbanterblog.com.

Being sick has its advantages. For one, it allows you to relax and catch up on some reading. While the Mets have taken hold of the back pages -- it’s the Spring, they’ll have their time in the spotlight again when they’re blowing a 7-game lead in September -- the feature writers have had some fun projecting next steps for the Yankee organization.

After all, this is a season of combined firsts and lasts: the last year in “old” Yankee Stadium, the first season with new manager Joe Girardi, the first season with Hank and Hal Steinbrenner at the helm, which could mean the last year of Brian Cashman as general manager. (There has been only speculation; Cashman has been mum on the topic. We’ve seen and heard this song and dance before.)

Two pieces most notably caught my attention, both for their similarities and for the differences. Both are profiles of Hank Steinbrenner. Ryan McGee’s piece in ESPN the Magazine traces Hank’s path to the Yankees, then to Kinsman Farm, and then back to the Yankees, capturing his bluster and portraying him as his father’s son. The New York Times Magazine also traced the lineage – what profile doesn’t? – and hinted that certain members of the organization believe that Hank is trying too hard to be the kind of managing partner, at least in the press, that his father once was.

The greatest difference was that the PLAY brought the siblings into it as if to demonstrate that the Yankees want to show a unified management front with the Steinbrenner children. Hank is the liaison to the press and handles the baseball decisions, Hal is the brains behind the business decisions, and Jennifer is helping on the real estate side, assisting in oversight of the New Yankee Stadium project.

Which portrayal is correct? You never know with the Yankees. I’m shocked they allowed such access to two relatively unknown writers, especially an ESPN writer, given the volatility of the Yankees-ESPN relationship in the last eight years.  

Both stories were well written and are interesting reads, but ultimately came to the same conclusion: George II is named Hank.

* * *
Amid all the game/injury report notes from Spring Training, the bout between the Rays and Yankees stemming from the home plate collision that injured 22-year-old catching prospect Francisco Cervelli Saturday. Joe Girardi was livid.

"During the season, I'm all for it," Girardi told reports. "As a catcher, I understand that. Spring training, I don't get it. I've always known that you don't do it."

(What about an All-Star Game? Is that the time to do it? Was Pete Rose just being Pete Rose when he nailed Ray Fosse, or was it a hard-nosed play that deserved commendation? Was it part of the game? Look at football. Was it “part of the game” for Rodney Harrison to go after Trent Green’s knee in a 1999 preseason contest? The injury ended Green’s season and, effectively any chance he had at being a starter in St. Louis again. … Rant over.)

The Rays, naturally, defended the actions of the assailant, Elliot Johnson. Even Don Zimmer defended it, saying that it was old-fashioned hardball and while it’s unfortunate Cervelli was injured, it’s part of the game. Cervelli took the high road, saying he didn’t think the play was dirty.

The play falls into the “Unwritten Rules.” We’re taught to “practice how you’d play” and “play hard all the time.” It’s part of our culture. Incidents like what happened in Tampa Saturday are direct responses to the culture that’s been created. Johnson is trying to prove himself and score the run. Cervelli blocked the plate. It was a bang-bang play and there was a collision. People’s livelihoods are at stake. Sure, it sounds extreme, but Johnson wouldn’t know if there’d be a red tag in his locker for not at least making an effort to score the run.

So what’s the media’s responsibility in covering such a philosophical debate? How do we deal with a slippery slope argument where both sides make strong cases for being correct? We salivate. We take any intellectualizing out of it, present it as tabloid fodder and stoke the fire of a brawl perhaps ensuing. It’s a reactive approach stemming from working the story off of Girardi’s fiery quotes.  “There will be plenty of time to make up for it, with 18 meetings during the regular season,” was the general tone.

The story should not have legs any more than the context of the play. If a philosophical debate is to be engaged, let it happen on a broader scale. Let the beat guys or columnists follow with articles featuring quotes from former “hustle”-type players who may have or would have run a catcher in a spring game, league officials, umpires, etc. It has the potential to be a great story in terms of baseball context.

Or, let the incident sit as a one-off, refer to it when the teams meet again, and let it sit.

I wonder if Yankee management read the stories and picked up on the fact that Joe Torre might not have reacted the same way, the papers seized an opportunity and projected this incident as being even more of a signal that a new era is afoot in the clubhouse.

The new Joe isn’t taking any crap. And the press is loving it.

Agree or disagree below.

Until next week …

Comments
2008-03-11 06:48:15
1.   OldYanksFan
Will... did ya read the comments from the 'The Gerbil Bites Back' thread? I guess we could cut and paste them here... but my opinion, that seems to be shared with others here is:

Bulldozing the catcher should be, and some have shown it to be, illegal. There is no place for it in baseball. As someone pointed out, does MLB have to wait until someone is seriously injured, before they act?

All other plays in baseball, including plays at 1st, 2nd and 3rd, have strict rules about runner and fielder interference. Baseball is NOT a contact sport and that's part of it's beauty.

In terms of the Cervelli play, it was uncalled for, but not dirty. My guess is, regardless of what the Rays are saying, everyone wished it didn't happen. It was a heat-of-the-moment thing for Johnson, and it would have been smart if Cervelli, like the Rays catcher did a few innings earlier, got nowhere near the play and just let the run score. But he too, was trying to show us what 'he was made of'.

Very unfortunate. My guess is Cervelli won't be 'whole' until next year, if ever. Yankee fans in boards all over the internet are screaming for blood. As usual, Banterers are a lot more sane and evenhanded, but I've read comments on other blogs pleading for retailiation, and hoping for injury (and even death) for a chosen Ray's player.

As you pointed out, we all witnessed when Rose nailed Ray Fosse, it that should have made it clear, it was time for MLB to act, and to make clearer and enforce the current rules, so this never happens again.

2008-03-11 07:09:51
2.   horace-clarke-era
oyf I think this is right, insofar as you say 'not dirty', and mp does appear to be wrong on the rule. I asked a very savvy rules-based friend and got this article back from Sporting News. I'm extracting a fair bit, but the KEY is the 6.1 part.

As far as I can see this just about ends the debate as to current rules. It leaves open whether we want a change in rules AND why the collisions only happen at home plate ... that seems to suggest unwritten rules at 2d and 3rd, but by 6.1 crashing into an unpadded 2baseman waiting to tag you seems as 'legal' as ramming a catcher.

(I said 'just about') because I can see an argument that 'tackling' in 6.1 is including in crashing into but note that 'obviously malicious' or 'unsportsmanlike' are required, and the CURRENT state of play seems to accept that crashing is NOT malicious or unsportsmanlike at the plate. This would, however, be the route to go to change the practice without having to change the rule.)

____________

IN GAME 6 OF THE 2004 AMERICAN League Championship Series played between the Yankees and Red Sox, Alex Rodriguez of the Yankees showed the baseball world that illegal use of the hands is not only a football penalty.

With Boston leading, 4-2, in the bottom of the eighth inning, the Yankees had Derek Jeter on first base and one out when A-Rod tapped a roller up the first base line. Red Sox pitcher Bronson Arroyo fielded the ball and reached to tag Rodriguez. Seeing Arroyo in his path, A-Rod slapped his left hand at the pitcher's glove, knocking the ball loose down the first base line beyond the bag.

Jeter came all the way around to score and A-Rod ended up on second base. First base umpire Randy Marsh, who was blocked out on the play by Red Sox first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz, gave the safe sign.

Boston manager Terry Francona ran out of the dugout and protested A-Rod's unorthodox actions. Francona asked Marsh to confer with the other five umpires. When plate ump Joe West told Marsh that he had a clear view of the play, Marsh properly reversed the call. From this corner it should have been West's call in the first place since the plate umpire normally is responsible for calls between home and first.

Rodriguez was called out for interference and Jeter had to return to first base. A-rod's mortal sin has been compared to Reggie Jackson's sticking his hip out intentionally in the 1978 World Series to deflect a throw from Dodgers shortstop Bill Russell to first baseman Steve Garvey. The umps ruled, however that Jackson did not intentionally deflect the ball with his movement.

Although Rodriguez committed interference, there is no language in the rulebook that is available to the public that prohibits a runner from using his hands to avoid a tag or any other reason.

It is. however, outlined in the supplemental rulebook given to umpires in section 6.1. It reads: "While contact may occur between a fielder and runner during a tag attempt, a runner is not allowed to use his hands or arms to commit an obviously malicious or unsportsmanlike act--such as grabbing, tackling, intentionally slapping at the baseball, punching, kicking, flagrantly using his arms or forearms, etc. to commit an intentional act of interference unrelated to running the bases."

Notice the rule allows for contact. If Rodriguez lowered his shoulder and ran over Arroyo, this would have been perfectly legal.

Just ask Ray Fosse who was bowled over by Pete Rose in a collision at home plate in the 1970 All-Star game.

But using your hands or feet (kicking) is a no-no.

2008-03-11 07:37:39
3.   Shaun P
Off topic - except so far as its related to the media:

Alex, Cliff and all - Joe Posnanski linked to you guys today at his blog:

"But I'm pretty lousy at analyzing [baseball], and I obviously have many many many many friends and acquaintances who use statistics, knowledge, sources and just plain good sense to offer ten-thousand-times better insight into baseball than I do."

Starting with obviously, and ending with acquaintances, each word linked to a site; in order:
robneyer.com
baseballanalysts.com
hardballtimes.com
Bronx Banter
baseballamerica.com
billjamesonline.net
baseballprospectus.com
sethmnookin.com
tangotiger.net

Nice company to be associated with, and well-deserved praise! (From the best sports columnist in America, no less.)

2008-03-11 07:44:53
4.   Alex Belth
I've gotten to know Pos some over the past year. He's the only sports writer I know of who doesn't seem to have any detractors or enemies. From my experience with him, he's a swell guy.
2008-03-11 08:06:11
5.   Will Weiss
3 4 Kansas City charm. Excellence has a tendency to surround itself with excellence, too. Takes good to recognize good. ... I'm done with cliches now.
2008-03-11 09:03:07
6.   Sliced Bread
hey, not reflected in the sidebar, but YES is covering today's Wangapalooza live! for those who have access. 1pm.
2008-03-11 09:08:02
7.   markp
Why is it 'unsportsmanlike' and 'bush' for Arod to yell 'ha' as he runs by an IF, OK for a base-runner to endanger himself and the catcher by crashing into him.
Before he became a crank, Bill James was writing about this over 20 years ago. It's a stupid play, and it's about time it was outlawed.
I thought it was garbage when Rose did it to Fosse (even worse than this was), but I think that's when it came into vogue in MLB a lot more than it previously had been. (I can't recall any big home plate collisions in the late 50s or the 60s.)
2008-03-11 09:13:13
8.   standuptriple
2 I figure I'd put my $.02 seeing as I donned the Tools of Ignorance for about a decade. I don't have any problem with it and I think Joe sent the right message publicly, that he wants to protect his players. I seriously doubt a well-respected former backstop would ever have a problem with the play. Was it a bit over the top? Perhaps, but it's part of the game and you don't get this when you're doing intra-squad games, so isn't that part of the point of Spring Training? It is to prepare you for in-game situations that are difficult to simulate.
As a catcher, you have the duty of being the last line of defense to protect the dish. There a lots of tricks of the trade to prevent a collision, but those aren't traits you really want in your field general. I think there may be a policy put in place now that as a defender you will try and avoid contact at the plate in these situations (which I don't agree with, but these are multi-million dollar "investments").
Lastly, MLB is the only place where contact at the plate is allowed (aside from some very limited leagues) so I see no reason for it to be outlawed. There are plenty of safety issues with playing a professional sport (concussions from foul tips have ended more careers of late) and it, in my opinion, is a necessary aspect of the game.
2008-03-11 09:34:07
9.   Sliced Bread
8 yeah, I think Girardi wasn't quite as outraged as he came across in the papers. I agree he was mostly trying to protect his guys.
I also think the whole thing got blown out of proportion after Maddon and Zim got defensive. They didn't like being called out by a newbie manager. It's all about pecking order to old timers like them.

I completely disagree with the notion that Torre would have ignored the play. He surely would have questioned it, but as I suggested here yesterday, he wouldn't have made nearly as much noise about it.

My take, as a non-catcher -- also offered here yesterday -- is that before exhibition games, players should be reminded of the rules of contact - and the league should go out of it's way to protect players during spring training, and ask that players try to avoid crashing into each other in the course of meaningless play. Clubs have 162-plus more games to play hard, and to win. I hate to see anybody injured during spring training(including the stars of rival teams, and players I might not like). That was the main reason I didn't like the timing of the WBC.

2008-03-11 09:51:19
10.   JL25and3
7 "Before he became a crank, Bill James was writing about this over 20 years ago.."

Does crank = Red Sox executive?

I could be wrong, but I remember James's article as having more to do with the catcher blocking the plate, particularly setting up in front of the plate before getting the throw.

It may be against guidelines (not actually against the rules) for a runner to use his hands. But is that really the dangerous part of the play? Isn't the shoulder-down bulldozing the important part? I don't see how you're going to make that illegal, unless you're also going to make it illegal for the catcher to stand between the runner and home plate.

2008-03-11 10:01:11
11.   Chyll Will
8 That's a valid point of view, and adding the idea that much of those contact situations are instinctive, how well can you protect someone with a rule? You might put it into a runner's mind that if they dropped their shoulder and plowed into the catcher, there will be repercussions, but what's the likelihood that given a do-or-die situation (playoffs, GW run, etc.) the player, no matter how schooled on the rule, is not going to react in what could also be seen as a "defensive" manner with the catcher instinctively blocking the plate?

My ultimate point is that this will never be resolved unless there is a consensus on what is fair play and what is not from the top down, and MLB HQ doesn't strike me as the standard-bearers of player safety (or anything for that matter).

And personally, I wonder if that had been Pilettere as opposed to Cervelli, would the team be barking as loud as it is. No one wants to see a good player get taken out like that, especially when he's a minor leaguer with promise, but I think Joe's POV and the front office's POV are from two different places.

2008-03-11 10:11:13
12.   standuptriple
11 I see the flip side of the coin as well. The last thing the sport needs is gunner-types launching themselves at catchers, so maybe guidelines need to be defined. As far as areas in MLB where house-cleaning is in order, I think this is a little white-glove-ish. I can recall a high school game where a guy tried to take me out and I fu$%ing loved taking his shoulder and hanging on to the pearl. It's a pride thing and you sometimes feel like a spectator out there. Catchers are a rare breed. I mean, they deal with pitchers all day long, so they have to be a little wacky.
2008-03-11 13:06:08
13.   horace-clarke-era
12 Catchers are a rare breed. I mean, they deal with pitchers all day long, so they have to be a little wacky.

Great line. Hmm. Goalies in hockey are also famously nutty. Common denominator is ...?

2008-03-11 18:55:20
14.   monkeypants
2 It's probably too late to get a resposne, but how does crashing into any fielder square with Rule 2: definition of interference:

"Offensive interference is an act by the team at bat which interferes with, obstructs, impedes, hinders or confuses any fielder attempting to make a play. If the umpire declares the batter, batter-runner, or a runner out for interference, all other runners shall return to the last base that was in the judgment of the umpire, legally touched at the time of the interference, unless otherwise provided by these rules."

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