Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Intimidation in the Major Leagues

Bits and pieces from a book I read a couple of months ago. (Baseball's Book of Codes by Jason Turnbow)

The 2012 baseball season is beginning to pick up, what with the Dodgers and Giants and Diamondbacks being competitive.  The Pirates and Reds are renewing memories of the early 1970s when Willie Stargell, Kent Tekulve, Roberto Clemente, Al Oliver, Richie Hebner, Manny Sanguillen, Jerry Reuss, Jim Rooker, Ken Brett and Dock Ellis battled Pete Rose, Dave Concepcion, Cesar Geronimo, Joe Morgan, Johnny Bench and "Doggy" Tony Perez.  The Big Red Machine had decent pitching back then with Jack Billingham, Ross Grimley, Freddie Norman and Don Gullet. They both had the artificial turf and the multi-purpose stadiums (both of which did not last that long). The only difference was their uniform colors.  Because they were good ballclubs. 

The Dodgers kicked some tail back in the early 70s with Dusty's boys rapping orbs and picking it afield.

I remember going to Candlestick with a buddy who loved Ron Cey, "the Penguin."  Cey set the record, at the time, for hitting the most homers against the Giants at Candlestone-cold Park.  Right there with Dale Murphy.  And due to the number of games one attends it pretty much had to seem like "the Penguin" yanked one every time he was in Dodger ba-lue.  And for us Giant fans, that pretty much ba-lows.

1977 was the year Reggie Smith, Ron Cey, Steve Garvey and Dusty "Toothpick chewing" Baker all hit at least 30 round-trippers.


According to Bob Gibson, "When (Lou) Brock would keep stealing after we had built up a three- or- four- run lead, guys on the bench would say, "Goddamn it, Brock, you can't do that!"
"He'd say, 'F--k you. I'm going to do it.'  His attitude was to beat the other team as badly as possible and that was my kind of baseball.

A fierce tag is one of the primary methods a fielder can utilize to intentionally be agressive.  Said shortstop Chris Speier, "If you're going to steal this base, you're going to pay for it."

Willie McCovey delivered among the hardest blows in the business (although like Willie Stargell, he did it with a smile), inspiring Lou Brock to claim that leading off against the Giants was the worst experience one could have.  (Will Clark labeled Big Mac's tag "the sledgehammer.")

There's a reason that so few players complained about it however:  These fielders are all protected by the code!  The code that says it's just the price runners pay for doing business.

As for intimidation, "The pitcher has to find out if the hitter is timid, and if he is timid, he has to remind the hitter he's timid, "  quoth Don Drysdale.  A pitcher who learned this trait from Sal Maglie, a man they called "the Barber."

Phil "Scrap Iron" Garner, a young infielder with the Oakland A's, made a mistake that would inform his decision on plate strategy for the rest of his career facing Nolan Ryan.

If, as Yogi Berra famously uttered, 'Ninety-percent of the game is mental,' then dominating the mental half will produce impressive results.  Proper focus involves imperviousness to tactics of intimidation. Skill is finite, fear is not.

On Hugh Casey, Rex Barney (another Dodger pitcher) said, "He was mean."  "He would set you up and then he would knock you down. And he'd look you right in the eye when he did it, too. And yes, he'd actually throw at guys in the on-deck circle. I saw him do it in Brooklyn."  (In 1946, Casey did, in fact, throw a pitch at Marty Marion of the St. Louis Cardinals, who was standing near the batter's box, timing Casey's warm-ups, a violation of another unwritten rule.)

Casey even went so far as to throw three straight pitches at the head of the plate umpire, George Magerkurth in 1941, after Georgy had called a dubious balk on him to force in a run.

Catcher Randy Knorr put it in baseball terms: "They say the anticipation of death is worse than actually dying. Well, the anticipation of getting hit is a lot worse than actually being hit. You can't play your game. You think you're going to get drilled, so you aren't focused on hitting. You're focused on avoiding."

There are two options for pitchers who want to instill fear without having to hit a batter: the brushback and the knockdown.  It's the near misses that inspire philosophical soliloquies. From uncontemplative men about the meaning (and shortness) of life.

"Show me a guy who doesn't want to pitch inside," said Don Drysdale, "and I'll show you a loser."

"Most of the time, you figure out a player's reputation early- guys you could throw at, guys you could knock down," said 14-year veteran, Dave Henderson. "Guys who if you knock them down it makes them better players, and guys who if you knock them down you can make them cower."

"The idea is to see how you react to being knocked down," said ex-Dodger and Expo and Giant announcer, Ron Fairly.  "If it doesn't bother him, we're not going to do that. We've got to figure out a different way to get him out."

I don't know, this part of the book just got me to thinking about when I was playing hardball and some of things mentioned hit home.

Kevin Marquez