On Tuesday night, we were treated to yet another example of Yordano Ventura’s desire to start fights.
The fuse was lit in the second inning when Ventura threw a couple of fastballs up and in to Manny Machado, who responded with a stiff glare and some trash talk after he flew out. Then in the fifth inning and trailing 5-1, Ventura sent a fastball at 99 MPH — his fastest pitch of the night — right into Machado’s back.
A melee ensued. Machado immediately charged at Ventura, hit him with a right and then basically DDT’ed Ventura into the mound. It was ugly and it certainly could have been avoided.
But this is what Yordano Ventura does when he’s not striking batters out at a declining rate or issuing walks at a rising rate. A similar incident occurred last April when Ventura, once again on the losing side of things, decided to drill Brett Lawrie with a 99 MPH fastball.
A week before that, Ventura got in Mike Trout’s face for … some reason. In his start directly following the Lawrie beaning, Ventura instigated a brawl with the White Sox after mouthing off to Adam Eaton because … I really don’t know why. It’s quite difficult to identify Ventura’s modus operandi all the time. He was tagged with a seven-game suspension for his role in that donnybrook, a ban that felt like a make-up call on MLB’s part after it only fined Ventura for throwing at Lawrie.
And now he has done it again to one of the biggest stars in the game. Already frustrated with the look of his box score, Ventura decided to take it out on Machado at ninety-freaking-nine miles per hour.
What’s to come of this? It’s tough to say. Baseball has sent a message in recent years with its penalties — or lack thereof — for beanball pitchers. Since the start of 2012, only two pitchers have been suspended more than six games for intentionally throwing at batters. That’s one fewer than the number of pitchers who have received such suspensions for using pine tar. The Diamondbacks’ Ian Kennedy set the recent high-water mark in 2013 when he was banned for 10 games after throwing at the heads of Yasiel Puig and Zack Greinke.
Perhaps Ventura won’t get 10 games (I mean, he tried to hurt only one batter). But he should. He is now a repeat offender, choosing on multiple occasions to throw as hard as he can with the intention of inflicting pain on another baseball player. The fact that he did it to an MVP-level player this time should carry some weight as well.
Ventura was compared to Pedro Martinez as he made his way through the minors for his delivery, slight build, eye-popping velocity and nasty offspeed stuff. He’s got another thing in common with Martinez now*. People romanticize how Pedro would pitch inside and intimidate hitters. Shortly following the brawl, I heard some TV broadcaster say, in relation to Ventura, at least Martinez never tried to hurt anyone (Hey, Gerald Williams! Hi there, Karim Garcia!).
That is ridiculous. This shouldn’t be dolled up “old school” baseball. This is dangerous and could be construed as criminal. Yordano Ventura can continue to jabber and piss off opponents and likely some of his teammates when he tries to get under a batter’s skin. The larger issue is the 25-year-old has hit a batter in consecutive years on purpose with a 99 MPH fastball. That really, really needs to be seen as more egregious than scuffing the ball with pine tar.
*Actually, an affection for the beanball should be considered the only thing Ventura and Martinez share as pitchers currently because Yordano has been one of the league’s worst on the bump this season and hasn’t come close to living up to the hype.
Thursday presented another reason why shortening spring training is a good idea. The sooner we can get to talking about games that matter, the better. Until then, to fill the space, we have to talk about something. For this day, that something was a cluster of statements that displayed varying degrees of stupid.
Goose Gossage won the day’s blue ribbon for idiocy, of course, just on pure bulk. He ran the gamut of gripes expressed by most curmudgeonly, old-school baseball players.
Ranting that today’s players aren’t as tough as those who played in his day?
“The first thing a pitcher does when he comes off the mound is ask: ‘How many pitches do I have?’ If I had asked that fucking question, they would have said: ‘Son, get your ass out there on that mound. If you get tired, we’ll come and get you.'”
Railing against the game’s analytical movement?
“It is a joke. The game is becoming a freaking joke because of the nerds who are running it.
“I’ll tell you what has happened, these guys played rotisserie baseball at Harvard or wherever the fuck they went, and they thought they figured the fucking game out. They don’t know shit.”
Slamming players for violating an unwritten rule or some unspoken code of ethics?
“(Jose) Bautista is a fucking disgrace to the game. He’s embarrassing to all the Latin players, whoever played before him. Throwing his bat and acting like a fool, like all those guys in Toronto. (Yoenis) Cespedes, same thing.”
Whoa. Check plus. I have no idea how flipping a bat offends an entire ethic group. Who made Rich Gossage MLB’s attache to the Dominican? Does he not realize that flipping bats and exuberant celebrations are kind of what they do in that part of the world?
In another interview later in the day, Gossage said he didn’t mean to single Bautista out; that moment just popped into his mind because he considered Bautista’s bat flip to be “out of control and unnecessary,” and he used him as an example of the “lack of respect for the opposition.”
Whatever. Gossage is just a stubborn former ballplayer who doesn’t realize that the game has changed (for the better) and has left his beliefs in the dust.
If that had been the day’s only case of ridiculous baseball viewpoints from a public figure, OK. That would have been easy enough to ignore. But it wasn’t alone.
Reigning National League MVP Bryce Harper drew some flak from at least one of his peers for some comments he made to ESPN the Magazine about those unwritten rules regarding on-field decorum.
“Baseball’s tired. It’s a tired sport, because you can’t express yourself. You can’t do what people in other sports do. … If a guy pumps his fist at me on the mound, I’m going to go, ‘Yeah, you got me. Good for you. Hopefully I get you next time.’ That’s what makes the game fun. You want kids to play the game, right? What are kids playing these days? Football, basketball. Look at those players — Steph Curry, LeBron James. It’s exciting to see those players in those sports. Cam Newton — I love the way Cam goes about it. He smiles, he laughs. It’s that flair. The dramatic.”
In response to Harper, a veteran MLB player told him to “shut up.” That player also said: “I don’t agree that being able to put your hands up when you hit a 500-foot home run.”
That player’s name? Sergio Romo. This guy:
That’s Romo after closing out a game on April 8, 2013. I’m not saying he’s out of line here. He’s not. But, if we are to believe him, he would have a problem if a hitter acts as demonstratively following a majestic home run? You can almost taste the hypocrisy.
I know these issues have layers. Not all celebrations are created equal. It’s bad optics if a player decides to showboat while trailing 10-1 in the eighth. However, you can’t just say that you would be against a hitter admiring his work when you show as much emotion on the mound when you get a K.
Well, I mean, you can say that. You just wouldn’t look very smart.
Lastly, Mike Wilbon and Tony Kornheiser talked about Harper’s comments on ESPN’s Pardon The Interruption. At one point, Wilbon said he enjoyed this conflict between players who want to be a little more flamboyant between the lines and those — usually older players and current coaches — who will retaliate against such behavior (go to about the 9:00 mark to hear the full conversation):
“It is the conflict that I like,” Wilbon said. “I’m fine with Bryce Harper feeling this way, and I’m fine with him getting plunked. I think that’s the central, you know, sort of agnst in baseball that you have. You have the push-and-pull that guys can say, ‘I want to play this way, and I’m gonna run around the bases. I may run after a walk,’ and the other guys say, ‘I’m gonna pop you.’ I love this.”
This should be considered more offensive than anything Gossage uttered. This is a person — a public figure with opinions that are broadcast to millions daily and someone who can help shape public opinion in sport — condoning the act of intentionally throwing a baseball at someone in a game. Wilbon has been very outspoken against fighting in hockey. He has called it brutish. But throwing a baseball at someone at 90-plus MPH and with the real possibility of causing injury?
That’s fine. The batter gazed at his home run for 2-3 seconds his last time up, so he had it coming, right?
Wilbon isn’t unique with this take. Many in the game think “plunking” a batter if he does something that rubs you the wrong way — even if it’s something so harmless like a damn bat flip — is standard business. “That’s just the way it is,” they’ll say. I will never understand it. I never want to understand it. There should be no place for it. If pitchers don’t want to see hitters pimping after slugging one 450 feet, here’s an idea: make better pitches next time. Swallow your pride. Recognize that you got beat and move on. Throwing at a batter for such innocuous reasons is petty at best, criminal at worst.
And that is what I got out of Thursday in baseball. The regular season, still more than three weeks off in the distance, needs to giddy up.