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A.J. Hinch angry about plunking everyone knew was coming


I have long been on record as not much caring for intentional plunkings. I understand the dynamics of the game and the codes and rules among players that lead to them, but I simply don’t like them because no matter how one might justify doing it, it’s just insanely dangerous business to throw a baseball at a person.

People have died by being hit with thrown baseballs. Many more have been seriously injured. Defenders of the practice say it’s different if you’re just trying to hit someone on the rear end or whatever, but it’s also the case that no one has 100% control over where they throw a baseball at all times and even a slight mistake can lead to disaster. I wish it wasn’t part of the game.

But it is a part of the game and, whatever my personal wishes, everyone in the game knows it. Everyone knows that, in certain instances, there is a 100% probability of someone getting thrown at. One of those instances popped up last night in Anaheim as the Angels took on the Astros. Yet, despite the 100% knowledge that it was going to happen, Astros manager A.J. Hinch had a cow about it.

You know the back story by now. Last week Jake Marisnick of the Astros barreled over Jonathan Lucroy of the Angels, injuring him pretty badly. Almost everyone who is not an Astros employee or partisan believed Marisnick barreled over Lucroy on purpose and outside of the rules. Major League Baseball concurred, suspending Marisnick. Marisnick appealed his suspension and is still playing. When the Astros faced off against the Angels last night “Angels pitcher hits Marisnick” was as certain a proposition as “sun rises in the east.” And, indeed, that’s what happened:

Marisnick, to his credit, did not act aggrieved. He knew that, under baseball’s operative ethics, he had it coming and he quickly took his base. Everyone else got a lot more chippy about it. How much of that was genuine and how much of that was “we have to appear to have our guy’s back” stuff meant more for show will never be known, but it was a moderate-at-best ruckus as these things go.

There was also the usual disingenuousness about it all. Brad Ausmus and the pitcher, Noé Ramirez, each claimed it was accidental which, sure dudes, whatever. Indeed, I suspect it was even less accidental than most of these things are. It’ll never be proven, but I suspect it was decided that Marisnick would be hit later in the game, by a reliever, rather than early so as not to burn a starter in what could’ve been (but wasn’t, actually) a close game. Ramirez was expendable in that situation in ways that Andrew Heaney would not have been and the task fell to him. We’ll let Ausmus and Ramirez pretend they put one over on all of us, though, bless their hearts.

But what has me scratching my head the most is A.J. Hinch’s response after the game:

“Wasn’t everybody expecting something to happen to Jake tonight?’ I mean, the entire industry was probably expecting it. Our guy got suspended for an unintentional act, and they got a free shot. I feel bad for players nowadays. There’s a lot of gray area in what to do . . . Sometimes you can retaliate, like tonight. They’re going to get away with it, unless he gets suspended. Sometimes you can’t, and you get thrown out of the game for backup sliders that hit guys. It’s a confusing time. Either the players govern the players on the field like it’s always been or we legislate it to where none of this crap happens. They got a free shot at him with no warning, with no ejection . . . We’ll see if there’s discipline; and without discipline, there’s not going to be any issue doing it the next time. So if retaliations are in, cool. We’re well aware.”

I can’t tell if Hinch is anti-retaliation here or pro-retaliation. I can’t tell if he wants players to be able to police the game the way they did here or not do it. I’m also not sure, if like he said, everyone knew this was coming, he just didn’t let it lie rather than act all surprised. Also, if an Astros pitcher now retaliates for this by hitting an Angels batter, Hinch’s comments are gonna be the smoking gun for whoever argues that it was premeditated and greater discipline will likely come down.

Which is to say that’s this is all rather dumb and silly. It’s further evidence that the unwritten rules of baseball — the codes and rituals which govern all of this kind of business — is rather inconsistent and, at times, incoherent. Everyone acts like they are time-honored conventions, but they’re really no more reliable or informative in most cases than “other team bad, our team good.” If the positions were reversed Hinch and Ausmus would be arguing the opposite way.

Which is probably another good reason for players not to throw at other players on purpose. Dangerous is bad enough as it is. Dangerous and dumb is never a good idea.

Astros block Detroit Free Press from clubhouse at Justin Verlander’s request

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Last night a BBWAA-credentialed reporter from the Detroit Free Press was barred from the Houston Astros’ clubhouse by team security following the Tigers win over the Astros. The reporter — who was almost certainly Anthony Fenech, who covers the Tigers — was kept out at the request of Astros starter Justin Verlander. Here’s the scene as described by the Free Press. The article contains a photo, taken by Fenech, of the three Astros officials who blocked the door to prevent him access:

At 9:35 p.m., the Astros opened their clubhouse to credentialed media in coordination with MLB rules. As other media members entered the clubhouse, the Free Press reporter with a valid BBWAA-issued credential was blocked from entering by three Astros security officials . . . The reporter contacted Mike Teevan, MLB vice president of communications, who said he would immediately reach out to Dias regarding the issue. Dias eventually gave the reporter access to the clubhouse at 9:41 p.m., after Verlander’s media session had ended . . . Once inside, the reporter approached Verlander, who said: “I’m not answering your questions.” When asked to comment on Wednesday’s loss, Verlander walked away.

That after-the-fact access for the reporter came only after he called Major League Baseball who, in turn, called Astros officials, presumably, to tell them that they cannot bar credentialed media.

It’s unclear at the moment what the beef is between Verlander and either the Free Press or the reporter. For what it’s worth, I follow Fenech and, while he’s a bit more witty and, occasionally, cutting than your average beat reporter, he’s self-effacing and doesn’t do cheap shots. Though he talks often about former Tigers and has made a point to highlight Verlander’s post-Tigers career whenever relevant, to my knowledge he hasn’t said or done anything specific to tweak Verlander in the past.

I will note, though, that last night, about eight minutes before Fenech was barred access, the Free Press Twitter account sent this tongue-in-cheek tweet out. It’s unclear if he or someone else at the paper wrote it:

Maybe that pissed off Verlander, who is known to be active on social media and is usually pretty aware of what’s being said about him. Hard to say.

What’s easy to say, though, is that no matter what has hurt Verlander’s fragile ego, the Astros barring the reporter from the clubhouse is in blatant violation of the agreement between Major League Baseball and the Baseball Writers Association of America, which ensures access for credentialed reporters. Verlander doesn’t have to talk to the guy — he doesn’t have to talk to anyone he doesn’t want to talk to — but the team honoring Verlander’s wishes to bar access is totally unacceptable and, frankly, about as low-rent as it gets from a media relations perspective.

We’ll probably hear more about this later today.