Judging the Royals

Let baseball players police themselves

Oakland Athletics' Brett Lawrie (15) smiles as he is escorted to first base after being hit by a pitch from Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Yordano Ventura in the fourth inning during Saturday's baseball game on April 18, 2015 at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo.
Oakland Athletics' Brett Lawrie (15) smiles as he is escorted to first base after being hit by a pitch from Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Yordano Ventura in the fourth inning during Saturday's baseball game on April 18, 2015 at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo. The Kansas City Star

From 1990 to 2010 I played and managed baseball in the Kansas City Men’s Senior League. Amateur leagues for men are often derided as "beer" leagues and when someone says that I usually respond that our league was better than that; it was a beer and a shot league.

To be sure, amateur leagues are filled with players with widely varying skill levels. I’d seen guys who couldn’t make their high school teams playing right next to guys who had significant major league careers. If you spend any time managing a baseball team you quickly realize your success as a manager is almost completely dependent on the talent of your players. And since talent level is the key ingredient, I made sure that most of my players had played college ball or higher. The guys who played professionally taught me a lot more about baseball than I ever taught them.

And one of the things those professionals taught me is how players police themselves.

When one of my guys who had pitched in Double A turned around to check the runner on second base, he saw the runner relaying the catcher’s signs to the hitter. My pitcher stuck a fastball in the hitter’s ribs and as the hitter jogged to first said, "Thank your buddy out at second base for that."

The sign stealing stopped.

In another game an opposition player who was hurt and not in their lineup was yelling at our team and using (oh, my goodness) profanity while doing so. You might get away with that in loud, big league park, but on an amateur field with very few people in attendance, those F-bombs were being heard by the few wives and kids our level of baseball could attract.

The pitcher I had on the mound—a guy who made it to Triple A—drilled the hitter and apologized as to him as he took his base: "Sorry, dude, but I had to hit somebody."

The yelling and profanity stopped.

I grew to admire baseball’s very efficient justice system; there are unwritten rules and, when you violate one of them, unwritten punishments. Break a rule, get punished almost immediately and everything gets back to normal—the game goes on as intended. Baseball fans saw an example of that Saturday night.

The Royals were upset about the hard takeout slide that Oakland’s Brett Lawrie used when injured Kansas City shortstop, Alcides Escobar. Payback was required to balance the scales of justice and restore harmony to the game.

(Do you like the way I’m making hitting a guy with a baseball sound poetic?)

The opportunity came in the fourth inning after Josh Reddick hit a three-run homer to make the score 5-0. Brett Lawrie was on deck and probably had a pretty good idea of what was going to happen next; give Lawrie credit—he walked up to the plate like a man and didn’t even ask for a cigarette or a blindfold.

Without much to lose in a 5-0 game, Yordano Ventura reared back and smoked Lawrie with a 99-mph fastball. The obligatory bench-clearing ensued, nobody actually wanted to do anything—they knew what was coming—and Lawrie didn’t say a word; he just took his base.

After Ventura was ejected (and if you wonder why Jeff Samardzija wasn’t ejected for doing the same thing on opening day you realize that’s a subject for another column), play resumed.

Now here’s the significant thing that justifies Ventura’s actions: with Lawrie on first Eric Sogard hit a ground ball to Eric Hosmer, and Hosmer threw the ball to shortstop Christian Colon. This time—with a chance to go after another Kansas City shortstop—Brett Lawrie slid early and straight into the bag. The two things he didn’t do when he hurt Escobar.

See? Everything’s now even and harmony has been restored—unless some idiot on the Oakland club decides they need payback today.

Lorenzo Cain could have avoided all this

Before Saturday’s game there was lots of talk (most of it by people who will never come within 100 feet of a baseball field) about possible retaliation against Brett Lawrie for his Friday night takeout slide of Alcides Escobar. Unfortunately, the Royals passed up a chance to retaliate and get it over with that same Friday night.

Here’s what happened:

Escobar got crushed by Lawrie in the top of the seventh inning. In the bottom of the seventh Lorenzo Cain was on first base and Eric Hosmer was at the plate. Hosmer hit a groundball to first baseman Ike Davis and Davis decided to go to second base to get the lead runner.

Cain had every right to flip Marcus Semien, the Oakland shortstop. Go in hard to second base, slide at Semien’s feet and try to turn the A’s shortstop upside down—but Cain didn’t do that.

At the time it was a tie ballgame and Cain could have also chosen to stay upright as long as possible and run directly toward Semien’s glove; that would increase the chance that the throw from Davis would hit Cain in the back and prevent the A’s from getting one out, much less two.

So when presented with two attractive alternatives—blowing up the shortstop or preventing the Athletics from recording an out—Cain chose a third alternative: veering out of the way, staying upright and jogging into second base.

And since Cain didn’t take care of business Friday night, Ventura had to do something on Saturday.