In an age when ball players hold lodge meetings at every base and deliver fist bumps on every random encounter between “opponents,” it is refreshing to see old-fashioned crankiness, animosity – and even knucklehead thinking, as recently demonstrated by the Yankees’ C.C. Sabathia.
Sabathia, a competitor and generally rational person, spouted off about the Red Sox’ Eduardo Nuñez, for plunking down a bunt rather than trying to lash the ball into the seats of Yankee Theme Park in the Bronx. The nerve.
Sabathia was quite adamant that bunting on such a fine person as himself was bad form – showing up a colleague.
Nuñez, a former Yankee teammate, pointed out that he was trying to get on base any way possible, a quaint theory long scorned by players unashamed to strike out regularly. Be a man. Don’t bunt.
Where do they get these standards?
Jim Rice, the former Red Sox star, a member of the Hall of Fame, chimed in that Sabathia – listed as 6-foot-6 and 300 pounds – could go easier on the clubhouse food spread and perhaps he would be able to bend down and field his position.
This is wonderful stuff, reminiscent of the Fisk-Munson feud when the Red Sox were emerging as rivals in the Steinbrenner Sucks! Era of the ‘70s. Those were the days, star catchers rolling in the dirt.
Nobody knows what tribal rule Sabathia thought had been violated.
There is an old baseball belief that it is unsporting to lay down a bunt in the very late innings when a pitcher is working on a no-hitter.
Mets fans let Randy Hundley have it for bunting on Tom Seaver just before the Jim Qualls single broke up a no-hitter in 1969. Hundley pointed out, quite rightly, that the Cubs were ahead of the Mets in the division race. Who knows, if Hundley had been able to get to first base, maybe the Cubs would have won the pennant – and not have to wait 47 more years.
Players are so touchy these days.
Pitchers’ feelings are upset when batters “flip” the bat in celebration of some moon-shot homer they have just launched. But that feeling goes back to when pitchers virtually checked their stopwatch as sluggers performed the so-called Cadillac Trot around the bases.
And hitters do not take kindly to pitchers who launch a quick pitch, the way Hansel Robles did to the Phillies Darin Ruf in the 2015 season. To be fair, a hitter could be hurt if he does not know a pitch is coming in his direction. But ultimately, with all the dawdling that extends games, players are responsible for being prepared.
I don’t want to sound blasé about the dangers of flying baseballs, but I covered Bob Gibson in the ‘60s and appreciated his skill – and crankiness, cussing out his catchers for visiting the mound.
I swear I have heard Gibson, Ron Fairly and Joe Torre all tell the same story about the time Fairly dared to make conversation with Gibson, who had just smitten a single, and Gibson just glared at him.
When Fairly came to bat next time, he said to Torre, “I don’t think I’m going to enjoy this at-bat.” At which point Gibson hit him in the ribs – for praising him.
(Some savvy web fans seem to have proven that this never happened in an official game. But it’s still a good story -- indicative of the way the lads played half a century ago.)
The stuffiness by Sabathia can be traced to the gimmick of the American League, where pitchers do not hit for themselves, and bunting has no place. In the National League, pitchers are asked to bunt…and run the bases…and in general be baseball players.
Look, kids, don’t try this at home. Don’t act like the Yankees and Tigers did recently when they obviously threw beanballs and punches at each other – a throwback to the old times. Somebody could get hurt.
Still,the concept of dropping a bunt and trying to run 90 feet fast is a venerable and honored tactic. It is called baseball.
9/3/2017 01:54:59 am
I like the heading of the Jim Rice link.
9/3/2017 10:34:28 am
Hillel, thanks for the note. I'm going to pass your question to some mavens in a little group of baseball-writer types. To be continued.
9/3/2017 10:37:39 am
Hillel, I just had another free-association image of a bunt: last game of 1964 season. Cards trying to survive the hideous Mets. My man Joe Christopher lays down a bunt in front of Ken Boyer for the single that assured Joe of finishing over .300 -- his best season, by far. Joe is still with us....I know he was the only Met who listened to Rogers Hornsby, the Mets' hitting instructor in their first season, 1962. Lots to think about. I owe Joe a call anyway. GV
9/3/2017 11:11:57 am
Outstanding. Keep the great stories comin', George!
9/3/2017 11:26:44 am
Speaking of too much chatting between opponents on bases, I was weaned on Frankie Frisch as Giants TV commentator in early 1950s. "What's this about picking up the catcher's mask after a foul ball?" he growled. "In my day we kicked it 40 feet down the first base line." What is the one thing that Richard Nixon and Lee Lowenfish have in common? The only thing! We both sent get-well notes to Frisch when he was in hospital unable to recover from auto accident.
9/3/2017 09:03:41 pm
Some members of our little monthly baseball group joined Lee Lowenfish in responding about bunting:
9/4/2017 01:17:13 am
Recurring query of my son's baseball fanhood every time the infield plays back, "Abba (Dad,) why don't they just bunt?"
9/4/2017 01:52:54 am
Brett Butler really was terrific. I seem to remember someone in his prime just before Butler who was an excellent l.h. bunter, who could push the ball toward third base and who could really motor down the line. (Marty:) Could it have been Mickey Rivers?
9/4/2017 05:19:27 pm
Fiction and Fact From Ed's Almanac, (for you old timers.)
9/4/2017 05:22:51 pm
PS. Stealing a base with your team several runs ahead, was also a provocation.
9/5/2017 05:35:03 pm
I vote for Rizzuto for the best bunter I've seen. I was sitting in the front row of the upper deck at the old Yankee Stadium when Phil and Joe D executed a suicide squeeze. Joe had been taking long threatening leads, but the pitcher kept throwing over to keep him honest.
9/6/2017 08:51:49 am
9/6/2017 09:52:04 am
Well said Bruce. Respect and understanding the other person or one's culture is in short supply today.
9/6/2017 10:16:19 am
9/6/2017 01:16:11 pm
Hey, Bruce and Alan: Thanks for the pertinent comments.Love the image of The Great DiMaggio (Hemingway) running home on a bunt.
9/6/2017 01:51:34 pm
9/11/2017 08:28:46 am
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“I don’t think people understand how Covid affects older Americans,” Mr. Caretti said with frustration. “In 2020, there was this all-in-this-together vibe, and it’s been annihilated. People just need to care about other people, man. That’s my soapbox.”
---Vic Caretti, 47, whose father recently died of Covid at 85.
---From an article by Paula Span, who covers old age for the NYT, which currently has 2646 comments, the majority criticizing the American public – and public officials – for acting as if the pandemic is “over.”
Classic wishful thinking, at a lethal level.