KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Ozzie Guillen earned himself an almost certain suspension Sunday afternoon. He told a dirty little secret.
“I’ve hit people before on purpose,” said Guillen, the Chicago White Sox manager, after a game Sunday in which umpires levied a suspect ejection in the fifth inning of a blowout when Chicago reliever D.J. Carrasco hit Kansas City’s Miguel Olivo with the bases loaded and incited a bench-emptying square dance.
“Yes I have,” Guillen continued. “Because that’s my job. Protect my players.”
Managers know better than to admit publicly one of baseball’s most unsavory truths, that a select number of hit-by-pitches registered each year come laced with intent. The purpose pitch – or the purpose hit, in these instances – is simply a part of baseball, and whether it’s to keep a batter from getting too comfortable or avenge some kind of perceived misdeed, it will never go away, no matter how much Major League Baseball tries to police its game.
Baseball sees this as the type of thing reserved for hockey, or Ron Artest, which is why it likely will drop the hammer on Guillen sometime this week. And yet as he continued his rant following the White Sox’s 14-3 loss that dropped them out of first place in the American League Central for the first time since May 16, a kernel of truth revealed itself. This wasn’t a typical Ozzie blowup, full of misguided fire and silly brimstone, a mouth shooting out Silly String. He made mountains of sense, and his point is something that baseball ought to consider instead of condemn.
“Sometimes people have to have a little bit of common sense,” Guillen said. “I’m talking about the umpires, I’m not talking about Olivo.”
Well, Olivo needs it, too. He charged the mound after getting hit in the hand with the bases loaded in a blowout game by a pitcher whose fastball doesn’t touch 90 mph on a fast gun.
All of which relates back to Sunday’s home-plate umpire Tim Timmons and crew chief Gary Cederstrom. Dusting a batter is not black and white. However basic and brute the act, it takes a fair amount of consideration.
Who do you hit? Where do you hit him? Why do you hit him? When do you hit him?
“You think I’m going to bring somebody in to hit somebody and they’re going to throw a fastball 82 (mph) at the hands?” Guillen said. “I’m going to bring in my best guy and make sure he gets it done. That’s Major League Baseball. That’s baseball. That’s the baseball I grew up with. Not the (expletive) they play right now.”
By his best guy, Guillen said he meant Octavio Dotel or Matt Thornton, both of whom throw 95 mph. Carrasco is a sinkerball pitcher, and with one out and a slow-running free swinger at the plate, he threw three consecutive pitches inside trying to induce a double-play ball. Even Ozzie isn’t twisted enough to call for a retaliation pitch with the bases loaded just so he can cloak it with a good excuse.
An umpires’ biggest weakness – and this goes from the best (Tim McClelland) to the worst (C.B. Bucknor) – is delineating between pitching inside and throwing at a hitter.
Don’t cast this as an indictment on the whole lot. By and large, umpires are very good at their jobs. They get the vast majority of calls correct, employ consistent strike zones and remain strong in big moments. While failure is minimal, the scrutiny that results is exponentially worse.
Still, the tack baseball takes toward hit batsmen often inflames situations rather than extinguish them. Cederstrom explained that Carrasco’s three pitches were “up and in.” The pitch that hit Olivo nicked him on the wrist, which might be in but wasn’t up enough to arouse any suspicion.
“If he would’ve hit me with the first pitch, I would’ve been happy to take first base,” Olivo admitted. “But three times inside? It’s just so obvious.”
Actually, it wasn’t obvious at all, though emotions and memories and feelings tend to scuttle the truth in these situations. Guillen said Royals pitchers hit the White Sox six or seven times in a series in late July. It was five. And Olivo said Chicago had hit him three times this season. Carrasco’s was the second.
Guillen later said that on July 20, he instructed Carrasco to hit Royals designated hitter Billy Butler as retaliation for a Horacio Ramirez pitch that sidelined Jermaine Dye.
Carrasco missed. So much for Ozzie calling on his big guns.
If there was a time Sunday for a hit-by-pitch, Guillen said, it came earlier in the fifth inning. With Kansas City ahead 6-0, Mark Teahen led off the inning by trying to reach via a bunt.
“When Teahen bunts up by six runs, I didn’t even hit him. I should’ve,” Guillen said. “To teach him a lesson how to play baseball. And I didn’t. That’s why I want Major League Baseball to look at this thing the right way. … Everybody knows in the dugout Teahen did the wrong thing.”
Guillen didn’t stop there, and by the end, he had spent eight minutes bloviating on right and wrong. Whether he’s the correct emissary for such a conversation is dubious. In 2006, Guillen sent rookie reliever Sean Tracey into a game specifically to plunk Hank Blalock. Tracey missed. Guillen went bonkers. Tracey cried. Guillen shipped him to the minors the next day.
He hasn’t been back.
Credibility problems aside, Guillen’s honesty – or, perhaps better, forthrightness – does buy him some capital. He is right: Richie Garcia, the umpire supervisor at Kauffman Stadium, should be embarrassed. Had Olivo not charged the mound, Carrasco probably would not have been ejected. The umpires reacted poorly in concert with Olivo’s doing so.
The fact is, fights in baseball happen. Umpires may cut down on them by thumbing pitchers who throw inside, but the game, too, suffers. Players tend to police themselves. Unless they start throwing at each other’s heads – and with so much money at stake, that simply doesn’t happen anymore – umpires should be instructed to back off.
Fat chance. Status quo reigns. Guillen will get suspended. Same with Olivo, Carrasco and Royals starter Zack Greinke, who plunked Nick Swisher in the hip with a retaliation pitch (which, naturally, he denied). We’ll see more subterfuge and refutations and nastiness, because, as Guillen said, “I signed a five-year deal with this organization, and we play Kansas City a lot.”
And the dirty little secret is out.