There are probably more famous home runs than the one that ended Game 1 of the 1988 World Series, but you’d only need a few of the digits on Kirk Gibson’s celebratory raised fist to count them.
Gibson won the ’88 NL MVP – somehow – but his pinch-hit two-run homer off Dennis Eckersley, which came as he was battling injuries to his hamstring and knee along with a stomach virus, made him a legend.
It was a narrative that was easy to love. The limping, battered star, down to his last strike and his team’s last out, taking the future Hall of Fame closer deep on the biggest October stage possible. Couldn’t get any bigger. Couldn’t get any better. Gibson, for at least that one moment that’s etched above almost all others in baseball lore, was a superhero.
In 2014, he’s a jackass. Just one of a few at the head of the snake in what’s become a truly pathetic Diamondbacks organization.
Call Gibson what you want – a heel, a meathead, a Neanderthal. The most accurate descriptor is almost certainly vigilante, since there’s apparently one thing that matters to Ol’ Gibby and the despicable club for which he manages: doling out justice for perceived slights and following baseball’s idiotic, hilariously anachronistic code.
Let’s run down the crown jewel of Gibson’s buffoonery, an encyclopedia of acts which – unlike his iconic homer’s place in history – require each finger on both hands of every child in an above average-sized middle school to properly document.
The scene of his latest crime was Phoenix’s Chase Field, spread out over three days last weekend but all stemming from the bottom of the ninth inning Friday. The Pirates, trailing 4-1 through seven innings, scored three runs in the eight and five in the ninth, allowing manager Clint Hurdle to eschew using closer Mark Melancon in favor of human batting practice machine Ernesto Frieri.
Frieri, you must understand, has no idea where the ball is going when it leaves his hand. That’s what led to the Los Angeles Angels – owners of baseball’s second-best record – giving up on him and shipping him to Pittsburgh for fellow relief cast-off Jason Grilli just a month earlier despite his propensity for being able to strike people out. Problem is, if you’re not whiffing against Frieri, odds are you’re depositing a ball somewhere between the outfield fence and three zip codes away. As of this writing, there were 1,035 pitchers over the past three seasons to log at least 40 innings. And 1,034 of them gave up fewer homers per nine innings than Frieri’s 2.38 in 2014.
So it came as no surprise that Frieri, trying to establish the inside part of the plate against Paul Goldschmidt – a man with more homers since the start of 2013 than any player in the National League – would wind up plunking Goldschmidt on his hand. Not intentional in the slightest, simply a guy who struggles with his control trying to back a very good power hitter off the plate a bit.
Gibson now makes his living sitting in the Diamondbacks’ dugout looking for people to fight, which is a pastime that looks more and more appealing with every mounting loss during a 162-game baseball season. And he wasn’t happy with Frieri, nor was first-base coach Dave McKay, who barked at Pirates catcher Russell Martin at the end of Pittsburgh’s 9-4 win as Martin tried to explain that the pitch lacked any sort of intent.
Diamondbacks catcher Miguel Montero was also enraged, but the one player on that side who seemed to have a good handle of the situation was the man who got hit. “The guy’s trying to get outs,” Goldschmidt said. “What do you want him to do, throw it down the middle? They pitch inside as a team. We do too. We want our pitchers to be able to pitch inside. Obviously you don’t want to see anyone get hurt.
“It’s part of the game, being hit. I’m going to stay positive and think it’ll be OK.”
Unfortunately for Goldschmidt, it wasn’t. Arizona found out Saturday that its first baseman, who finished second in last season’s NL MVP voting, had a broken bone and was out for the season.
“The guy’s trying to get outs,” Goldschmidt said. “What do you want him to do, throw it down the middle?”
That diagnosis, however, had nothing to do with what happened Saturday. Ol’ Gibby and his dunce of a boss, general manager Kevin Towers, believe in an eye for an eye. “You hit our best guy, we hit yours!” “Baseball’s code must be upheld!” Whether Goldschmidt grew a sixth finger from Frieri’s stinger or had his entire left arm explode into a million pieces, the response was going to be the same.
Why do we know this for certain? Only because Towers said EXACTLY that in October.
“Not that I don’t take any of our guys from a lesser standpoint, but if Goldy’s getting hit, it’s an eye for an eye, somebody’s going down or somebody’s going to get jackknifed.”
So we have a general manager of a Major League Baseball team on record that his entire organizational philosophy stems around retaliation, and he may intend to do so by luring them into a large vehicle with an attached trailer.
Only in this case, that retaliation didn’t happen right away. Reigning NL MVP Andrew McCutchen walked in the first inning Saturday, grounded out in the third, had an infield single in the sixth and another in the eighth before stepping to the plate in the ninth with the Pirates up 5-1. Gibson was long gone by this point, ejected after the second inning for excessively disputing a replay review. But hitting the showers early never is a reason for a manager to not convey his message. He wanted to avenge Goldschmidt.
And he did in the most cowardly way possible. Rather than going after McCutchen in the first inning of a scoreless game – which still would have been knuckleheadness of the highest order, but at least in line with baseball’s idiotic “code” – the Diamondbacks hit him down four runs in the ninth, with the game all but settled, and on a 2-0 pitch. McCutchen had a good idea when he stepped in earlier that he might wear one, but there’s no bracing for a beanball to the back after seeing two balls away from the strike zone.
“It got away,” was Gibson’s retort from the clubhouse afterward, three words that might as well wind up in quotes on his tombstone. They’re the same ones he said when Ian Kennedy nearly decapitated Yasiel Puig and Zack Greinke last June, moments that made the Dodgers’ decision to jump in the Chase Field pool to celebrate their NL West title that September even sweeter.
They’re the same words Gibson muttered on May 17, the date he chose to have reliever Evan Marshall throw at Ryan Braun. Sure, two Diamondbacks had been hit earlier by Kyle Lohse, but Gibson also happened to be wildly critical of Braun’s two positive PED tests, the first of which – surprise! – was revealed shortly after the Brewers knocked the Diamondbacks out in a 2011 division series. So Braun got hit in a game Arizona led by two runs in the 7th inning and, just like with the McCutchen incident, the HBP loaded the bases. Who needs the intentional walk when you can bean someone with a baseball at 95 mph?!? That one, of course, became even more moronic when Jonathan Lucroy hit a grand slam on the very next pitch.
But Braun and McCutchen aren’t the only superstars to have felt the Diamondbacks’ petulant wrath. In March, Rockies minor leaguer Tommy Kahnle hit Mark Trumbo in the back with a fastball during a spring training game. For anyone to think this was intentional would be absurd for exactly two reasons: 1) Kahnle was trying to make the major league club, which you generally don’t do by hitting folks, and 2) Trumbo makes an out more than 70 percent of the time, making him, in theory, an easy out to get.
No matter. The Diamondbacks weren’t going to take it. Wade Miley responded by throwing at the perpetually injured Troy Tulowitzki, hitting him in the calf.
Lest you think Arizona’s culture of horseshit is limited to Gibson and Towers, one of baseball’s legendary managers is here to assure you that’s not the case. Tony La Russa, who has the title of chief baseball officer for the NL’s 13th-best team, came to his club’s defense Tuesday in the most asinine way possible: by condemning the inside pitch.
La Russa points to the fact that the Pirates have hit more batters than anyone in the majors, which deserves a bit of context. Nearly a third of those 61 have come from sinker-baller Charlie Morton, and a majority of Morton’s have come on a curveball that can seemingly dip and dive like an errant John Daly drive upon leaving his hand. I can assure you that Charlie Morton is not throwing at people, and that Charlie Morton is not hurting the folks he hits with a curve that average 78 mph.
(This is not to say the Pirates are completely above throwing at people. Justin Wilson was rightfully ejected after hitting Dodgers shortstop Justin Turner on July 22, one inning after Jamey Wright plunked McCutchen in the shoulder. It was stupid, Hurdle also got tossed, and Adrian Gonzalez hit a two-run homer immediately after. Winning the game > machismo, always and forever.)
But not 24 hours after La Russa railed on throwing high and inside, his GM immediately contradicted him. “If you don’t pitch inside effectively, you’re going to have poor results,” Towers told 98.7 FM in Phoenix while also claiming that the Diamondbacks “are not a dirty organization at all.”
He wasn’t done spewing stupidity.
“With social media and what happens nowadays – 20 years ago, this wouldn’t be a story,” he said. “Now, it blows like wildfire and it goes crazy.
“But I think the one thing we all need to remember is baseball is a dangerous game. I think a lot of people think it’s vanilla. I mean, the game can be very dangerous and I think we need to remind ourselves that guys are throwing the ball 95 and 96 miles per hour across the plate and guys are leaning over the plate, guys are going to get hit and it can be very, very dangerous.”
It’s a story because the coverage of the sport that has made you a very rich man is now vast enough that dolts like yourself have to be held accountable, Kev. Baseball is a petting zoo compared to the shark tanks of terror known as football and hockey, where concussions are happening at a far-too frequent rate due to nothing more than simply playing the game. No one is getting a serious injury in baseball by just stepping into the batter’s box unless the guy in charge of throwing the baseball is told to use it as a weapon.
The coda to all of this, of course, is that McCutchen exited Sunday’s game with an injury that on Tuesday was revealed to be an avulsion fracture of the 11th rib. And guess where the 11th rib just so happens to be located?
It’s unclear how long McCutchen will miss and how much the Pirates’ playoff chances may suffer as a result, but that’s not the point here. It doesn’t matter if he was perfectly fine even after being pegged in the back due to a sick need to stick to a ridiculously antiquated code.
What’s perfectly clear is that Gibson, Towers and La Russa can’t be allowed to continue playing Batman to police what they believe is a rogues gallery of pitchers, managers and superstars whom they feel must pay for their “misdeeds.” Let Major League Baseball play the role of judge, jury and executioner in meting out punishment.
It can start by hitting everyone associated with the Diamondbacks’ clown show as hard as they chose to hit McCutchen.
Eye for an eye.