The Cutoff Man: It’s not called softball

In early April, Texas
catcher Taylor Teagarden
and Cleveland truck Travis
“Pronk” Hafner collided
at home plate in a beautiful
explosion of old-school
baseball. In the bottom of
the sixth inning with the
score tied 2–2, Matt LaPorta
singled up the middle with
Hafner on second. Julio Borbon,
the Rangers’ relatively
rookie center fielder, came
up throwing with a terrific
strike to the plate as Pronk
lumbered towards home.
Teagarden had the ball firmly
in his glove a good second
before the Indians’ self-appointed
hulk got there, and,
doing exactly what he should
have done, Hafner smashed
into Teagarden with a blow
that only Mo Vaughn could

Teagarden held onto the
ball, Hafner was out, and it
was glorious.

That’s not something you
tend to see anymore. Nowadays,
the collision at home
plate is not done nearly as
much as it should be. More
often than not, a guy will try
some ridiculous hook slide to
try to avoid the tag, or just
straight up give in and slide
right into the catcher’s shin
guard. If a guy does collide
with a catcher and knock him
fl at, it starts a bench-clearing
incident and sometimes ends
in retaliation. And yeah,
sure, the Cubs’ Michael Barrett
didn’t have the ball when
A.J. Pierzynski famously
bulldozed him, but it’s still
better to be safe and look like
a jerk than sorry and look
like a fool.

In recent years, there has
been an unnecessary amount
of preaching from players,
coaches, reporters, or other
such folks with access to
the Internet about baseball’s
“unwritten rules.” These
rules, though, seem different
from the ones I learned back
when I watched ’90s baseball
and videos of years past.
Back then, it seemed like the
unwritten rules of baseball
were as follows:
1. Do what you have to do.
Nice guys fi nish last.
2. Win games any way you
can. Refer to rule No. 1.
3. Do the honorable thing;
don’t try to stretch a
double to a triple when
you’re up 10 runs.
4. Retaliate for a teammate
however you must. Refer
to rule No. 1.

Umpires nowadays have
seemingly been issuing warnings
and ejections with every
close pitch. Umpires have
far shorter leashes when the
question of intent comes into
play, so even if a slow curveball
slips away from a pitcher
and ends up hitting the batter
or barely missing him, there
is a chance for a warning to
be issued. One especially pathetic
instance of an umpire
jumping the gun occurred on
July 26, 2007, when Washington
then-rookie pitcher
John Lannan was making his
Major League debut against
Philadelphia. Lannan’s first
four innings went without incident
before he accidentally
hit Chase Utley with a pitch.
Lannan then hit the next
batter, Ryan Howard, and
though both hits were clearly
accidental, home plate umpire
Hunter Wendelstadt decided
to eject both Lannan
and Nationals manager Manny
Acta, without issuing a
warning, because he decided
that Lannan had thrown at
the batters intentionally.

“His explanation was that
Howard hit a home run in
his previous at-bat and then
he got hit in his next at-bat,”
Acta said in an article on “I was very surprised.
I don’t think the kid
is going to come up here and
start throwing at people.”
Among others bewildered
by the cowardly call was opposing manager Charlie Manuel.
The umpires aren’t the
only ones who have gone soft.
On Friday, the Phillies’ Utley
was chastised for sliding
hard into second base to trying
to break up a double play
against the Mets. Mets players
complained that Utley’s
hard slide had been after the
second baseman had thrown
the ball, and was therefore

“There’s a thin line between
going out there and
playing the game hard and
going out there and trying
to get somebody hurt,” Mets
third baseman David Wright
commented in an article
on However,
what Utley was doing
was playing baseball like it
should be played. Players are
supposed to try to break up
double plays — see unwritten
rules No. 1 and No. 2. Utley
had the intent of breaking up
the double play from the getgo,
and it is really hard for a
player to change momentum
when he is running at full
speed if he realizes only a
split second beforehand that
he doesn’t have to go in hard.
Even Wright’s own manager,
Jerry Manuel, was okay
with the slide. “There is nothing
wrong with a good, hard
slide to break up a double
play,” Manuel said on www. “We preach that.”

Baseball needs to get back
to how it used to be. “Make
sure no one gets hurt” was
never an unwritten rule in any
competitive sport. Neither is
“No fi ghting allowed.” Just
ask Tom Hanks in A League of
Their Own — there’s no crying
in baseball.