Watching Baseball: How to spot Tommy Toughguy
A while back I wrote about outfield positioning and appreciating the Routine Play and promised I’d write about spotting a bad outfielder next, but then Jason Kendall called up and told me about the Madison Bumgarner/Dan Bellino incident and suggested I write about that and Jason is always worth listening to because he’s almost always right about baseball, plus I’m 100 percent sure everybody in his family, including his wife and daughter, can kick my ass so I took Jason’s suggestion and wrote about the MadBum incident instead.
In fact, I wrote two articles about umpires, but never got around to one of the things that bothered Jason and today we’re going to rectify my oversight.
Just in case you’ve forgotten:
Umpire Dan Bellino decided to provoke pitcher Madison Bumgarner by doing an unnecessarily-long hand check for a foreign substance. Pitchers will put stuff on baseballs that affect their flight and pine tar is one of the more popular substances because there’s a lot of it around baseball and a pitcher can always claim innocence by saying he picked up somebody’s bat and that must be how some of that nasty old pine tar wound up smeared inside his glove.
(Can’t remember which pitcher said it, but he claimed pine tar was not a “foreign substance” because it’s produced right here in the US of A and there are worse arguments currently being made in the Supreme Court.)
Jason asked what would happen if some guy grabbed another dude’s hand and started rubbing it and staring into the other guy’s eyes and wouldn’t let go and that happened in a bar and not on a baseball field.
Well, depending on the bar it could be the beginning of a deep and meaningful long-term relationship…or…an excellent way to get your ass kicked.
Jason is not a fan of Pretend Bad Asses and refers to them as “Tommy Toughguy.”
Those are the guys who take a step toward the mound like they’re just about to go out there and kick the pitcher’s ass, when they’re really waiting for the catcher or umpire to hold them back.
As Jason points out, if you really want to rush the mound, you just go and you got a head start and a guy wearing catcher’s gear or a 62-year-old umpire isn’t going to catch you before you get to the pitcher.
But a guy who points and yells, but lets people hold him back doesn’t really want to fight and falls into the Tommy Toughguy category.
No Huffing and Puffing allowed
When a player does that – yells and points, but doesn’t actually fight – Jason calls that “huffing and puffing” as in: “I’ll huff and I’ll puff and blow your house down!” (Just stick with me and I’ll teach you all the cool baseball slang, but if you want to complete the image by adding chewing tobacco to your resume, you’re definitely on your own.)
Now here’s what we said about fighting in our book Throwback:
“You get hit by a pitch and you think it’s personal? Go to the mound. Someone drops a knee on you while you’re sliding into a base? Come up swinging.
People are so impressed with big league ballplayers, and they should be – these guys are something special. But they’re not all tough guys; some of them are mentally weak. I’m not saying you should just fight, fight, fight—but I am saying there’s a time and place for everything. You’ve got to stand up for yourself or your teammates. If a teammate won’t stand up for himself, somebody better do it for him: that’s what a team is all about. It’s not like you’re going to jail: it’s free. You might get fined, but where else can you get in a fight and not get arrested? You might get suspended, you might get fined, but you’re making at least $500,000.
All teams need some attitude.
A hitter gets drilled and stands there yelling at my pitcher? As a catcher, I’m not going to let you talk to my pitcher like that. I’ll knock you on your ass. I don’t care whether I like the pitcher or not, he’s my teammate. The pitcher may not even know you, but he’s thinking, ‘Oh my God, this guy just stood up for me.’
There’s your team chemistry.”
Dropping a knee is not tolerated either
In that last section Jason says if someone “drops a knee” on you, come up swinging and just in case you don’t know:
Some slick infielders will receive a throw and make a tag while “dropping a knee” in front of the base which blocks the runner’s path, which is illegal, but doesn’t get called and it’s a dangerous move if the runner slides head first because the full weight of an infielder can come down on a runner’s hand and break a bone.
Jason told me a story about an infielder dropping a knee on a teammate, coming down on his hand (fortunately it didn’t break anything), but the teammate did not come up swinging so Jason took care of it for him. Next time the knee-dropping infielder came to the plate, Jason said:
“I saw what you did to our left fielder; you’re wearing this one.”
And they hit him with a pitch.
That kind of thing gets around and you want that infielder telling his teammates not to drop a knee against that team because they will retaliate.
I also once heard a coach tell his players they needed to come into a base feet first once in a while and spike the living shit out of some infielder’s leg to send a message to the rest of the league:
“Don’t drop a knee if you don’t want stitches.”
Now that you know about “dropping a knee” you can watch for it and if you see it, watch to see if the team responds and if they don’t, you know it’s a team that can be intimidated, which is one of the reasons a team might want a guy who’s a Lifetime .250 hitter because he’s a For-Real Bad Ass and will stand up for his teammates and if analytics comes up with a metric for that or adds it to Wins Above Replacement let me know.
What do you do if you don’t want to fight?
If a teammate starts fighting, it’s baseball tradition that everybody join in whether they want to or not so what do you do if you’re not really mad at anybody? Former Kansas City Royal Clint Hurdle gave me this classic answer:
“Find your best friend on the other team, grab each other’s jersey and make dinner plans.”
Which you see two guys doing in the background of this fight:
Would you do it out on the street?
So Tommy Toughguys are the people who want to act tough, but don’t really want to fight and one night I’m watching Kansas City Royal pitcher Luke Hochevar (one of the nicest guys in the world) pitch poorly and his hometown fans are booing and yelling “You suck!”
Luke Hochevar is 6’5” and weighs 225 pounds.
(Ballplayers tend to be much bigger than you think because they’re usually seen next to other ballplayers who are also large – for instance, Eric Hosmer is 6’4” and weighs 226 – so if you want to get an idea how big a ballplayer actually is, wait until he stands next to an umpire.)
So if you’d tell Luke Hochevar he sucks from the safety of the stands, but wouldn’t do it to his face, then you’re being Tommy Toughguy and trust me, it’s not a good look.
One more Tommy Toughguy story before I go
Analytics Fanboys hated what I was doing with Judging the Royals because I was talking to ballplayers and ballplayers were saying things the Analytics Fanboys didn’t like, so the A.F.s were looking for ways to attack my credibility and after I got hit by a 92-MPH slider to make a somewhat-murky point, one of the A.F.s said maybe the pitch wasn’t really 92 MPH and how did fans know I didn’t make that up?
Here’s that Hit-By-Pitch video just in case you never saw it:
I pointed out that Jason Kendall, Chris Getz, Matt Treanor and Kevin Seitzer were right there and would have to be in on my hoax and we also showed the radar gun reading, but if all that wasn’t good enough, he should come to the ballpark and I’d introduce him to Jason Kendall and he could tell Jason to his face that he thought he was a liar.
Never heard from that guy again, but if he had shown up, I imagine it would have gone something like this:
So what have we learned today?
Don’t say things behind someone’s back that you wouldn’t say to their face, don’t yell insults from the stands that you wouldn’t yell at a player if you saw him on the street and don’t be a Pretend Tough Guy because you just might run into a real one.