New Houston Astros manager Dusty Baker is asking Major League Baseball to “try to put a stop to the seemingly premeditated retaliation that I’m hearing about” in regard to the Astros sign-stealing scandal.
Baker knows about retaliation by brushing back a batter. He has ordered it as a manager in the past, and he has admitted to doing so.
Baker is in the difficult job of trying to control circumstances surrounding his Astros, who were found to have cheated by using video to steal signs from opponents in 2017, the year Houston won the World Series. The fact that the Astros cheated, and the fact that Astros players are not being punished for what they did, has prompted speculation about pitchers on other teams retaliating by throwing at Houston batters this season.
“In most instances in life, you get reprimanded when you have premeditated anything,” Baker said to reporters last week. “I’m just hoping that the league puts a stop to this before somebody gets hurt.”
Commissioner Rob Manfred has indeed spoken out about the need to curtail any retaliation.
But Baker can’t say he never ordered a brushback pitch against a batter. In fact, as manager of the Cincinnati Reds in 2012 he admitted to telling Reds pitcher Matt Latos to buzz opposing pitcher Derek Lowe of the Cleveland Indians when Lowe came to the plate in a game in June of that year.
Latos threw a fastball in on Lowe, who backed off to avoid the pitch and immediately gestured toward the Cincinnati dugout with the bat, in apparent knowledge and understanding that the purpose pitch came at the direction of the manager, not originating with Latos.
Baker wagged his finger at Lowe, a gesture meant to tell Lowe to watch himself. Lowe responded later in the game by hitting Reds batter Brandon Phillips.
When asked about the incident the next day, Baker responded, “Number one, you gotta ask him why he hit Joey Votto in the back two years ago.”
Baker noted that the pitch by Latos didn’t hit Lowe. But he pointed out that Lowe did hit Phillips.
“I’m not denying nothing,” Baker said. “Didn’t order anybody to hit him. But I told him to buzz him and make him uncomfortable. And that’s what happened.”
In other words, while no one was intentionally hit by a pitch, it was premeditated retaliation. And dangerous.
As for why he wagged his finger at Lowe, Baker said, “That means don’t mess with me or my team.”
What the whole exchange was about was never made clear. Baker made vague references to Lowe’s behavior in an incident three or four years before and said Lowe might have been drinking at the ballpark at the time. Neither Baker nor Lowe elaborated on what incident Baker was talking about.
Baker is widely regarded as a good pick to lead the Astros at this time, the thought being that Baker is respected and could have a calming influence on the current commotion swirling the team. Subsequent events potentially include baseball’s strange world of payback, brushbacks, purpose pitches, or whatever else anyone chooses to call it.
Baker may not have called for Latos actually to hit Lowe, but it doesn’t take long to see that a hard fastball intentionally thrown near a batter like Lowe is not about keeping a good big-league hitter off the plate. It was meant to send a message.
Many managers have sent many messages to big-league batters with purpose pitches. Baseball is hearing a lot of messages from players on other teams about their feelings toward the Astros. Baker is trying to protect his players and prevent injury. But he can’t say he has never used any sort of premeditated retaliation, which is dangerous business.