Thursday, May 31, 2007

In the aftermath of last night's drive-by shouting by New York Yankee third baseman Alex Rodriguez, opinions seem to be wildly mixed on the legality and morality of the play.

In case you missed it, the Yankees led the Blue Jays 7-5 with two outs in the top of the ninth inning. With runners at first and second, Jorge Posada skied one to the right of third base. Howie Clark, appearing in his first major-league game of the season, camped under it, and then quickly ducked away as Rodriguez passed behind him.

An absolutely livid John McDonald, the Blue Jays shortstop, immediately began yelling at Rodriguez -- who stood at third smirking and, according to at least one report, pushed away third-base umpire Chad Fairchild when he appeared to disagree with the play -- and most of the Toronto bench came onto the top steps of the dugout or the field. Manager John Gibbons came out to ask for a ruling and argue with the crew chief but got nowhere.

But why didn't he? Rule 7.08 from the Official Rules of Major League Baseball states:

Any runner is out when --
(b) He intentionally interferes with a thrown ball; or hinders a fielder attempting to make a play on a batted ball

That's not particularly ambiguous to me. ARod is running from second to third and yells something at Clark as he passes behind him. After viewing the play repeatedly, I'm almost certain it was "Mine!", but that's not material here. Rodriguez attempted to hinder the fielder, he succeeded and he should have been called out.

There's no question as to the sportsmanship of the play. As a former high school player and coach, I know most leagues up through American League have rules forbidding yelling or clapping on the basepaths. Young players are quickly discouraged from attempting to distract the fielder, as it's a good way for the fielder to end up getting beaned with the ball.

How often does it happen in pro ball? Well, you could ask Clark:

"I was expecting McDonald to make the catch," the third baseman said. "I have been playing professional baseball for 16 years and never saw that."

Or you could ask consummate professional Matt Stairs. The journeyman was a bit less tactful, calling it "a horseshit play" and saying if Rodriguez's teammates gave no comment, that was their way of saying they didn't appreciate it either.

Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter, incidentally, didn't want to comment.

Some of the fault lies with McDonald, who as the shortstop should have called immediately for the ball. But there has also been blame assign to Clark for not sticking with the pop-up, and that's way off base.

Assume, as Clark did, that the person loudly yelling "Mine!" in your ear is McDonald. If you don't clear the way and you collide with McDonald, it's your fault for not yielding to the shortstop on a ball that could easily have been his.

Finally, Rodriguez said similar things happened to him "three or four times a week." That would seem unlikely. As Clark said, it's not something he'd ever experienced. Blue Jays slugger Troy Glaus said it had never happened to him in 30 years of baseball.

It's more likely Rodriguez either was read the riot act or given the cold shoulder in the Yankee locker room after the game -- not that he isn't use to that -- and felt compelled to concoct something to make himself look better.

The most unfortunate victim of the whole situation was pitcher Brian Wolfe. Making his major-league debut, he ended up being charged with two hits and a run when he induced a pop-up from Posada that should have ended the threat.

It was also unfortunate for Gibbons, who may have told a more experienced pitcher to buzz the tower of the next hitter as a way of expressing the displeasure of the Jays. But then, it's tough to justify beaning Giambi in retaliation when ARod's teammates seem to dislike him as much as the Jays do right now.

No, Toronto will have to wait to extract its measure of revenge until the next meeting between the two teams on July 16.

Well, that or just hang out outside strip clubs and watch for Rodriguez leaving with women other than his wife.

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