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Umps Turn the Tables on Mattingly

July 5, 2021

Hugh Atkins

Maybe we finally have reached the end of the Miami Marlins’ vendetta against Atlanta Braves outfielder Ronald Acuña. This past Friday Pablo López hit Acuña with the first pitch of the game. The umpires conferred and ejected López; ejections of manager Don Mattingly and pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre soon followed. Acuña ended up getting the last laugh as he moved to third on a single by Freddie Freeman and scored the game’s only run on a sacrifice fly from Ozzie Albies.

Mattingly’s beef with Acuña started in 2018 when Acuña hit leadoff home runs in both ends of a doubleheader on August 13 and then hit another one on August 14. José Ureña hit Acuña with the first pitch of the next game; Ureña was ejected and suspended, but Mattingly apparently cannot let it go.

Mattingly’s fear of Acuña is not completely irrational. Marlins’ pitchers now have surrendered 21 of Acuña’s 104 career home runs, including three this season coming into Friday night’s action. Perhaps that explains why the Marlins account for nearly 20% (5 of 27) of the times Acuña has been hit by a pitch in his career.

I’m sure some of Mattingly’s frustration with Acuña is not merely due to Acuña’s constant tattooing of his pitching staff. Acuña is among the young stars who like to flip their bats after home runs and have choreographed home-run trots. These antics add insult to injury, but if the Marlins don’t like the way Acuña celebrates his roundtrippers, then they should find a way–other than throwing at him–to prevent him from hitting so many homers against them.

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I, perhaps like Mattingly, am no fan of the exaggerated celebrations the players are so fond of these days. The bat flips don’t bother me as much as players, Acuña among them, who stand at the plate until the baseball clears the fence before practically moon-walking around the bases. That being said, I don’t believe any of these antics give the opposing manager the right to have his pitcher intentionally hit a batter.

In recent years baseball has made progress in eliminating some of the dangerous tactics that were accepted, and even applauded, in the past. Baserunners no longer can slide practically into center field while barrel rolling over middle infielders to break up double plays; an added benefit of this prohibition is that it eliminated the rationalization of the neighborhood play, which allowed middle infielders to glide over second base before catching the baseball to complete a double play.

Baserunners no longer are allowed to plow into the catcher on plays at the plate. I never quite understood why baseball ever allowed this, especially since it never was allowed at any other base.

In taking a proactive approach to López intentionally hitting Acuña with the first pitch of the game Friday night, crew chief, Dan Iassogna, likely prevented the game from devolving into a back-and-forth beanball war. Maybe Iassogna’s colleagues and Major League Baseball should take note and change the way they typically deal with these incidents.

Mattingly and Stottlemyre were banking on the umpires handling the situation the way they almost always do–by issuing a warning to the first pitcher who throws at a batter and then tossing the opposing pitcher if he retaliates. That is why Mattingly and the rest of the Marlins were so outraged, startled even, by Iassogna’s decisiveness.

A manager, a coach, and a player acting so astonished by an umpire’s ejection of a pitcher for purposefully throwing at a batter should tell anyone all they need to know about what’s wrong with the usual approach.

(Game details are from Retrosheet; statistics are from Baseball Reference and Retrosheet.)

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Anonymous permalink
    July 6, 2021 11:15 am

    Great article!

    Like

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