PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. — Commissioner Rob Manfred warned Grapefruit League managers Sunday night against acts of vigilante justice — pitchers targeting the Houston Astros with beanballs because of their illicit sign-stealing — and Manfred was expected to impart the same message to Cactus League managers Tuesday night.
But Manfred’s effort is already generating frustration in some corners of the industry.
“The Astros win again,” one evaluator said.
As the anger at the Houston players continues to boil among other teams and players, pitchers such as the Cleveland Indians‘ Mike Clevinger and the Los Angeles Dodgers‘ Ross Stripling have hinted at the possibility of throwing at Astros hitters. Boston‘s Chris Sale and the Dodgers’ Alex Wood are among veterans who have said they expect opponents to police the game on the field, to some degree.
Over the weekend, new Astros manager Dusty Baker responded, saying, “I’m depending on the league to try to put a stop to this seemingly premeditated retaliation that I’m hearing about. And in most instances in life, you get kind of reprimanded when you have premeditated anything. I’m just hoping that the league puts a stop to this before somebody gets hurt.”
Manfred acknowledged the concern and said he intended to speak to managers about the possibility, which he did Sunday.
A concern among the other teams, however, is that by putting opponents on notice in this way, Manfred runs the risk of pushing umpires into overreaction — misreading intent of pitchers who simply miss their targets and hit Houston hitters accidentally rather than throwing at them on purpose.
“If the Astros hitters know they’re going to be protected and that the umpires will be throwing out pitchers [aggressively], they’ll have the same advantage they had before — they’ll know what’s coming,” a staffer said. “If the pitchers can’t pitch inside against the Astros, that’ll work to their advantage.”
Under current rules, umpires will issue warnings after pitches they deem suspect, sometimes drawing anger from one or both managers because of the concern that other pitchers in the game will be more reluctant to pitch inside.
The fear among at least some teams about Manfred’s early action on behalf of the Astros is that it will at least make pitching inside more problematic for opponents, and perhaps lead to unjust ejections.
As one official noted: No set of hitters other than the Astros will operate with that kind of preemptive advocacy.
“And that’s just not right,” he said.