Cheap Hits: Baseball's Top 10 Low Blows and Dirty Takeouts
Hard slides, heavy collisions, and retaliatory pitches are as much a part of baseball as RBI singles and Cracker Jack.
Some players are known for their aggressive nature, while others are perceived as masters of bending the rules without explicitly flaunting them. Then there are the careless moments when a player is involved in a bang-bang play and something has to give.
Last week Mark Teixeira's clash with Angels' catcher Bobby Wilson made national headlines. New York's first baseman placed his shoulder through the young catcher even though there was a significant portion of the plate exposed, not knowing the throw home had short-hopped Wilson.
I'm not going to say it was the more suitable play in the circumstance, but it was a hard baseball play. Could he have slid? Sure. But he wanted to make sure Wilson didn't hang onto the ball.
When neither manager—both former catchers—has a problem with a collision at the plate but it still makes the sports pages for days, there's a pretty good chance that the media are scrutinizing the actions of a Yankee.
I'm no Yankees fan, but their players do tend to receive more time under the microscope than any other—such is the price for being part of one of the biggest franchises in sport. Everyone seemingly wants to take their shot at them when they get their chance.
You can't blame Teix too much though. Wilson was the only thing he has hit hard all year.
Here are 10 more questionable plays since 2000, ranging from the unfortunate and classless, to the cheap and the dirty.
10. Torii Hunter
Everyone has been talking about Mark Teixeira's collision at home plate with Bobby Wilson, but the truth is there are dozens of heavy hits at home every year.
Most are bang-bang plays and most are forceful. Few are pre-meditated or dirty. But six years ago there was an almost identical play to the one that took place in Anaheim, Calif., last week.
With one out and Minnesota's Torii Hunter on third base in the eighth inning of a July ballgame against the White Sox, Hunter tagged up on Henry Blanco's fly ball to right field.
Hunter charged home to beat Timo Perez's throw, but he crashed wrecklessly through Jamie Burke even though the plate was exposed. It was a late hit and an unnecessary hit, something Ozzie Guillen described as “a message.”
What makes this story interesting was that Guillen almost demanded his players to go out and try to injure one of the Twins the following day. He said he wanted to see someone break up a double play as hard as possible, even if it meant taking out a middle infielder. The White Sox manager says he likes to see baseball played hard and fair, proving he's as old school as it gets.
Dirty Rating: 1/5
9. Elliot Johnson
Spring Training games don't matter, eh? Tell that to Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli who broke his wrist in a jarring hit from Tampa Bay's Johnson in a meaningless preseason scrimmage.
Coaches love to see the game played right, but not so much in March when there's little to gain from full-out collisions.
There was no need for Johnson to go this hard into the young catcher, especially when he could have gone in sliding. I understand that he's trying to make the team, but in my opinion he showed a lack of appreciation for the game and the situation.
You need good fundamentals and baseball know-how. If you want to impress your manager and win a spot on the roster, that's fine. But play your way onto the team instead of knocking someone off of theirs.
Dirty Rating: 2/5
8. Alex Rodriguez
It shouldn't really come as any surprise to see A-Rod on this list. It's not so much that he is a dirty player, but rather that he has got a little bit of a reputation for expanding the rules to help his team win.
It's probably because of his stature in the game, but everybody likes to jump on the All-Star third baseman for any cheap stunts he pulls during games. Some have more validity than others, although few seem spiteful or dangerous.
You could pick any number of incidents to call out A-Rod from the time he slapped the ball out of Bronson Arroyo's glove in the 2004 ALCS to the time he called “mine” on an infield pop-up as he ran between second and third base against Toronto, to the time he swiped an elbow at Boston's Dustin Pedroia in 2007 in retaliation for Pedroia straying outside the baseline to take out Derek Jeter.
News Tribune writer Ryan Divish said it's almost like A-Rod is involved in one of these disputable plays every season. This year it was probably the stunt he pulled by crossing back over Dallas Braden's mound. Like with the other incidents, it's childish rather than dirty, but it bumps A-Rod's overall rating up from a one to a two.
Dirty Rating: 2/5
7. Barry Zito
There's something about the concept of retaliation which dictates that you can't wait half a year to settle a score. Unfortunately for Barry Zito, he never got that memo.
Last September Prince Fielder showed up the Giants when he played the role of a bowling ball, knocking over his teammates like pins as he touched home plate after a walk-off home run.
Fielder had probably forgotten all about the incident when he stepped in to the batter's box for his first spring training at-bat against Zito. The lefty sure hadn't though.
The first-pitch fastball to Fielder caught him square in the back, even though Zito tried to play off the incident, going as far as saying he wasn't even aware of the game-winning blast six months earlier.
Sure, pitches can get away from guys, but there was no way this was an accident. Own up to it and just admit you were backing up your teammates. It's this kind of cynicism that lands Big Z on the list. It was cheap and unnecessary.
Dirty Rating: 2/5
6. Lyle Overbay
Alex Cora called it a tackle, and from the expression on his face after he got up and dusted himself down, you could tell he believed it was a terrible slide.
Toronto's Lyle Overbay, bearing down on second base to break up a double play, slid out of the baseline on the outfield side and flipped Cora onto his back with a hard collision.
Cora was still able to turn the double play despite the high throw from Timlin, but I'm sure he wasn't expecting Overbay to barrel through him with his arms up high.
Overbay doesn't have a reputation as a dirty player, and the fact that there was no previous history between the AL East rivals is his saving grace. But there's a right way and a wrong way to slide into a bag. Overbay is a veteran and he should have known better.
Dirty Rating: 3/5
5. Carlos Ruiz
The headline of a 2007 report says it all: “Carlos Ruiz Channels Albert Belle.”
Ruiz went in hard on San Diego's Marcus Giles, launching sideways through the second baseman as he tried to turn a double play. Ruiz, with no chance of beating out the force out, decided instead to throw his forearm into Giles' hip, taking him clean out of the game and infuriating pitcher Greg Maddux.
According to an article by Chris Jenkins, Ruiz admitted to the Associated Press the blow was high, but he said he was just going in hard. Giles, on the other hand, said he was annoyed by the play, saying it didn't even come close to a slide.
That reaction is mild compared to the expletive-filled response from Maddux, one of the most visibly annoyed by the slide as the benches cleared after the fourth-inning incident. The Padres exacted a small measure of revenge when Doug Brocali beaned Ruiz the following day.
Dirty Rating: 3/5
4. Shelley Duncan
Shelley Duncan can try to justify it any way he likes, but the fact remains that his spikes-first slide into Tampa Bay's Akinori Iwamura in a 2008 spring training game was dirty.
It was in retaliation to Elliot Johnson's hard collision with Yankee catcher Francisco Cervelli earlier on in the week, and it was certainly dangerous and poorly timed.
He flew into second base hard and ended up sliding over the bag and planting the spikes on his left cleat into Iwamura's right thigh. It's hard to believe he was really trying to jar the ball loose.
Duncan said he had watched the replay several times and still didn't know what he had done wrong. From the way the benches cleared, maybe he's the only one who didn't see a problem with his cheap shot.
All of the elements for dirty play were there: Spikes, groin, and intent.
3. Coco Crisp
Coco Crisp was annoyed when shortstop Jason Bartlett used his knee to block second base on a stolen base attempt. He jammed his left hand into Bartlett's knee and needed to tape his thumb.
Two innings later, Crisp found himself on first base again. This time, he was going to make sure he didn't get hurt. Sprinting towards second base, Crisp lunged feet-first into the base on his left side, slamming his forearm intentionally into Akinori Iwamura's stomach and his elbow into his junk.
The commentary team said it looked more like a take-out slide on a double play ball rather than a straight steal attempt, and Crisp later said he thought Bartlett should have covered the bag instead of sending sacrificial lamb Iwamura to the slaughter.
According to Mark Remme's report on MLB.com, Crisp said Bartlett should “take his own lickin'” and that “If you're going to hurt me, I'm going to come back and hurt you.”
Crisp got into a shouting match with Tampa Bay's Joe Maddon and that comes as no surprise. There's defending yourself and there's wreckless Bush League retribution.
Check out this video and make up your own mind. http://mlb.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20080605&content_id=2843982&vkey=news_mlb&fext=.jsp&c_id=mlb
Dirty Rating: 4/5
2. Roger Clemens
In July 2000, Roger Clemens hit Mets catcher Mike Piazza in the head with a pitch. Clemens was known as a fearless headhunter who wasn't afraid to throw up and in, but it didn't stop the Mets from becoming stunned and angry in equal measures when their star took one off the helmet.
Fast forward three months to Game Two of the World Series. With two outs in the first inning, Piazza shatters his bat on a 1-2 pitch. While the handle of the bat stayed in Piazza's hand, the barrel flew down the first base line. Clemens, apparently believing this massive splinter of wood was actually the ball, moved to his left to pick up the bat between the mound and the line. Then he flung it into foul territory towards the dugout, right in front of Piazza who was running to first.
Tossing the bat back towards the dugout? C'mon Roger, that's weak.
Piazza yelled and pointed at Clemens and the benches cleared. Nobody was tossed for the incident, but it goes down as one of the more memorable feuds in playoff history.
Dirty Rating: 4/5
1. Pedro Martinez
Boston pitcher Pedro Martinez drew the ire of the baseball world back in 2003 when he threw 72-year-old Yankees bench coach Don Zimmer on the floor during an on-field brawl in the ALCS at Fenway.
After giving up a game-breaking RBI single to Hideki Matsui, Pedro threw behind Karim Garcia, supposedly hitting him. Garcia responded by trying to steal second base, flattening Todd Walker and prompting both benches to clear. The dugouts emptied once again in the bottom of the inning when Roger Clemens threw at Manny Ramirez.
It was during this time that Pedro shoved Zimmer to the ground. The bench coach was eventually taken to the hospital on a stretcher, even though the scrapes and scratches to his head appeared minor.
Pedro, in his defense, said he thought Zimmer was trying to hit him and that he was just trying to push him away. Sorry, Pedro. This was as dirty and cheap as it gets.
Dirty Rating: 5/5