Quit yer stallin’ for relief pitchers

Originally published at The Flagrant Fan

Although I am on the high side of my fifties, I am in large part still a kid inside. Baseball works very well for that. And when I yell at players on my television screen, I often yell in the voices of Bugs Bunny characters. If you don’t believe me, ask my wife. Such an occasion occurred last night in the Blue Jays – Yankees game when Toronto manager, John Gibbons, clearly stalled the game trying to give a relief pitcher in the bullpen a few more reps before he came in to pitch. Out of my mouth, Yosemite Sam’s, “Quit yer stallin’!”

This is how it happened. Starter, Dustin McGowan was having a rough night. Gibbons had been forced to start up the bullpen in the first when the Yankees started cuffing McGowan around and had the bases loaded with two runs already in. But McGowan got out of the jam without further damage and then pitched a successful second inning.

Lulled into thinking that McGowan had settled in, despite a walk and a stolen base by Brian Roberts, Both McGowan and Gibbons thought that McGowan got out of the third when Ichiro Suzuki was called out on a close play by the first base umpire. Joe Girardi provided the first stall as he waited by the umpire to hear from his dugout on whether to challenge the call. We’ll talk about this problem again in a minute.

Gibbons thought correctly that McGowan was in a compromised position by the call reversal and he desperately wanted to bring in Aaron Loup to take McGowan’s place. Loup had just gotten up when Yangervis Solarte boomed a double to score two runs. The problem was that Loup still wasn’t ready yet.

And so we saw what we see all the time. The pitching coach walks as slowly to the mound as he can without completely stopping in place. He then folds his arm while the entire infield gathers and stays like that until the umpire comes to break it up.

The pitching coach leaves and from the dugout, catcher, Dioner Navarro, is instructed to go to the mound and talk to his pitcher, as clear a further stall as has ever been seen. And in a move probably paid for by Toronto spies, a fan ran onto the field and ran around until he was captured thus giving Loup the time he needed to finish getting ready. For eight to ten minutes, no baseball happened. It was then that I yelled in Yosemite Sam.

I am not picking on just John Gibbons and the Blue Jays. What they did (other than the fan running around) is done every day by managers around baseball. Part of Joe Maddon‘s “genius” is his mastery of the stall tactic. Remember Sam Fuld warming up to pitch? Tony La Russa was also famous for his stall tactics.

In my mind, such stalling is cheating and not in the spirit of how baseball is to be played. If you read the official MLB rulebook, the word, “Delay,” appears 23 times. It is obviously something that is frowned upon. Heck, batters are not supposed to leave the batting box and pitchers are supposed to throw the ball within twelve seconds of receiving it. Don’t even get me started on these rules not being enforced.

Mound visits are not specified in the delay cycle of the rule book and it should be. But it also says that a team is in danger of forfeit if a manager tries to delay or shorten a game. You could read into this law for enforcement.

If the relief pitcher is not ready, the manager is at fault for not thinking ahead or panicking in time. If the relief pitcher is not ready, the game should resume with what he has on the mound and resume quickly.

Such a stall tactic is being allowed when it comes to the new instant replays. Managers are allowed to shuffle around next to an umpire until getting a signal from the dugout for a yea or nay on calling for a replay. This allowed delay is a flaw of the new system which has been mentioned many times by others. It needs to be fixed.

But the delay for relief pitchers is grievous to me. It is stalling and not in the best interest of baseball or its fans. It is cheating and just as bad as other forms of cheating. It should not be winked at.

The rules should be changed that when the manager does his little hand puppet gesture for the catcher to go talk to the pitcher, the umpire should have discretion to say no. The rule should be changed so that a pitching coach must jog or get to the mound and quickly as possible and not stay more than twelve seconds. And if he does neither a balk should be called.

Stalling is cheating. Say it is a part of baseball if you want. But that does not make it right.

William Tasker grew up in Bergenfield, New Jersey but has lived in New England since 1975 and in the far reaches of northern Maine since 1990. Tasker is the author of nine (non-baseball related) books and, besides writing here for three years, has written for his own site at www.passion4baseball.blogspot.com since 2003.