Friday, April 23, 2010
Who the Hell Is Dallas Braden?
In the top of the 6th, with Alex Rodriguez on 1st base, Robinson Cano fouled a pitch off, missing a bloop double by a couple of inches. Having nearly reached 3rd base, A-Rod walked back to 1st by crossing the infield, and walked on the pitcher's mound in the process.
And Dallas Braden -- who, like Phillies pitcher Chad Durbin, who you might remember from the last couple of World Series, has a name that sounds like that of a somewhat shifty soap opera character -- lost his cool. That is, if he ever had any cool.
Apparently, one of the "unwritten rules of baseball" is that you do not cross back over the pitcher's mound. Have you ever heard of that rule before? I haven't. Even Keith Hernandez -- not exactly the first guy I would quote -- hasn't. He said, during the Mets' broadcast last night, "I don't know if there is 'an unwritten rule,' but I would never do that."
Oh, I think he would have. After all, "Who does this guy think he is?" "I'm Keith Hernandez!"
Now, on the one hand, Braden and the A's did win the game. So credit to him, and them, for that.
On the other hand... Who the flying fuck is Dallas Braden? (I toned down the language for the title of this post, but the question still applies.) As Lisa Swan put it in today's Subway Squawkers):
Braden, who I wouldn't have been able to pick out of a police lineup until today (now I would - just look for the clown puffing himself up like a blowfish trying to look all fierce, like he is in the pic above), has become the self-appointed arbiter of unwritten rules nobody even heard of until today.
Blowfish? (Paging Darius Rucker.) I think he looks more like Freddie Kreuger before getting burned!
"The guy ran across my mound," Braden said. "He had his foot on my pitching rubber."
Your mound? Your pitching rubber? Have they got your name on them, you dope?
"Any kind of disrespect like that has got to be handled, and that's what I did. If my grandmother did what he did, I'd tell her the same thing."
Somebody once asked Hall of Fame pitcher Early Wynn, known for hitting batters on purpose, if he would throw at his own mother. He said, "I'd have to. Mom could really hit the curveball." Wynn had a sense of humor about it. He had perspective. Braden... not so much.
Braden continued: "Nobody's ever done that to me when I pitched in the big leagues. I had to get my point across in terms of the unwritten rules, the little intricacies of the game, how the game's supposed to be played, how we expect it to be played, how we play it over here, and I did that."
Okay, here's an unwritten rule: Guys who've played 65 games in the major leagues, not counting postseason games, because you've never even seen one except on television, do not call out a future Hall-of-Famer who plays for the defending World Champions (and was a major reason why).
"He just told me to get off his mound," A-Rod said. "I thought it was pretty funny, actually. I'd never quite heard that before, especially from a guy with a handful of wins in his career."
Ah, the matured A-Rod. I never thought I'd live to see it, did you? Then again, I never thought I'd live to see him play in, let alone win, a World Series. But he did. Will Braden ever play in a World Series? Or win one? Not as long as he's with the A's, who still think general manager Billy Beane is a genius, but haven't seen the far side of October in 20 years.
Squawker Lisa: "Braden also thought he'd burn A-Rod by suggesting that he act more like Derek Jeter. Well, I think Dallas Braden ought to act like Steve Carlton and shut the bleep up!"
For those who don't remember: Carlton was noted for not talking to the press, to the point where, in the early 1980s, the joke was that the 2 best lefthanded pitchers in baseball don't speak English: Fernando Valenzuela and Steve Carlton. (Braden is also a lefty.)
But Carlton and Valenzuela were great pitchers. Carlton proved himself many, many times over a 20-year stretch. Valenzuela proved himself faster than most players ever will. Put it another way: By the time he was Braden's age, Fernando had already won 110 games, reached 3 postseasons and won a World Series. (Sadly for me, it was against the Yankees, for the Los Angeles Dodgers, in his rookie season of 1981). At the same age, Carlton had already won 77 games, and a World Series. (It was in 1967 with the St. Louis Cardinals. He did it again in 1980, with the Philadelphia Phillies.) Carlton reached the postseason 9 times in his career. Valenzuela, 5 times.
Here's Dallas Braden: A 17-22 lifetime record, an ERA of 4.52, a WHIP of 1.392, no postseason appearances. According to Baseball-Reference.com (which is your friend, even if you don't know it yet), these are the 10 players who, statistically, Braden most closely resembles at this point in his career: Jack Curtis, Paul Thormodsgard, Ray Francis, Gerry Janeski, Glen Perkins, Jim Winford, Aaron Laffey, Cha-Seung Baek, Mike Birkbeck and Tony Saunders.
I've heard of 3 of them: Thormodsgard (a blip on the radar screen for the late 1970s Minnesota Twins), Laffey (a nondescript current starter for the Cleveland Indians), and Birkbeck (a briefly interesting pitcher for the late 1980s Milwaukee Brewers, whom the Mets then picked up, and then regretted it). The rest, your guess is as good as mine, unless you actually want to click on their Baseball-Reference.com links. These are Dallas Braden's peers.
Here's Alex Rodriguez: A lifetime batting average of .305. An OPS+ of 148. 585 home runs. 2,548 hits. 8 trips to the postseason. And now, a World Series ring, and he was hardly "just along for the ride": He was a monster in the 1st 2 rounds of the Playoffs, and got key hits in the Series as well. Oh yeah, by the time A-Rod was Braden's age, he already had about 300 homers.
Michael Duca, co-author of the recently-published The Baseball Codes: Beanballs, Sign Stealing and Bench-Clearing Brawls: The Unwritten Rules of America's Pastime, says the "unwritten rule" does exist:
It was very common (to observe the rule) in the '40s, '50s and '60s. Bob Gibson was very well versed in protecting what he called his office. He told people to say the hell out of my office. Had that been Gibson on the mound, A-Rod would have picked himself off the grass to get back to first. He would have decked him. No question about it.
Yeah. Had that been Bob Gibson on the mound. Guess what, Mr. Duca: That was not Bob Gibson on the mound! That was Dallas Braden on the mound.
Actually, Gibson is a good model for Duca's argument, as he was a slow starter. But even at Braden's age, 26, Gibson had already won 36 games, more than twice as many as Braden.
The point, though, is that at 28, Gibson became the Most Valuable Player of a World Series. He earned it. What has Braden earned, besides scorn?
Besides, does Duca really think A-Rod would have tested Gibson like that? Do what Gibson did in his career, and you don't test him; do what A-Rod has done, and Gibson would have been smart enough to not fool around with threats. He'd just try to get him out -- as he explained, himself, in his approach to baseball's all-time home run leader, Hank Aaron, in his own recent book, co-written with my guy Reggie Jackson: Sixty Feet Six Inches: A Hall of Fame Pitcher and a Hall of Fame Hitter Talk About How the Game Is Played.
(Get this book. I know Reggie doesn't need the money, and Gibson probably doesn't need it, either. Get it anyway. You will love reading what these two old warhorses have to say.)
They talk about how the game is played, because they were two of the guys who shaped it. Braden? As the late Lloyd Bentsen would have said, "Senator, you're no Bob Gibson."
So when Braden has accomplishments that can stand alongside those of Gibson, or even those that can stand alongside those of A-Rod, without embarrassing any of them, then he can talk. Until then, he is a nonentity, and he needs to put a sock and a stirrup in it.
Braden's lucky he plays for the A's, not a team that the Yankees really don't like, or else he would really hear it when they come to New York.
As it is, Yankee Fans may give him an even bigger insult: Forgetting about him.
UPDATE: Just 3 starts later, on May 9, 2010, Dallas Braden did something that was never accomplished by any of the other pitchers I named: Steve Carlton, Fernando Valenzuela, Bob Gibson or Early Wynn. He pitched not just a no-hitter (which Fernando had done), but a perfect game, against the Tampa Bay Rays at the Coliseum.
There really isn't an equivalent feat for a hitter. Hitting for the cycle -- a single, a double, a triple and a home run in the same game -- isn't the same. Nor is hitting 4 home runs in a game, which is an even rarer feat than a perfect game: It's happened just 16 times. Alex Rodriguez hit for the cycle once. He never hit 4 home runs in a game, although he hit 3 in a game 3 times.
Since the pitching distance became 60 feet, 6 inches in 1893, there have been 21 perfect games in Major League Baseball:
* They've been pitched by Hall-of-Famers: Cy Young, Addie Joss, Jim Bunning, SandyKoufax, Catfish Hunter, Randy Johnson, and, likely to be elected in the next few years, Roy Halladay. (Like Johnson, Braden is a lefty who wore Number 51. Even though Johnson never pitched for the A's, he may have been Braden's idol.)
* They've been pitched by guys who weren't HOFers, but were All-Stars: Mike Witt, Tom Browning, Dennis Martinez, Kenny Rogers, David Wells, David Cone, Mark Buehrle, Matt Cain and Felix Hernandez.
* And they've been pitched by guys who, at best, were journeymen: Charlie Robertson, Len Barker, Philip Humber, and, of course, with the only perfect game in postseason history, Don Larsen.
Dallas Braden remained a journeyman at best, although it wasn't entirely his fault. Just 11 months after his perfect game, he hurt his shoulder, and, despite surgery, it never healed, and he never threw another professional pitch after April 16, 2011. He was not yet 28 years old, and he finished 28-36 with a 4.16 ERA. He didn't make his retirement official until January 14, 2014, calling his shoulder "a shredded mess."
He then joined ESPN as an analyst on Baseball Tonight. He was moved to Monday Night Baseball as a color analyst when Curt Schilling was fired for being a bigger jerk than Braden ever was. Braden has gotten considerably more respect as a broadcaster, even though, just 33 years old in the 2016 season, he should still be pitching.
Born in Phoenix, he grew up in Stockton, California, so the A's are, sort of, his hometown team. He is a charity fundraiser in the San Joaquin Valley. He's a better man than he was when he had his little contretemps with A-Rod. So is A-Rod -- or so it seems.
It took me 6 years to figure this out, but the reason I thought "Dallas Braden" sounded like the name of a soap opera character is that I was thinking of Eric Braeden, the German-born actor who stars as business lord Victor Newman on the CBS soap opera The Young and the Restless -- and has a major fan in none other than Bob Gibson.
In 1995, then the Cardinals' pitching coach under manager Joe Torre, his former Cardinal teammate, Gibson spoke to Franz Lidz of Sports Illustrated, and said he admired Newman for being, in the word so often attributed to him, "ruthless." According to the article, many ballplayers like to watch soap operas in their hotels before night games, and don't like day games because they miss their soaps. Victor, good to those loyal to him but described by one TV critic as "the blackest of blackguards," appeals to them for some twisted reason. I don't know if Dallas Braden is a fan of his.