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Adam Wainwright follows the rules and pays the price

Jul 16, 2014, 1:55 AM EDT

source: Getty Images

MINNEAPOLIS — Baseball has so many crazy unwritten rules that it’s really almost impossible to keep up. For instance, if you ask Hall of Famer Joe Morgan about a moment in baseball he really regrets, he will likely talk about the time he swung for the fences on a 3-0 pitch against an aging Jim Palmer with a seven-run lead. That’s not something you or I would have likely noticed, but the way Morgan sees it that just wasn’t respectful to a great pitcher. After the game, he apologized to Palmer, who Morgan says both understood and accepted the apology.

Here’s another one: One time, the legendary Stan Musial was picked off second base. Later he went over to the second baseman who tagged him out and said: “Don’t ever embarrass me like that again.”

And one more: Pete Rose had a 44-game hitting streak ended in a 16-4 loss against Atlanta. After the game, he ripped the Braves pitchers — particularly closer Gene Garber — for not throwing him fastballs. I’ve been stunned how many people I’ve talked to in baseball who think Rose actually had a point.

Yes, there are unwritten rules.

And so, when St. Louis ace Adam Wainwright threw a 91-mph fastball over the plate against Derek Jeter to lead off the All-Star Game Tuesday night in Minnesota, and Jeter cranked that pitch to right field, I immediately texted a friend: “He totally grooved that pitch.” Well, it seemed obvious. He was utterly following the unwritten rules of the game.

[ MORE: Wainwright admits grooving pitch to Derek Jeter ]

What was the point of this night, anyway? It was to celebrate the legend of Derek Jeter. It was respectful and joyous and over the top. Before the first pitch, the National League catcher and umpire backed away from home plate to give him the full stage. Cheers rained down, and he waved his helmet uncomfortably, and it lasted for a long time. Later, Jeter had another moment when he came off the field.

So what was Wainwright going to do for this game? Throw the curveball that embarrassed Carlos Beltran? No, he was going to throw a fastball over the plate. Now, before going any further into this, we should define what a major league “grooved fastball” really is. A grooved fastball is not a batting practice fastball. It’s not anything improper. It’s a style of pitching, something pitchers will do sometimes when they have a lead, something pitchers will do when they are trying to conserve pitches, something pitchers will often do when facing hitters at the bottom of the lineup. Pitchers know: It’s not that easy for someone to hit a 91-mph fastball.

All Wainwright was doing there, in my opinion, was pitching Jeter exactly as he should considering the moment and the game. Let’s face it: He wasn’t going to try and trick Jeter. He wasn’t going to try and break him down and strike him out. This was Derek Jeter’s last All-Star Game, and Wainwright (like any other pitcher, I suspect) was going to throw a 90-or-so mph fastball over the plate and see if Jeter could hit it.* On this night, it turns out, he could hit it for a double.

*It is worth noting that afterward Jeter called it a “98-mph two-seamer that stayed on really good.” It was actually a 91-mph four-seamer that stayed up. It’s always fun to see the way hitters describe the pitches they hit.

[ MORE: Watch Derek Jeter's pregame speech to the AL All-Stars ]

As it turned out, Wainwright didn’t have it Tuesday night. He gave up a triple to Mike Trout — Jeter came around to score — and a home run to Miguel Cabrera. That was a three-run American League inning. The American League won the game by two runs, 5-3.

Anyway, that double was a cool moment for Jeter, for the fans, for baseball. He scorched a major league fastball to right, ran it out; hey, it’s the bleeping All-Star Game and that’s what this is supposed to be about.

Only two things happened that kind of created a minor mess.

One of those things happened Tuesday, shortly after the Jeter hit. Wainwright admitted he grooved the fastball. Wainwright’s a good guy, a stand-up guy, a thoughtful and fun guy –and it’s clear that he simply did not see how his comments would come out. “I was going to give him a couple of pipe shots,” he said, referring to pitches down-the-pipe. “I just thought he deserved it. I didn’t know he was going to hit a double or I would have changed my mind.”

Wainwright was doing what Wainwright does, just talking from gut, having a little fun, being self-deprecating. But this quote was about to go into the Twitterverse, and it was not going to look good there. Stripped of the context, the history, the way baseball turned the game into a Derek Jeter Love Fest, it sounded like Wainwright was saying that he purposely laid down. I don’t think he did that at all. He threw a fastball over the plate and challenged Jeter to hit it.

Worse for Wainwright, though, in short form it also sounded like he was disrespecting Jeter, suggesting that Jeter is some kind of charity case whose greatness has earned him the right to have fastballs grooved to him in the All-Star Game. Again, I feel sure this wasn’t at all what Wainwright intended to say. But he said the words.

[ MORE: Derek Jeter's final All-Star game ends in fourth inning ]

After that, he went on FOX to try and salvage something by backtracking and, unfortunately, by bashing social media. I felt terrible for him, but he knows as well as anyone that this is the world we live in. If you say what people see as the wrong thing at the wrong time, the backlash is fierce and it’s immediate. Wainwright knew that before Tuesday night.

The second thing that messed things up, though, actually happened a dozen years ago. That was the All-Star Game tie. It was such an embarrassment for the game that Bud Selig and company decided they had to do something drastic, something to make the All-Star Game count — “This Time It Counts” was even their slogan — and so they decided to give the league that won the All-Star Game home-field advantage in the World Series.

On the surface, this wasn’t such a bad idea — after all, before the change home-field advantage was simply alternated — one year the American League would get it, the next year the National League would get it – and that’s obviously ridiculous. So, sure, tying it to the All-Star Game was random but no more random than the previous system.

Only, that’s wrong. It IS more random. The All-Star Game doesn’t count. It doesn’t matter. Nobody cares who wins. Nobody plays to win. Nobody manages to win. Starting pitchers go one inning. The best players sit. Every team sends at least one player. You don’t have to say anything other than this: Derek Jeter started in the All-Star Game even though he has an anemic .322 slugging percentage this year. That’s because the All-Star Game is not a game. It’s a show, it’s a celebration, it’s for fun.

By throwing in this ridiculous home-field advantage twist, the game now is less fun. Adam Wainwright throws fastballs to Derek Jeter because it’s his last All-Star Game. Now, Game 7 of the World Series will be in Oakland or Detroit or Anaheim or Baltimore or Toronto or, dare I say it, Kansas City? How is that good for the game in any way? It would actually make MORE sense to have the game somewhere because it’s an even-numbered year.

Wainwright may have sparked the pipe-shot mess with what he said after he pitched. But he was just doing what baseball players have been doing forever — treating the great older players with respect they have earned. Bud Selig and the people of baseball caused the mess by attaching too much meaning to a game that doesn’t count, shouldn’t count and never will count.

  1. tedwmoore - Jul 16, 2014 at 9:43 AM

    I wish this had been Greinke answering the same questions. Maybe then the teeth gnashers would have some fuel for their book burning party.

    • SocraticGadfly - Jul 16, 2014 at 12:58 PM

      Better yet, that Dodgers fans had their wish of Kershaw starting, and he pipelined a pitch just like that.

      ===

      That said, I have to disagree with two of three of Posnanski’s counterexamples.

      With Musial, he tells us nothing about the game score, the inning, etc. If it was a 2-2 game in the seventh, I as a Cards fan say that Stan deserved to get his a** picked off, and should have STFU. Given that Joe didn’t give us a game background, I halfway suspect something like this was in fact the case?

      Pete Rose vs. Garber? Please, that’s Pete being Pete. There’s no “unwritten rule” at all, there, unless it’s the unwritten rule that Pete Rose will normally act like a jackwagon.

      So, Joe, you swung and missed twice; therefore, will give you a third K, caught looking, for the strikeout on this piece.

      • chrisernst82 - Jul 16, 2014 at 1:03 PM

        As a Cardinal fan you should know you can have your fan card revoked for life for telling Musial that. I might have to report you or risk having mine revoked as well.

      • SocraticGadfly - Jul 16, 2014 at 2:25 PM

        I humbly apologize, Chris.

        More seriously, this is yet another reason why I’m not the fan of Posnanski that some ppl are.

      • SocraticGadfly - Jul 16, 2014 at 7:47 PM

        Also, given the fact that Joe doesn’t name “the second baseman who was involved,” I’m halfway wondering if this isn’t simply some apocryphal legend that Joe is passing along without any attempt to verify it.

      • bigcatdaddie - Jul 16, 2014 at 10:47 PM

        I remember well the Rose-Garber spat. Pete had just had his 44 game hit streak ended and at the post game presser was bitching about what Garber was throwing him and that Garber “was pitching like it was the 7th game of the bleepin’ World Series” which was rich coming from Pete, as he played every inning of every game like it was a game seven. People forget that Gene Garber was a pretty decent pitcher and competitor in his day. KC getting rid of him was the start of a long line of bad trades by the Royals, but that’s another story.

      • frankschloegel - Jul 18, 2014 at 1:46 PM

        This is bad logic because on the Rose point JP is pointing out that he is stunned that other people think Rose had a point. We infer then that the overall point is that the unwritten rules are often not good rules that we fans would like, but something a little tougher to explain. The Musial thing also paints that picture, something about aging legends protecting their reputations, never giving up, and some sort of respect angle. Complicated. And Wainwright stepped in it.

  2. evanpenn - Jul 16, 2014 at 10:39 AM

    At the beginning of the season I actually wrote a post saying I was sad to see Jeter go. Now, halfway through the year, I can’t wait for him to be gone. I threw up in my mouth a little bit twice during the game. The fawning over a man who hit a little ball around for 20 years. They act like he cured cancer.

    • lukedunphysscienceproject - Jul 16, 2014 at 10:47 AM

      No, dbag, they acted like baseball fans.

    • El Bravo - Jul 16, 2014 at 10:52 AM

      You sound like a fun guy, evanpenn.

    • chrisernst82 - Jul 16, 2014 at 12:51 PM

      If it is just a tiny ball why are you in here whining about it? Its not just about hitting a “tiny ball” its about a role model for millions of kids and someone we as adults could strive to be like. He handles himself with a certain class that is missing from todays stars. You personally could learn a thing or two from the man on how to handle yourself in a public forum.

    • SocraticGadfly - Jul 16, 2014 at 2:39 PM

      This wasn’t the only BS anyway. As Miklasz notes, what if Glenn Perkins wasn’t the best closer, but finished the game just because he’s a Twinkie? http://www.stltoday.com/sports/baseball/professional/wainwright-s-pitch-to-jeter-captures-all-star-game-contradiction/article_f2f40da6-37a6-5bae-8f0b-2c3d438feb4e.html

  3. El Bravo - Jul 16, 2014 at 10:50 AM

    Kershaw shoulda started and he woulda gave Michael Jetes some chin music and struck out the side.

  4. natstowngreg - Jul 16, 2014 at 11:24 AM

    Just one small quibble, Joe. Basing home field on the exhibiitoon game never seemed a good idea, not even on the surface. Otherwise, you’re right on.

    • chrisernst82 - Jul 16, 2014 at 12:55 PM

      It sounds like an oxymoron to me. Meaningful exhibition. Horrible idea. Im a Cardinal fan which also means im not a Yankees fan. But im glad we have a player like Wainwright to represent us, classy and respectful. When Jeter call you a class act it carries some weight. He did the right thing and if you wanna blame someone send Bud an email.

    • gostlcards5 - Jul 16, 2014 at 2:36 PM

      Agreed.

  5. canadatude - Jul 16, 2014 at 11:24 AM

    Gotta go with Kevin S on this one. Home field advantage should be determined by IL records from all games. Only suggestion here that makes any sense. This All-Star game thing is a joke.

    • bellweather22 - Jul 17, 2014 at 2:42 AM

      I’d like to see a head to head component if the teams happened to have played each other during IL play. I don’t agree that inter league record itself is a good idea. One of the reasons the teams don’t like IL play is that some teams play tough IL schedules and some don’t. It will never be anything but arbitrary.

  6. florida727 - Jul 16, 2014 at 11:51 AM

    Face it, Bud Selig’s an idiot. How this clown came to be commissioner is still a mystery to me. Everything he touches turns into an embarassment for the game. Pete Rose. All-Star EXHIBITION Game determining home field advantage in the World Series. The list is almost endless. BTW, if another of his screw-ups, a TIED All-Star game, hadn’t happened, he wouldn’t have even had his knee-jerk reaction to it and had this game “mean something”. Like he had to apologize for an exhibition ending in a tie!

    • bellweather22 - Jul 17, 2014 at 2:44 AM

      Selig has nothing to do with Rose, other than not reinstating him, which shouldn’t surprise anyone since betting on baseball automatically puts Rose makes Rose permanently ineligible, by rule.

  7. SBoy - Jul 16, 2014 at 12:01 PM

    “*It is worth noting that afterward Jeter called it a “98-mph two-seamer that stayed on really good.” It was actually a 91-mph four-seamer that stayed up. It’s always fun to see the way hitters describe the pitches they hit.”

    Incomplete and out of context quote Joe. Jeter was having fun with this and clearly joking when he said the above. He followed the quote you cite by saying he did not know what Wainwright threw, but to thank him if he grooved one.

  8. canadatude - Jul 16, 2014 at 12:23 PM

    Jeter went the other way on both hits in the All-Star game. Is he giving up on women in his old age? LOL

  9. professor59 - Jul 16, 2014 at 12:46 PM

    Pete Rose banned for life for betting on his own team – to win.
    Eight Chicago White Sox banned for life for throwing the 1919 World Series.
    Adam Wainwright admits to throwing the All-Star game, and it’s a “heartwarming moment”?
    If baseball is going to such lengths to make sure we know that the All Star game counts for something, they should stand by that statement.

    Have at it, Yankee ass kissers.

    • 18thstreet - Jul 16, 2014 at 12:58 PM

      Pete Rose (as were the Black Sox) was banned permanently. Life has nothing to do with it.

      • raysfan1 - Jul 16, 2014 at 2:04 PM

        As evidenced by the fact that Joe Jacjson has been dead for 60 years but is not eligible for induction to the Hall.

      • bellweather22 - Jul 17, 2014 at 2:46 AM

        Methinks that Professor needs to read the rule book.

    • gostlcards5 - Jul 16, 2014 at 2:37 PM

      “Adam Wainwright admits to throwing the All-Star game, and it’s a “heartwarming moment”?”

      ————————————————————————————————————————

      You can’t seriously be that stupid, “professor”….

  10. chrisernst82 - Jul 16, 2014 at 1:01 PM

    Im so tired of the Internet Outrage on this site. So many people complain about so many little things. You wanna know whats worse than gifting a pitching to one of the all time greats? Whining about every little thing on the internet.

    These are the same guys who call out players like Puig for not following the unwritten rules too. Probably were ready to build a shrine to McCann last year lol

    • bellweather22 - Jul 17, 2014 at 2:47 AM

      So you’re outraged by the outrage? Amazing that you didn’t see the irony in your comment.

      • chrisernst82 - Jul 17, 2014 at 3:03 PM

        Tired means something a little different. You gonna tell me that it doesnt old listening to the same guys in here whine about everything.

  11. brianc6234 - Jul 16, 2014 at 1:16 PM

    The NL ended up tying the score so it wasn’t really Wainwright who blew it.

    • stercuilus65 - Jul 16, 2014 at 2:21 PM

      Yes it was.

    • wpjohnson - Jul 16, 2014 at 7:12 PM

      Really? The AL won by two and Wainwright, after gifting Jeter, gave up three runs. You aren’t really that dumb are you, brianc6234?

  12. afewzigzagsplease - Jul 16, 2014 at 1:53 PM

    Wainwright’s the guy that called the Giant’s lineup Murders Row earlier this season.

  13. raysfan1 - Jul 16, 2014 at 2:00 PM

    “This time it counts” and variations of “It’s not just an exhibition…”

    Bunk. It is too just an exhibition. Otherwise (1) managers need to quit trying to get everyone into the game, (2) the rule requiring every team needs to represented has to go away because the league team needs to be the best players vs the best players, an (3) the fan vote needs to either go away or be changed such that clearly less capable players do not start. If all that happened, the All Star game would be a totally different animal, far less relaxed and likely far less fun for the players. I think even more would opt out and instead choose to rest over the break. Basing the World Series home team on the outcome of the All Star game is nothing but a cheap gimmick.

  14. granadafan - Jul 16, 2014 at 2:07 PM

    It’s a friggin all-star game. The only ones who care if that he grooved a fastball down the middle are old codger “purists”. Jeter still had to the hit the ball, and there’s no guarantee that the ball wouldn’t have been straight to a fielder. Again, it’s an ALL- STAR game for the fans.

  15. mattinglyschmidt - Jul 16, 2014 at 2:57 PM

    I think Joe and others missed the opportunity for a great train of thought here – the rules aren’t just unwritten, they are unspoken. Nobody is clamboring for a book detailing when not to steal, or when to pull a Chan Ho Park. Many people knew exactly what Wainwright did; many were glad he did it, and many more understood why he did it even if they didn’t like it. But when he opened his mouth and confirmed it? Now that’s something that just cannot be tolerated!

    • wpjohnson - Jul 16, 2014 at 7:15 PM

      You are giving Joe too much credit. He is incapable of formulating any kind of logical train of thought. If his daddy weren’t Jack, he would be working at Subway.

  16. randomjoeblow - Jul 17, 2014 at 7:48 PM

    It’s nice to see that there are at least a couple of other people that realize that Posnanski not only deals in generalities and sappiness, but he tells stories that can never possibly be verified to back up his lame points. His claims are idiotic and apocryphal, and he’s been doing it at least as long as he wrote for the KC Star, plus after he left — and I’m sure before, too. He claims to hear stories from friends of friends of friends, and then writes them like they’re facts..

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