About your Book:
After a Major League Baseball player dies from a ball intentionally thrown at his head by a rookie pitcher, it is up to veteran prosecutor Jaime Brooks to investigate the matter and handle the prosecution. What began as a feud between two teams ends in a national spectacle and a sensational trial when the pitcher is investigated for murder.
Brooks must confront a possible criminal conspiracy among team members, an uncompromising widow bent on avenging her husband’s death, corruption in the grand jury, and a national debate over the inherent risks of baseball and the accountability of its players. Should the pitch have been handled by the baseball commissioner, or was it a crime to be prosecuted in the courts?
A Pitch for Justice examines the unwritten rules of baseball on the twenty-year-old rookie who threw the pitch, the game itself, and our legal system. Did he compromise his moral compass for the team’s honor? What was in his heart when he threw the fatal pitch?
I watched a Phillies and Mets game in 2010 and saw the Mets reaction to a take-out slide by Chase Utley of the Phillies towards Rueben Tejada the Mets shorstop. There had been bad blood between the two teams since 2007. I began to fear for Utley and the genesis for my novel soon followed.
What would happen in today’s society if a manager ordered his pitcher to intentionally try to disable an opposing batter with a pitch? What if the pitch turned into a lethal bean ball?
Would the victim’s family or the press demand a criminal investigation? If so, what would be the appropriate charge?
If there were criminal charges, what impact would that have for the way the game of baseball is played?
Would pitchers be fearful of throwing high and inside pitches? Would they fear that a prosecutor would be watching over their shoulder? Would baseball fans believe it was just part of the game or would the public see the bean ball as retaliation and no different from the motive in any criminal case?These questions are debated and vetted in my novel A Pitch for Justice.
Targeted Age Group: All groups except under 12
Genre: legal suspense/baseball fiction
The Book Excerpt:
My name is John Cowan, a baseball writer, but in the summer and fall of 2015 I had to reinvent myself as a half-assed lawyer to do my job. I spent more time attending press conferences and interviewing attorneys than I did analyzing baseball box scores. It was not something I ever imagined would happen, but then who could have foreseen the cascading events that unfolded that year. I got to know some of the participants in a drama that began on a baseball diamond and ended in a legal debate. As I write the story that I hope you will read, maybe you will find the answers that still evade me.
I was doing a story about the stellar crop of rookie prospects that year and I found myself in Philadelphia to watch a young pitcher for the Phillies by the name of Tim Charles. It was the last game of a three game series on a Sunday night with the Mets, and I was there to evaluate first hand for my readers whether the kid was a legit future star, or just another overly paid, one-year wonder.
I never did get to write the story about the other rookies because what happened that night made me abandon my efforts, and redirect them to the story I am about to tell you. Rather than use the first person style of narrative, I would rather you learn what happened without me as an intermediary. I’ll simply give you the facts as they played out on and off the field. I had the benefit of sitting down and conversing with many of the people you will meet in a short while. It is their eyewitness accounts, including court testimony, which provided me with the ability to share the events of those days with you.
The real enigma, as I reflect upon that baseball season, is how the sport lasted so long, apart from labor-management disputes, free from judicial intervention. My hope is that I never live to cover a story like it again.
There is one final warning. To grasp the heart of this story I have to provide baseball background that may be alien to some. I ask your forbearance, but I have no doubt, as lawyers are fond to say, you need to know the facts to understand the issues.
June 21, 2015
There was an undercurrent of excitement amongst the sold-out crowd at Citizens Bank Park because the home team’s young rookie pitcher was to start against their traditional arch rival the New York Mets. There was yet another emotion that many in the stands and players on the field shared. It was a free-floating sense of dread or anxiety that something ugly might happen between the two ball clubs in front of a national television audience. Few spoke openly about that emotion, but it could not be ignored as fans watched the players warm up before the game.
The Phillies had not made the playoffs for a couple of years. That was partially due to the departure of some key veterans to free agency, but too the ravages of age played a role. Still, hope filled the air that summer because the young man warming up on the pitcher’s mound for the home team was ten million dollar bonus baby Timothy Charles.
He was just 20 years old, and he was everything scouts envisioned when the team made him their 14th pick in the first round of the amateur draft two years ago. At 6’ 6” he actually grew two more inches since the draft, but he still retained that wiry 210-pound frame that propelled the baseball effortlessly. His fastball was clocked in excess of 100 mph on occasion, and he perfected a motion that hid the ball from the batter’s eye until the last moment before it crossed the plate.
Charles learned at an early age that speed alone would not make him a success so he concocted a windup that looked like the ball came from his back pocket. It was a devilishly deceiving delivery that overmatched most batters. The fastball was not the only weapon in his arsenal. He had a curve ball that buckled the knees of even the most aggressive hitters. Many compared it to the stuff of Sandy Koufax, Nolan Ryan, or Steven Strasberg. Charles got the job done with those two pitches, but he had a decent slider and was working on a change up with pitching coach Terri Rowlands.
On this Sunday, Charles would pitch the last game of this three game series. To say that there was no love lost between the teams would be an understatement of enormous proportion. The rivalry traced back to the 2007 campaign when then Phillies’ shortstop Jimmy Rollins announced at the end of spring training that his team was the team to beat in the NL East. The heavily talented Mets team took great offense but they blew a commanding lead in September and the Phillies claimed the divisional title on the last day of the season. Rollins won the Most Valuable Player award to boot.
That animosity grew even more intense the next year when Carlos Beltran took the lead in 2008 by boldly announcing to the baseball world that the Mets were the team to beat that year. Ironically the Mets imploded again in the latter part of September and were humiliated as the Phillies went on to win their first World Series since 1980. In 2010 the Phillies won their fourth consecutive divisional title and late in the season Chase Utley slid late into second base on a hard take-out slide on the Mets’ second baseman much to the ire of several of the Mets players who hinted at future retaliation.
Then two seasons ago the irrepressible outfielder Marlon Whitaker of the Mets proclaimed that the Phillies were on life support and their time had passed. The Phillies were an aging team and critics felt that their place in history was a distant one. Many of the players from those days still carried their dislike for one another, and even the young players adopted the institutionalized animus.
The Friday night opener renewed the smoldering feud when the Mets’ closer threw a pitch that struck the Phillies’ star second baseman Elliot Elwell which resulted in a broken finger. That injury forced him onto the 15-day disabled list. Notably, the pitch that struck Elwell came immediately after a three-run homer that put the game comfortably out of reach for the home team.
Everyone in the stands and in the dugouts believed it was a purpose pitch. In other words, it was intended to send a message to the Phillies not to dig in their heels at the plate. As a result, the home plate umpire issued warnings to both managers that any further retaliation would result in ejection for the offending pitcher and manager.
The loss of Elwell would be a blow for the team, and it was fervently felt by his teammates and their new manager. Buck Sawyer got a one-year contract the second season after Charlie Manuel retired. He was old school both in discipline and in the strategy of the game. He believed that pitchers had to employ intimidation as part of their repertoire. As a corollary, he believed that, if his players were the targets of dirty slides or purpose pitches, his staff was to retaliate in kind. Buck made no secret of his style of play, and he expressed it more than a few times to his players both informally and at team meetings. His was a style that was the polar opposite of Manuel’s. While Manuel was a father figure, who allowed his players the freedom to play the game without an omnipresent manager, Sawyer was in your face.
It was a style and philosophy not uniformly embraced by his pitching coach or several other members of the team. These were the days when minimum salaries were almost half a million dollars per year, and when established stars made fifteen to twenty million per year for several seasons. Many players had loyalty to their team, but they also had to think of themselves as individuals competing in a marketplace.
If a player were to get hurt in his free agency year, he could lose out on an opportunity to make the equivalent of a healthy state lottery payout. Equally clear was the reality that retaliation sometimes led to a cycle of violence between the two teams. If you were the recipient of a brush back pitch, that was one thing, but a fastball in the ribs or elbow could lead to an extended loss of playing time.
So on the Friday night opener, the benches poured onto the field after Elwell was hit, but the teams merely practiced the unwritten ritual of baseball fights. They mingled and pulled and gestured, but no punches were thrown and tempers were held in check. Even Buck Sawyer seemed calm, but that was merely a façade. Inside he was coldly calculating, and he vowed to himself that a Mets’ player would pay a price for the injury to his all-star second baseman. Retribution would be had by Sawyer through one of his pitchers. The rest of the league – as well as the New York Mets – would know what to expect if anyone tried to hurt one of his own.
After the game, Buck called the next day’s starting pitcher Mike Leahy into his office. Leahy came to the Phillies in a trade from the Angels a season earlier before the July 31st trade deadline. He was a Stanford college graduate and obtained a master’s degree in business after several years of off-season study. Leahy was so knowledgeable about the finances of the game that he was the rare player who negotiated his own contracts. Accordingly, he saved the substantial fee that would have gone to an agent. In other words, Leahy was not a dumb jock. He may not have been one of the most popular guys in the clubhouse, but he had the respect of his teammates. Perhaps because of his business acumen, he was voted to be the team’s representative for the players’ union.
Buck was looking at video of the game and was fuming when a freshly showered Leahy sat down in his manager’s office.
“You know that cocksucker hit Elwell deliberately, don’t you, Mike? We can’t let that stand! I believe in an eye for an eye, and I expect you to take care of business tomorrow night. The Mets may not be our main rival this season, but they might still be in the race in September. You never know how injuries are gonna hurt a team, so I intend to equal the playing field. I’ll let you decide who to take out, but I want it done early in the ball game. I want them sons-a bitches to know it was payback.”
Leahy wasn’t shocked, but he was uncomfortable with the notion that he was to be the avenger for his manager’s face-saving “honor” play. He frankly detested Buck Sawyer. It was as if they were from two different cultures. Buck toiled in the minor leagues his entire career and never got to the “bigs” before this year. He took the long bus rides and slept in cheap motels for chump money to stay in the game as a player, coach, and manager for thirty years. He worked his way up in the Phillies organization because he was loyal, didn’t buck the chain of command, and had a penchant for recognizing great talent in young players.
In fact his most notable contribution to the franchise was scouting Tim Charles. Buck coached the Phillies minor league team, the Clearwater Threshers, in Florida, when he was asked to scout a high school sophomore pitcher in nearby Sarasota. He was able to take the hour ride on several occasions to see the youngster pitch and become, by his senior year, a “can’t miss prospect.”
It was in large measure due to the efforts of Sawyer that the Phillies selected Charles as their number one selection in the amateur draft. It was soon apparent that the organization would repay Buck with a managerial spot at Reading the AA team. With Charles’ success at Reading under Buck’s guidance, Sawyer was tapped to manage the major league team when the prior interim manager was fired.
Leahy gazed at the spittle on Buck’s chin from the tobacco juice that failed to find its way into the empty Sam Adams bottle that served as a spittoon and ashtray. The college grad cursed the day he was traded from the laid back atmosphere in Anaheim – even though the Phillies were a major market and genuine contender for the playoffs. He felt comfortable with most on his team, but he was a West Coast guy and the lure of old school baseball did nothing to excite or ignite his energy. He was driven by personal goals.
It wasn’t that he was self-centered; he cared about winning and the good of the team, but he was not the cheerleader type. He saw himself as a professional man with skills to be sold to the highest bidder. Sure, he’d rather be on a winning team because that brought more opportunity for publicity and endorsements. He was a commodity in a business that long ago ceased to be just a game. He was like a paid mercenary who knows not to get too close to his teammates because you could be here today and gone tomorrow.
Rather than start a confrontation with his beefy red-veined faced manager, Leahy chose not to respond directly. The presence of four other bottles of beer convinced Leahy that there would be no backing down by Sawyer.
“Buck, I’m no rookie. I know what I have to do, and I’ll do my job.”
“Good. That’s what I expect from you, Mike.”
Leahy didn’t wait around for Buck to clarify things. He was already late to meet up with his pitching coach and catcher for a few drinks at a center city bar in the Rittenhouse Square section. He had planned on going over the scouting reports of a few of the newest Mets who were either rookies or replacements for injured players. He looked forward to a more festive atmosphere with his coach and the homegrown veteran Bobby Carson who did most of the catching. As he left, Buck told him that his team needed him to step up in a leadership role.
Shortly before 11:00 PM, Leahy met the others at the prominent Philly spot and devoured two glasses of pinot noir at $14.00 a pop, but that was of no concern to him. What was on his mind was Sawyer’s directive. He was a player rep and a fellow union member. He would not intentionally put another union member in the ER; it simply wasn’t him. After coach Rowlands contributed his thoughts on the weaknesses to be exploited on the Mets’ lineup, Rowlands begged off another beer and went back to his apartment. Even at fifty-three he still loved to talk baseball but late nights were not his thing.
It was then that Leahy approached the subject of retaliation with his battery mate.
“Bobby, I got myself a little predicament, and I want to bounce it off of you. The skip wants me to take out one of the Mets because of Elwell, and he wants it done tomorrow night.”
Carson was not surprised by the news because he too felt that something had to be done. He opined out loud about which player on the opposing team would take the hit.
“I think the Mets rely upon Leyton, and if you remove him from their lineup, they will collapse Mike”.
Kenny Leyton was the speedy second baseman for the Mets who surpassed the previous team leader in stolen bases the prior year. He batted leadoff and was considered the spark plug of the team. His loss would at least equal that suffered by the Phillies.
Leahy countered with Luther Wynne, who played shortstop and irritated the Phillies with his hot dog antics by showboating around the bases and giggling in the dugout.
“Bobby, I’ll tell you straight out, I am not going to intentionally throw at his head, but I’ll make him dance at the plate. Buck may not be satisfied, but I draw the line when it comes to putting someone’s career in jeopardy. And let me remind you that Wynne will likely charge the mound, so I am hoping you will get to him before he can take a shot at me. Can I count on that?”
Bobby looked a bit hurt by the question. It was an unwritten custom in baseball that a catcher always protected his pitcher if he was approached by an enraged batter.
“You know, there is nothing more that I’d like to do than to tackle that asshole. I don’t even need your sorry ass as an excuse.”
“Good,” said Leahy, “we’re on the same page. Look for the pitch to come at Wynne in his second at bat. I don’t want to make it too obvious. The thing that pisses me off is that I’ll get tossed from the game, and I need the work. That will also put an added strain on the bullpen. But we have to do something. Here, let me have the bill. You go home and get some sleep so your reflexes are sharp, and you’re primed to cover my back”.
“Wow! The conservative MBA is loosening his money belt. This is a night to remember!” said Bobby.
Citizens Bank Park was sold out for the 22nd consecutive home game of the season. The resurgence of the team in the division standings was one reason. Second, the young flamethrower Tim Charles was leading the league in strikeouts, and was second in earned run average among starting pitchers. He, along with the ageless London Roquemore, Scott Jeffries, Mike Leahy, and Jeff “Tiny” Rommer rounded out a very formidable pitching staff. Veteran J.P. Lynch, the knuckleball specialist, was an occasional spot starter and reliever.
The Phillies had a totally different line-up from their pennant winning years. They had homegrown talent in Elwell, and a prodigious RBI producer in their first baseman. Veteran shortstop Peter Hecht was a useful utility role player and mentor to second year man Colby Green who played regularly. At third they had youthful experience in Julio Herrera, whose glove work was magical. One of his plays were invariably in the top ten gems shown nightly on ESPN.
In the outfield, other than big Glenn Pierce, the Phillies depended on speed and defense rather than raw power. The bench had a good on-base percentage, even if it lacked walk-off homerun power. This was a well-balanced team. Of course the Braves and the equally dangerous Washington Nationals were also favored by some, and it was clear that the race would go down to the wire.
As batting practice took place, there was a palpable tension in the air. It manifested itself in the fact that both teams kept to themselves and didn’t fraternize with the opposing players, as is often the case, before the start of a game. In the clubhouse some of the Phillies players played cards in the afternoon, and then there were those who listened to music to relax before the game. Others spoke openly and with some degree of hostility about the loss of Elwell.
Julio Herrera was one who loudly complained to anyone in earshot that the Mets’ hurler had deliberately gone after Elwell. He was especially outraged that the umpiring crew had not seen fit to eject the pitcher.
“We have to protect our players or we’ll be standing out there with a red bulls-eye on our chest. The friggin’ umpires ain’t gonna stop it, so we gotta do it ourselves. Ain’t that right?” asked Julio.
His message did not go unheard. Several of the guys looked toward Leahy and some of the relief pitchers to see whether they were listening. Leahy continued to read Forbes magazine but a couple of the relievers nodded in agreement. Veteran pinch-hitter Charlie Chinni, quipped “baseball is as much about intimidation as it is about having talent.”
“That’s no lie” yelled an excited Herrera, “and today is as good as any to prove we’re not candy-asses. I’m pumped up, baby! What does my main-man, Bobby ‘The Enforcer’ Carson, say?” asked Julio.
Carson had a leadership role on the team by virtue of his catching position as well as the way he played the game. He was the prototype of a team player, and he played the game hard. He ran out slow ground balls and hustled on every play, regardless of the score. He was a manager’s dream. He had several years to play provided he could sit out occasional day games after a night game to reduce the pain to his knees.
“Julio, I hear you, and help is on the way, baby.”
Carson didn’t feel it was necessary or helpful to be explicit, but he left the clear impression that he would have their backs.
Later, as the players streamed onto the field, the air seemed to be filled with the acrid aroma of one half-measure of testosterone mixed with one half-measure of adrenalin. Leahy finished his warm up pitches on the sidelines and debated within himself the merits of what he was about to do. He hated getting ejected from any game. He felt like he was better than any long reliever on the club, and he didn’t want the bullpen depleted for the Sunday night televised “game of the week.” Additionally, he needed to get another one in the win column. His last four prior decisions were either a no decision or a loss.
The first inning was uneventful and there was no score in the top of the second, when the stadium announcer proclaimed, “Now batting for the New York Mets, Luther Wynne.” Herrera could barely contain the smirk that appeared on his face. He figured that Wynne would be the one selected to pay for the injury to his teammate. In the dugout Sawyer also waited and wondered who Leahy had chosen to make an example of for the affront to the Phillies’ star.
Leahy’s first pitch was a fastball on the outside corner, but a bit high for ball one. Wynne, batting right-handed against the lefty Leahy, leaned over the plate in a relaxed style that would, even under ordinary circumstances, prompt a brush back. And so the lefty threw a high heater around the chin of Wynne that produced a howl from the crowd as if they had been the recipient themselves. Mets fans booed the gall of Leahy. The count was 2-0 when Leahy decided it was time to pay his obligation.
His next pitch was a curve ball that broke hard on a downward plane and struck Wynne rather harmlessly on the top of his left foot. The pitch was so benign that the plate umpire awarded first base to the batter, but failed to eject Leahy or even issue a warning. At third base Herrera was stunned and confused by the half-hearted effort of Leahy. He glared at his pitcher and hoped that this was just an appetizer for the main drilling.
Batting third was former all-star third baseman Ron Kelmer. He popped out to Herrera at third, and Wynne was held at first. With one out, everyone expected Wynne to steal second, but Leahy’s pickoff move was a good one and Wynne was not the same as he was at twenty years old. Leahy got to a 2-2 count, and on the next pitch threw a pitch-out to a standing Carson, who rifled a strike to nab Wynne at second. The cleanup hitter flew out to Pierce in left, and that retired the side in the second.
Herrera ran to the dugout and waited there for Leahy to take his slow walk from the mound. When Leahy reached the first step, Julio literally pulled him into the dugout and cursed at him in a mixture of English and Spanish.
“You fucking puta! Is that what you call protecting your players? You’re a joke, man! You throw like la nina out there. Who the hell will respect us now, you fucking pussy!”
Herrera’s agitation went from words to physically pushing and taunting Leahy. “Can you fight you little girl? You got no cohones!”
All of this was in clear view of the Mets’ dugout, and their broadcast team showed the internal squabble twice after commercial break. Carson and two of the coaches pulled Julio away and kept the men separated. Sawyer went over to Herrera and told him that he supported the point that he was making, and that someone would deliver the message for the Phillies.
“Nice job out there, Leahy,” mocked Sawyer. “You have them crappin’ in their pants. What the fuck was that pitch? You think that evens things? You’re fuckin’ nuts if you do.”
Sawyer was worked up, but his bench coach reminded him that the cameras were locked on him, and that he needed to take it to the runway if he wanted to dress down Leahy.
In the home team’s broadcast booth, the color analyst and the play-by-play announcer could not ignore the episode when they were back on the air. The long time analyst knew instinctively the cause of the bench confrontation.
“Herrera was expressing the time-honored unwritten code amongst ball players that ‘if you hit one of my teammates, we will retaliate in kind.’ Apparently that curve ball that Leahy threw did not satisfy Herrera, and he let Leahy know it in no uncertain terms.”
“That’s not a good omen for things to come between these two teams because tensions will rise and expectations for further reprisals will increase for both sides,” said the Phillies’ announcer.
“That’s true, and it is especially bad news for the Phillies because there will be dissention in their clubhouse. Sawyer wants to avoid a schism in the bond that has existed for so many years with this team. Now, there are examples of teams who could still win in a tense clubhouse, even teams that had fistfights among themselves, like the Oakland A’s and Yankees of the 70’s, but they are the exceptions. Another thing you want to avoid is a continuing tit-for-tat mentality because that can escalate real quickly. Hopefully, cooler heads will prevail and one of the team leaders will step up and try to mend fences.”
“I’m wondering if Buck may have to suspend Herrera for that outburst” said the play-by-play announcer.
“Well, I doubt that he will, but Buck will have to bring these two guys together either in a three-way meeting or in a full team meeting,” said the analyst.
Leahy returned unperturbed to the mound and continued to pitch effectively, and at the end of the eighth inning the home team led 3-1.
In the ninth, Sawyer replaced Leahy – who had thrown 105 pitches – with his closer. The Mets countered with back-to-back singles to start the inning. The next batter struck out for the first out and that brought up Marlon Whitaker, their power-hitting right-fielder. The left-handed Whitaker took the first offering from the Phillies closer and rocketed a one-hop grounder up the middle towards second. The second baseman quickly whirled towards second and threw a perfect toss to shortstop Colby Green, who pivoted across second and began his throw to first to complete the double play. The speedy Leyton was motoring to second as fast as he could to break up the double play.
Leyton bore down on Green and slid with his cleats high in the air. He made contact with Green just as the ball left the shortstop’s hand and plowed into his upper thigh. Green tumbled hard onto Leyton.
In the meantime, the first base umpire had already made the out sign to end the game, but that did not end the field activity. Leyton tried to push Green off of him but Colby Green took exception by putting Leyton in a wrestling hold. Mets’players poured onto the field to back their team leader. That prompted the Phillies to scamper on as well. Even the bullpen pitchers surrounded second base.
“This could get ugly real fast,” warned the Phillies’ analyst. “These guys simply don’t like each other. Let’s hope no one gets hurt.” Most of the players merely mingled around. The proper protocol, as practiced for generations in the unwritten baseball code, is to make a perfunctory showing of solidarity for your teammates by gesturing rather than actual fighting. Words were sometimes exchanged and there was pushing and pulling, but it was a controlled dance. Too much was at stake for the team and the individual players to risk injury that could result in a long-term disability.
This code was not to Buck’s liking tonight, and he charged over the mound towards the rugby-like scrum of men at second base. He was met there by Whitaker who had changed direction from first and headed to second. Sawyer tried to tackle the larger Whitaker, but two other Mets’ players interceded and sent Sawyer flailing to the ground. His pride and rump a bit damaged, he was privately grateful that two of his coaches held him back from further pain or humiliation. He couldn’t believe how winded he was from the little action he had taken. He felt older than his 58 years but the smoking and drinking had caught up to him. Well, he thought, he showed his players he meant business- even if he fell short of his goal.
Other players continued to push and menace at each other, but because the game ended, some of the Philly Police broke up the opposing sides and order was restored with little damage.
Gregg Martin, a former ballplayer for the Phillies, was down on the field for a post-game interview. He was unable to get anyone from the winning team to talk except for Herrera, who was still mingling around looking for some renewed action.
“Julio, nice job out there today. This is a good win against those Mets again tonight, but what is this brawl going to mean for this club’s morale?”
“It will definitely bring us together, Gregg. We have to go out there and execute our game every day, and not feel intimidated. This will give us an extra incentive to want to sweep those guys.”
“Well Julio, does this brawl end the retaliation by both clubs? You know that the umpiring crew will notify the commissioner’s office of this incident, and that will likely lead to warnings being issued to both teams before the start of tomorrow’s game.”
Julio wasn’t willing to commit because in his mind his team had now suffered twice at the hands of the Mets, and the score was not yet settled.
“Let’s see what tomorrow brings, but we need to protect our players and we will do so when it’s necessary,” said the young third baseman.
“It looks like things are still brewing down here. Back to you in the booth,” said Gregg.
In the radio booth, color commentator Joe Forte, also a former Phillies’ player, made it clear to his listeners that peace was not at hand.
“That slide by Leyton was downright dirty if you ask me. Nobody takes exception to a clean take out slide, but that was cleats-flying-high and it went too far. It was deliberate. If I’m out there on the mound the next time that Leyton bats, there is no way that he doesn’t get some chin music.”
“Yes Joe, but do you do it the next game, the next series, or just at some point during the season?” asked his partner in the booth. “No question retaliation will bring automatic ejections and possible suspensions.”
“No question about it, but the team comes first and you need to show your team that you are ready to sacrifice a suspension for your players. If not, you will lose their respect, and then they won’t have your back when you need them.”
“Well, that’s a wrap from Citizens Bank Park tonight, where the fighting Phillies took the second game of a three game series from the Mets and the fireworks were out prematurely here in June” said Martin.
In the clubhouse, Colby Green was getting treatment for cuts and bruises he suffered on the slide from Leyton. Sawyer called for a closed meeting so the press was excluded. Buck was on his fourth cigarette since the game ended, and his face continued to reflect the beet pallor that was present when he was incensed; an emotion often seen by his players.
“Men,” he began, “you know I’m old school, and I’m proud of it. There are certain basic rules that still remain a part of baseball. One of them is that you gotta protect your own if they are thrown at, or when somebody takes out one of us on a dirty play. We have to play hardball, and that means playing the game the way it’s supposed to be played. We need to respect each other enough so that we do what is necessary to protect our baseball family.
We have lost our all-star second baseman for several weeks because of a purpose pitch that was thrown without any provocation from us. Today, we blew an opportunity to respond in kind with Wynne at the plate. Sometimes paybacks are a bitch, but we must retaliate, and we must send the Mets a message that we aren’t going to turn the other cheek. I want to read a line from Joe Garagiola’s book, Baseball is a Funny Game.
Garagiola said, ‘Baseball is a game played by human beings and governed by unwritten laws of survival and self-preservation.’
That was true 60 years ago and it remains true today. This is like a game of the survival of the fittest. You have to be skilled, conditioned, and be willing to defend yourself to survive in this game so that you can claim a title after 162 games. The game of baseball is really no different today than it was when Cobb played, or when it was played in the Golden era by Mays, Mantle, and Aaron. Think about what pitchers like Drysdale, Maglie, and Gibson would do. Pride and respect for the team is the engine that drives the great teams to win the World Series. We have been there in the past, and I want to take us there again. Are you with me?”
The players rarely saw Buck so emotional and many were actually moved by his words. They responded with loud cheers and applause. For young Tim Charles it was moving yet very unsettling. He heard the jab that Buck threw at Leahy, without naming him, and he felt the words by his manager were now directed towards him.
“Now boys, I am going to say this just once more, and I expect that my words will be heeded this time. I want Leyton to pay for what he did to Colby. I don’t give a flying fuck if he is run over at second base, stepped on, hit in the head by a throw when he runs toward a base on a force play, or frankly beaned in the head. In fact I hope one of you sticks it in his ear! I want it done with a fastball and not some change up or breaking pitch. We need to put him on the disabled list.”
“One other thing before I let you go. I can’t emphasize enough, especially now, what I have posted here in the clubhouse. As you walk past it, pay attention to it and live by it. Get some rest and I’ll see you here tomorrow about 2 PM.”
As Sawyer left, Leahy shook his head and said “asshole” loud enough for others to hear. It was met by silence save for Herrera. He couldn’t hide his emotions and responded to no one in particular that “Buck knew how the game was meant to be played.”
As Tim Charles, the following night’s starting pitcher left, he paused at the framed quote that was on the wall. It read:
“What you see here, what you say here, what you hear, when you leave here, let it stay here.”
Charles felt sick to his stomach as he pondered the words of his manager. Did it really fall on him to keep the unwritten law of retribution? Was he up to it? Why had he been scheduled to make the next start?
Timothy Matthew Charles was born and raised in Sarasota, Florida, adjacent to the Gulf of Mexico. For the middle-class Charles family, it was an ideal place to raise a family. Tim grew up a few miles from the historic district on Ringling Boulevard close to Tuttle Avenue. It was a modest house that was home to his father Jeff, mother Lois, and siblings Walt and Joyce. Jeff Charles was a schoolteacher in nearby Bradenton and coached the high school team. Lois needed to supplement his income and worked as a legal secretary for a local firm. Still, with gorgeous beaches nearby, and beautiful sunny weather all year, the Charles family felt blessed.
Tim inherited a passion for baseball from his dad, who played Minor League ball in the Florida State League. He was a catcher for the Bradenton team. He would play catch with his son from a very early age, and Tim would later credit his dad with developing his skills. They had a very strong bond, perhaps because Tim was the oldest and Walt preferred football.
The bond was cemented when Jeff took his son to his first baseball game at the age of seven. True, it was only a spring training game, but to Tim it was almost a spiritual event. Tim lived within walking distance of Ed Smith Stadium, the spring training facility for the Cincinnati Reds. The Reds had played there for about ten years until they moved on to the cactus league in Arizona and were replaced by the Baltimore Orioles in the 2010 grapefruit league season. Tim still remembered the first time his dad took him to a game and told his son that the player with the perfect left-handed swing wearing his cap backwards was Ken Griffey, Jr. His father explained that “The Kid” – as Griffey was called – had been voted on the all-century team in 1999 as one of the greatest players in the 20th century, at the age of only 29. He was even more impressed to learn that Griffey sometimes kept his yacht at a marina in Longboat Key, just a short ride from Sarasota proper.
Sarasota was a great location for a baseball freak like Tim. The month of March, when spring training began, was even better than Christmas break. On the weekends, Jeff and his son would take in games in Sarasota, but they also took the short twenty-minute ride to the Pittsburgh Pirates’ McKechnie Field in Bradenton. Often they would travel about an hour up to Clearwater where Tim got to see his future teammates on the Phillies. At other times they would see the Phillies at Sarasota when they were the visiting team.
They were a close-knit family, and shared a strong faith in their Lord, which regularly took them to church on Sunday. They had relied on their faith when the family considered whether to let Tim enter the baseball draft after his senior year at Cardinal Mooney High School or go to college first. The family could not afford to send Tim without scholarship money, but that was no concern after Tim was named to the All-American team. When Buck Sawyer went to their home and talked to the family about the Phillies organization, he brought a few former major league players from the Phillies organization.
Buck summed it up simply: “Tim, you have been blessed by our Creator with great talent, and He has a plan for you in this game. Why put your career at risk by playing four years in college? You don’t want to put your arm in jeopardy before you sign a big league contract. Think of your future son.”
That logic – and the prospect of a ten million dollar, three -year contract – convinced the family to sign with the team after he was drafted in 2013. He got one million of that up front as a bonus.
Lois made Tim promise that, whether on the road or in Philly, he would find a church and attend mass every week.
In his first full season in pro ball, Charles lived up to his potential. During the summer of 2014 his parents drove to the Clearwater Stadium to see him pitch. He needed their presence because Tim was not the most outgoing young man on the team, and he missed his home a great deal.
Now home would be in a new location. He bought his parents a house in nearby Lakewood Ranch about twelve miles from his old home. It was a stunning sum of money for him, a $350,000 four-bedroom house on a lake, with its own pool. He was grateful to God and to the Phillies that he could do it, and it would be his off-season home as well, until he was ready to live on his own. As a reflection of his gratitude to the church, he donated $25,000 to his local parish. His present to himself was a Mustang convertible.
By August of his first season, Tim had progressed well beyond anyone’s expectations, and there were rumors that the young sensation would be brought up to the parent club on September first when the rosters were expanded. That expansion of extra players enabled the team to strengthen itself for the pennant drive or to take a look at young talent under the pressure of the big leagues.
Charles acquitted himself very nicely in his three starting appearances and his sole relief effort. He had more strikeouts than innings pitched, and had pinpoint control. If there was one criticism management had for the kid, it was his apparent unwillingness to move batters off of the plate when they dug in against him. As a result, Charles gave up three home runs in his short stint with the team. They chalked it up to his youth and lack of experience.
When the regular season ended, Buck Sawyer had a talk with his young apprentice and told him that he would be given a full opportunity to make the major league roster when he went to spring training the following February. On the off-season, Tim worked extremely hard at his training program. He was wiry and nimble and never seemed to have a dead arm. He attributed his healthy arm to his easy and smooth delivery. Most of his power came from his legs. That gave him the ability to propel the ball and lessen any strain on his shoulder or elbow.
When he returned the following year, he was already touted as one of the top ten rookie prospects by the famed and respected Sporting News. Yet the timid and shy youngster remained humble, and celebrity didn’t swell Tim’s head. Unlike some in the league, he avoided the glare of the media as much as possible. He did what the club asked of him, but the media and fans couldn’t get enough of his boyish good looks. When he smiled his dimples and that closely trimmed blonde hair made him look even younger than his chronological age.
He still could not get over the fact that it was him that kids would seek out for autographs before a game. He never forgot the feeling he had as a youngster when he could get close to the playing field and a player would sign a ball or just acknowledge him with a wave.
Tim was more than happy to give back. He signed autographs at every venue both before and after a game. He would get ribbing from some of the veterans, but deep down they envied his innocence and respected his patience and gentleness with the fans.
His play on the field did nothing to disavow the baseball pundits. He was simply terrific. He had a sixteen inning scoreless streak before he gave up a two-run homerun to Dave Rahm of the Reds. By the end of spring training there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that he had made the team. He was two months short of his 20th birthday.
Just three months into the 2015 season, Charles faced his first critical test in the majors. It wasn’t a bases-loaded jam with Ryan Zimmerman or Prince Fielder up at the plate. It was a choice he had to make about his own code of morality. How would he deal with morality on the playing field when his team demanded something that he felt was out of character?
He couldn’t sleep after the Saturday night game. He was about to pitch before a packed stadium the next night in view of a few million fans on Sunday Night Baseball. If that weren’t enough, he was in the middle of a virtual baseball war between his team and the divisional rival Mets.
He stayed up late in his center city apartment with his roommate Bradley Schofield, a speedy outfielder. Brad had been in the league only a few years himself, but at 27 was savvier than Charles. The topic of conversation was naturally Buck’s speech, and the animosity that was keenly felt in the two prior games.
“Fuck no, man, there is no way that this is over. It’s just a question of when and how the next one comes. Hey roomie, you’re not going to be the first guy to nail a batter in retaliation. It’s not that big a deal. It goes with the territory. I’m sure the Mets know it’s coming sooner or later. But if it makes you squeamish, Tim, you can pass and let one of the bullpen guys do it for you.”
“Do you think that would make me look bad, Brad? I don’t want to look like I’m letting my team down. I have dreamed about playing in the majors for as long as I can remember. If I punk out, what will everyone think?”
“Dude, you know what some of the guys like Herrera will say. They’ll call you a pussy. They’ll say you’re yellow or gutless – maybe that you got no respect for the game and its tradition.”
“Oh, that makes me feel so much better Brad. I’m so glad I asked.”
“Look roomie, Leahy is still getting paid, and he wimped out, so what’s the big deal?”
“That’s true, but I admire Mike for his courage.”
“See! You’re gonna be fine. You’ll still have me and Mike as friends, and maybe even your pitching coach.”
“Great, I’ll have three friends left on the team and everyone else will think I’m some kind of a weeny.”
Tim could not forget Sawyer’s words about sticking it in someone’s ear. It unnerved him to think of it, but he felt a deep obligation to the man who had been his benefactor. He realized he would be suspended for five games or maybe more, but that was the price the team and Buck felt was necessary. As he gazed vacuously at the ceiling, he recalled a painful episode he experienced in his junior year of high school.
The baseball team captain and head honcho Clark Draper called a team meeting in mid-season. Draper’s manipulative and egocentric personality spawned adulators and sycophants alike. The players listened intently as Draper relayed a conversation he had earlier with Coach Braddock. Draper explained that the coach planned to promote a kid from junior varsity to the varsity as an extra infielder. The problem was, as Draper saw it, the new kid wouldn’t fit in because he was gay. Rather than make the whole team uncomfortable, Draper argued for an alternative solution. He ordered his teammates to ostracize and shun the kid until he broke and quit.
It would have worked except for the reserved yet bold act of courage displayed by Tim. On the second day of practice, while everyone else ignored the neophyte, Tim pulled a stunt vaguely reminiscent of Hall of Famer Pee Wee Reese in 1947. Reese had simply draped his arm around the shoulder of Jackie Robinson during a road game in a show of support when opponents, fans, and even some Dodger players wanted no part of a black man in baseball. In the same spirit, Tim put his arm around the shoulder of the dispirited youngster on the dugout steps and assured him that his love for the game would overcome any obstacles.
Given Draper’s exalted status, the results were not unexpected. The new kid stuck it out and performed solidly, but Tim bore the consequences of scurrilous rumor. Suddenly he was just a loner on a team that ridiculed character. Those moments were not lost on Tim now as he faced another challenge just a few years removed from his high school lesson.
He wanted spiritual guidance, but he knew there was nothing in the Bible to justify deliberately hurting another competitor unless it was in self-defense. So he didn’t pray for an answer. He finally fell asleep at 5:00 AM. When he awoke he was no closer to an answer.