Big League Stew - MLB

Last season may have been the Year of the Unwritten Rule in baseball, but 2011 is getting off to an awfully early start.

And Jake Fox(notes) is accused of being this year's first big violater, not only by the opposing team, but by his own manager as well.

According to Jeff Zrebiec of the Sun papers, the Baltimore Orioles catcher ruffled the feathers of the Detroit Tigers and O's manager Buck Showalter during the eighth inning of Monday's spring training game in Sarasota. His big offense? Swinging at a 3-0 pitch with no outs and runners on second and third.

That doesn't sound that egregious — especially since there were runners in scoring position and the at-bat ended in a bases-loading walk anyway — so what was the beef?

Apparently, the O's were winning 13-3 at the time and there was a minor league pitcher on the mound, so Fox's bat should have been on his shoulder. Or so some would have you believe.

From The Sun:

Swinging 3-0 in a 10-run game with no outs in the eighth inning with a minor league pitcher on the mound is a decent way to make sure you get a fastball in the ribs in your next at-bat. The average fan may not think it was a big deal but Orioles manager Buck Showalter and Tigers manager Jim Leyland certainly did.

Showalter angrily yanked off his hat, and was seen yelling in the home dugout to anyone in particular. His hat off the whole time, he kept shaking his head and muttering throughout the rest of Fox's at-bat, which resulted in a walk.  Leyland, meanwhile, yelled at Fox from the top step of the dugout.

When Fox was removed for a pinch runner, Showalter made sure that he was one of the first people to meet him in the dugout and he gave him an earful. The Orioles manager was still fuming about it after the game as it apparently wasn't the first time this spring where Fox ignored a clear take situation.

First off, the objections of Leyland and Showalter, of course, are completely ridiculous because we're talking about spring training. For the past month, we've watched games where starters threw 10 changeups in a row, closers worked the fourth or fifth innings, and everyday players got one or two at-bats before showering, dressing and leaving for their condos by the time the seventh inning rolled around. If there's one rule about spring training baseball, it's that the normal rules of baseball don't apply.

Going further, though, Fox is a special case who should have been swinging away as long as he hadn't received a sign saying otherwise. Though he hit a whopping 10 homers this spring for the major league lead, his deficiencies on defense kept him in limbo on a team that's already full of guys who can go deep. It wasn't until Tuesday that he found out that he'd officially made the team as its lone backup catcher. Until that news, he should have been using every opportunity — something that spring training is designed for — to show what he can do (namely, launch baseballs at a sometimes prodigious rate).

By the way, if Leyland and Showalter continue to insist that the score of a spring training game should dictate anything that happens on the field, there's this: The final score of Monday's game was 14-9, so that 10-run lead at the time of Fox's "transgression" wasn't as much of a lock as it looked. (Nor did any of the players in the game give up either.)

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