Two weeks ago, the Stockton Ports lost 7-6, in 18 innings, to the Modesto Nuts. It wasn't a typical game for the Athletics' Single-A affiliate. For one, the regular manager was on vacation, leaving former MLB player and current Oakland hitting instructor Todd Steverson in charge. For another, it went 18 innings, and was a Class A game in June, and less than a thousand people were in the stands. Everyone just wanted the game to end, including Steverson, and now he's paying the price for it.
The Ports ran out of pitchers after the 14th inning. Steverson turned first to third baseman Tony Thompson, the team's emergency pitcher. He held Modesto scoreless for two innings, then had to leave the game. Steverson then went to outfielder Josh Whitaker, and told him if anyone got on, to intentionally balk. Afterword, Steverson explained his reasoning:
"We had a position player out there and I didn't want to put another position player on the mound and get him hurt … I didn't get any of my pitchers hurt and I didn't get any position players hurt. So a game on June 23, 2012, well, these guys will be playing many more games more important than that."
After a one-out walk, Whitaker balked. Then, he balked again. Why he didn't balk the runner in from third, I don't know, but Whitaker retired the next two batters to get out of the inning. In the 18th, with a runner on second, Whitaker balked a third time. This time, finally, Modesto singled to win the game. Stockton slipped further into last place, but at least no one got hurt.
Yesterday, the league fined Steverson an undisclosed amount and banned him from California League dugouts for a full year.
"While Stockton Interim Manager Todd Steverson's intent was to protect his players from injury … he made an error in judgment by instructing his pitcher to advance 3 base runners via intentional balk for the purpose of expediting the end of the game … Mr. Steverson's decision to advance the opposing team's base runners into scoring position compromised the integrity of the game, which is paramount in this great game of ours."
The integrity of the game, and all that. Which makes sense if anyone truly cared who wins Single-A games, or wagered on them. But most right-thinking individuals see the minor leagues as a place to prepare and train players for the next step of their careers, and you don't do that through post-midnight farces with position players pitching and an increasing risk of a 20-year-old kid blowing out his shoulder. So Steverson ought to be supported and applauded by the A's organization for his decisions, if not his candor. Maybe a promotion to guest-managing the Double-A team is in order.
Intentional balks not the best way to end game [Modesto Bee]