The new rules are in for 2017.
And of the most curious, Major League Baseball has gone ahead and instituted the elimination of the four-pitch intentional walk to speed up pace of play (shahhhh! right!). Teams will now just have their manager signal to the home plate umpire the intention to intentionally walk a batter, with the umpire in turn awarding first base.
We like Toronto catcher Russell Martin’s take on things.
“My thing is, if they really want to speed up the game, then when a guy hits a home run, to speed up the game should a guy, just like in softball, when he hits it, should he just walk to the dugout? It’d be quicker. I’m just wondering, at what point do we just keep the game, the game?”
Sometimes baseball happens on an intentional walk and with that in mind, there have been times when the intential walk has come back to bite more than a few teams in the posterior. Here are 10 times the IBB has not been a good decision or ended up in chaos.
10. Kelly Johnson Steals Third On Intentional Walk To Evan Longoria
In this case, never get too comfortable with a man on second while issuing a free pass. Tampa Bay’s Evan Longoria is a pretty feared hitter, so much so that he has been issued intentional walks 74 times in just nine seasons. His high is 12 times during the 2010 campaign and in 2013, one of his 10 IBB’s turned out to be a sore spot for the Miami Marlins. In a late May game at the Trop, the Rays were up on the Marlins 7-6 in the bottom of the sixth, with utility man Kelly Johnson on second with two outs and Longoria coming to the plate. What the Marlins maybe didn’t plan for was the fact that up to that point, Johnson was a perfect 4-for-4 in third base thefts. So, Johnson cannily waited three pitches and on the fourth, he took off for third, narrowly beating the throw from the Marlins’ catcher for a timely stolen base. To date, it is the only recorded theft of third on an intentional walk.
9. White Sox Pitcher Scott Snodgress Makes Adventure Of Intentional Walk
Judging by his wonky performance in one of his four total MLB games in 2014, little wonder that Scott Snodgress is playing independent ball now. A fifth round pick of the Chicago White Sox in 2011, the lanky 6’6″ southpaw worked his way through rookie league, Class A, AA and AAA and got called up to the big club when rosters expanded late in 2014. Up to that point, Snodgress was never called upon to issue a free pass in the minors, but there’s always a first time. The White Sox were in Kansas City on Sept. 17 and were trailing 6-1 with a runner on second and two away when Snodgress was asked to walk light hitting Omar Infante. Well, let’s just say Snodgress made catcher Tyler Flowers work real hard. Every pitch in the at-bat, Snodgress threw very high, causing Flowers to leap high in the air on one occasion. Funny stuff.
8. Tony Pena Fakes John Olerud On Intentional Walk
That Tony Pena, what a card. The former all-star catcher was a gold glover and quite a gamesman, if the “intentional walk” being given to John Olerud was any indication. In a game between Pena’s Cleveland Indians and Olerud’s Toronto Blue Jays in 1996, Pena faked out the former batting champion with a devious play. In the game in question, the Jays were up 3-1 in the top of the fifth with a man on second and two out with Olerud coming to the plate. The 1993 AL batting champion worked the count to 3-2 and Pena promptly called for an intentional walk. With Pena’s arm outstretched, it looked like Olerud was getting another IBB (he had six that season). However, with the ball already on the way (a breaking ball, no less), Pena jumped back behind the plate to glove a perfect strike, ending the inning. He tossed the orb back to the mound with glee, giggling no doubt. And, it wasn’t the last time Pena would pull it off!
7. Octavio Dotel Makes A Mockery Of An Intentional Walk In The Playoffs
Journeyman pitcher Octavio Dotel was a hard-throwing set-up man/closer in his 15 season career, recording 1,143 strikeouts in 951 innings of work. He also pitched for 13 different teams — more than any other player in the history of major league baseball. In 2011, Dotel found himself a member of the St. Louis Cardinals after a mid-season trade from Toronto. He went a collective 5-4 for that season, with 75 Ks and three saves in 64 innings of work. The Cards made the playoffs that year and advanced to the World Series against the Texas Rangers. The series was tied 2-2 with the fifth game in Texas. Dotel relieved starter Chris Carpenter in the eighth with the score tied 2-2 and promptly gave up a lead-double to Michael Young. He then struck out Adrian Beltre swinging and with big hitter Nelson Cruz due up, he was instructed to walk him. Well, Dotel, an all or nothing guy, was known to really dislike giving a free pass. His delivery to home on four balls was something to behold (see GIF). The Cards would lose that game, but go on to win the series.
6. Yankees Gary Sanchez Turns Intentional Walk Into Sacrifice Fly
Gary Sanchez was an absolute monster in his first real foray into big league baseball last year. He had one two-game stint in 2015 and was called up late last year when the New York Yankees had all but thrown in the towel. In 53 games, the young catcher pounded out an incredible 20 homers and drove in 42 runs while hitting .299. On Sept. 10 last year, the Yanks were hosting the Tampa Bay Rays and looking to extend a modest six-game winning streak. In the bottom of the eighth inning of that game, Sanchez, who had already hit his 13th homer of the year earlier, came up with men on second and third and none out. Tampa elected to walk him, but Sanchez may have had other ideas. The Rays reliever put one of the intentional pitches a little too close to the plate and Sanchez ripped it to straight away center, narrowly missing a homer, but scoring a run from third. Wow.
5. Rollie Fingers Fakes Out Johnny Bench
One of the game’s earliest firemen, Rollie Fingers, also pulled off one of the game’s greatest tricks. In 1972, Fingers and the Oakland A’s were in a battle with Cincinnati in the World Series and entered game three up 2-0 after a pair of one-run wins. The Reds were leading 1-0 in the eighth with Fingers coming on in relief of Vida Blue, who had given up single and a walk to put men on the corners with one out. Up strode future Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench to try and stretch the lead. With one strike on Bench, the runner from first stole second. Fingers eventually ran the count full to the Reds catcher, prompting A’s manager Dick Williams to visit the mound for a conference. He seemed to signal to first to indicate an intentional walk, but in the conference, he actually told Fingers to fire a strike. And that, he did, putting a breaking ball on the corner and hoodwinking the great Johnny Bench. (Go to 2:14 of the video to see the play).
4. John Axford Uncorks A Wild Pitch On An Intentional Walk
Again, for baseball purists, the league eliminating the need for a pitcher to actually throw four balls for an IBB won’t allow for baseball to happen, from time to time. And baseball happens to some of the best pitchers, including 2011 NL saves leader John Axford of the Milwaukee Brewers. In 2013, Axford was the set-up man for the Brew Crew, having lost the closer’s role to Jim Henderson. The hard-throwing righty logged a lot of games that season and so it may come as no surprise that in a game in the dog days of August, he may have been trying to force things a bit. The Brewers and San Francisco Giants were deadlocked at 1-1 in a game on Aug. 5, with a runner (Hunter Pence) on second and Pablo Sandoval at the plate with one out. Axford was given the green light to walk Kung Fu Panda, but on one of his throws to home he launched it so far outside that it was a wild pitch, allowing Pence to take third.
3. Barry Bonds Given A Free Pass With The Bases Loaded
This one goes down as one team showing way too much respect for Barry Bonds. Yes, the controversial slugger was a feared hitter, but walking him with the bases loaded, c’mon! In the end, Arizona Diamondbacks then manager Buck Showalter was a genius but the situation sure smelled funny. In a game on May 28, 1998, The D’Backs were leading Bonds and the San Francisco Giants 8-6 with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, but the Giants had the bases loaded and Bonds coming up. Showalter, not wanting to try his luck with any pitches near the strike zone on the three-time MVP, elected, to the consternation of Bonds, to walk him and force in a run. It turned out to be the right move. Instead of trying his luck against a guy who already had 13 homers in 52 games, Showalter conceded a run and then reliever Gregg Olson got San Fran’s Brent Mayne to line out and end the wild inning. That takes real guts.
2. Miggy Cabrera Turns On Intentional Walk Pitch For A Base Hit
Miguel Cabrera is a hitting machine. In just 14 seasons, the Detroit Tigers slugger has amassed 2,519 hits. It should come as no surprise, then, that the two-time AL MVP can even take an errant pitch on an intentional walk and turn it around for a base hit. In 2006, a 23-year-old Cabrera was in his fourth year with the Florida Marlins and had become a regular .300-plus hitter. On June 22 of that year, Cabrera and the Fish were in Baltimore for an inter-league clash between sub-.500 teams. They dueled to a 5-5 tie through nine innings, when Cabrera, who was hitting .339 at the time, came up with one out and a man on second. So, the O’s took the path of least resistance and told reliever Todd Williams to put Miggy on. Only, Williams, who was pretty horrible out of the pen, threw very softly and way too close to the plate for comfort. Cabrera, who could hit just about anything, took Williams first offering for a single into right center, scoring the go-ahead run in a game the Marlins would win 8-5.
1. Vladimir Guerrero Deposits Unintentional-Intentional Walk Pitch Into The Cheap Seats
Why give up on having a pitcher actually throw four pitches for an intentional walk when stuff like this can happen? By this stuff, we mean former Montreal Expos slugger Vladimir Guerrero smacking a pitch so far off the plate it needed a new zip code into the opposite field seats for a game-winning homer. In a game against Philadelphia in July of 2001, Guerrero, who was hitting .336 at the time, came up against reliever Rheal Cormier with the score tied 6-6 with one out in the bottom of the ninth. Phillies manager Larry Bowa was loathe to walk Guerrero, despite the fact the then four-time all-star was a noted bad ball hitter, so he instructed Cormier to pitch to him outside the strike zone and get him fishing. Cormier, being a competitor, though, threw a change-up on the corner that Guerrero could get at to stroke into the opposite field seats and end it. We don’t have video of that homer, but for evidence that Guerrero could hit absolutely anything, see this bloop single later in his career.