Baseball has, as always, embraced a full slate of retaliation this season, lowlighted by Jered Weaver and Carlos Carrasco throwing at the heads of opponents.
Recently, however, we've seen a different kind of retaliation -- less fiery and more bureaucratic, but far more profound. As a result, Logan Morrison and Carlos Zambrano are no longer in the big leagues.
Morrison, the promising Marlins outfielder, upset by a snafu that compromised a team-sponsored charity bowling tournament, responded by boycotting a subsequent photo session with season-ticket holders.
The lesson he learned: Don't mess with management. Later that day, despite ranking second on the team with 17 homers and third with 60 RBIs, Morrison was optioned to Triple-A. The team cited his .249 batting average.
An unwritten rule pertinent to the situation says that players must be well established before unleashing the full force of their personalities. Morrison has done nothing of the sort. A quick account of his recent waves: Twitter use so prodigious that team president David Samson requested it be cooled; telling reporters that the firing of hitting coach John Mallee earlier this season was ordered by team owner Jeffrey Loria (drawing a direct rebuke from Loria himself); and last week leveling another round of criticism at Marlins all-star shortstop Hanley Ramirez -- compounding the statements he made in June about the shortstop's perceived lack of effort.
The same day Morrison was demoted, his clubhouse confidante (and fellow Ramirez critic) Wes Helms -- who had advised his protégé against attending the photo session -- was released. (Helms was hitting just .191 in a very limited role, but the timing of the move was, at the least, curious.)
Case in point regarding the correlation between status and freedom of speech: Jeff Conine, Mr. Marlin himself, said earlier this season that he'd "probably" trade Ramirez if given the choice. The repercussions (aside from an angry response from Ramirez): None.
For a lesson on how to abide by this particular piece of Code, turn to Giants closer Brian Wilson, who didn't come by his quirks only recently -- he just knew how to hide them as a younger player.
"I had the beard in 2007, but they made me shave it when I had to go to Triple-A ..." he said in an interview late last season. "I wasn't allowed to have the mohawk in the minor leagues. I got it two weeks after I was called up in '06, and the full-on one came in 2009."
By which point he was coming off an all-star season in which he finished second in the National League in saves.
One of Morrison's teammates had it right when he suggested, in a Palm Beach Post article, that the outfielder's timing was off.
"In five years, when you're a stud, that's when you can get away with that," the unnamed player told the newspaper. "It was a perfect time for them to do it because we're out of (the race). I'll tell you what, though: If we're close to the Braves right now, I'll bet you they don't make that move."
The other unwritten rule in play -- and this goes for all walks of life, not just baseball -- is pick your battles wisely. Team management is rarely a good place to start.
For a historic lesson, look to Chicago in 1939, when new Cubs shortstop Dick Bartell, arriving for a spring training game, insulted an overweight man struggling to get through a ballpark turnstile.
The man, Ed Burns, was one of the team's official scorers and made life miserable for Bartell -- a starter in the first All-Star Game six years earlier -- by charging him with questionable errors and charging errors on the other team that could have gone for hits for Bartell.
Bartell batted .238 that season, 48 points below his career mark, and for the first time in eight years his fielding percentage was below the league average. Although Burns later apologized, Bartell was shipped out following the season for spare parts.
Carlos Zambrano should be so lucky. Seventy-two years after Bartell's gaffe, Zambrano has been similarly banished from the Cubs. Last week, after giving up back-to-back homers (the fourth and fifth he'd surrendered to the Braves on the day) Zambrano threw two pitches at Chipper Jones, missing with both, and was promptly tossed. Players came streaming out of the Atlanta dugout to defend their star, but the only guy to move from Chicago's bench was manager Mike Quade, who ambled out to chat with plate ump Tim Timmons.
It's difficult to say where Zambrano lost his clubhouse. In 2007, he fought openly with teammate Michael Barrett. In 2009 he had an in-game meltdown so severe that MLB suspended him for six games, and then missed the team's flight to Atlanta. In 2010 he screamed at teammate Derek Lee in the dugout, for which he was suspended by the Cubs and which precipitated his enrollment in anger-management therapy. Earlier this season he called the Cubs a "Triple-A team."
After Zambrano's meltdown against Atlanta (which also included drilling Dan Uggla after the first of his two homers), Alfonso Soriano confronted him in the clubhouse. Shortly thereafter, the pitcher packed his bags, told people he was retiring and left the ballpark before the game ended.
"I'm really disappointed," Quade told The Chicago Tribune. "His locker is empty. I don't know where he's at. He walked out on 24 guys that are battling their (butts) off for him ... I can't have a guy walking out on 24 guys, that's for damn sure."
"I've never seen that before, someone just get (ticked) off and leave and retire," said third baseman Aramis Ramirez. "I've been around for awhile. Even with him, players don't do that."
It didn't take long for the pitcher to reconsider, offering apologies and going on a mea culpa media tour. The fact that he's owed $4.7 million for the remainder of this season, and $18 million next year, were likely motivating factors.
That's the thing about losing the respect of teammates, however -- returns are never easy. The Cubs placed Zambrano on the disqualified list, resulting in, at the least, a 30-day suspension without pay. The players' union filed a grievance on his behalf.