[Updated 5:50 p.m.]
Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo responded to Cole Hamels’ admission he drilled Bryce Harper on purpose last night in harsh terms, saying MLB should suspend Hamels and calling out Hamels as “fake tough.”
“Players take care of themselves,” Rizzo said after I called him this morning. “I’ve never seen a more classless, gutless chicken [bleep] act in my 30 years in baseball.
“Cole Hamels says he’s old school? He’s the polar opposite of old school. He’s fake tough. He thinks he’s going to intimidate us after hitting our 19-year-old rookie who’s eight games into the big leagues? He doesn’t know who he’s dealing with.”
Rizzo said player safety should take precedence and Hamels should miss at least one start.
[Late Monday afternoon, Major League Baseball announced that Hamels has been suspended for five games.]
“With all the bounty [stuff] going on in professional football, the commissioner better act with a purpose on this thing,” Rizzo said. “Players have a way of monitoring themselves. We’re not here to hit people and hurt people.
“He thinks he’s sending a message to us of being a tough guy. He’s sending the polar opposite message. He says he’s being honest; well, I’m being honest. It was a gutless chicken [bleep] [bleeping] act. That was a fake-tough act. No one has ever accused Cole Hamels of being old school.”
The Nationals-Phillies rivalry reached a new intensity this weekend, but Rizzo said the intentional plunking is a different matter.
“This goes beyond rivalry and all that stuff,” Rizzo said. “This points to, you take the youngest guy in baseball. He’s never done a thing. And then Hamels patted himself on the back. Harper’s old school. Hitting him on the back, that ain’t old school. That’s [bleeping] chicken [bleep].”
Harper walked to first base without any action toward Hamels. Two batters later, he stole home.
“I knew how he was going to respond,” Rizzo said. “I’m sure he won’t be happy that I’m sticking up for him.”
Rizzo, the longtime scout who turned the Nationals into a contender largely through bountiful drafts, has revealed the fiery part of his personality in the past when backing a player. Last year, he became the first general manager fined by MLB for yelling at an umpire. Part him of probably thought twice before publicly blasting Hamels, but he wanted to stand up for Harper.
“If Cole Hamels wants a dog fight, he met a junkyard dog in Mike Rizzo,” said Special Assistant to the General Manager Harolyn Cardozo, a longtime confidant of Rizzo’s.
The league is reviewing the incident today, and Hamels may have forced MLB’s hand by admitting he hit Harper on purpose. Nationals starter Jordan Zimmermann later hit Hamels as he squared to bunt, but he maintained his innocence.
“He was bunting, and I’m going to take an out when I can get an out,” Zimmermann said. “I was trying to go away, and I cut a fastball really, really bad and hit him in the knee.”
After Rizzo made his comments, at least one Phillies player grew testy on Twitter and rebuked Zimmermann’s claim he had not hit Hamels on purpose.
Former major leaguer Morgan Ensberg, an eight-year veteran who now blogs his baseball observations, tweeted, “Cole [Hamels] disappointed me today by hitting Harper. No honor there. Whoever is the leader on that team doesn't have control.”
Phillies reliever Chad Qualls responded to Ensberg by tweeting, “They hit cole right back but said not on purpose. Yeah right. At least cole was a man and didn't lie about it.”
Rizzo was angered more by Hamels boasting about hitting Harper than the act itself. Hamels did not say when or why he decided to drill Harper. Aside from playing well in the series, Harper had not done anything that would seem to incite Hamels.
“I’m just trying to continue the old baseball -- I think some people kind of get away from it,” Hamels explained to Philadelphia reporters Sunday night. “I remember when I was a rookie the strike zone was really really small and you didn’t say anything just because that’s the way baseball is. Sometimes the league is protecting certain players and making it not that old-school, prestigious way of baseball.”
When told Hamels admitted to hitting him on purpose, Harper said he had “no clue” why and then took the high road.
“He’s a great guy, great pitcher, knows how to pitch,” Harper said. “He’s an all-star. It’s all good.”
Hamels, a 28-year-old left-hander, allowed one run over eight innings Sunday night in the Nationals’ 9-3 loss. He is eligible for free agency after this season and likely will command one of the richest contracts ever for a pitcher. He can probably cross the Nationals off his list, and vice-versa.
Find the fattest, reddest marker you can and circle May 21, the day the Phillies and Nationals will start a three-game series at Citizens Bank Park.
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