A bizarre storyline in Stockton on June 23 has left A's roving hitting instructor Todd Steverson with a year-long suspension from the California League.
Steverson was banned from the Class A Advanced Stockton Ports' dugout for a year after he admitted to ordering his pitcher to intentionally balk runners into scoring position in an effort to lose a lengthy extra-inning game against Modesto last month.
Steverson, who was filling in for vacationing Stockton skipper Webster Garrison, said he didn't want to risk injuring his players in a game that lasted more than five hours and led to position players taking the mound for both teams. The Cal League questioned Steverson's decision and the resulting impact it would have on the circuit's integrity.
On Monday, league president Charlie Blaney announced Steverson had been fined an undisclosed amount and banned from the Ports' dugout for a year.
"While Stockton interim manager Todd Steverson's intent was to protect his players from injury in the 17th and 18th innings of the Stockton vs. Modesto game on June 23, 2012, he made an error in judgment by instructing his pitcher to advance three base runners via intentional balk for the purpose of expediting the end of the game," Blaney said in a statement.
"The game ended properly with a base hit to score the winning run, but 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.
"Therefore, Mr. Steverson has both been fined and is banned for one year from being in the dugout during any Cal League game effective June 24, 2012. The Oakland A's organization and Mr. Steverson have been very cooperative, apologetic and accepting of this decision."
The game, a 7-6 win by Modesto in 18 innings, was a marathon contest and forced both managers to send positions players to the mound after using up their bullpens. Stockton third baseman Tony Thompson pitched a pair of hitless innings before outfielder Josh Whitaker took the mound in the 17th frame. That inning, Whitaker issued a one-out walk to Modesto's Kyle Parker and then, under Steverson's orders, intentionally balked twice to send the 2010 first-round pick to third base. The Nuts failed to convert when Jared Clark, a first baseman who himself pitched the final three innings for Modesto, struck out and Jayson Langfels popped up to end the inning.
Stockton went down in order in the 18th, and after Dustin Garneau hit a leadoff single for Modesto in the bottom of the inning, Whitaker balked for a third time, moving Garneau into scoring position for Helder Velazquez, who connected on a walk-off single to right with the infield and outfield pulled in. The game lasted five hours and five minutes, 18 innings and featured 30 strikeouts and 22 walks.
Steverson defended his decision earlier this week, arguing that the development of his players and their health is more important than the outcome of a June game.
"We had a position player out there and I didn't want to put another position player on the mound and get him hurt," Steverson told the Modesto Bee. "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."
The situation has presented an interesting debate among fans and media members -- is the well-being and development of prospects more important than winning and losing a mid-summer game in a Minor League? The game had been a sellout, with 4,781 fans marking the second-largest crowd of the season for Modesto, but only about 800 remained by the final inning.
Steverson is an accomplished manager and coach, leading the Triple-A Sacramento RiverCats to the Pacific Coast League championship in 2008 after reaching the playoffs three times with Vancouver and Stockton from 2004-06. He served as Oakland's first base coach from 2009-10 and returned to Sacramento last season before moving over to a roving instructor roll this year. He began his coaching career as a hitting coach in 1999.