Tavarez: Cuddly, Cheat or Crazy?

History demonstrates that Julian Tavarez' beanball delivered to the side of Mike Piazza's head on Saturday night is not some isolated incident.

Julian Tavarez is probably loving it.

Turning himself into the center of attention of the New York Mets by throwing a pitch into the side of Mike Piazza's head Saturday night. After all, how dare Piazza hit a home run in his first at-bat back from the disabled list? As a result, Piazza went looking for Tavarez after the game, but had to settle for meeting with Tony La Russa instead.

And yes, Tavarez is probably loving turning himself into the center of attention for adoring Cardinal fans by collecting his 30th hold of the season, second most in all of Major League Baseball, just a few short minutes later.

Well, I don't love it. The good that is associated with Julian Tavarez seems always to be overshadowed by the bad.

Those who choose to defend Tavarez point out that he is a sinkerball specialist and now and then pitches can and do get away from every hurler.

Those who are concerned only with winning point out that Tavarez is the kind of player who opponents hate, yet you want to have on your side. I don't buy that, either. That same description could be used for pesky leadoff man David Eckstein, yet he earned that label by his hard play and is respected for it, not despised.

I continue to struggle with accepting the fact that Tavarez is really a Cardinal, despite the uniform he wears. Instead, I view him as a mistake. I can only hope that with his initial two-year contract up at the end of the season, that he does not return to St. Louis in 2006.

I just don't believe this man deserves to be a Cardinal. And, the recent problems he's caused are just the tip of a very large iceberg.

Julian Tavarez Carmen is no child. He is 32 years old and has been in the majors for over eleven years now. There is a long list of Tavarez' former teams, most of whom grew weary of him for some very good reasons. He has a considerable history of disciplinary actions having been taken against him, many of which involve throwing at opposing hitters.

Let's look back on some specific, selected actions from the past. Perhaps MLB and its disciplinarian Bob Watson are repeatedly and unfairly picking on an innocent, misunderstood man or more possibly, Tavarez is a notorious and repeated headhunter and nut case.

So, you decide for yourself. Is the man is cuddly, crazy or a cheat? Or, is he all three?

Cuddly – 1995
20-year old Julian Tavarez first appeared in 1993 and his big break on the major league scene came as the fireballing hurler played a key role for the 1995 American League Champion Cleveland Indians. The Dominican captured the fancy of America because the only English word he knew was "chicken". Soon enough, Tavarez learned the language so well that he would conduct interviews himself.

Crazy - 1996
It didn't take long for things to go wrong. Tavarez apparently selected the wrong role model in Cleveland. In 1996, defending teammate and one of the most disciplined players ever, Albert Belle, led Tavarez to his first suspension. It was for body-slamming an umpire. Of course, from Julian's perspective, it was an unfortunate accident.

Belle was angry at getting hit by a pitch. He took it out via a forearm to Milwaukee Brewers' second baseman Fernando Vina's face. After Belle and Tavarez spoke between innings, Tavarez threw behind Brewers' catcher Mike Matheny, who charged the mound.

In the melee that followed, umpire Joe Brinkman grabbed Tavarez from behind and was thrown to the turf. Tavarez insisted he didn't know it was an ump, but still served five games.

Crazy – 1998
By now, Tavarez had been shipped to the San Francisco Giants. In a September, 1998 game, Tavarez took exception to ball four call by throwing his glove to the turf and yelling at the home plate umpire. He flung his cap toward home plate and headed toward the ump, wildly gesturing. Manager Dusty Baker had to pull Tavarez away from his chest-to-chest bumping of the ump, Sam Holbrook. A three-game suspension ensued.

Crazy – 1999
After allowing six runs in an outing against Oakland, Tavarez drilled catcher Mike Macfarlane in the back with a pitch. As Macfarlane was lying on the ground in pain, Tavarez stared down A's manager Art Howe until Baker had to come out and remove Tavarez from the game.

Crazy - 2001
Tavarez had been waived by the Giants and passed through Colorado before moving on to the Cubs. He quickly fit right in, fighting with Giant Russ Davis, and inciting a bench-clearing brawl - during a spring training game! Tavarez took a flying kick at Davis, who had charged the mound after taking exception to what he felt was Tavarez taunting him after a strikeout. Five more games on the pines for Julian.

Crazy – 2001
Before Tavarez could serve the above suspension, his Cubs team had an April series in San Francisco. The Giants fans gave him a hard time and instead of turning the other cheek, Tavarez yelled back. Among his on-the-record comments about his former teams' fans was a John Rocker-esque declaration that "they are a bunch of a-holes and faggots." Bud Selig called the comments "reprehensible". Tavarez justified it in his mind by complaining that the fans threw eggs at him. The only additional punishment meted out was that Tavarez was ordered to undergo sensitivity training.

Cuddly – 2001
On the bench in Chi-town, Tavarez poured rubbing alcohol onto a towel, which he wiped on his head in an apparent attempt to remain cool. However, he may have gone too far when he slipped behind no-nonsense manager Don Baylor and shoved the smelly towel under Baylor's nose. Tavarez was soon traded to Florida.

Cuddly – 2002
In a close game while pitching for the Marlins, Tavarez stepped into the batters box against Colorado's Mike Hampton. Oddly, the right-hander came up as a left-handed hitter. He swung and missed at the first pitch before moving to the other side of the plate, from where he promptly blooped an RBI single.

Crazy – 2003
Now with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Tavarez came out of the bullpen to escalate a fight that was in the process of cooling off between Tampa Bay's Marlon Anderson and Tavarez' teammate Jason Kendall. Tavarez admitted to throwing punches, but accused an unidentified Tampa player of choking him from behind. Seems like it is a bad idea to come up behind him. A three-game suspension ensued.

Crazy – 2003
Still angry over an incident where they feared a Tavarez pitch had broken the arm of first baseman J.T. Snow, Giants manager Felipe Alou mentioned what to that point had been an unspoken assumption – that Tavarez has a history of beaning ex-teammates.

Crazy – 2003
After Tavarez hit him with a pitch, Atlanta Braves outfielder Gary Sheffield glared while slowly walking to first. He carried his bat the entire 90 feet and only gave it up upon reaching the first base bag.

Cheat - 2003
In a signal of problems to come, later that season, Alou strongly intimated that he knew that Tavarez was wearing a cap with pine tar on it. Alou did not publicly press the matter, however.

Cheat – 2004
Despite repeated warnings about his practice of keeping pine tar on his cap, Tavarez continued to flaunt the rules – until Lloyd McClendon's Pittsburgh Pirates called him on it. Despite Tavarez having thrown the evidence, his dirty cap, into the stands, he was served with a ten-game suspension handed down by Watson.

Crazy – 2004
In the NLCS, Tavarez is quoted as saying the Astros aren't that special and then fired a pitch up near Jeff Bagwell's head. That generated a bench clearing and a fine for Tavarez. In a childish fit of rage, Tavarez breaks his hand on a bullpen phone, damaging his team's World Series aspirations.

In closing
It remains to be seen what the ramifications of Tavarez' most recent actions will be in terms of his relationship with his manager, teammates and the Mets, let alone Watson and the MLB disciplinarians. But it is clear that with Tavarez, nothing will change as a result.

Upon signing with the Cardinals in the 2003-2004 off-season, Tavarez spoke fondly of his time in Pittsburgh. He made it clear he preferred to stay there, but the Cardinals offered twice the salary. If it were up to me, I'd do everything possible to make sure he takes a nice, big, fat offer to return there in 2006.

Being quietly banished from St. Louis can happen. Just ask Steve Kline.

I've said it before and I will say it again. In my book, Julian Tavarez doesn't deserve to be a Cardinal and never has.

Brian Walton can be reached via email at brwalton@earthlink.net.

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