While trailing 9-3 today in the 4th inning, ChiSox pitcher John Danks took offense to the reaction Jose Bautista showed to popping up the ball. According to the White Sox announcers, it was a flagrant disrespect of the pitcher and showing him up. According to Danks, it was Bautista acting like a clown, and pretending he was Babe Ruth after “having a really good year and a half.” According to the unwritten rules of baseball – well, here’s where things get shaky.
Showing up players happens all the time. Sometimes it’s done intentionally to rile them up and get inside their heads, sometimes it’s just the emotional reaction players show to a situation, and sometimes it’s a combination of the two. The judgment on the situation always depends on whether it was your player who was showing a lot of heart and emotion, or it was some &^%$ on the other team who’s a career nobody and showed up your player. Really, that’s the biggest difference between them.
First of all, acknowledge that athletes play by different social guidelines than the rest of us. Imagine you’re a lawyer winning a court case and erupting into your best Jose Valverde impression, screaming and jumping around the courtroom. Maybe some of you do, I’m not sure. Still, people continually try to take an ‘Everyday Joe’ approach to how players should be reacting in those situations. But when you’re dealing with your day to day tasks, it’s a different atmosphere than a major league ball park. Take your job, add in 50 thousand screaming fans watching you, crank up a stereo system worth hundreds of thousands of dollars blasting out some hardcore rock music, and then add in all the emotion and adrenaline that comes with physical competition. In the end, most people are going to end up pretty pumped up and excited, and somebody’s feelings are bound to get hurt.
Today it was John Danks’ feelings. It was a tossed bat into the ground by Bautista, and whether or not he showed proper emotion for popping up the pitch in a blowout game, I guess that’s going to change with everybody’s opinions. Perhaps the unofficial commissioner on the unwritten rules of baseball, Dallas Braden, will sound off on the subject. But day to day in baseball, you’re going to see these sorts of plays.
As mentioned Jose Valverde really gets into his closing job, and likes to celebrate important outs with excited antics. It must excite fans, but being on the other side of the scoreboard watching him pitch just about makes me and my fellow fans mental. There’s nothing worse than losing, but losing to some clown dancing around on the mound just seems to make things worse. And I bet if Valverde didn’t already know that, it certainly wouldn’t be incentive to stop.
Joba Chamberlain has irked players and fans over the past few seasons with his fist pump following big strike outs. The Orioles had enough of it and facing Joba, Aubrey Huff celebrated his homerun with several exaggerated fist pumps while looking directly at the pitcher. Whether or not fans agree on Joba’s fist pumping as emotion or showing up, there was no mistaking the intent behind Huff’s antics.
Pitchers aren’t alone in this. The line between celebration and showing up became very blurred in the 1990’s. Most every player had a signature homerun trot. Ruben Sierra jogged sideways while tugging on his shirt, Ken Griffey Jr. had a big grin while taking several walking steps before breaking into his jog, and even Barry Bonds who would drop the bat, watch the ball land, and then take a slow bored jog around the baselines. All I have to do is mention Sammy Sosa, and fans will picture his hopping and clicking his feet together, running the bases, the big exaggerated clap, and the “kissing 2 fingers, touching his heart, and gesturing towards heaven.” Of course we know it by heart, we watched it some 250 times in a 4 year period. Were they showing up the pitcher? Yeah, that was probably part of it, but it didn’t matter. Not only was everybody doing it, it just helped to add to the excitement and the draw of the game.
Most often, showboating is dealt with on the field. As we said, Aubrey Huff took it upon himself to let Joba know they didn’t like his antics. If you show up a pitcher on a homerun, expect the next at bat to have a ball thrown at your back. If a pitcher takes exception, he might even just shout something at the batter, such as today against Jose Bautista, or last season when Dallas Braden famously told Arod to stay off his mound. If it’s a young player who hasn’t established himself in the league, he may get a talking to from a captain or other veteran players on his team. For the most part, it’s dealt with and policed on the field. If you really want to show up a player, take a page out of the Aubrey Huff notebook. Beat them, and then show him what his own antics look like.
Whether fans are cheering for the antics from their own team, or calling out players on the other team, the arguments are usually the same. People try to justify it with “who does that guy think he is?” but it really doesn’t matter. Joba Chamberlain was just a 23 year old kid excited to be recording strikeouts with a lively fastball in the major leagues. Aubrey Huff was just a guy who bounced around from a few teams, and at 31 had knocked in around 200 homeruns, and batted around .280. If he hadn’t been on a team who won the World Series last season, or if Joba hadn’t have been on the Yankees, we probably wouldn’t be talking much about either player. Neither was Babe Ruth or Sandy Koufax, and neither really has the resume to be showing people up.
But that’s not going to stop anybody. It doesn’t matter what the score is, if Jose Bautista is mad that he missed a pitch he should have driven, he’s going to throw his bat into the ground. If Jose Valverde is playing on a last place team who’s out of the pennant race, he’s probably still going to get excited about the save. For some players, that’s just how they’re wired, and just how they react to what happens on the field.
And sometimes, you will have players intentionally showing each other up. Call it gamesmanship, call it a lack of respect, call it showboating, call it whatever. But in the case of today’s game, perhaps John Danks should have been more worried about the 9-3 score in the 4th inning, rather than the reactions that Jose Bautista was giving. If you want the respect, show something on the mound beyond being a 0-8, 5.45 pitcher on a 4th place team.