First off, I am a sports enthusiast. I enjoy the competitive nature of sports and as a former baseball player who once entertained notions of playing in the big leagues I thoroughly enjoy sitting through nine innings or more and appreciating the finer points of the game. I can get as much pleasure from a pitcher's duel as I can from an offensive explosion. I can marvel at a quality at bat as much as a quality start, a sacrifice bunt and a brush back pitch. Simply put, I enjoy baseball.
I totally understand the courtesy of giving a player time to recover from a foul ball off the shins by the opposing catcher walking the ball out to the pitcher or the umpire dusting off the plate. These are courtesies that encourage competition. Professional ballplayers are as competitive a creature as any that exists and are fully aware that there will be blowouts, close games, bad calls, missed calls, bad breaks, errors, and fluke plays, they are all part of the game.
But the recent dust up in Atlanta between the Braves, a team destined for post-season play, and the Brewers, a team going nowhere after this week's final regular season game, has me perplexed and incredulous. Let me say that I am not a fan of showboating and believe that the most professional of ballplayers simply goes about his business as if he were expected to deliver. However I also believe that as competitors there is a certain childish exuberance that accompanies doing something that very few in this world can do: namely, hitting a round object traveling 90 plus miles per hour with a cylindrical stick some 400-plus feet -- in other words, hitting a home run.
It is exciting for the fans and it is exciting for the player, regardless of his proficiency or capability of doing it on a regular basis. When Carlos Gomez launched his homer into the left center field stands the other night he did what in some baseball circles is unthinkable, he stood there and admired it before trotting around the bases. This infuriated some of the Braves players and they expressed their displeasure by chirping at the player as he rounded the bases. Okay, that is the nature of competitive sports, and I have little problem with that.
But as he approached home plate Brian McCann, the Braves catcher stood in front of the plate and challenged Gomez to go through him to touch it. Now this goes beyond the bounds of good-natured competitiveness and borders on a level of provocation that is all too prevalent in today's violent society. The professional thing to do would have been to simply remind Gomez that this time next week he will be on a winter vacation while McCann will be playing ball in hopes of securing a World Series ring.
But no he felt the need to physically confront and challenge the player who had the audacity to do what they all get paid to do: namely, excel at the sport that provides them a paycheck and a very good living indeed. There is also a backdrop to the story. Earlier in the season the very same pitcher that delivered the home run pitch had hit Gomez in a plate appearance and I am sure that it was very prominently remembered by the batter if not the pitcher. But the reaction was not to confront the pitcher and not allow him to pitch, rather the perfect insult would be to take him deep. And that is exactly what he did.
Regardless, McCann's actions have no place in the game and I believe he should be suspended for a couple of games. Look, was it courteous to stand there at the plate for a few seconds and watch the home run, no, but is it acceptable? Of course it is. McCann reminds me of the bully in school who has to always make a point by challenging people to a fight. My father used to tell me that the toughest guy in school was never the bully but the guy that did not have to prove himself at the drop of a hat. Could he not think of something biting and clever to say? Could he not maybe have goaded Gomez into either challenging him or getting unnerved at his next at bat? Could he not have answered by hitting a home run or two himself?
Now I have read some commentaries praising McCann's actions as though they represent a defense of the integrity of the game. Utter nonsense. This was neither a noble gesture nor an honorable defense of the appropriate rules of baseball etiquette. It was pure a simple a boneheaded and immature overreaction to a baseball fact of life: sometimes you are the windshield and sometimes you are the bug.
Brian McCann's actions are illustrative of a sensitivity more suited to a teenage bully not a professional ballplayer. And make no mistake about it, he is a good ballplayer. But his actions were provocative, childish, and uncalled for and for the sake of the game ought to be addressed. What Gomez did may have offended the hyper-attenuated sensitivities of several Braves' players but there are ways in which truly competitive adults can better handle themselves. I can only imagine how some of these sensitive players will react should they lose in the post-season. Will they refuse to take the field? Will they refuse to sit down in the dugout when they strike out? Will they assault the scoreboard operator when he/she posts a losing score?
Enough is enough. Grow up and play ball. And if you feel the need to comport yourself in this manner there is always professional wrestling.