Carlos Gomez was Very Angry at Paul Maholm. Brian McCann was Very Angry at Carlos Gomez. Then Things Got Weird

McCann-GomezWhen it comes to matters of messaging, it’s all in the timing. On a ball field, that means an offended team waits for the appropriate moment to respond to the player who rubbed them the wrong way. This might mean waiting for an at-bat, for a game or for a season.

Brian McCann, it seems, is not much for waiting.

Carlos Gomez, the game’s second batter, homered against Paul Maholm Wednesday, then lingered in the batter’s box. Once he began to trot, his churn rate increased with every step; he shouted with increasing fervor at first baseman Freddie Freeman and Maholm even before reaching third.

Watching this, McCann decided to unload a few of his own notions on Gomez, and made sure that his message could not be ignored. The catcher planted himself about 15 feet up the third base line, completely blocking Gomez’s path to the plate. The runner would not pass without first getting an earful.

As it turned out, he would not pass at all. McCann shouted him down without ceding the baseline, players from both teams stormed the field, Reed Johnson landed a punch to Gomez’s noggin, and the ensuing scrum carried everybody to the backstop. Gomez was ejected shortly thereafter, and left the field without ever touching the plate. (The umps invoked Rule 7.06[a], which says that an “obstructed runner shall be awarded at least one base beyond the base he had last legally touched before the obstruction,” and allowed him to score. Watch it all here.)

McCann-Gomez II

A well-blocked plate.

So what the hell happened? Start with the fact that, including the aforementioned at-bat, Gomez is hitting .450 against Maholm in 20 career at-bats. Add to that the June 23 incident in which Maholm drilled Gomez in the left knee with a fastball—a pitch that Gomez felt was deliberate. (This became clear when the outfielder pointed to his knee while yelling at Maholm as he rounded third base following his homer on Wednesday. He admitted as much after the game.)

It resulted in a pissed-off Dominican pimping his homer as an in-your-face means of taunting his antagonist.

McCann got into the act immediately, imploring Gomez, at top volume, to get his ass out of the batter’s box. It ended (for now) with the scrum at the plate. “I’ve never seen anything like it in my baseball career, whether it be the big leagues, Minor Leagues or little leagues,” said Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez.

The moment was reminiscent of catcher Carlton Fisk’s reaction during a 1989 game, when Deion Sanders lingered in the batter’s box after popping up to shortstop. From The Baseball Codes:

Fisk was forty-two years old and entrenched at the time as one of the premier members of baseball’s old guard. Watching Sanders’s lackadaisical display, the future Hall of Famer could barely contain himself. “Run the fucking ball out, you piece of shit—that’s not the way we do things up here!” he screamed at the startled hitter, two decades his junior and playing in just his twenty-fourth big-league game. By that point, of course, it was too late; the ball was already settling into the shortstop’s glove, and Sanders had nowhere to go but back to the dugout.

When Neon Deion came to the plate two innings later, he took the time to inform Fisk that “the days of slavery are over.” The catcher responded in kind, and the dugouts quickly emptied. “I just told him I thought that there was a right way and a wrong way to play the game, and he was play­ing it wrong, because it offended guys like me,” said Fisk. “And if he didn’t care to play it right, let’s go at it, right here.”

That seemed to be the basis of McCann’s point as well. Remember, he delivered a similar message just two weeks earlier, to Marlins rookie Jose Fernandez. Unlike Gomez, Fernandez took it immediately as a learning experience.

To be fair, Gomez did as well, it just took him a bit longer. And he seems to be holding on to a bit more resentment.

“I did a little bit more [than I should have], and I apologize for this,” Gomez said in an MLB.com report. “But if you see the replay [from June], they hit me for no reason, and I tried to get it back today. It’s the only opportunity that I have, and that’s what I did.

“It’s nothing against the organization, for the Braves. I respect everyone. I would do the same thing if I’m on the other side if a guy did like I did today. Defend my teammate. But they are not in my head and on my side—they hit me for no reason. If I do something to get hit, I put my head down and go to first. But I didn’t deserve to get hit by a pitch last time, [so] that’s what I did today.”

So who wins here? Maholm may well have drilled Gomez for the inadequate reason of protracted success, but comes out looking squeaky clean, relatively speaking. Gomez showed up Maholm and looked like a jerk in the process. McCann simply illustrated the fact that he may well be a crazy person. (A crazy person with deeply ingrained thoughts about propriety on a baseball diamond.)

Ultimately, it comes down to one overriding factor: Carlos Gomez just invited the Braves—and every other team in baseball—into his head for future appointments. The guy showed that he can be knocked off his game (and out of a game entirely) simply by being hit by a pitch. It’s not going to happen all the time, of course, but an underlying tenet of the Code is this: Put yourself in the best possible position to win. If all one needs to do to fracture the concentration of an opposing All-Star is hit him with a baseball, it seems only natural that, when the time is right, it will happen again … and again … and again—right up to the point that Gomez shows he can deal with it appropriately.

He has nobody to blame but himself.

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13 Comments

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13 responses to “Carlos Gomez was Very Angry at Paul Maholm. Brian McCann was Very Angry at Carlos Gomez. Then Things Got Weird

  1. Gary Cohen

    I disagree. When it comes to how the game should be played, the rules take precedence over the Code. McCann broke the rules of the game by preventing a player from touching home after hitting a home run. All Gomez did was watch his ball fly a second longer than the Braves’ Gestapo approved of. He should have just run over the catcher at full speed as the rules allow him to. Then, the fun would have really started.

    • Jason Turbow

      I don’t disagree with you a bit — there’s no question that McCann was out of line, on historic levels. (It does seem a bit odd to invoke the unwritten rule that catchers have no business being in the baseline without the ball, if only because up until last night it had been universally invoked only while a ball was in play.) My ultimate takeaway, however — aside from a debate over the emotional stability of the Braves’ catcher — is that Gomez ended up hurting himself far more than McCann ever could. The aftermath is coming, and not necessarily from Atlanta.

  2. McCann should have been drilled on the first pitch to him. They’re the playoff team; the Brewers have nothing to lose.

  3. Nick

    It stuck me as odd that you pointed out Gomez’s race when you called him a “pissed-off Dominican.”

    • Jason Turbow

      I thought about that when I wrote it, but ultimately decided it was okay because it was strictly for the purpose of adding descriptive details. Had he been from Kansas, I would have said, “pissed-off Kansan.”

      • Botre

        Yeah, but the problem is, that Kansans don’t have a stereotype of being “hot-headed” or whatever, and Latino players are so often pegged with that label as a knee jerk thing or a writing crutch, so the context changes the meaning. So it’s not a simple one-to-one analogy. Just like if two random players didn’t run out a ground ball, it would have very different connotations if you wrote “the lazy Kansan” vs. “the lazy African-American.”

      • Jason Turbow

        I get what you’re saying. My quibble is that calling him hot-headed describes a general state of being (ie: stereotyping), but calling him pissed off describes a momentary reaction to events (which could, and does, happen to everybody). And your analogy of the lazy African American describes race, not nationality — a considerable difference.

        To take your analogy further, I wonder if it may have come across differently had I described Gomez as a Dominican taking his time getting out of the batter’s box, because laziness, while negative, is not a stereotype generally attributed to Latin American players?

        To put it another way, in my NY Times report on Game 7 of last year’s NLCS, I referred to Marco Scutaro — arms outstretched amid a rainstorm at AT&T Park — as a “Venezuelan scarecrow, catching raindrops and flyballs.” That description utilizes his homeland in exactly the same way: as a detail of interest, inserted into a sentence to add information and improve flow. Is it still objectionable, even if there are no associated negative connotations?

        I don’t for a moment fault your reaction, especially since I had a similar one myself while writing it (which I subsequently chose to ignore). At the same time, I don’t want to fall into a trap of sensitivity overkill, in which it becomes impossible to point out certain details about a person — especially a person culturally different from myself.

        Either way, it’s a fine line and well worth discussing.

  4. Gary

    I have a new respect for McCann! I’d have done the same thing. I’ve waited for the time when catchers will stop being pussies, yelling at hitters to run, from behind the mask, behind the plate. THIS got the batter’s attention and I love it. Reed Johnson however was way out of line, launching a flying sucker punch at Gomez when it wasnt even his fight to begin with. He was not thrown out of the game or dismissed from the dugout, so I hope he gets the 10 gm suspension (at the higher end for actually throwing a punch). All that said though, Gomez was reacting to an earlier beaning. Apparently there’s a new? code here wherein pitchers/teams can wait as long as they want to drill someone, but a batter doesnt have that much time to pimp his homer after getting beaned. I guess he has to do it SAME game lol. None of the tweets I saw from baseball writers even realized why gomez was pimping, so all blame went onto gomez. unfortunate for him. I think the conversation wld be v different if gomez had been drilled during that particular game. he wlda had much more leeway. not even sure if braves wlda acted the same (however they might’ve still). I will say this tho: I think gomez appologizing on twitter, wasnt as necessary as first thought, now that i’m aware of the history, that he was trying to react to a prior beaning. but i guess lesson is: Hitters dont have the same luxury of time for a response as the pitchers do.

    • Jason Turbow

      The general understanding is that ballplayers — pitchers and hitters alike — have long memories when it comes to perceived injustice. The problem from the hitters’ perspective is that their options for retaliation are significantly more limited. While pimping one’s homer is rarely met with understanding from the opposition, I think Gomez could have gotten away with it had he not chosen to engage with Freeman and Maholm while running the bases; had he just put his head down, I can’t imagine that McCann would have reacted the way he did.

      • Gary

        ya i agree, head down, run fast around bases, mouth closed, and that woulda been obvious enough to everyone watching in itself that he was sending a message hat he was doing his job, getting hits. update: carlos gomez & reed johnson 1 game suspension each. i get the reed one, but what exactly is mlb nabbing gomez for? he was blocked from the plate, attacked from the left by a mob of braves players, received a flying punch, was held back… what’s left but the dogging, mlb isnt in the biz of suspending for that. wait… maybe it was when gomez was running his mouth around the bases. ah ha.

  5. Pingback: The Persnickety Atlanta Braves | FanGraphs Baseball

  6. BeanTownBenny

    What’s McCann going to do when Big Papi hits one of his moon shots at Yanky stadium and doesn’t leave the box until a fan holds the ball up? Not much I suspect.

    • Jason Turbow

      I suspect you’re correct, but you’re touching on another aspect of the Code: Papi has earned certain rights not yet granted to the likes of Gomez. Opponents sure as hell don’t like Ortiz’s act, but he has collected enough respect to get away with it.

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