In the substrata of yesterday’s blowup between Alex Rodriguez and A’s pitcher Dallas Braden—spurred when A-Rod crossed over the mound on his way back to first base after a foul ball—is the question about whether Braden even has the stature to challenge Rodriguez. (It’s been spurred in part by Rodriguez’s own comments: “I’ve never quite heard that, especially from a guy that has a handful of wins in his career. I thought he was talking to somebody else.”)
A reader of this blog commented, “Regardless of whether there is some unwritten rule . . . Braden’s reaction was over the top. Besides, doesn’t it break the unwritten rule that young players give deference to veterans superstars(?)”
There’s a valid point to this. Baseball is a game of hierarchy, from locker assignments to seating charts on team transportation to what a guy can get away with on the field. Without question, a lesser player trying to replicate the self-glorifying admiration provided by Barry Bonds for his own home runs would quickly be beaten down, be it physically or psychically—likely from the opposition and his own teammates.
And when a star’s path crosses that of a lesser player, Darwinism almost inevitably wins out: the big fish eats the little one.
Except here. I’ve been exchanging e-mail about the topic with FanHouse’s Jeff Fletcher (who’s been giving this incident a good deal ofquality attention); I wrote this to him last night:
In general, there is a hierarchical structure to this type of thing. It’s partly what made Dickie Noles‘ flipping of George Brett in the ’80 World Series (remember that?) so brazen—unless a pitcher is a superstar himself, he has no business intentionally knocking down one of the five best third basemen of all time . . . and Noles wasn’t even a veteran, let alone a star.
But that standard doesn’t really apply here.
Noles’ move was all about intimidation and striking a tone. Braden’s motivation was strictly territorial. He made the point himself after the game, saying, “I don’t care if I’m Cy Young or the 25th man on a roster; if I’ve got the ball in my hand and I’m out there on that mound, that’s not your mound.”
And he’s right. The stature of those who hold real estate is less important than the fact that they hold it at all. That Braden went so far as to equate A-Rod’s move not just with personal disrespect, but disrespect for the entire A’s organization, also says a lot. It probably wasn’t even intentional, but Braden just gave his team the best pep talk it could ever hope for: We’re every bit as good as the Yankees, and they will not walk over us, literally or figuratively.
I might have a problem with a young hothead trying to intimidate a star, but that isn’t this. Braden wants only what’s rightfully his, and he has every right to do so.
Some across the blogosphere have portrayed Braden as an insolent punk, but as someone who has had many conversations with the guy, I can say that he’s one of the most thoughtful people in the game—a player who gets it in a sport where many people don’t.
Just because A-Rod didn’t know the rule doesn’t wipe it out of existence. Braden does know the rule, and is holding A-Rod to no less exacting a standard than he holds himself.