As has long been trumpeted in this space, the unwritten rules are less about on-field actions than the meaning behind those actions. It’s why something as innocuous as a stolen base can serve to enrage an entire roster should it occur at an inopportune moment.
The inverse is also true. Should a ballplayer do something that by most indicators is viewed as disrespectful, he can get away with it if the opposition understands where he’s coming from.
So it went last week with Milwaukee’s Carlos Gomez, who actually hit a trifecta of sorts in a game against the Twins.
He hit a monster home run, then admired it.
Then he flipped his bat—which clipped Minnesota catcher Joe Mauer’s wrist on the way down—and threw up his hands in victory.
Mauer waited for Gomez to circle the bases, then mentioned to him that he might want to be more careful in the future. Gomez—without even bothering to turn around, threw up his arms and, back to his opponent, gave Mauer wiggly fingered jazz hands, indicating that he wanted no part of whatever it was the catcher was trying to convey. (Watch it here.)
All of this for a home run that came while his team was trailing, 15-0.
None of this was even remotely okay. Gomez, however, had some things working in his favor.
Most immediately was the fact that he spent the previous two seasons in Minnesota, which gave the Twins a long taste of his exuberance in such situations. He even paid a visit to the opposing clubhouse before the game, to greet manager Ron Gardenhire and his former teammates.
Because they’d seen his act before, they knew it was not personal. (They also knew that he’d just come off the disabled list, and was especially excited to forge a strong start.)
“Just one of those moments that we know Go-Go can have every once in a while,” said Gardenhire in the Associated Press report. “He was excited, and it just happened.”
“We played with him the last couple years, that’s the type of player he is,” Twins starter Nick Blackburn told MLB.com. “It made me mad, but I shouldn’t be getting mad at stuff like that. I’m sure everyone on his team also knew he shouldn’t have done it, but that’s the type of guy he is. He gets so caught up in the moment.”
Even more importantly, Gomez recognized what he did, nearly as soon as he did it. Upon returning to the dugout, he was informed by teammate Joe Inglett that Mauer was offering words of caution, not talking smack.
Gomez regretted his actions immediately. After the game he offered blanket apologies for his actions.
“I didn’t even know the bat was going to hit him,” he said. “I’ll say again: I didn’t try to do this. . . . I had a good night, but you have to be more professional.”
MLB.com quoted him as saying, “Right now, I feel bad because Blackburn is one of the good friends I’ve got over there. I apologized because I don’t want to try to show him up.”
Gomez also addressed the notion of getting drilled the following day, adding, “I’m going to take it like a man because I know I did [something] bad.”
That might have been enough to get him off the hook; he wasn’t hit by a pitch for the remainder of the series.