Paul Daugherty of the Cincinnati Enquirer came out with an impassioned defense for Brandon Phillips yesterday, claiming that the young Reds star is entitled to the sort of on-field self-congratulation that marked him as a target over the weekend.
He couldn’t be more wrong.
To be fair, Phillips should be commended for understanding the situation he created with his series of chest-thumps following a home-plate collision in which he dislodged the baseball from Nationals catcher Wil Nieves to score a run.
When Washington’s Miguel Batista drilled him the following inning, Phillips took it exactly like a ballplayer should, without a peep of protest.
And with that, the matter was settled.
Not so fast, writes Daugherty. Showing another player up, he says, is “an archaic and arcane bit of baseball-think that has survived the test of years.”
From the Enquirer:
In other sports, freedom of exuberance has grown with the times. Like it or not, sports are not the same as they were when gentlemen roamed the box seats in suitcoats and fedoras. Except in baseball. One man’s exuberance is another man’s show-up.
Which is exactly the point. There’s something to be said for the creativity of end-zone dances in the NFL, but is anyone in America impressed by the back who rushes for two yards on second-and-one—with his team down by three touchdowns in the fourth quarter—only to jump up with his own grandstanding first-down signal? Did he really need to let the world know about his accomplishment?
How about the NBA guard who backpedals down the court thumping his chest after hitting a three-pointer to bring his team to within 20 points of the lead?
To use a baseball term, it’s bush league.
It’s doubtful the Nationals would have begrudged Phillips his celebratory antics had he just plated the winning run. But his play—and it was excellent—merely extended Cincinnati’s eighth-inning lead to 4-1.
The same unwritten rule that prevents Phillips from beating his chest (“Lesson learned,” he said after the game) keeps his opponents in line, as well. While slippery-slope arguments are frequently specious, if the NFL’s standards of self-congratulation were transposed onto Major League Baseball, we might be seeing celebratory arm waving from pitchers in response to a missed swing on the first pitch of a given at-bat.
Baseball’s unwritten rules are what sets it apart from other sports in this country. It’s a thoughtful game, and demands thoughtful actions.
The Code takes a sport based on head-to-head, pitcher-vs.-hitter competition, and keeps the focus on the game and away from the players. For everyone who has ever decried the look-at-me revolution in modern athletics, this can not be oversold. The same gentility that Daugherty decries is actually one of baseball’s greatest assets.
One man’s stuffiness, after all, is another man’s purity. For many of those who love baseball, that means everything.