Earning respect

On the Meritocracy of Baseball’s Showboats: Flair Goes to Those Who Earn It

Papi swings

The learning curve of minor league baseball isn’t just about good footwork and how to recognize a slider out of the pitcher’s hand. A reasonable factor in minor league development involves learning how to play the game in ways that have nothing to do with actually playing the game.

On Friday, Albuquerque Isotopes shortstop Erisbel Arruebarrena hit his first Pacific Coast League home run, against the Reno Aces. The catch: the three-run shot turned an 8-0 game into an 11-0 game, and Arruebarrena pimped it like he was David Ortiz on Valium, taking an astounding 32 seconds to round the bases (by my imprecise stopwatch, based on the announcer’s call, owing to the video feed showing something else when Arruebarrena crossed the plate. Watch it here). According to Tater Tot Tracker, Ortiz’s slowest circuit this season is 33.39 seconds on April 9, but that’s his only one—the only one—to come in over 32.

Arruebarrena could actually stand to pick up a pointer or two from Ortiz in the ways of the home run pimp. Papi homered against the Rays on Sunday, offered a bat flip that was significant even by his own expansive standards, then took his usual glacial trip around the bases. (At 29.3 seconds, it was his sixth-slowest of the season, and the ninth-slowest overall this year; watch it here.) Rays starter Chris Archer said after the game in a Tampa Tribune report, “I don’t know what makes him think he can showboat the way he does and then nobody retaliate, nobody look at him in a funny way, nobody pitch him inside,” and that “he feels like he’s bigger than the game. He feels like the show is all about him.”

Ortiz’s ready response: “He’s not the right guy to be saying that, I think. He’s got two days in the league, and to be [whining] and complaining about stuff like that … what else?”

Boom. Get some time in the game, Chris Archer, and then come see me. Ortiz has earned leeway via nine All-Star selections and five top-5 MVP finishes. He hit more homers in 2006 than Chris Archer has career starts.  This is precisely what baseball’s hierarchy looks like.

Moving back to the minors: Arrubebarrena signed a five-year, $25 million deal with the Dodgers out of Cuba in the off-season, and said that he was like countryman Yasiel Puig when it came to flair. Unlike Puig, however, the shortstop has not yet earned his right to pimp at will, at least in the eyes of his opponents. Also worth noting: Puig does not crack this year’s 10 slowest trots. Arruebarrena is not David Ortiz (not yet, anyway), and doing something like that in so pronounced a blowout is certain to elicit a response. Apparently, he had no idea about the mechanics of it all.

Reno did respond, as baseball teams have always responded: A message pitch to Arruebarrena during his first at-bat the following day, a high-and-tight number that had him ducking out of the way. He went on to strike out during the at-bat, during which time he committed the first of his mistakes: He got mad over standard procedure, executed responsibly, initiated by his own action that was far beyond the gray area of acceptability.

After the strikeout, catcher Blake Lalli apparently brushed Arruebarrena during the process of throwing the ball around the horn, and the batter got angry. The batter started jawing. The batter shoved Lalli and threw his helmet at another advancing member of the Aces. This is where Arruebarrena committed the second of his mistakes: When Aces players came a’charging, the shortstop ran, first around the back of the quickly forming scrum, then backpedaling to better keep his eyes on the two Aces in pursuit. That didn’t work, of course—he was quickly blindsided by a third Reno player, and all hell broke loose.

Arruebarrena’s third and biggest mistake of the day is a life lesson worth noting by all of us: Never start a fight you’re not willing to finish. And unless 20 yards’ worth of backpedal means something different in Havana than it means in Nevada, Arruebarrena wanted nothing to do with fisticuffs. One thing the shortstop must learn when it comes to baseball in this country is that flair is more acceptable than it ever has been, thanks to guys like Puig, but there must be substance behind it. Ortiz has earned it through a Hall-of-Fame career. Puig started earning it his very first week in the big leagues, when he was willing to throw down during a game in which he earlier had gotten drilled in the face.

It’s all a matter of building respect among teammates before asking them to raise fists on your behalf, and opponents before expecting that they’ll overlook your knuckleheaded, offensive behavior. To judge by his actions on Friday, Arruebarrena still has a lot to learn.

 

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