World Baseball Classic

Bernie Williams on the WBC: ‘Clash of Cultures’

SI WBCWith all the recent talk about the differences between the United States and elsewhere in the world when it comes to baseball behavior, it’s worth pointing out Bernie Williams’ recent conversation with SI’s Maggie Gray.

Williams is Puerto Rican, and fully in tune with the celebratory nature of his countrymen. He’s also a lifelong Yankee, well versed in the ways of putting one’s head down and keeping one’s hair short. When asked about Ian Kinsler’s comments about Latin countries and playing the game “the right way,” Williams pointed out the obvious—that the World Baseball Classic is not Major League Baseball, and that there’s space for both mindsets. [Emphasis mine.]

Latin people, especially Puerto Ricans and Dominicans, have always been very passionate. And baseball has always been characterized, at least in the United States, as ‘You don’t showboat. You don’t show up the opposition. You hit a home run and you shut up and you run the bases hard and you keep playing the game.’ Obviously, that’s not the way they play the games in these Latin countries. Everybody gets involved. Everybody’s brash and passionate and intense about it. They were showing part of what their culture is to them.

This is what the WBC is all about. To have the different cultures come into a tournament and express themselves the way their culture allows them to do. That’s what makes this game great and that, to me, was the purpose of this tournament—to have this clash of cultures and different attitudes about the game, to go in and see who is the best.

Latin players have been slowly integrating such a mindset into the big leagues for years now. If enough players actively agree with Kinsler about open celebration, such integration will be more slowly adopted. From the looks of things, however, such is not the case.

Those in the “right way” camp are still correct in their opinions—they just need to realize that the term is, like the sport itself, evolving.

Showboating, World Baseball Classic

There’s A Party Goin’ On Right Here/Just Watch Out For a Fastball In Your Ear

celebrationFollowing up yesterday’s post about the joy embraced by players from various countries in the World Baseball Classic (and how such embrace is frequently at odds with their big league counterparts), today I bring you a quote from Eric Thames.

Thames, of course, is the new Brewers first baseman, having spent the last three seasons playing in South Korea. (South Korea, you might recall, is known for some outlandish behavior by its ballplayers.)

While in Asia, Thames stepped up his pimp game. From Sports Illustrated’s baseball preview issue:

Thames wore metallic gold arm and leg guards and celebrated home runs with a choreographed two-man skit that ended with a teammate tugging his beard and the two of them spinning on their heels to give a military-style salute to the home fans.

“Uh, not here,” says Thames, who this spring wore white body armor. “You want me to get hit in the ribs?”

Yesterday, I pointed out that the joyful celebration shown internationally is having an effect upon the staid response to success in the majors. So why is Thames toning it down?

Because there is a difference. Because somebody responding to success openly and without filters is celebratory, but somebody pantomiming pre-planned shtick is more boastful than joyous. (Recall, if you will, another bit of home-plate soft-shoe perpetrated by these selfsame Brewers a number of years back.)

The line between those approaches dissects even bat flips. The ones from Korea seem to be self-indulgent ways of garnering attention. The South Korean players who make their way to the U.S. acknowledge as much. The flip by Jose Bautista following his ALDS-clinching homer against Texas in 2015, however, was none of that. They are distinct entities.

Baseball diamonds contain plenty of space for joy. There is far less leeway, however, for acts masquerading as joy. As Eric Thames noted, ballplayers can tell the difference.