Celebrations, Let The Kids Play

Key, Late-Game Homers Let Braves, Reds Provide Contrast In Ways To Celebrate … Or Not

So I don’t much mention bat flipping much in this space anymore because the bat flip is becoming so thoroughly integrated within the fabric of baseball that calling it out within the context of the unwritten rules is akin calling out curveballs or double plays — things that happen as a standard part of baseball practice.

Sometimes, however, a flip just cries out for attention. With that, feast your eyes on Ronald Acuna Jr.

This is fun on a few levels. It was a two-run shot that tied the game, 3-3, in the ninth. Also, he hit it off of Amir Garrett, spurring some obvious jokes, after last week’s events, about Garrett going after Acuna in response. Also, it gave us a clear distinction between the Let The Kids Play generation and the kind of non-celebration for which old-school fans continue to pine.

That’s because Acuna’s blow wasn’t actually a walk-off. The Braves couldn’t push across their necessary fourth run until it was too late, and lost in the 10th when Cincinnati’s Tucker Barnhart hit a three-run homer of his own … and did this — which is to say, not much — to celebrate:

(For a better look at Barnhart’s non-pimp job, go here.)

There are a couple of things to consider. Barnhart’s blast may have been close enough to the wall that he had initial doubts that it was gone. Plus, the game was in Atlanta, negating any desire to celebrate in front of the hometown fans. Also, like Acuna’s homer, it wasn’t a game-winner; the Reds still had to close things out in the bottom half of the frame.

Still, Acuna is only 21 years old, falling well within Elvis Andrus’ delineation that the Kids we want to Let Play be under 30. Then again, Barnhart is 28, so who the hell knows about anything anymore?

Ultimately, Acuna’s celebration left nobody worse for the wear: He was happy, the fans were happy and his teammates were happy, at least for a while. And the Reds were so unaffected by it that they came back to win the damn game. Seems like we’ve reached some semblance of balance in baseball’s new celebratory order … until another red-assed pitcher decides to get grumpy about something or other and we have to have the same discussion all over again.

Celebrations

Stroman’s Celebration Irks Eck, And People Have Opinions

A lot’s being made over Dennis Eckersley’s comments about Marcus Stroman’s on-field celebration on Sunday to close out the sixth inning against Boston, during which the broadcaster called Stroman’s actions “tired.” You know, hypocrisy and all, what with Eck having pretty much set the standard for pitcher gesticulation back in his day. Let’s let Twitter tell the tale.

There’s something to the fact that Stroman’s initial response appears to have been intended for the Boston dugout, but for me, there’s a different takeaway — not from the game itself, or even its aftermath, but from the Tim Anderson affair back in April, when the White Sox slugger infuriated the Royals by hurling his bat following a home run. Asked about it, Stroman was concise: “I could care less if someone pimps a homer off me. I gave it up. Showing emotion is part of the game.”

There it is. Love the guy or hate him, at least he’s consistent. The moment that Stroman takes issue with a home run pimp job, please alert Rob Friedman.

Celebrations, Retaliation, The Baseball Codes

Lotta Staring, Lotta Talking, And Just A Touch Of Benches-Clearing Confrontation As Twins-Rays Close Out Season’s First Half

Dozier dances

Before we move into the season’s second half, let’s clear out some pre-All-Star business. Like, for example, what happened in Minnesota over the weekend. It started during Saturday’s game, with the Rays trailing 6-4 heading into the top of the seventh inning. They emerged, two walks, three singles, a triple and a wild pitch later, leading, 9-6. Tampa added five more in the eighth to build the lead to 14-6. It’s what happened in the ninth, though, that drew my attention.

With Minnesota’s rookie utility infielder Willians Astudillo on the mound to save a taxed bullpen, Tampa Bay’s first three hitters went homer, double, single. No problems yet. The Twins led by nine, and were playing station-to-station ball—advancing one base on a single, two on a double, etc.—as teams do in blowouts. (For all the disagreement about when a lead can officially be considered safe, nine runs in the ninth meets every definition … never mind that Minnesota had already cried uncle with the insertion of Astudillo.)

Kevin Kiermaier then scored Smith with a ground ball to first base that was initially mishandled by Ehire Adrianza, who recovered in time to get the out at first but had no hope of making the play at the plate. This was acceptable under the rule of thumb that if no play is imminent—if a runner can go into a base standing up—he should do so. Ten-run lead.

What came next, however, was curious. Daniel Robertson singled on a soft bouncer to center field, and Adeiny Hechavarria never hesitated from second, motoring home with Tampa Bay’s 17th run, taking an extra base when such tactics had long since become excessive. (The Rays’ 18th and 19th runs came shortly thereafter on Jake Bauers’ two-run homer.)

Maybe the Rays were excited by their late-game explosion. Or maybe, as was pointed out via e-mail by longtime reader and avid Rays fan Road Dog Russ, “the Rays don’t feel any lead they have is safe. (Hangs head and sighs.)”

Minnesota players refrained from commenting publicly about it as far as I’ve seen, but if we’ve learned anything about this year’s Twins, it’s that at least a few of them (step on up, Brian Dozier) take the unwritten rules to heart (sometimes in not such productive ways). If I noticed the play from my office in California, the Twins almost certainly noticed it from across the field.

Which leads us to Sunday. While it’s possible that Saturday’s incident is unrelated to what came next—I’ve seen no accounts linking them—carryover is always possible.

With the score tied 4-4 in the seventh and the Twins in a shift against batter Eduardo Escobar, the aforementioned Dozier took an enormous lead off of third base, and, in no danger of being picked off (what with the third baseman being stationed in the shortstop’s spot), began dancing back and forth like a lunatic. It was enough to distract rookie Rays reliever Diego Castillo into a balk, sending a jubilant, fist-pumping Dozier home with the lead run. The play was, by every indication, a response to Twins left fielder Eddie Rosario, who had done something similar from third base on Saturday.

Castillo’s next pitch to Escobar came in at 101 miles per hour, low and inside, but not close enough to cause the hitter to so much as move his feet. When Escobar backed out of the box to collect himself, Twins third baseman Daniel Robertson yelled at him to step back in. That was pretty much that: Benches cleared, and hostilities were on. (As usual, no punches were thrown.)

 

“I wasn’t upset with the pitcher,” Escobar said after the game in an MLB.com report. “I never said anything to the pitcher or the dugout. I got upset and frustrated with Robertson, the third baseman. I didn’t know why he was yelling at me. The previous pitch before everything happened, it was kind of close to me. I wasn’t upset about that either. Robertson just started opening his arm and yelling stuff at me, which I couldn’t hear very well. That’s why I got frustrated.”

Escobar had been hit by a pitch an inning earlier. According to various Rays, after Castillo’s inside pitch, Twins reliever Ryan Pressly began shouting from the dugout that Tampa Bay had put a target on Escobar. Rays manager Kevin Cash began heatedly shouting across the field for somebody in Minnesota’s to shut the fuck up.

After the game, Robertson explained that he felt Escobar was trying to stare down the pitcher, and had done the same to reliever Ryan Yarbrough following an inside pitch earlier in the game. The fact that he also called Escobar “a good dude,” and pointed out that they both like to eat at Fogo de Chao doesn’t much mask the fact that getting upset over the way a player looks at somebody is ridiculous. Brazilian-style meat may build bridges, but this ain’t that.

(Robertson’s exact explanation: “When Castillo went down and low on [Escobar’s] ankles, he stared at him again. There was already a lot of chatter going on as far as the balk that happened right before that. Everyone was yelling at each other. He was looking back up at our pitcher again, and I just told him, ‘Hey, quit staring at our pitcher. Nobody’s trying to hit you; just get back in the box and hit.’ That’s about it, man. Then he kind of came back at me.”)

Escobar struck out on the next pitch, at which point Robertson was still talking. The hitter again took exception, this time as he walked past the Twins dugout, and again benches cleared. This time Escobar was ejected.

There’s a lot of fault to go around. Dozier did a mess of hollering all the way down the line as he was sent home on that balk, but he never directed it toward the pitcher or Tampa Bay’s dugout. If the Rays don’t like stuff like that, their best bet is to avoid balking in runs.

If Escobar was rattled by an inside pitch that was closer to being a strike than it was to hitting him, he’ll either need to fix that mentality or find a new line of work.

Kevin Cash decided that it was a good idea to repeatedly curse at his opponents. If he’s legitimately wondering why things got heated, there are a number of people he can see about that.

If David Robertson is really able to get bench-clearingly annoyed at the way an opponent looks at his teammate, he’d make an awesome nightclub bouncer, but might be a touch too sensitive for his sport of choice.

Also, don’t score from second on a single while up by double digits in the ninth. Who knows? That might have solved everything right there.

Celebrations, Showing Players Up

Javier Baez Is In No Mood For Your Gesticulations, Mr. Pitcher

Baez v Garrett

Turnabout is fair play. The shoe’s on the other foot. Something about geese and ganders. When a player like Javier Baez takes exception to an opponent’s display of emotion on the field, one can’t help but think about such phrases. Also, hypocrisy.

On Saturday, Reds reliever Amir Garrett whiffed Baez to close out the top of the seventh, and grew somewhat animated on his way down the hill, loosing what Cubs manager Joe Maddon later called “a Lion King’s type of roar.”

There is, of course, some history. On May 18, 2017—one day short of one year earlier—Baez touched Garrett for a grand slam at Wrigley Field, and did just a touch of home run pimping.

As is the way of big leaguers, Garrett has a long memory and an overt willingness to respond in kind. Baez didn’t appreciate it. Following his strikeout, he and the pitcher had words, and benches emptied. The surprising part about it is that Baez, the guy behind this:

… and this:

… and oh hell yeah this:

… even took the time to consider his opponent’s reaction.

Baez (and some of his teammates) pointed out after the game that Cubs celebrations are strictly intramural, and not in any way directed at the opposition. So how about Garrett, a guy also known to occasionally show some emotion on the mound? Even if the pitcher’s Lion Kinging was directed at Baez (which it was probably was), there’s plenty of gray area when it comes to Baez’s own roaring. At some point, when a player is simply howling into the wind, it becomes difficult to draw too many distinctions.

Mostly, this seems like protracted frustration drawn quickly to the surface. At the time of the incident, Baez was 2-for-his-last-22, with nine strikeouts. The slugger has hit only .226 since April 26, watching his batting average fall from .310 to .265 in the process, with a meager .410 slugging percentage. He hasn’t drawn a walk since April 11. Suffice it to say that he’s in no mood for these types of shenanigans.

None of that, however, is particularly relevant. Javier Baez has rightly become a prominent face in the Let Ballplayers Celebrate movement, which is predicated on playing with emotion. Even if some of his points about Saturday’s game have merit, the overall optics of a guy like that calling out a response like Garrett’s doesn’t do much to further the cause.

Garrett himself said it perfectly after the game, in a Chicago Tribune report: “You dish it, you have to take it.”

 

Bat Flipping, Home run pimping

Just In Case You Missed It: Carlos Gomez Hit A Game-Winning Home Run

Gomez dances

It’s been a busy week, and I didn’t want to let more time pass before hitting up the many moods of Go-Go .

Carlos Gomez, of course, is no stranger to this space. Last year, he got mad at Colin McHugh for not hitting him. In 2015 he got into it with Madison Bumgarner. And remember that time he pissed off Brian McCann so badly that the catcher wouldn’t let him score on a home run?

Gomez has also been known to get into it with the opposition over various bat flips (games against the Twins, Pirates and Yankees come quickly to mind), and he will occasionally dab following home runs. His reputation is such that even when he makes defensible plays, he still seems to get into trouble.

So when Gomez unloads the mother of all home-plate celebrations, should it really come as a surprise?

On Sunday, the outfielder for the Tampa Bay Rays hit a game-winning home run, flipped his bat, raised his arms, turned his back to the pitcher, peered into the Rays dugout, stuck out his tongue, and preened his way around the bases, culminating with what he later called “the Ray Lewis [dance]” over his final steps to the plate. Even by Gomez’s own standards, and even in the new-school world where celebrations are more acceptable than ever, this one drew notice.

There are a couple of ways to view this. One is that Gomez is never satisfied, and that even in an era of celebratory acceptance which he himself helped bring about, he’s just going to keep pushing the envelope no matter what.

The other involves some context. Not so long ago, the sight of teams spilling out of the dugout to mob a player who’d just scored the winning run was limited to playoff-clinchers. Now, it happens with pretty much every walk-off. In that light, it’s tough to judge an individual player for ramping up his own response to the same situation. Gomez’s antics might have been over the top, but they could hardly have been directed at the Twins, given that the Twins were either in their dugout, or headed there, for the bulk of his circuit.

“If enjoying and having fun in baseball is bad,” Gomez said later in a Tampa Bay Times report, “I’m guilty.” He made sure to clarify that he wasn’t staring down the opposition but his own team, nor looking at the flight of the ball in the standard home run-pimp pose. There’s also the fact that the outfielder had been slumping so badly—a .158 batting average and .276 slugging percentage leading into the game—that he snapped a bat over his knee in frustration in an earlier plate appearance.

One doesn’t have to like Gomez’s act, but it’s impossible to deny that he is now part of baseball’s mainstream. There’s also an ironclad retort to those scolding him with the idea that he should act like he’s been there before. Gomez is 32 years old and in his 12th big league season, and Sunday’s walk-off homer was the first of his career.

Celebrators gonna celebrate, and Carlos Gomez is gonna lead the way.

 

Bat Flipping, Showboating

Carlos Gomez: A Little Dab’ll Do Ya

Gomez dabs

Now that flipping a bat is no longer noteworthy, we might see new directions in personal expression being forced to the fore. And if ever there was a player to take self-salutation on a baseball diamond to unexplored levels, it’s Carlos Gomez. The guy was born for this stuff.

First, though, the bat flip. Those who do it, like Gomez, claim it’s within their celebratory rights as ballplayer, a virtual extension of their swing. There’s something to this. It’s what made Jose Bautista’s flip during last season’s playoffs so damn memorable.

There are limits, however, on what can reasonably be claimed as an extension of one’s swing. By the time a batter leaves the box, and certainly by the time he rounds first base, in-the-moment exuberance should be in the rear-view. Anything he does after that point can be viewed as a calculated act, and justifiably seen by the other team as beneath their dignity as opponents.

So what to make of the fact that Carlos Gomez dabbed as he crossed the plate following a spring training home run yesterday?

At this point, who knows?

Sure, Gomez flipped his bat, though not in particularly grand fashion by modern standards. To his credit, he hustled his way around the bases. And then … the dab. (Watch it here.)

True, it took only a moment, and Gomez was gone back to the dugout. It was so quick as to be easily missed (the broadcasters didn’t mention it as it happened), and the same Braves who had a thing or two to say to Gomez about similar topics back in 2013 didn’t seem to mind, at least to judge by their reactions on the field.

Ultimately, it comes down to the question of what constitutes a celebration, and whether the baseball equivalent of a touchdown dance is making its way into the mainstream. While watching Gomez, it was impossible for me to not think about Cam Newton—and however one feels about Newton probably goes a long way toward informing how one feels about Gomez doing something similar.

Or not. I am a fan of Newton and his celebrations. They are perfectly at home on a football field, where personal celebration is pervasive for anything from a QB sack to a short burst for a first down at midfield.

Baseball, though, is different. Part of the beauty of the sport’s unwritten rules is that they’ve served as a perimeter defense for the look-at-me attitude that has come to dominate other sports.

This is not to say that there is no place for such a thing in baseball, but when celebrations become contrived, they grow trite. And when they grow trite, they quickly become tired. Which is something, since Bryce Harper recently used that very wordtired—to support the opposite viewpoint, in describing a sport that does not favor such displays.

Still, it can be used here in equal measures to describe whatever it was Gomez did. His action originated less in the moment than as locker room-hatched scheme, the endgame for one of baseball’s biggest spotlight hogs to elbow his way into just a little more screen time.

Gomez is an exciting player, and merits some leeway when it comes to celebrating his feats. As a critic, I’m happy to grant him that much. When he ignores those feats, however, in favor of celebrating the mere existence of Carlos Gomez—the baseball equivalent to two thumbs pointed backward to the name on the rear of his jersey—he displays a degree of narcissism to which I have a tough time subscribing.

Update (3-29): Gomez managed to earn some bonus points, because when you’re pissing off Rob Dibble, there’s a decent chance that you’re doing something right.

 

Don't Call out Opponents in the Press

Oakland’s One Clap is One Too Many for Some Members of the Yankees

When one plays for the Yankees, who not so long ago were cruising toward the playoffs but who suddenly find themselves desperately trying to keep the Orioles at bay, one can get touchy during the course of getting one’s butt kicked by the team with the American League’s lowest payroll.

At least Eric Chavez did. After New York’s 10-9 win in 14 innings at Yankee Stadium Saturday, he told the New York Post that, following each of Oakland’s three homers in the 13th inning, A’s players partook in some “orchestrated clapping, chanting,” which Chavez described as “high school-ish,” “pretty unprofessional” and something “that crossed the line.”

The antics were described in the San Jose Mercury News:

The routine the A’s did is based on the Randy Moss-related “One Clap” song and video clip that was all the rage on YouTube. Gomes often played that song during spring training, and he said the A’s have done the routine all season in the clubhouse and on the team bus.

Somebody yells “One Clap!” and teammates respond with a clap.

The reason it should not have troubled Chavez, said Jonny Gomes, “is it happened in our dugout. It didn’t happen between the lines.” (To judge by the TV replays, which are far from comprehensive, it’s difficult to discern anything objectionable happening in the A’s dugout on the first, second or third home runs of the inning.)

For Chavez to get riled about such a thing is a tad ironic. When he was a young player with the A’s—playing the Yankees, no less—he learned a difficult lesson about speaking out a bit too quickly about the opposing nine.

From The Baseball Codes:

Nearly as innocent were the comments made by A’s third baseman Eric Chavez before his team faced the Yankees in Game 5 of the 2000 ALDS. Responding to a press-conference question about his opponents, who had won the previous two titles, Chavez talked about how great the Yankees had been in recent years, what a terrific job they’d done, and how difficult it was to win as consistently as they had. He also added that they’d “won enough times,” and that it would be okay for somebody else to play in the World Series for a change. Chavez was twenty-two years old, wide-eyed and hopeful. There was nothing malicious in his tone.

Unfortunately for the A’s, the press conference at which Chavez was speaking was being broadcast live on the Oakland Coliseum scoreboard for early-arriving fans. Also watching were the Yankees, on the field for batting practice. “So he’s dropping the past tense on us? Did you see that?” spat third baseman Scott Brosius from the batting cage. One New York player after another—Derek Jeter, Paul O’Neill, Bernie Williams— took Chavez’s comments and blew them up further. The Yankees hardly needed additional motivation, but now they had it. Their first three hitters of the game reached base, four batters in they had the lead, and by the end of the frame it was 6–0. The A’s were in a hole from which they could not climb out before they even had a chance to bat.

How one feels about this apparently depends on the dugout in which one happens to sit. The day after Oakland’s one-clap hysteria, Nick Swisher responded by hitting a home run for New York, then lingering for a beat in the batter’s box to admire it. (Watch it here.) Asked about it in the Post, he said, “Like Jonny Gomes says, what’s the hurry?”