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.

Home run pimping, Let The Kids Play, Retaliation

Rangers Are The Latest To Have Trouble Letting The Kids Play, And Ramon Laureano’s Bat Bears The Brunt Of Their Agita

We’ve repeatedly discussed the disconnect between MLB’s official “Let the Kids Play” stance and the reality on the ground when it comes to actually letting the kids play. As is frequently the case, the male ego is a complex creature, and memories can be long.

The latest example began on June 8, in Arlington, when Rangers pitcher Adrian Sampson stepped on Ramon Laureano’s bat—with malice aforethought said the slugger and various A’s officials—after striking him out to end the fourth inning. It was likely in response to the home run-watching habits of Laureano’s teammate, Mark Canha, who’d homered off of Sampson earlier in the frame, earning an earful from the pitcher in the process. “There’s no place for that in this game,” Sampson said afterward, calling Canha’s display “just disrespectful.”

Laureano was so angry about Sampson’s bat trodding that he waited an hour-and-a-half after the game to confront the pitcher, though the players’ paths never crossed.

Fast forward to last Saturday in Oakland. Laureano got his revenge, homering off of Sampson, then stared at the pitcher while walking toward first, and got some things off his chest while gesturing to the bat that he had yet to drop. “I said, ‘Do you remember when you stepped on my bat? You can step on it again,’ ” Laureano recalled for reporters. He had some more words as Sampson began to approach, before finally starting to jog toward first even as both teams surged toward the edges of their respective dugouts and t-shirt designers got busy.

“There’s no room in this game for that,” Sampson told reporters after the game.

In the eighth, Rangers reliever Rafael Montero threw two inside pitches to Laureano before getting a mid-at-bat visit from pitching coach Julio Rangel. Two pitches later, Montero drilled the hitter with a 93-mph fastball. Benches cleared, no punches were thrown, and, because warnings had already been issued, Montero and Ranger manager Chris Woodward were tossed.

That’s all just details, though. The bigger picture—independent of whether Sampson intended to step on Laureano’s bat or what Laureano thought of it or whether Montero’s HBP was intentional—is whether players are actually ready to let the damn kids play.

Let’s check in with Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus about that.

“They’re pimping every homer,” an exasperated Andrus said after the game, in an MLB.com report. “I didn’t know about the beginning of everything [in June], but I was like, well, as a hitter, if you start pimping balls after you hit a homer, there are going to be consequences. At that point it’s a man’s sport in here. If I was a pitcher I’d be pretty pissed off if you freakin’ pimp a homer in the first inning. So after that, I didn’t know it was going to get out of hand, but it’s a bunch of men out there, it gets physical, especially later in the game.”

What Andrus was talking about is a bit unclear. Laurano did the opposite of pimping his homer against the Rangers, going so far as to set the bat down softly. He took his time getting out of the box, of course, but that was in service of delivering a message, not celebrating. Whatever exception the Rangers may have taken, it’s inaccurate to call it pimping.

If Andrus was talking about Canha, the home run back on June 8 came in the fourth inning, not the first, so who the hell knows. (For what it’s worth, Canha was also drilled on Saturday, by Sampson, after homering in his previous at-bat, in the second inning. He did not pimp that one, given that it barely cleared the fence.)

It was at that point in Andrus’ discourse that he reached the crux of his message: “The guys that hit a homer, they’re like 30 years old. [The “Let the Kids Play” campaign] counts for like 20-year-olds—that’s a kid to me. If you’re 30, it doesn’t count as let the kids play. It says ‘Let the kids play,’ not ‘Let the old guys play.’ ”

Laureano turned 25 two weeks ago, and is in his second big league season. Canha is indeed 30.  I guess that makes him an old guy.

Never mind that the marketing staff at MLB certainly had no intentions about limiting the scope of its intended demographic. Or that the narrator of the initial TV spot, Ken Griffey Jr., is 49 years old. What we’re left with is another chapter in a persistently developing landscape that has baseball urging its players toward colorful displays on the field, even as an ever-growing bunch of players takes exception to said displays.

Sometimes, that exception results in a trod-upon bat, which cascades downward in a series of you-did-that-so-I’ll-do-this behavior that ends up with Ramon Laureano getting drilled.

Leave the last word to Canha, the 30-year-old spokesman for the Kids. “I just feel like we need to throw all (the unwritten rules) out the window,” he said in an NBC Sports report, “and just play baseball and have fun.”

Let The Kids Play, Showboating

MadBum Gets Angry, Does Some Shouting, Gives Up Dong, Yells At A Guy, Loses Game

For many years, Madison Bumgarner has cultivated an image of being extremely attuned to the unwritten rules of his sport, serving as baseball’s hardline arbiter of on-field behavior. Flip a bat against the cow-punching North Carolinian and you’ll hear about it. Same if you run too slowly around the bases.  

At Oracle Park on Sunday, however, MadBum revealed a bit too much. Today’s headlines are all about the left-hander’s response to Max Muncy taking him deep (plus Muncy’s response to Bumgarner, which we’ll get to in a bit). Muncy’s homer hurt: he plays for the hated Dodgers, he hit it as the second batter of the game, and the blast carried all the way into McCovey Cove. Before Muncy could even make it to first base, Bumgarner was all over him, chirping about taking too long in the batter’s box. Muncy responded as he circled the bases, and the feud was on.

The main problem with Bumgarner’s red-ass was that there really wasn’t much to get red-assed about, to the point that even Giants broadcaster Mike Krukow, while trying to explain the situation, could describe the hitter’s post-homer steps only as “that little walk.”

After the game, Bumgarner gave a light-hearted recitation for the media about what happened. His comments included snippets like, “I can’t even say it with a straight face, but the more I think about it, I should just let the kids play—but I just … I can’t,” and, in response to a question about the game changing, “They want to let everybody be themselves, then let me be myself. That’s me.”

It’s a continuation of the conversation we’ve been having all year about pitchers who might not be entirely on board with the modern era of officially sanctioned on-field celebrations.

That, though, is not what this post is about. The detail that many reports overlook is what immediately preceded Muncy’s blast. Against Kike Hernandez, the game’s very first hitter, Bumgarner got into a shouting match with plate umpire Will Little about the strike zone, which grew heated enough to draw Little toward the mound. Following some chirping from the Giants bench, the ump issued a cross-field explanation that can easily be read as an informal warning.

This was clearly on Bumgarner’s mind when he missed wide with his first three offerings to Muncy before leaving one up, in the slugger’s wheelhouse.

Baseball history is littered with the corpses of players whose weakness has been discovered by the opposition and subsequently exploited. Perhaps this is Bumgarner’s. Pitching in the ninth inning of the World Series doesn’t seem to faze him nearly as much as some perceived slight by the opposition. This has long viewed by outsiders as a motivational tactic—something to keep the pitcher’s competitive instincts honed. (Lord knows, it’s happened before.) This is supported by the fact that Muncy’s homer was the only run MadBum gave up as part of a fabulous performance. If the pitcher needs swagger to succeed, then swagger he shall deliver.

Still, Bumgarner was done in by his momentary lapse, one disastrous pitch serving as the difference in a 1-0 ballgame.

In the big picture, yelling at a guy is preferable to drilling him, especially for something like this. Also in the big picture, if Bumgarner can figure out a way to keep things a bit more contained—just enough to avoid the occasional slip on a day when he’s clearly dominant—it’d be better for everybody.

Then again, had MadBum been a little less mad, we would never have gotten Muncy’s response: “If you don’t want me to watch the ball, you can get it out of the ocean.” It doesn’t actually make sense, but at least it sounded pretty good in the moment.

Bat Flipping, Let The Kids Play, Retaliation

This Is The New Face Of Baseball Celebrations

Last month, Tim Anderson made clear to us that MLB might not have thought its Let The Kids Play campaign all the way through. It was produced in response to controversy over bat flips both big and little, and other displays of emotion on a ballfield. It was, we were led to believe, institutional approval for players making the sport just a bit more fun.

For that, it worked fine. It just failed to account for whatever’s coming next.

As Anderson showed us, when run-of-the-mill bat flips become routine, players will have to dive deeper, progressing to whatever will grab the most attention next.

We might have seen a preview of that last night.

In the Single-A Florida State League, Royce Lewis of the Fort Myers Miracle—the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 draft—smacked a ball to the wall in center field for a standup double, and as he reached second base dropped down for some celebratory push-ups. Forget the opposition; even the fans were displeased.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Bradenton Marauders pitcher Gavin Wallace responded later in the game by throwing a pitch behind Lewis’ back, for which he was subsequently ejected.

The Miracle’s official explanation, that Lewis was simply punishing himself for not hitting it out, is about as weak as misguided justification can get. (Batting .233 with no homers in 37 games, perhaps he’s prone to overreach when the rare occasion arises.)

So what does this tell us?

For one thing, at least some of the players who have been crying out for leeway regarding emotional displays are being disingenuous. Even while accepting that tossing one’s lumber can be an expression of uninhibited joy, when the act goes mainstream and players have to up their flip game to draw attention to themselves, that’s exactly what they’ll do. To judge by Anderson and Lewis, they’re already doing it. So it’s not entirely about exuberance. These are type-A athletes who spend their professional lives in the spotlight; Q ratings mean something to many of them.

It should be expected, which is what makes MLB’s failure to expect it especially glaring. Now that the league has embraced showmanship on an institutional level, it’s going to have to figure out how to deal with the aftermath. This is because through it all, pitchers—at least enough of them to matter—haven’t changed a bit. They know better than anyone that some celebrations are simply self-aggrandizement wrapped in a thin veneer of joy, and are commensurately annoyed by them. Guys who pump themselves up at the expense of the opposition continue to be seen as disrespectful, so the reactions of Keller and Wallace should in no way be construed as fringe opinions.

The league ultimately suspended Anderson after his grand bat toss
— not for the toss itself, but for using racially inflammatory language in the aftermath. Perhaps they were trying to send an indirect message. If so, it didn’t take.

“I want to be that guy you don’t want to play against, because I’m a dog,” Anderson told Sports Illustrated. “My team loves it, so I don’t care about anybody else. … I’m bringing something to baseball that’s never been brought, as far as the swag.”

Anderson’s attitude is neither good nor bad, per se. How he brings the swag will make a difference, as will the way his opponents react to it.

This is only the beginning, folks. Settle in for what looks to be a wild ride.

[H/T Bring Me The News.]

Bat Flipping, Let The Kids Play, Retaliation, Showboating

In Wake Of Sox-Royals Dustup, Letting The Kids Play Is Turning Into More Of A Headache Than Anybody Imagined

Anderson flips

Last year this would have been a story about Tim Anderson and his celebratory histrionics.

Hell, last year this was a story about Tim Anderson and his celebratory histrionics. Twice.

This year, however, celebratory histrionics come with a perspective. That is, Major League Baseball has putatively endorsed them via its “Let the Kids Play” campaign, which makes things confusing when pitchers respond to said histrionics with disdain.

Pitchers like Kansas City’s Brad Keller, say.

Now, when Anderson does what Anderson is known to do—in this case, vigorously hurl his bat toward his own dugout after launching the 50th homer of his career—we’re conflicted in the aftermath. Letting the kids play seems like a swell idea to fans, to executives and to an unknown portion of ballplayers, but there appears to be a significant percentage of pitchers who disagree.

We had this conversation less than two weeks ago, when Pittsburgh’s Chris Archer—a known showboat himself—expressed displeasure with Derek Dietrich’s decision to pimp his homer by throwing a ball behind Dietrich in an ensuing at-bat. It was an old-school response that would have drawn little attention a generation ago … or maybe even last season.

But when the league itself encourages Anderson’s kind of behavior, the entire circumstance gets cloudy. That’s because the issue of respect is hardly one of clear delineation.

Are some bat flips okay, but others not? Anderson’s was less insouciant toss and more angry spike. Did that somehow cross an ever-shifting line? Had he not turned toward his dugout—or, more pertinently, turned his back toward the Royals dugout—would it have been better received?

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. There’s bound to be a transition period between one epoch and another, and right now we’re stuck in a place where some players feel disrespected by some actions that many people—including baseball officials, apparently—would like to see more of. So when Brad Keller feels disrespected (or is sticking up for teammates who feel disrespected), there’s bound to be a reaction regardless of corporate messaging.

Yesterday it was a fastball to Anderson’s backside in his ensuing at-bat. Things did not end well. Anderson started yelling, but, restrained by catcher Martin Maldonado, never approached the mound. Still, dugouts and bullpens emptied, and tempers flared when White Sox manager Rick Renteria shouted for the Royals to clear the field, inflaming Kansas City bullpen coach Vance Wilson. Anderson, Renteria, Keller and Royals bench coach Dale Sveum were ejected.

In the aftermath, we’re left wondering two things: How many players still care about this kind of stuff, and how long will that last?

The Royals have at least two of them on their roster. “Keller did the right thing,” the pitcher’s teammate, Hunter Dozier, said after the game in a Chicago Sun Times report. “He aimed for the lower body. Hit him. It should just be like ‘OK, go to first and move on.’ It shouldn’t have been as big of a situation as it was.”

Dozier is spelling out the party line from a previous generation, offering instructions that, while once status-quo, are now … well, who really knows?  Dozier is 27. Keller is 23. Despite their old-school sensibilities, they seem an awful lot like the kids who the commissioner wants to let play.

This shift is clearly not going as smoothly as baseball’s PR machine would have liked. We’re stuck in a place where, when bat flipping becomes the new normal, showboats like Anderson have to up the ante simply to draw attention to themselves. Bigger antics. More vicious tosses. Sentiments like the one Renteria espoused after the game—“You want [Anderson] to not do that? Get him out”—might make sense to the vast majority of the population, but the key here is that upping the ante rarely sits well with pitchers, some of whom are bound to respond.

Ten days ago it was Chris Archer. Yesterday, it was Brad Keller. So long as hitters continue to push the celebratory envelope, there will always be a pitcher willing to respond.

Our only problem is that we continue to be surprised by it.

Update 1 (4-19): If you’re gonna drill a guy, at least know when to do it.

Update 2 (4-20): There was some incredulity in the immediate aftermath that Anderson was tossed from the game, given his primary role as victim. We later found out that it was due to language so severe that he was eventually suspended for a game.

Let The Kids Play, Retaliation

David Bell Didn’t Like What Chris Archer Did To The Point That He’s No Longer Making Sense

Bell argues

Reds manager David Bell got to talking with reporters on Tuesday about his team’s Let-the-Kids-Play fight with the Pirates, for which he was ejected and ultimately suspended, and unfortunately for those following along, his comments didn’t make a whole lot of sense. All quotes from the Dayton Daily News:

  • “[Derek] Dietrich clearly didn’t do anything wrong because he wasn’t ejected or suspended. If MLB has a problem with what Derek did then there needs to be a rule against what he did.”

There is a rule against what he did—it’s unwritten, and it’s been around for about as long as baseball itself. We have recently been lulled into thinking that it’s no longer enforced, which seemed to be fine until we realize that  guys like Chris Archer still inhabit pitcher’s mounds. MLB promotional slogans aside, the reality is that some players still don’t appreciate showboating. Dietrich can pimp any homer any way he’d like; he just has to cop to the possibility that he’ll piss somebody off in the process.

To Bell’s other point, a lack of prohibition against a given act in the rulebook doesn’t automatically make that act acceptable. Had Dietrich, unprovoked, decided to approach the Pittsburgh bench and spit tobacco juice onto Clint Hurdle’s cleats, he wouldn’t have broken any rules. He’d still be an asshole, though.  

  • “I had one intention [in coming out to argue the call] and that was to defend our team and to defend our hitter and to get Archer ejected.”

Never mind that that’s technically three intentions. Trying to get Archer ejected without a warning for throwing a pitch that didn’t come close to hitting a batter is, to put it exceedingly mildly, a stretch.

  • “I felt my only course of action was to get their pitcher ejected for intentionally trying to hurt our player.”

It’s unclear how throwing a ball below the belt and well behind a hitter in any way constitutes intent to injure. By this point in the conversation Bell is in full-fledged protect-my-guy mode, and appears to be spitting out whichever authoritarian argument reaches his brain first.

  • “Whether they throw at their heads or their backs or their legs, it is all the same to me. For that to be OK, or even somewhat acceptable that it wasn’t at his head, to me that is a very dangerous approach.”

This is where Bell really goes off the rails, because drawing false equivalences can be downright dangerous. What Archer did was clearly not the same as throwing at an opponent’s head. What Archer did was not even the same as drilling a guy in the ribs. Any modern pitcher who intentionally rifles a ball above somebody’s shoulders becomes an automatic pariah among his peers, and rightly so. Chris Archer does not remotely fit that bill, at least to judge by his approach to Dietrich.

  • “I don’t know what those [unwritten] rules are. All I know is this is pretty simple—our hitter hit a home run and didn’t do anything against major league rules or the umpire’s rule or anybody’s else’s rules. But everybody in the ballpark knew he was going to have to stand up there and possibly get hit with a fastball, maybe hit in the head and done damage.”

Waitaminute. If everybody in the ballpark knew that retaliation was imminent, Dietrich must have done something pretty obvious to inspire it. One needn’t approve of Archer’s response to acknowledge this reality.

David Bell is well respected around the sport, deservedly so, and I agree with him that pitchers have no business seeking physical retribution for an act so simple as showboating. But that’s an awfully high horse he’s decided to mount in Dietrich’s defense—so high that he appears to have lost all contact with what’s actually happening below. Defending his players is part of the guy’s job, but over the last couple of days Bell may have been throwing himself into his work with just a touch too much vigor.

Let The Kids Play, Retaliation

Pirates, Reds Argue Whether We’re Actually Ready To Let The Kids Play

Puig fights

So it seems that we’re now talking in matters of degrees. We’re going to let the kids play and flip themselves silly and celebrate in all sorts of ways that would have gotten them drilled by a previous generation of pitchers, and baseball is going to be better for it.

At least until somebody acts exactly like MLB has promoted in its own promotional campaigns and we’re reminded that red-assed pitchers maybe don’t watch too many commercials and somebody does something stupid and we’re right back to where we started.

We’re talking of course, about Pittsburgh’s Chris Archer in the role of the Red-Ass, and Cincinnati’s Derek Dietrich in the role of the Kid (never mind that he’s 29, only six months younger than Archer—a marketing slogan is a marketing slogan), and Yasiel Puig as the enforcer of a player’s right to showboat. (Who better, amiright?)

A quick recap: In the second inning of yesterday’s game, Dietrich yammed a monster homer clear into the Allegheny, then stood in the box watching it for what even by let-the-kids-play standards seemed like an exceedingly long time.

Pittsburgh catcher Francisco Cervelli was the first to express displeasure, waiting as Dietrich crossed the plate to deliver some words of rapprochement, to which the runner did not respond. (According to Puig, Cervelli also warned that retaliation was coming, which, if true, surely played no small part in what was to come.)

Archer continued his team’s messaging during Dietrich’s next at-bat, sending a pitch to the backstop, just behind the hitter’s rear end. Dietrich barely had to flinch to avoid it. Plate ump Jeff Kellogg immediately warned both benches. This is where things got interesting.

While Dietrich was downright passive in his response, Reds manager David Bell tore from the dugout to argue the warning, followed closely by a number of Reds players and coaches, notably Puig. Almost instantly, fists were thrown. (Again: notably Puig.) Cincinnati’s Bell, Puig and reliever Amir Garrett were ejected, as were Pittsburgh’s Felipe Vazquez and Keone Kela.

There’s a lot to unpack here. On one hand, Archer delivered a clear and harmless message, sent well behind the batter, below his belt. Annoying maybe, but hardly impactful. (“When someone is throwing at someone, they are trying to inflict pain or possibly hurt someone or send a message,” Dietrich said after the game, overblowing the details by a considerable margin.)

On the other hand, it was clear hypocrisy on Archer’s part, the idea being that a pitcher like him—a showboat in his own right—has no business getting angry when an opponent dishes out some of his own. And make no mistake: Archer’s emotional displays are prevalent to the point that his own team released a promo video about them before the game.

Or, take Bell, whose argument with Kellogg was that by acting so quickly, the umpire denied the Reds a chance to respond. Unless his argument was that Archer should have been ejected without warning. Either of which are nonsense, given that it was the Reds who started it, and that Pittsburgh’s answer didn’t even involve drilling a guy. What did Bell want to do? Escalate the situation by having one of his pitchers hit a Pirate? Send a similar message without fear of ejection? To what end?

Ultimately, of course, it won’t matter. If Bell or any member of his team is bent on responding, they’ll have no problem waiting until the next time the teams meet at the end of May. It’d be stupid, but that’s their prerogative.

There’s also the idea that, according to the unwritten rules, the aggrieved party in this type of situation dictates his team’s response. Had Dietrich made a mad dash for the mound, it would have made sense for his teammates to follow. But Dietrich didn’t do a thing. When Bell came out to argue, Puig seized the opportunity, vaulting the dugout rail to confront Archer on the field. Puig, of course, has never been much for the unwritten rules. This alone will earn him a suspension.

If you really want to get into the woods, examine the postgame sentiments of Vazquez, one of those ejected. “[Dietrich] shouldn’t have done that,” he said in a Pittsburgh-Post Gazette report. “That’s against the principles. If you do something like that you’re going to pay for it. We’re trying to play the game the right way by respecting it. Joey [Votto] can do it because he’s been here a long time. But a guy like him isn’t supposed to do that. He hasn’t earned the right. It was a little too much. We all knew it was going to be far but you’re not supposed to wait until the ball hits the ground to start running. You aren’t supposed to do that.”

The idea of veterans earning various rights not granted to their less-seasoned contemporaries is ages-old in baseball and, if expressed 20 years ago, wouldn’t be surprising. But in a landscape where an abundance of voices are calling for freer reign—to let the kids play—it’s an odd message. By Vazquez’s logic, the kids should be hamstrung, just like they always were, remaining reserved in their actions until such time as they’re sufficiently tenured to loosen up. That is, until they’re no longer kids.

Then again, Vazquez (née Rivero), as a Venezuelan national, is taking a decidedly counter approach to that espoused by a great many Latino players, who generally tend to default toward more celebratory practices, not fewer.

Ultimately, did Dietrich learn any lessons? To judge by the homer he hit six innings later, almost to the same spot as the first, no. He stood and admired that one, too.

The best thing to come out of this was @stormchasernick’s response to Cut4’s suggestion about art.

Reds-Pirates, May 27. Mark it on your calendars.

Update, 4-09-19: Archer has been suspended for five games, Puig for two and Bell for one. The Archer penalty in particular, which will only force him to bump back a start for a day or two, shows that MLB viewed his actions as relatively inconsequential. Which makes sense, given that he didn’t come close to hitting anybody.

Update, 4-11-19: David Bell’s talking, but he’s not making much sense.