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.”