Being a known red-ass will occasionally work in a player’s favor. That’s because displays of jerkitude, should they fit a pattern of self-involved outbursts, are difficult to mistake for disrespect. “It’s just Bill being Bill,” an opponent might say, should such a red-ass be named Bill.
Tuesday, it was Brad being Brad.
Brad Penny, of course, is one of the most temperamental bastards in the game—and that’s not necessarily an insult. Fire has fueled him through a mostly successful 12-year career, but so too has it put him on the periphery of acceptable behavior.
As he pitched against the Rays, Penny drew attention for his response to Sean Rodriguez, Tampa’s second baseman who, on a seventh-inning popup, ran so hard he nearly reached second by the time left fielder Delmon Young caught the ball.
Penny, apparently upset at the audacity of hustle, first scowled at Rodriguez, then yelled at him. Rodriguez, sufficiently affronted, yelled right back. Rays manager Joe Maddon saw fit to call it out the following night, after another bit of Rodriguez hustle—he beat a two-out force play at second as the winning run crossed the plate in the 10th—was the difference in a Tampa Bay victory.
“For anybody to bark at another player for . . . hustling is absolutely insane, ludicrous,” said the manager, in a St. Petersburg Times report. “And if Sean had just charged the mound, I’d have been fine with that at that particular moment.”
Penny was being ridiculous, of course. Only a special kind of maniac can fault a guy for playing too hard—especially on a non-impact play. The thing is, according to Penny, he’s not that kind of maniac. He was getting on Rodriguez for yelling and cursing, of all things. “To me, that’s a sign of disrespect if you’re screaming that loud,” he said a day later in the Times. “All these kids can hear you; it’s not too loud in here. So to me, that’s not really professional.”
The problem with this logic is that a concern for the potential corruption of western Florida’s youth does not equal disrespect. And if Penny did feel disrespected, trying to justify his actions by hiding behind an it’s-all-about-the-children excuse is just sad.
But that’s the thing about Brad Penny. It was just last month that he got into an argument with his own catcher, Victor Martinez, about pitch selection, visibly berating him on the mound before a stadium full of people. (Watch it here.) He’s also been known to enforce legitimate tracts of Code when the mood strikes. (With the Marlins in 2001, for example, he drilled New York’s Tsuyoshi Shinjo for having swung at a 3-0 pitch while the Mets held an 11-3 lead a day earlier. While denying intent, he said afterward that Shinjo “did deserve to get hit.”)
Even if Penny was offended by Rodriguez’s choice of language—offered as it was toward nobody in particular, likely out of the hitter’s frustration at his own inability to execute—that’s okay because he seems to be offended by most of the things the people around him do on a regular basis.
It is, after all, just Brad being Brad.