Welcome to the sixth edition of Around the Horn. If you’re still new to this space, this will be a recurring op-ed that riffs on whatever’s recently noteworthy in baseball, except it will have a more satirical slant. Think of it as a stripped down Last Week Tonight or Daily Show in a column format, except all about baseball. There will be recurring segments about the good, bad, and ugly in the world of America’s pastime. Additionally, as often as possible, we’ll end with an interview as well.
There’s a lot to discuss, so let’s get right to our first segment:
Our Main Story
Baseball is a beautiful game with a very rich and storied history. Much of that history is splendid and full of heartwarming nostalgia. Conversely, some of its history is rife with scandal, racism, and prejudice. While the Hall of Fame continues to keep some of the game’s most unsavory characters enshrined while it ignores the steroid era that unceremoniously saved the game itself at one point, MLB has long used Jackie Robinson to spread its message of equality. Robinson’s number, 42, is the only one retired by every major league team, and is done so to honor his impact on the game, and in many respects, society.
That impact took a curious turn this week. Occasionally, issues arise within the game that spark debate, and those issues are not always limited to the rules and constructs that occur between the white lines. Case in point, the moment that this happened:
White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson celebrated his towering home run off of Royals pitcher Brad Keller with an epic bat flip, and was promptly greeted with a hit-by-pitch in his next at-bat. https://t.co/6OJ7qjhr07
— Twitter Moments (@TwitterMoments) April 17, 2019
Benches clear in Royals-White Sox after Brad Keller hits Tim Anderson in the 6th inning. pic.twitter.com/u9IhZ56AvP
— MLB (@MLB) April 17, 2019
A couple of things to consider here:
- Tim Anderson’s bat flip was epic. Keep in mind, all the jawing he did was seemingly at his own dugout as if to rally his teammates. This also happened on the heels of MLB trending #LetTheKidsPlay on Twitter the same week it celebrated Jackie Robinson Day.
- Brad Keller clearly took umbrage with the demonstration and promptly drilled Anderson in the hip with a 92 mph fastball. I imagine striking Anderson 0ut would have been a far more appropriate response. Keller later claimed the ball “got away” from him, and he wasn’t “trying to put a guy on in a 2-2 ballgame in the sixth inning.” Yeah, that would seem pretty foolish, wouldn’t it? Almost as foolish as expecting anyone to believe the ball “got away.” After all, doesn’t every pitcher march toward home plate ready to throw down every time the ball gets away?
- All that being said, a lot of these bat flips, whether intentionally or not, come across as showing up the pitcher. And many players clearly feel such demonstrative celebrations disrespect how hard it is to get to the big leagues and be competitive. No matter where you stand on these types of celebrations and their corresponding retaliations, your stance is very much rooted in how you feel about one thing as it pertains to the game: humility. If you feel humility is a value that should be an integral part of the game, then you probably don’t feel a celebration like Anderson’s is warranted in the sixth inning of a mid-April day game. Perhaps you feel such celebrations have no place in the game because they lack respect for your opponent, or maybe you prefer they be reserved for moments like Kirk Gibson or Joe Carter in the World Series. Then again, if humility means less to you, then you’re probably fine with Anderson’s flamboyant bat flip and feel that’s the kind of energy baseball needs in a new era to attract newer, younger viewers.
- Keller was naturally suspended for the beaning, and apparently, Anderson was summarily suspended for this:
During the benches-clearing incident, White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson called Royals pitcher Brad Keller a "weak-ass f—ing n-word," sources tell ESPN. Anderson, who was hit by a Keller pitch one at-bat after he hit a home run and flipped his bat, was suspended for one game.
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) April 19, 2019
Look, there is no room in the game of baseball for racial slurs, especially the week Robinson is celebrated. However, we should take into account the fact that Anderson is black, and there may be some context to his remarks that MLB is missing entirely.
The “N-word” is a disgusting slur meant to dehumanize an entire group of people based on nothing more than the color of their skin. It is deplorable for any white person to use this word when addressing a black person. However, it can be argued that part of the way African-Americans have coped with years of racial injustice is to take a hateful word long weaponized to emotionally assault them and effectively seize ownership of the word. The context of when and how African-Americans use this word is much different than how it was directed at them for more than a hundred years.
I’m not advocating that MLB allow language such as this to be normalized, but it would seem sensible for the league to focus its energy on those who would use this word hatefully and hurtfully, perhaps by glorifying Robinson’s legacy and positive impact on the game in ads targeting those with the audacity to continue to hurt others with that word.
Instead, MLB opts to exploit Robinson as a means to bolster profits for a big sponsor like Budweiser, and then it promptly suspends Anderson on the grounds that he used foul language. For a league that won’t tolerate “foul language,” it sure seems ironic that the Anderson vs. Keller incident that led to Anderson’s suspension for the use of foul language happened within days of this happening:
Just a friendly reminder that Tim Anderson got suspended for “language” but Kyle Schwarber got 0 games for this. pic.twitter.com/YpvmiEW1dF
— Scott Krinch (@scottiekrinch) April 19, 2019
It’s also somewhat disingenuous when you tolerate language like this and issue no suspensions whatsoever. (Warning: Link features explicit language.)
Nonetheless, we can probably all agree that baseball is better without the use of the “N-word,” regardless of who says it. Hopefully, we can also agree that MLB’s protocol for suspensions needs some serious re-evaluation:
A 5-game suspension for a SP is, at best 1 game. So MLB handed the same penalty to Brad Keller for throwing a baseball at a human being as it did to Tim Anderson for cursing. But, you know, just let the kids play.
— Joel Sherman (@Joelsherman1) April 19, 2019
My sentiments, exactly.
Out of the Park
A Look Beyond the Boxscores for the Best in Baseball This Week
Brock Holt might have made the Dad Hall of Fame with this gem:
One day Brock Holt’s son will sign the biggest contract in MLB history pic.twitter.com/k7HTxFIkOx
— Baseball Bros (@BaseballBros) April 15, 2019
Yes, this probably is the greatest double play you’ll ever see with an insane cannon shot from Ramon Laureano:
Ramon Laureano is insane!
This is one of the greatest double plays you’ll ever see 😱 pic.twitter.com/b8VIaRl7QO
— Baseball Bros (@BaseballBros) April 21, 2019
Then again, this one might give it a run for its money:
This play ended up being so dirty 🔥 pic.twitter.com/tcN225WAkv
— Baseball Bros (@BaseballBros) April 21, 2019
Where Baseball Got Caught Looking
The umpires have been under fire to begin the season, and for good reason in many instances. First, we had Ron Kulpa giving all umps a bad name with his chauvinistic bullying, and now we have umps straight up dropping the mic after a bad call:
This is a bad look for the umpire, right? pic.twitter.com/Yq36pyNP5f
— Baseball Bros (@BaseballBros) April 21, 2019
Yes, it is a bad look. Terrible calls are seemingly on the rise, and players and even managers now are venting their frustration more and more. The most controversial solution, electronic strike zones, isn’t one we will examine here today, but Ryan Addition sure is adding fuel to that fire:
Brandon Belt has a point when he says something has to be done when players’ at-bats are being taken away, and umpires have to make adjustments the same way players are expected to do in this game. Bruce Bochy got ejected with Belt, and he’d probably agree with his first baseman that something should be done, indeed.
Minor league umpires only have about a 3 percent chance of making it to the major leagues, compared to the nearly one out of every six drafted players who make it to the majors, so the ones who do make it are considered the very best at their jobs. The ones who do make it live far from glamorous lives. Perhaps umpires feel disrespected by players, managers, and even fans for so readily criticizing their efforts to the point of arguing they be replaced by robots.
Perhaps if some of them did their jobs better, they wouldn’t be scrutinized, some would argue.
But it’s not that simple. Especially not when instant replay is around to point out how you blew a call in front of thousands of people. Nor is it that simple when the average velocity has never been higher, and pitches between 96 and 100 mph move like this Luis Castillo fastball:
Luis Castillo, 96mph Fastball Movement. 😯 pic.twitter.com/yR18JmLJmE
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) April 21, 2019
Umpires, like players, should always be held accountable for their actions and performance on the field. They should always be striving to get better. We don’t demand robot players when a player goes 0-for-4 with three strikeouts and makes an error in the field. It’s perfectly acceptable to demand umpires take responsibility and conduct themselves like professionals. One can argue they should be treated like professionals, as well.
In case you still thought being an umpire was easy, we call this a triple kill!
Yu Darvish, 99mph Triple Kill Fastball (with motion tracker). pic.twitter.com/34DtSIigFG
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) April 16, 2019
And that’s the ballgame for this week!
(Photo by Quinn Harris/Icon Sportswire)
Sorry guy, what’s good for the goose……You don’t get a “bye” because of the color of your skin. I thought we had moved away from that. It’s not ok for one guy to say it and not another based merely on the color of their skin. A ball is a ball, whether a 3-0 count or 0-2 count etc, etc, etc. And a particular word is not tolerated for one “group” but “understandable “ for another. Naw uh.
I don’t necessarily disagree with you. I’m not suggesting Anderson’s use of the word should be tolerated. I was clear about that above. I’m merely pointing out that the context of his usage is different than the hurtful way the word is often used against minorities, and MLB has tolerated foul language with no suspensions at all, so this suspension came across as hypocritical.
I’m sorry, what part of “Weak-Ass” modifies the N-word into respectful dialogue?
Where are you getting this idea of “respectful dialogue”? What part of two guys jawing at each other after one drills the other with a 92 mph pitch constitutes “respectful dialogue”? I have yet to see a baseball shouting match that featured “respectful dialogue.” Expect colorful language in nearly every tense altercation you see during a baseball game. Anderson’s use of the “n-word” should not be tolerated. He should be reprimanded for it in some form, but I take umbrage with the idea that MLB will suspend Anderson for “foul language” but do nothing about Schwarber cursing at an umpire and charging him like an angry rage beast, or worse – Terry Collins using explicitly foul language in his spat with an umpire in the link I provided. Neither of those cases resulted in a suspension on the grounds of “foul language.” That’s the stance I argued in this article, while simultaneously acknowledging the fact that the “n-word,” while it should not be tolerated, is often used in a different context spoken by Anderson than someone like me or Keller. Please understand that to acknowledge does not mean to condone.
“Tim Anderson‘s bat flip was epic.”
Give me a break. That’s like saying “Paul George’s pelvic thrust was legendary” after a dunk in the second quarter of a blowout game in November.
Well, to be fair, I’m not sure there’s an official metric for rating bat flips. The situation itself was not epic at all, and I mentioned that in the article. But the way he did it, with such authority, was certainly not conventional. I guess that’s where I was going. I will say though that even Amir Garrett was impressed.
Regarding The Rundown, a bat flip while expressing joy is one thing. A bat flip while expressing arrogance and/or antagonism is another – and it is usually fairly easy to tell the difference. Showboating a bat flip is nothing more than non-verbal smack-talk. A lot of fans like it, but a lot don’t. While the old-school method of hitting the batter in retaliation is widely accepted, I’m not sure how effecting it is in preventing future bat flips. But, it will almost always escalate a situation.
Regarding Backdoor Sliders, umpires are supposed to try to de-escalate tense situations. It seems there are too many umpires that instead escalate tense situations by unnecessarily engaging a player that is upset with a call, even if that player is not confronting the umpire. The video with Laureano appears to show Laureano just standing there in disbelief at the call, with his back to the umpire, and not saying anything. The umpire appears to be the one initiating the confrontation.
You’re absolutely right when it comes to the difference between a bat flip to express joy and one that comes across as arrogance. Anderson has since come out and said he wants to be the “Russell Westbrook of baseball,” which suggests he likes to play the game with some swagger and attitude. I can’t say I’m a huge fan of bat flips, though I will acknowledge as I did above when they’re amusing; however, I also don’t think drilling hitters is the best way to respond. Keller striking Anderson out in his next AB would have done the trick for me, but the old schoolers continue to think drilling is the one and only way, and it’s expressly designed to punish, not “one-up,” because they feel such bat flip celebrations disrespect the game and your competition. Case in point, Mark DeRosa’s response: https://twitter.com/MLBNetwork/status/1119255080342040582
I personally find it dangerous and don’t approve of drilling, myself.
I also agree with you regarding some umpires like Ron Kulpa who seem to escalate, rather than de-escalate, tension. I do believe umpires deserve more respect as professionals than they get, but I also think there are some of them that give their brethren a bad name. It’s entirely possible that because some of these umpires are among the “3%” that make it to the Majors, and they have stuck around awhile, that they can, as Kulpa said, “Do whatever I want.” That should not be tolerated by the league, nor should any incident where an umpire initiates a confrontation.
Thanks for the response Paul (and the link). You’re right, “punishment” is a more accurate choice of words than “retaliation” in regard to why the pitcher drills the batter.