Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Mind Your Manners

Recently two major baseball ethics and etiquette issues have surfaced and crowded the headlines.  First, Derek Jeter, yes the same one who just collected his 3,000th hit, decided not to attend the All-Star game.  Second, a brawl erupted in Boston between the Red Sox and the bottom dwelling Orioles.  Let's begin with DJ and his rise and fall.

Last saturday, Derek Jeter became the 28th member of the 3,000 hit club and the first ever Yankee to accomplish the feat.  I congratulate Derek on his consistency, health, talent, and longevity, all of which contributed to reaching this milestone.  He hit a home run to collect this historic hit and not do allow personal accomplishments to trump the team, Jeter also drove in the eventual game winning run.  Unfortunately those who rise the highest have a tendency to fall the hardest (thanks Newton).  Jeter has not fallen hard, but his image has taken a small step backwards this past week.  One might wonder, "How can Jeter's image be smeared during the only part of the summer when there is a break in regular baseball activities?"  The simple answer is that generic baseball fans are stupid.  The more complicated answer has to do with the All-Star game and Jeter not handeling a simple situation well.

Why is generic stupidity affecting Derek Jeter?  Due to MLB allowing fans to vote on the starters for the All-Star game, Jeter was named the starter for the AL squad.  Recently coming off an injury, Jeter was likely to decline to play in the game, which is disrespectful enough, but instead of declining to play Jeter refused to catch one of the many non-stop flights from LaGuardia Airport to Phoenix's Sky Harbor Airport. Jeter may not have deserved to be an All-Star, thus once again questioning the validity of allowing fans to vote on who is an All-Star, but if chosen by the fans, he should have at least humored them and shown up. I know from growing up with three strong willed and immensely bright women that sometimes it is best to humor those people who have influence on you because in the long run it is easier to smile and nod now than to take the verbal tongue lashing that will most likely ensue.  You might think Jeter would have liked to attend the game and be cheered by thousands of fans for being selected to his 12th All-Star game as well as reaching 3,000 hits only 2 days prior.

Bud Selig recently stood behind one of his league's star players, saying, "I think I'd have made the same decision that Derek Jeter did."  No matter the reason, Jeter should have respected the game that has given him so much over the last 15 years.  Jeter's seniority does not give him special status that allows him to skip what I consider obligatory events.  Selig's diplomacy is laudable but not right, he should have forced Jeter to attend.  Phillies third baseman Placido Polanco, and center fielder Shane Victorino, both voted All-Stars by the fans, have injuries that precluded them from playing in the game, but still travled to Phoenix and heard their names announced before the game, taking their hats of to the fans who were gracious enough to provide them with All-Star status.  Maybe Derek Jeter could take a lesson from his peers.  Other offenders similar to Jeter include Aramis Ramirez, who when asked to serve refused.  This peccadillo is less offensive than Jeter's snubbing of the fans because Ramirez was a manager's choice, but it still shows immaturity and a "better than thou" attitude.  In contrast to the bad etiquette of Jeter and Ramirez is Albert Pujols, who publicly expressed interest in being a part of the All-Star team.  Robinson Cano's unbridled joy following winning the Home Run Derby, showed why attending the All-Star game has its perks.  Jeter should have hopped on a private jet and attended the game, he could even have brought Minka Kelly, i'm sure no one would have minded that.

In other baseball etiquette news the Boston Red Sox played the Baltimore Orioles this past weekend.  Seeing as these two teams play three to four series a season, what could be the interest?  Well, in lue of the Sox trouncing of the Orioles (big surprise), an amateur boxing match erupted during Friday night's game.  In the right corner weighing in at 230 lbs was Orioles bullpen pitcher Kevin Gregg and in the left corner weighing in at a surprisingly 230 lbs was Red Sox DH David Ortiz.  Gregg threw 3 straight fastball inside to Ortiz, one of which seemed intentional.  Ortiz took offense to these inside heaters and took a few steps closer to Gregg gesticulating towards him while most likely warning him, "I'm David Ortiz and I will eat you alive if you continue to almost plunk me in the ribs with 94mph fastballs."  Gregg, probably frustrated with a thus far subpar season, painfully one-sided game, and Ortiz's bravado barked back.  If not for the home plate umpire putting his body between the two hot heads the bell may have rung for round one to begin.

 Instead Ortiz returned to the batter's box and awaited the 3-0 pitch from Gregg.  Gregg threw a 4th consecutive inside fastball which would have resulted in  ball 4.  Here lies the quagmire.  It is traditional that on a 3-0 count, the batter does not swing.  Sometimes, managers, to my dismay, allow their better hitters to swing away 3-0 thinking it may be a perfect pitch due to the likelihood that the hitter will not swing and the need of the pitcher to throw a strike.  If Ortiz's stroll to the mound was "strike one", swinging at the 3-0 pitch was "strike two".  "Strike three" came next, when Ortiz hit a lazy fly ball to right field and instead of respectfully jogging to first base the slugger took a few steps, stopped moving and began to retreat to the confines of the Red Sox dugout.  Gregg, seeing this breach of baseball etiquette decided is was his civic duty to remind Ortiz to run to first.  This did not sit well with Ortiz who decided that "them be fightin' words" and proceeded to charge the mound and swing widely at Gregg who swung back.  Benches cleared, punches were thrown, and foul words exchanged.  Not surprisingly Ortiz and Gregg were ejected for their crimes, and luckily neither player actually made contact during the bout thus lessening the possibility of injury.  During the myriad of post-game interviews, Gregg capitulated his side of the story and even left a warning saying,
"We're not backing down. We're not scared of them," Gregg said. "Them and their $180 million payroll, we don't care. We're here to play the game and we have just as much right to play the game, and we're going to do everything we can to win."
Sox starter Josh Beckett backed his teammate saying,
"I felt like [Gregg] should have been thrown out before any of that [expletive] even happened," Beckett said. "The rule is, if something like that happens and you leave the mound, you're automatically ejected. It wasn't handled that way and now we've got other guys probably looking at fines."
No matter who is right or wrong, brawls should never happen because of a player disrespecting the game and not running out a fly ball.  Gregg was obviously trying to get Ortiz out by throwing inside fastball, eventually succeeding, but he also bears some blame by nearly missing Ortiz's chest with a 94mph fastball that would most likely have caused some damage had it connected with its target.  In the end, these things happen and the most important thing is that both players and teams' egos shrink and tempers subside, but I do not realistically see that happening.  The Red Sox travel to Baltimore on July 18th for a three game series at Camden Yards.  Sparks may fly, but hopefully they will not be due to a lack of etiquette or respect of the game.  Both David Ortiz and Derek Jeter could use to reread the book of unwritten rules of baseball, which can be found in the plaque gallery at the baseball Hall of Fame.  Nonetheless my hope is that both events are behind them because the second half of the season is set to begin tomorrow, the trade deadline looms, and teams begin to fortify their resumes for a chance to play October baseball.  With so many great headlines and so much baseball to be played let us focus for a moment on Jeter and Ortiz's transgressions but not for long.

1 comment:

  1. Horrow your work is very insightful and provocative, and I think that to take this blog to the next level you would benefit from a copy-editor. Also Jeter is the 28th member of the hit club not 27th.

    The question of whether players can/should decline an ASG appearance is interesting. I agree that players have some duty to the fans (well in an ideal picture of baseball and professional sports anyway), but it is very hard for me to blame Jeter for wanting to rest, relax and quietly spend time with family during a long high-pressure season. He should be afforded the right to maintain the ability to exercise a duty a duty to himself and his well-being as well.
    Of course I'm a die-hard Yankee and Jeter fan, so take my opinion with a grain of salt.