Minding Your Manners: Should Enthusiasm in Baseball Be Discouraged?

Daniel McGowinCorrespondent IMay 12, 2009

NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 19:  Joba Chamberlain #62 of the New York Yankees reacts after striking out the side in the eigth inning against the Baltimore Orioles on September 19, 2008 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City. The Yankees defeated the Orioles 3-2.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Much has been made over the past weekend's baseball games and "extracurricular activities."

On Saturday, Milwaukee Brewer Ryan Braun took a Ryan Dempster pitch deep for a solo shot in the seventh, ending the Cubs pitcher's day. As Braun rounded the bases, he stared down Dempster and emphatically clapped his hands.

Also on Saturday, White Sox closer Bobby Jenks threw behind Ian Kinsler. In a close game, Jenks' purpose was to send a message to the Rangers to quit hitting Chicago players (Kevin Millwood had hit two White Sox players in the game).

Then on Sunday, Orioles first baseman Aubrey Huff hit a three-run blast off of the emotional Joba Chamberlain. As Huff rounded the bases, he pumped his fists multiple times and reacted in a way that seemed to mock Chamberlain.

Later that day, Casey Blake took Giants closer Brian Wilson deep in the bottom of the 12th inning and tied the game again. After Blake returned to the Dodgers' dugout, he made a gesture crossing his arms like an "X" that was apparently towards Wilson.

Four acts of "aggression" that could lead to retaliation. Four justified displays of emotion.  And four overblown reactions to it all.

First off, I agree with the notion of not showing up your opponent. You should show some respect for your opponent and play like you have been there. That is the way to gain respect yourself. 

It is a reason I appreciate a player like Matt Stairs, who will hit a pinch-hit home run, round the bases, and then return to the bench. He did his job and let his actions speak for themselves.

There are the so-called "unwritten rules" of baseball that if you show up your opponent, you can expect some retaliation. Nolan Ryan, Bob Gibson, and other "old school" pitchers would dot a player on the other team if he felt he was disrespected.

That stated, we do not want emotionless players. We also understand that it is easy to get caught up in the moment. So while we desire respect of the game, we also want emotion.

It is with this in mind that I believe the events over the past weekend are a culmination of these two ideas. While some people, especially those fans of the Yankees, Giants, Cubs, and Rangers, might be upset, I believe the reactions are a bit too much and disregard their own team's (re)actions.

First, what happened on Saturday were both examples of those elusive "unwritten rules" coming into play.

Maybe Braun should have simply trotted the bases after his homer, but the homer itself was a reaction to the Dempster pitch that nearly caught Braun's head (the pitch actually hit Braun's bat, but he was rewarded with a HBP). 

If someone tries to buzz you, your reaction is to get back in there and jack it out of the park. So the homer was a reaction within the rules of baseball, while his stare down was from emotions that, at least to Braun, were driven by the Dempster high-and-tight pitch.

There should be no explanation for Jenks' pitch, but MLB is investigating the pitch. Jenks admitted that the pitch was intentional. As ESPN.com reported via the Chicago Tribune, Jenks "meant to" throw the pitch "to send a message":

"Basically I was saying, 'I'm sick of seeing our guys get hit and hurt and almost get taken out of the game.' I threw it with intention. ... I was not going to hit him. I made my point with that pitch, and it came across the way I wanted it to.

"I'm not going to go dirty. I was going to keep it low and behind him."

That, once again, is in the "rules" of baseball. If you hit one of our players, you can expect to have the same happen to your players.

Those cases are more clear-cut than what happened on Sunday. Let's take the Chamberlain-Huff situation first.

Joba Chamberlain is known for the amount of energy and emotion that he brings to the mound. His fist pumps after striking out the side, especially at home, are well documented.

Aubrey Huff's mimicking of Chamberlain's strikeout celebration was a direct play. While Huff's reaction could be held as disrespecting or showing up Chamberlain, keep in mind that Chamberlain's reactions are no different.

Granted, Huff's homer came in the first inning and should not extract great emotion, but his fist pumps could be held as remaining within the "rules" of baseball.

Look at it this way; Jenks' reaction was because of something the Rangers did and not because Jenks likes throwing behind people. Similarly, Huff's reaction was to something that Chamberlain does, and Huff admitted as much

So, if you take a step back and examine it in that manner, it is just an example of following those unwritten rules coming into contact with emotion.

Plus, if Chamberlain had a problem with it, he could place one on Huff's back (and not in the ear as one B/R writer suggested). But Chamberlain actually played it cool, took his medicine, and moved on...at least until the teams meet again.

And then there is the Blake-Wilson incident. Neither has really commented on it, so it is difficult to gauge their opinions, although it was reported through his teammates that Wilson was upset.

Apparently, Wilson has made it a habit to make an "X" with his arms at the end of games. It is apparently a tribute to both his faith as a Christian and to his deceased father. While I just learned of that (admittedly, I do not follow the Giants closely), it seems like common knowledge on the West Coast.

So it is safe to assume that Casey Blake knows why Wilson crosses his arms like that. Therefore, Blake's mocking of Wilson's tribute could be seen as classless and insensitive.

However, whenever you bring something public like that, you leave yourself open to criticism and/or mockery. While perhaps a stretch to compare baseball to wrestling, consider that Stone Cold Steve Austin played off of Jake "The Snake" Roberts' faith to develop the insanely popular "Austin 3:16" catchphrase.

I am not saying that Wilson is wrong to openly display his faith, but when a player makes a certain gesture—be it fist pumps or a cross—it can be expected that at some point someone will mock it. This is especially the case when emotions come into play, as it likely did when, down a run in extra innings, Blake homered with one out.

In a way, it is another example of "what goes around, comes around." While Wilson might feel it is simply a tribute, opposing players might view it as you've been "X'ed" out.

Again, we have not heard from Blake; perhaps he did not know what it meant to Wilson.

No one wants to see a batter do the Riverdance on home plate after hitting a solo shot in the first inning (although it might be amusing). But emotion is a part of the game. There still has to be a certain amount of respect for the opponent, but we cannot expect emotionless robots in sports.

In each of these four cases, I believe that emotions played a role in the reactions that seem to remain within the "unwritten rules" of baseball. If you are going to pump your fist after a strikeout or make an "X" after converting a save, then you should expect it in return after a home run.

And if you hit a player or two, it should be expected there will be retaliation, either by the other team jacking a homer off of the offending pitcher or the opposing pitcher hitting one of your teammates.


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