A Brief History of Athletes Punching Inanimate Objects
On Monday night, the San Francisco Giants summoned closer Hunter Strickland from the bullpen in the ninth inning to secure a 4-2 lead against the Marlins. He started off well, getting a one-ball, two-strike count on Brian Anderson. But then he hit a wall. (Well, that came later.) He couldn't put Anderson away, eventually walking him, and then surrendered three hits, another walk and three runs before exiting down 5-4 and taking the loss.
That's when he literally hit the wall. Actually, it was a door. In the clubhouse after the game, Strickland punched his right hand against one, breaking his hand and leaving him out for six to eight weeks.
Strickland would apologize Tuesday on Instagram, writing, in part: "To my family, my teammates, my coaches, this organization, and our fan base, I am truly sorry that one split second, stupid decision has caused so much harm and now set me back from being out there with my team to pursue our goal."
Perhaps he can find some solace in the knowledge that he's hardly the first person to fall victim to the desire to take out his frustration physically. Indeed, it's so innately human that in 1999, a famous psychological study was published on it. Researchers Brad Bushman, Roy Baumeister and Angela Stack found that when angry people were given the chance to hit a punching bag, they enjoyed it, but it did "not produce a cathartic effect: It increases rather than decreases subsequent aggression." The study led to headlines like "You Can't Punch Your Way Out of Anger" on Psychology Today. It leads more often to cracked bones than catharsis.
And more visits to the trainer than can be recounted in one article.
But for Strickland's sake, we can help everyone remember he's not the only athlete to punch himself onto the sidelines. Here are some outrageous examples of players (and one coach!) who have done so in just the past few years.
LeBron James, 2018
This is maybe the most justified punch of the pack.
In what will no doubt become one of the NBA's most infamous playoff moments, the Cavaliers and Warriors were tied 107-107 with 4.7 seconds left in Game 1 of the Finals. After the Cavs' George Hill missed a free throw, teammate JR Smith grabbed an offensive rebound and—rather than call a timeout or attempt a shot—ran out the clock.
LeBron James was so frustrated after the sequence that he inadvertently memed himself and, more seriously, punched a whiteboard in the locker room after the game, as he later revealed. He played the rest of the series with a broken hand, and the Warriors swept the Cavs.
Even with a healthy hand, James probably couldn't have willed the Cavs to victory in the series. But it is sad to think the LeBreak could define his final games in Cleveland.
Joel Berry, 2017
University of North Carolina guard Joel Berry was a presumptive national player of the year candidate coming into the 2017-18 season. But his year got off to an unfortunate start when he broke his hand in October by punching a door after losing a video game to teammate Theo Pinson and a student manager. (I mean, come on, Joel—a manager?)
In a way, the hand injury might be viewed as not a big negative: Berry got the injury out of the way in the preseason, and he went on to have a great season and lead North Carolina back to the NCAA tournament, though the Tar Heels were eliminated in the second round.
Drew Storen, 2015
The Nationals were already hurting when pitcher Drew Storen gave up an eighth-inning, go-ahead home run to the NL East-leading Mets, leaving Washington the victim of a three-game sweep in September 2015. But rather than attack a locker, the adaptive Storen punched the lockbox within his locker.
The injury ended his season—and his career with the Nationals, who traded him to the Blue Jays the ensuing offseason.
He's now with the Reds but is out again with another injury. This one involved another person, a suspect named Tommy John.
Amar'e Stoudemire, 2012
No bones were damaged in the making of this punch, but fire safety was temporarily imperiled.
After the Knicks dropped their 12th straight playoff game in a loss to the Heat, Stoudemire punched a fire extinguisher case in the team's locker room. He needed stitches and heavy bandages to close the wound, but the most lasting damage was to his reputation. The New York tabloids referred to him as a "bloody idiot" and a "glasshole," and the Pacers poked some fun at him as well by protecting their own extinguisher's case.
Perhaps the most lasting lesson of this ordeal is that blood, it seems, is not thicker than fire (extinguishers).
Bryce Harper, 2012
This wasn't technically a punch, but Bryce Harper did ball up his fists, so it counts.
After making an out in the seventh inning against the Reds, the Nationals' young star walked down the tunnel from the dugout and smacked his bat against a wall. Unfortunately, he fought the wall and the wall won: The bat bounced off the wall and stung him just above the left eye. He required 10 stitches but returned to the game.
It's odd to side with an inanimate object, but it does seem like Harper had it coming. After the game, he admitted to years of abusing bats. "I guess I won't do it anymore, but I don't know," Harper said. "I've done it a million times. It's just a heat-of-the-moment kind of thing. It came back and got me."
BONUS: Chris Beard, 2016
Anyone who has seen Chris Beard coach a game probably would use a similar word to describe his style: He's animated.
Beard rose to prominence a couple of seasons ago when he guided a Cinderella team, the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, to an upset win over Purdue in the first round of the 2016 NCAA tournament. But the Trojans wouldn't have even gotten to the dance without some extra motivation from their head coach in the Sun Belt championship game.
With his team down at halftime, Beard punched a whiteboard in an attempt to "get the guys a little fired up," he would later say. The Trojans went on to win and provide a counterexample to all the times that an errant punch has cost the thrower.
Keep swinging, gentlemen.