In 2010 I was given space on this website and the freedom to cover baseball in my own way.
I’d been hanging out with pro ballplayers for years and thought the way they looked at the game was fascinating and I wanted to bring that point of view to other baseball fans.
Reporters, columnist, mathematicians and fanboys were having their say ... but what did the players, coaches and managers think about the game?
Along the way I’ve written about slide steps, outfield routes, pop times and the unwritten rules of the game.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Kansas City Star
On Tuesday, I wrote about the Jonathan Papelbon-Bryce Harper scuffle and what I said got a lot of attention.
Here’s what I wrote:
I don’t know Bryce Harper from Adam, but he certainly seems like a young man who needs choking. Unfortunately, he was choked by the wrong guy in the wrong place.
In baseball culture, pitchers — especially relievers — do not get to criticize position players for lack of hustle.
Guys like Jonathan Papelbon play every once in a while, while guys like Bryce Harper play all the time. So if you spend a fair amount of time sitting in the shade eating popsicles, you don’t get to criticize position players for failing to run out a fly ball.
The second problem was location.
If you want to choke Bryce Harper — and I suspect if you played with him, you would — ask him to come up the tunnel and then choke him. You don’t do it in the dugout for everyone in the world to see. You keep that stuff private.
So you can blame either guy for what happened, but you should probably blame both.
We’re in a bold, new age of journalism, which is a nice way of saying we sometimes put stuff on the web site and if an editor has time, he might proofread your work after it’s been posted.
On Tuesday morning, the freaking out began early and editors almost immediately changed “seems like a young man who needs choking” to “seems like a young man who needs an attitude adjustment.”
Brace yourself: I might use humor
One night back in 2010 while I was writing a column and trying to think of another word for pitcher. I came up with the word moundsman.
That night I decided my writing was bad or sucked. I have never in my life uttered the word moundsman and thought it was BS that I was about to write it. That night I decided to just tell readers what I had to say in my own words, just like if I’d met them in a bar on the way home from a game, and if you go to the right bar, that’s entirely possible.
That decision has led to a rather “flippant” or “facetious” writing style. (Is it obvious I still use a thesaurus?) So when I said Bryce Harper needed choking I was probably only 97 percent serious. (See? More of that flippant attitude that tends to gets me in trouble with people who like to get their Fruit of the Looms in a twist.)
But here’s why I would say that, even in jest: Bryce Harper has acted like a jerk on a baseball field and I’m not the only one that thinks so.
Here’s a headline from The Washington Post published last summer: “Bryce Harper is still just 21 years old, but he needs to stop acting like he’s 12.”
That headline appeared above a column written by Mike Wise.
In the column, Wise detailed how Harper had been benched by his manager for failing to run out a grounder, publicly criticized the team’s lineup, said a teammate should be benched and grabbed his crotch on national TV after striking out during a playoff game.
Poke around the internet and it’s not hard to find stories about Harper blowing kisses to pitchers, taking an exaggerated amount of time to jog around the bases, getting ejected from games and yelling at opponents, umpires and teammates.
Generally speaking, people inside the game consider Bryce Harper to be the south end of a north-bound horse.
His defenders tend to make three points:
1.) He’s really good at baseball.
2.) He’s changed.
3.) And he’s really good at baseball.
Letting a guy get away with bad behavior just because he’s good is how Bryce Harper became Bryce Harper.
And I gotta say that if Bryce Harper managed to provoke a teammate into choking him in front of the whole world, he probably hasn’t change all that much.
Violence in the workplace? Which workplace?
On Tuesday morning, I first got the inkling that something different was up after I heard Keith Olbermann was tweeting about me. Olbermann is the left-wing version of Rush Limbaugh and deals in outrage — and apparently I was an object of his daily outrage.
After my original blog was posted, it got picked up by Deadspin — the website that will tell you why your team sucks — and I began getting emails saying I was promoting violence in the workplace and if Papelbon had attacked Harper anywhere but a baseball field, Papelbon could be charged with assault. Co-workers should not solve their differences with violence.
Ever watch an episode of “Hard Knocks” on HBO?
If every NFL player who got in a scuffle with a teammate was charged with assault, you couldn’t field a team. And if you’re thinking football is a contact sport and baseball isn’t, you probably haven’t played much baseball.
If Papelbon putting his hands around Harper’s throat was assault — and I’ve seen a third-grader’s birthday party with more actual violence — then what do you call hitting an opponent with a hard object thrown at 97 mph?
Baseball players sometimes throw baseballs at each other, knock over infielders trying to complete double plays, slide into bases spikes up and charge the pitcher’s mound. Like it or not, it’s the way the game is played at the big-league level.
Pretending that professional sports teams are bound by the same restrictions that apply in an accountant’s office or a grocery store is disingenuous; it’s just isn’t so and the people who do it are looking for an excuse to be outraged.
The ballplayer’s point of view
According to an article I read this morning:
“Retired pitcher C.J. Nitkowski, writing for FoxSports.com, laid out the old-school case against Harper and for Papelbon.
In polling a dozen current and former players, he wrote, he found all of them agreed with Papelbon.
If you want the ballplayer’s point of view — and that’s the main reason you might want to check out this blog — I gave it to you. Teammates sometimes scuffle (I know of several physical confrontations that never got public scrutiny). Bottom line: If you’re going to scuffle, don’t do it in the dugout.
Wrong guy, wrong place
Billy Butler once got mad and went after Alcides Escobar because Esky missed a hit-and-run sign.
Billy hit the ball to the right side, but because Alcides didn’t break for second, the second baseman didn’t cover — he was there to field Billy’s grounder and it cost Butler a hit.
When I asked about the dugout confrontation I was told: “Wrong guy, wrong place.”
Billy was a DH, Alcides played a much more physically demanding position and played it almost every night.
Plus, if Billy wanted to confront Esky about missing a sign, he shouldn’t have done it in the dugout where people like me could see it.
The same thing applied to the Papelbon-Harper confrontation, so I thought fans who want to know how things work in the big leagues would be interested in that distinction. It wasn’t a long bit and originally it was tucked in at the bottom of a longer post.
But we’re being encouraged to do everything we can to increase traffic to our website, so I figured I’d put it at the top of the post because it was big topic of conversation in the world of baseball. If increasing traffic was the goal, I succeeded beyond my wildest dreams.
But right now I just want to take the opportunity to say something to all the people I offended and I say it with complete sincerity:
Thanks for the page views.
In my next post I will try to get back to doing what I’m being paid to do: writing about the Kansas City Royals.
Let’s just hope they don’t start choking each other in the dugout — I don’t have much more to say on the subject.