It’s beginning to look a little more like letting the kids play, which baseball wishes to push as its watchword, is going to have more exceptions as the season ambles forward. And, it isn’t just from those players still wedded till death do they part to the Sacred Unwritten Rules.
Apparently, baseball’s most notorious umpire wants to have his say about it, too. Apparently, too, there are teams who don’t mind their own kids playing but are ready to rumble if their opponents play.
Come Wednesday baseball’s incumbent hottest hitter, Tim Anderson, learned the hard way about what happens when you’re one of the kids who wants to play but Joe West decides in the moment that he’s your daddy, and Daddy needs to send you to your room for objecting vociferously though not violently over being hit by a pitch your next time up after hitting one out.
Oh, yes, Tim. You came to play, and—with Eloy Jimenez on second and two out—Royals’ starter Brad Keller threw you a full count grapefruit. And just like any major league hitter who happens to be heated up well enough, you saw that grapefruit and knew it meant one thing—breakfast. And oh, did you feast on it. You drove it so far into the left field seats there should have been coffee served with it.
And, considering you’d just had such a yummy breakfast courtesy of a pitcher against whom you’d been (read carefully) 0-for-13 with five strikeouts and not a base on balls on the ledger otherwise, there shouldn’t be a jury on earth that would consider you out of line for striding moderately out of the batter’s box watching it fly, then throwing your bat toward your own dugout as if momentarily in the javelin event at the Olympics before running out the breakfast bomb.
Neither you nor Keller have any clue, probably, that Cy Young’s unrelated namesake is still the only American man to win Olympic gold in the javelin throw, or that Babe Didrikson was the first American woman to win Olympic gold in it. All you know, Tim, is that you’re not staring Keller down, you don’t look into his team’s dugout, you don’t do anything in any way to show the Royals up, unless the Royals suddenly believe firing your bat toward your own dugout shows them up.
You probably care, Tim, only that your next time up Keller throws the first pitch of the plate appearance into your can, and that he probably wishes it was a shot put, not a baseball. And it’s very possible that Keller cares deeply about the little fact that you’ve hit eight home runs off Royals pitching in your career, two more than you’ve hit against any other team.
So right after you got canned, you take a step or two toward the mound and Royals catcher Martin Maldonado—who has the job because Salvador Perez, the catcher who thinks you have no right to have fun until or unless you’ve won a World Series ring, is out for the season with an injury—slithers into your presumed path.
You talk to Maldonado while then giving Keller a well-earned glare. You’re not thinking about charging Keller, like a bull or anything else. You even give Maldonado two pats on the shoulder as you both stride up the first base line, and it looks as though it’s going to be no big deal. Looks aren’t everything, alas.
Because Jose Abreu leads your teammates out of the dugout and the Royals come pouring out of theirs. It’s going to take about seven or eight minutes and a couple of scrums between a couple of coaches and managers, yours and theirs, to get the whole thing settled, even as—rather intriguingly—the mob ended up not around the mound or the plate but near first base.
And all the while, Tim, you’re doing something rather remarkable with a little help from your friends, much as Keller is. You’re both staying away from the rhubarb.
The Royals may be chirping like canaries toward you, and a few of your mates might be chirping likewise toward Keller, but you two aren’t even near the crowd. Even if your coach Joe McEwing has his arms around you from behind just in case, but you sure don’t look like you’re ready for a piece of anyone in Royals fatigues.
Your manager Rick Renteria may be barking at Royals manager Ned Yost to get his kids off the field unless they’re playing in its positions, and Yost may be barking back that there’s no way he’s going to let your boss or anyone bark at his boys. But you and Keller, with a little help from at least a couple of your friends, are actually behaving yourselves during this little danse d’absurdio.
Far as you know, Tim, Keller should be the only one who gets a ho-heave, and maybe your mates should get at least one chance to send the Royals a message in return. Maybe. You’re all about having fun while you play. You know that word “play.” Even if you’re not aware of Hall of Famer Willie Stargell’s wisdom: “The umpire doesn’t say, ‘Work ball’.” Even if you’ve never seen Bull Durham and heard Crash Davis remind his teammates, “This game’s fun, okay?”
Yet you may forget one small detail, Tim. You may forget that Joe West, one of the base umpires for the game, doesn’t forget.
Last year, you asked him about whether he or anyone else saw you get touched when Javier Baez of the Cubs slid rather hard into you trying to break up a double play in the making. And Country Joe sent you and your skipper to the showers. And you said, quote, “I don’t have much to say about him. Everybody knows he’s terrible. But I didn’t say much. He threw me out. It’s OK.”
Well, it turns out not to have been OK. Because once things settle down Wednesday, Country Joe rounds up the umpires and decides Keller, Renteria, Royals coach Dale Sveum, and . . . you should be sent to your rooms.
You get Keller. You get your skipper. You get Sveum. But you? The original victim? This is like a father learning the neighbourhood bully beat the hell out of his son for no reason and deciding his son needed to be spanked for it.
And you, the son, are diplomatic enough not to reference Daddy’s previous unwarranted punishment over the Baez slide debate, such as it was, when Mother asks what the hell you are doing in time out with a sore bottom for the rest of the day. (You may wish to wonder whether Mother reminded Daddy that, thanks to these punishments he’s now number three on the all-time umpires’ ejections survey thanks to passing Hank O’Day.)
And when the White Sox send someone from their media relations department to ask what Daddy and his fellow umps thought when Daddy laid down the law, all they say in reply is, “Because of the language that was used on the field, the umpires declined comment.”
Somewhere in the middle of the scrum, Tim, Country Joe Daddy actually put his hands on your manager trying to usher him the hell out of it. Now, if you wonder, Tim, where the hell West gets off with that kind of contact—when you and every other fool knows there’d be hell to pay if it had been your manager putting hands on Country Joe Daddy or any other umpire in like circumstances—you’re hardly alone, I’m sure.
Even diplomatic you, Tim, can’t be blamed if your spontaneous thought about that and your ultimate day’s punishment is, “You’ve gotta be joking.” What’s not a joke is that of course the Royals deny any intent on Keller’s part to teach you a lesson about play. Of course Keller himself says he wasn’t trying to put a hole into your left butt.
And of course you and me and everyone else watching that game knows it was about as not-trying as the day Hunter Strickland nailed Bryce Harper on the first pitch of an at-bat, over a pair of home runs almost three years old.
We also know the Royals are a little on the hypocritical side when it comes to these things. They have no problem with one of their own remembering the umpire doesn’t say, “Work ball.” (That one of their own last year, Alcides Escobar, is now in the minor league system of . . . the White Sox. Just sayin’.) They just don’t like it when one of the opposition remembers.
Go back out and have fun today, Tim. Your manager has your back, too. As he says, wisely, about home runs like yours and spontaneous celebrations like yours, “You want him not to do that? Get him out.” What a concept.
And as for you, Brad Keller, I have this: Instead of throwing at the guy who ate your grapefruit for breakfast the next time he faces you, get him out . . . and have a little celebration of your own.
Strike him out. Make your hand into a pistol and fire it (just like Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley used to do), or fan it. (Just like the late Joaquin Andujar used to do.) Or, make like you’re firing an old fashioned tommy gun. Or, drop to a knee and fire an imaginary bazooka toward him as he slinks back to the dugout. If hitters can have fun, why can’t pitchers?
Or, if the next time up the circumstance allows you to lure him into a double play grounder, make sure your infielders are ready to mime a juggling act. If hitters and pitchers can have fun, why can’t the fielders?
“Remember when you were a kid and you’d skip supper to play ball?” should-be Hall of Famer Dick Allen, near the end of his career, once reminded pressing young Hall of Famer-to-be Mike Schmidt. “You were having fun. Baseball’s supposed to be fun. Enjoy it. Be a kid again.”
Sound counsel for both Tim Anderson and Brad Keller, the latter of whom happens to be two years younger than the former, but who chose instead to behave like a scolding old get-off-my-lawn fart. And, for Joe West, who’s old enough to know better, still young enough to enjoy it, but may think he was born a scolding old get-off-my-lawn fart.