Baseball is the thinking person’s sport. It requires acute intelligence and mental acuity as much as it requires certain physical skills to play well. For some of the thinking people who play the game, the problem becomes that their brains go to bed when the game is over.
Submitted for your consideration—Devin Williams. Righthanded relief pitcher for the Brewers. Celebrating with his teammates in a champagne soaked, happy noise in the clubhouse after clinching the National League Central title Sunday.
Somewhere after the team revelry, young Mr. Williams left the clubhouse, had a few drinks, and got mad at “something,” nobody seems yet to know just what, on his way home from the party. And he discovered the hard way what too many players of sensitive temperament, elevated frustration, and perhaps a sip of champagne too far must learn, and re-learn.
To err is human, to forgive is not the policy of a solid, inanimate wall.
Young Mr. Williams has been one of the better lights in the Brewers bullpen, for a team that relies on its pitching most of all for this season’s success. In one of the National League’s better bullpens, on one of the National League’s better pitching staffs, he’s arguably the second best relief pitcher in a Brewers uniform, the set-up ace behind designated closer Josh Hader.
He sports a 2.50 ERA, a 2.81 fielding-independent pitching rate, and a 14.5 strikeouts-per-nine-innings rate. His value becomes even more acute when you note that opposing hitters are hitting for a measly .186 average against him in 58 relief assignments this season to date.
But losing his temper for even a single moment leaves Mr. Williams with a broken pitching hand and the Brewers without his deeply needed setup relief services through the end of the National League Championship Series at minimum. Even healing in time for the World Series, should the Brewers get that far, isn’t guaranteed.
Whether or not at the urging or the pressure of team superiors, Mr. Williams met and addressed his Brewers teammates on Tuesday. He’s quoted as saying among other things, perhaps, ““I’m pretty upset with myself. There’s no one to blame but me. I feel like I’ve let my team down, our coaching staff, our fans, everyone. I know how important of a role I play on this team and a lot of people count on me.”
Whatever it was that upset him on the way home, you hope it was grave enough to understand in that moment why thoughts about his team, his role, and those who count upon him performing it might have escaped him while throwing a right cross at a wall that requires no effort to defend itself.
We try not to conceive that professional baseball teams must include lectures on the futility of punching non-living objects as a means to express frustration, rage, or sorrow. Of all the game’s storied, romantic, and multi-coloured history, baseball’s history of injuries upon such futile acts is involved enough, and embarrassing enough.
We present for your further consideration one John Tudor. Frustrated understandably at being slapped silly by the Royals in Game Seven, 1985 World Series, Mr. Tudor left the mound in the third inning. Wrought up in raging disappointment, he punched a moving electric fan.
His fortune in the season being almost over with time to heal was spoiled only by the press box figure who observed, knowing Mr. Tudor’s sometimes testy relations with the press, “Ahhh, the shit hit the fan!”
We present, too, even a Hall of Fame pitcher caught on the wrong side of frustration. It was one thing for Mr. Randy Johnson as a rookie to be sore after trying to stop a line drive back to the box with his bare pitching hand. It was something else to come out of the game at once, then punch the bat rack.
But the future Cooperstown immortal at least showed a degree of sense. If you must take swings at non-living objects, it’s best to do it with the hand that doesn’t earn your keep.
We know how often mortal people are angered by what’s on television. Meet Mr. Jason Isringhausen, relief pitcher. Once a star for the Athletics and the Cardinals, Mr. Isringhausen approaching the end of his fine career fumed after being hit for a three-run homer. Without knowing what on television might provoke him further, Mr. Isringhausen punched a TV set out. Knocking him out for a fifteen-day disabled list visit.
The foregoing three puglists at least took their swings out of specific baseball-related frustration, rage, sorrow. For young Mr. Williams, however, the swing that ended his season and thwarted his postseason may yet prove to be the swing that helped swing his Brewers’ postseason potential foul.
Better to climb the wall than to punch your way through it. Lesson learned the hard way, reminding Mr. Williams . . .