Asdrúbal Cabrera never played for the Braves during fifteen major league seasons. But on Saturday he found a way to behave as though he’d taken lessons in self-appointed Fun Policing from longtime Braves catcher Brian McCann. With a critical piece missing.
Cabrera was playing first base for Caribes de Anzoategui against Tiburones de la Guaira in the Venezuelan Winter League. It just so happened to be a game in which Tiburones’s Carlos Castro saw fit to hit three hefty home runs.
The third proved the money shot, for reasons having nothing to do with distance or the score. It proved that a 37-year-old major league veteran can display the mind of a seven-year-old who’s forgotten the meaning of fun when believing, apparently, that he and his team have been dissed.
Against lefthanded Caribes pitcher José Torres, Castro blasted one the other way to right field and clear over the fence. He strided up the first base line, bat still in hand, watching the ball fly out. On his tenth step up the line, Castro flipped his bat to begin his home run trot.
He seemed to glance toward the Caribes dugout as he approached first, but I couldn’t tell whether his face showed anything grave or provocative. The New York Post (Cabrera is a two-season former Met) described the glance as “glaring” into the dugout and Torres as “clearly upset with the antics . . . jawing at Castro as he headed to first, but it got much worse after that.”
As he rounded first, Cabrera approached from his apparent play-to-pull positioning. Castro wasn’t two steps past the pad when Cabrera swung his left arm hard to the right side of Castro’s face.
Being unprepared for such a sucker punch, Castro went down in a heap, onto his el culo, as his batting helmet took a dive toward the line under the influence of Cabrera’s flying forearm. When both benches poured out of their dugouts almost at once, Cabrera himself ended up on the ground sprawling.
Cabrera’s said to have turned an offer in free agency down last winter before sitting the 2022 season out. Considering his 2021 performance papers, he may have been fortunate to get that single offer at all. If he’s looking for one more turn in the Show for 2023, he may yet discover that a clothesline swing won’t get you half the attention a few zinging line drives to left might get.
Unless, of course, there’s a team out there that anxious to find an ancient infielder who can’t hit baseballs as often as he once did, has as much remaining defensive range as a toy dump truck with a flat inner-rear tire, but might hit a bat flipper or two blindside as a fresh new precinct commander for their self-appointed Fun Police Department. Cheap shots a specialty,
Castro rounding first looked as though he saw Cabrera coming his way but didn’t quite see the prospect of a would-be left hook until it met his face flush on. Maybe Cabrera didn’t learn what I thought from McCann, after all.
Back in late September 2013, Milwaukee outfielder Carlos Gomez tripped the Braves’ triggers when he blasted one out against Paul Maholm, a pitcher against whom he had better than respectable performance papers, enough so that Maholm had hit him with a pitch or three in the recent past, enough so to leave Gomez with a sour taste at minimum.
Now, in the top of the first in Turner Field (the Braves hadn’t yet dumped the still-not-so-old yard for Truist Park), Gomez sent Maholm’s one-out, 0-1 service over the left center field fence. He didn’t celebrate the blast so much as he pronounced it payback for a plunk too many, and he let Maholm know it. Uh-oh.
As he rounded first, then-Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman barked at him. As he rounded third, he was slightly surprised to see McCann ambling up the line, out from behind the plate, hell bent on arresting him with a choice, howling lecture accompanying the handcuffs.
Well, not so much handcuffs, but Gomez never got to hit the plate as McCann obstructed him in anger and the benches emptied. “Gomez believes Maholm drilled him intentionally two months ago, and this was his payback,” wrote ESPN’s Tim Keown at the time. “‘You hit me. I hit you,’ were apparently the words that rocked the Braves’ world. Is that a worse offense than intentionally hitting someone?”
At least McCann never went further than stopping someone to bawl him out. Sucker punching wasn’t part of his Fun Police gear.
Who knows what among the Caribes players flipped their switches when Castro looked into their dugout? Who knows what Castro had in mind when he looked? Had there been words between them over his two previous bombs in the game?
“This is not representative of baseball in Latin America,” tweeted my friend (and former Call to the Pen editor) Manuel Gómez. “Latinos are known for bringing sazón to the game. Clearly, there is some animosity between these particular teams and it was expressed in violence on the field. We are better than this!”
Tiburones went on to finish what they started, a 6-4 win. But no matter who said what to whom, Cabrera came away resembling a bit of a hypocrite. We take you back to 22 September 2016, in Citi Field, the Mets down two, when Cabrera walked it off against the Phillies with a three-run blast into the bullpen behind the right field fence.
He flipped his bat toward the Mets dugout and looked there as he started running it out. OK, he looked into his own dugout and not the opposition’s. But still. Apparently, Cabrera was fine with a flip if it came off a game-winner. But in his older baseball age he’s none too fine with a flip if it’s flipped off a blast hit before the game actually ends.
Cabrera’s not too likely to find a Show suitor for 2023. The last thing needed by a Show still coming to terms with letting the kids play is an old fart whose uniform might have sal de mi césped! as a p.s. beneath his name.