Until today, relief pitcher Sam Dyson was probably known best as the co-catalyst for one of the Show’s most ridiculous brawls, half a year after he surrendered the postseason home run that provoked it. Today he says goodbye to baseball 2021, having been suspended for the season for violating the Show’s domestic violence policy.
When Dyson hit free agency in November 2019, The Athletic revealed a pair of social media posts by his former girlfriend provoked a baseball government investigation. Athletic writers Ken Rosenthal and Katie Strang unearthed that her posts in which she didn’t name the assailant referenced Dyson after all.
At the time, Alexis Blackburn wrote on social media about receiving violent haranguing and objects thrown at herself and her cat. Today, Strang shared a statement from Blackburn to herself on Twitter:
I had the strength and courage to come forward so other women and victims know they aren’t alone, that this isn’t healthy, that you’re worth more than the bruises on your body and the bitch you’re referred to . . . We fought hard and we were validated by one of the largest sports organisations in the world.
The Athletic‘s initial expose included quoting Blackburn writing on the Instagram account she kept on behalf of her cat, Snuckles. “No one deserves to be intimidated, scared, worthless, and hopeless.”
Once upon a time, Dyson himself could actually be thought of as believing likewise.
We take you back to 14 October 2015, when Dyson as a Ranger squared off against Jose Bautista of the Blue Jays in Game Five, bottom of the seventh, in an American League Division Series. With two on and two out, and a 1-1 count, Dyson—himself a one-time Blue Jay—threw a fastball toward the inner half of the plate and up the middle. Uh-oh.
Bautista hit a monstrous three-run homer off the rim of the upper left field deck. Punctuated by a whirlybird of a bat flip as Bautista strode out of the box to run it out. The blast turned a three-all tie into a 6-3 Jays advantage that held up to send them to the American League Championship Series.
The worst thing Dyson did or said then was misintepret Edwin Encarnacion’s gestures calling for fans to quit throwing things around the stadium and engage in a brief argument. The second worst came after the game when he changed into his Fun Police uniform.
“Jose needs to calm that down, just kind of respect the game a little more,” Dyson told reporters afterward. “He’s a huge role model for the younger generation that’s coming up playing this game, and I mean he’s doing stuff that kids do in Wiffle ball games and backyard baseball. It shouldn’t be done.” That’s how many kids playing Wiffle ball who grow up to hit postseason-advancing skyrockets?
Fast forward now to the 2016 regular season series between the two teams.
Dyson faced Bautista in the first game of a May set between the two in Toronto. If he or the Rangers wanted a little revenge for that October blast flip, this was the time to seek it. But Dyson never once made any move against Bautista. Neither did any other Ranger—until the final game of the season between the two teams, in Arlington, 15 May 2016.
Bautista whacked a three-run double off Rangers reliever Tom Wilhelmson in the top of the sixth. The next Jays batter, Encarnacion, got drilled on the first pitch. After the Rays loaded the bases on him in the top of the seventh, Wilhelmson yielded to Matt Bush, who surrendered a sacrifice fly but nothing else to make the game 6-3, Jays.
Then Bautista led off against Bush—freshly returned to baseball after his imprisonment for manslaughter when his motorcycle ran over an elder man who subsequently forgave him for the crime—in the top of the eighth. Exactly why Bush did what he did with the first pitch still escapes, since he wasn’t even part of the Rangers organisation when Bautista hit the postseason-advancing blast.
But Bush drilled Bautista on pitch one. A fly out later, Justin Smoak grounded to third for a double play. Bautista slid hard into second baseman Rougned Odor, straight over the pad, with Odor on the relay throw looking very much like he was more interested in trying to decapitate Bautista than in finishing the double play.
“I could have injured him, but I chose not to,” Bautista said after the game. “I tried to send the message that I didn’t appreciate getting hit.” Especially not seven months after the fact, in the latest innings of the final contest between those two teams for the rest of the year, when any Ranger pitcher had six previous 2016 occasions to send Bautista a message about going interstellar and celebrating the launch so ostentatiously.
“Having failed [decapitation], and apparently ignorant of how in the wrong Bautista wasn’t,” I wrote at the time, and I haven’t changed my mind almost six years later, “Odor watched Bautista spring up preparing to defend himself, knowing Odor looked as though he had further mayhem on his mind. And then it came. First Odor shoved Bautista. Then, when Bautista extended an arm in a very obviously defensive position, Odor swung and landed that right cross.”
Just what did Odor expect to receive at second base after Bautista got drilled by Bush so late, if Bautista was given the chance—a dozen roses with a singing telegram? If your team is cowardly enough to wait until Bautista’s last possible chance to face you all year to send a seven-month-old message, you might want to consider yourself grateful that a hard slide into second base was all you got before you decided to throw a punch or two.
Both benches emptied. The umpires may have figured Bush threw the driller under orders because he wasn’t ejected, though he was fined. Odor and Bautista got ejected posthaste, with Odor getting eight games suspended plus a fine and Bautista getting one game—because the slide was illegal under the Utley Rule but nothing worse. Appropriately.
As I noted further at the time, “Funny how all the so-called ‘old schoolers’ canonizing Odor forgot Bautista answered that unwarranted plunk the old-school way. Throw at Jackie Robinson, Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson, Willie Mays, Duke Snider, and if they got the chance on a followup grounder they’d have sliced and diced the nearest middle infielder on the play at second.”
The real-life law-enforcement Texas Rangers motto, legendarily, is: “One riot, one Ranger.” The baseball Rangers left themselves after that set with a likewise indelible image: One Ranger, one riot.
All throughout that early-year season series, up to and including the scrum Odor’s idiocy (and that of whomever ordered the hapless Bush to throw the Bautista driller) provoked, Dyson was one Ranger who behaved like a complete professional.
Somewhere along his travels to come, from the Rangers to the Giants, from the Giants to the Twins, before right shoulder capsule surgery looked to bench him for 2020, Dyson in whatever frame of mind he was decided his girlfriend deserved violent bawlings out and target practise a few too many times for her comfort and his professional good. And in that order.
His frame of mind isn’t an excuse. This isn’t a soldier or a Marine in the early grip of post-traumatic stress syndrome, having violent nightmares about the death and destruction he’s lived, trying to injure his wife while dead asleep and unaware of what he’s doing.
It’s entirely possible for couples in any kind of love, to disagree and debate without exchanging thoughts and feelings for loud, lewd insults and self-propelled objects at each other’s heads and bodies.
There are indeed worse things a man can do than surrender a monstrous, ultimately postseason series-winning home run. Dyson went from there and from professionalism in refusing to seek vengeance seven months after the fact to taking whatever out violently on his one-time girlfriend and her pet. For making them victims like that, there’s only one appropriate word.
The word is disgust.
Commissioner Rob Manfred’s statement upon announcing Dyson’s suspension read, “Having reviewed all of the available evidence, I have concluded that Mr. Dyson violated our policy and that discipline is appropriate.”
How about saying, “I’ve seen the evidence. Eff our ‘policy,’ what he did to her’s a crime. This guy’s lucky that a year off without pay is all I can give him. What’d be appropriate is me throwing things at him to see how he likes it.”