Baseball, in its distinction as America’s pastime, is a sport that has been played with a certain degree of respect for your opponent for over 100 years. It is a game watched with a unique mark of leisure, played by gentlemen who make some of the most physically difficult things in sport look effortless. There are a set of unwritten rules that help govern Major League Baseball and the way its players and coaches act in certain situations. These rules should be honored, but at what cost? And who is responsible for ensuring these rules are followed? Apparently, last month, for the second time in three weeks, the Atlanta Braves decided it was again their place to be the gatekeepers of these guidelines, and the act is getting old.
On September 25, on an 0-1 pitch in the top of the first inning, Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Carlos Gomez hit a long homerun to left center field off of Atlanta Braves pitcher Paul Maholm, and decided he would enjoy his time rounding the bases. After admiring his blast from the batter’s box, Gomez slowly trotted towards first base, jawing with both Maholm and first basemen Freddie Freeman. This stemmed from Maholm hitting Gomez with a pitch earlier in the season, which Gomez believed was intentional. As he rounded third base and approached home plate, Braves catcher Brian McCann stepped forward and blocked Gomez about 20 feet shy of home, and the benches proceeded to clear.
The display that Gomez put on was one of the more emotional, passionate pimpings of a homerun you will ever see. It was without question in violation of baseball’s unwritten code. Chris Thorsen, a senior relief pitcher for the Marist baseball team also thought it was out of line.
“The emotion that Gomez showed is not acceptable on the field,” Thorsen said. “He showed up the pitcher and the entire Braves organization. The thing baseball players always say is act like you’ve been there before.”
It would be hard to defend Gomez, who indeed lost his composure, but McCann did his best to one-up Gomez in the “things you don’t do on a baseball field” category. In his efforts to protect his pitcher and the ethics of Major League Baseball, McCann went completely over the top and made himself the more extreme violator of code.
If he didn’t like what Gomez did, there are more unwritten rules to reference. Want to call for your pitcher to plunk Gomez in the back during his next at-bat, fine. But escalating a situation where an emotional player got carried away into a bench-clearing brawl is irresponsible.
Stephanie Calvano is the Director of Data Management for the Marist Institute for Public Opinion and professor of a Baseball, Media, & Communications class at Marist. As a former intern for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, her experience around the game is extensive. She also thought McCann acted inappropriately.
“While Gomez’s actions were inappropriate, McCann escalated a bad situation to one that is even worse. Blocking the plate is not retaliation, it’s childish. Retaliation in baseball needs to be well-timed and executed,” she said. “I actually even hate to call it retaliation…it’s more protecting your own players, but there is a time, place, and way to go about doing so.”
Jonathon Bernhardt is a contributing writer for Sports on Earth and has also appeared in ESPN’s SweetSpot Network. In his article, “Looking For a Fight”, Bernhardt wrote, “The Atlanta Braves got what anyone who’s been watching them lately knew they were going to get if they kept acting like this: a fight.”
The Braves are putting targets on their back, as they continue to explode at opposing players for not playing the way the Braves want them to play. Just weeks earlier, McCann also reprimanded Miami Marlins’ rookie pitcher Jose Fernandez, who apparently did not leave the batter’s box quickly enough for McCann’s liking following his first career homerun.
These gentlemen that play the game of baseball are not robots, as some old-school fans and protectors of the dignity of the game may think. In a world where lucrative sack dances and post-dunk stare downs are the norm in other sports, it is nice to see baseball play by such unwritten rules. However, when one wrong is met with another ridiculous opposing wrong, these unwritten rules serve no purpose, and the Atlanta Braves have found themselves as the worst offenders.