Red Sox reliever Joe Kelly, let, and Yankees first baseman Tyler Austin were at the center of a brawl.

Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports

Baffoe: Baseball Authoritarianism Needs To Be Thrown Out

Baseball cops make the game less entertaining and less fun.

Tim Baffoe
April 13, 2018 - 10:10 am
Categories: 

By Tim Baffoe--

(670 The Score) Baseball isn’t officially back until we’ve witnessed some chest puffing from players and coaches on the field or in the media. Luckily, we got a whole bunch of it in recent days.

We had an almost brawl, two full-on fiascos and a “respecting the game” cherry topper just this week alone. Nobody takes offense at in-game affronts to vague unwritten rules like baseball players. And while we and the brainiac suits of the MLB spent the offseason mumbling about length of games and pace of play and the supposed staleness of the game, here we are in the umpteenth consecutive season confronted with what really makes the game less fun and less entertaining: baseball cops. 

On Sunday, Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo was ejected for arguing balls and strikes but also took the opportunity with the umpire to sideswipe Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina, supposedly referring to him as a “mother (bleeper)” within earshot of Molina as Lovullo argued with Tim Timmons. All Molina had done to earn the third-person cursing was his job framing pitches and getting favorable calls for his pitcher.

Molina took heated exception to Lovullo’s profanity, and benches cleared. Molina had every right to be angry, and Lovullo and him getting the same suspension for the aftermath is insulting on multiple levels. But MLB law enforcement is a fickle entity when it comes to odd cases like "opposing manager curses to an ump about player for committing no foul and with the added hubris of acting as though the player is just supposed to take it."

Lovullo got suspended for instigating a confrontation and calling a player an insulting vulgarity. Molina committed the equally horrendous crime, I guess, of being bothered by this. Between the two, though, Lovullo is the pseudo-authority. So there’s some weird "I don’t like it, but I get it" vibe from baseball’s weird old guard that isn’t calling for further investigation into the matter. It’s the same old guard that will decry political correctness yet thinks a non-living entity like "the game" can be insulted and should be met with physical violence. Lovullo was rewarded by his coaching staff with a beer blast in his office for the 100th victory that he was hardly part of, but an unwritten "victory" was probably more the reason for the celebration.

Two genuine fights occurred Wednesday -- as much as the ones that happen in baseball can actually be labelled anything more than the first choreography practice of your local theater troupe’s production of the Jets versus the Sharks. During the day, Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado charged the mound after Padres right-hander Luis Perdomo threw behind him. Red Sox reliever Joe Kelly plunked Yankeees first baseman Tyler Austin -- who then charged the mound -- four innings after a hard Austin slide into Brock Holt and Holt’s taking exception brought out both benches.

Besides being sloppy as hell, baseball fights are especially dumb because they accomplish nothing of substance besides showing that the players haven’t evolved from high school. Just like other physical fights between grown-ups anywhere outside a ring or cage. Still, a hitter having a projectile that could permanently injure intentionally fired at him understandably brings out something fierce. Trying to then punch someone for it doesn’t make sense, but the reflexive urge is understandable. Let’s say I don’t like it, but I get it. But the batter is a victim in such a scenario.

Often the pitchers doing this don’t have to get in the batter’s box any time soon to face baseball’s Code of Hammurabi. Pitchers then become the baseball cops, exacting excessive justice for subjective slights in favor of almighty law and order politics of baseball (and beyond). Literally -- the California Supreme Court has sided with the baseball cops on this. The beanball is sports authoritarianism at its worst.

Then came Javier Baez’s bat chuck (I won’t call it a "flip" if it’s out of frustration) while popping out in seventh the inning against the Pirates on Wednesday night. Baez also had two homers on the night and two the night before against the Bucs. Cubs players afterward told Baez how bad the chuck and not running out the pop up looked (the former being debatable), and Baez admitted fault and apologized after the game.

That didn't mean much to Pirates manager Clint Hurdle.

"Where is the respect for the game?" Hurdle told reporters. "He’s hit four homers in two days, does that mean you can take your bat and throw it 15-20 feet in the air when you pop up, like you should have hit your fifth home run? I would bet that men went over and talked to him, because I believe they’ve got a group there that speaks truth to power."

Holy hell. I would call that some Principal Skinner crap, but I think Skinner knows how to actually use "speaks truth to power" correctly. Hurdle also called out Cubs catcher Willson Contreras for disagreeing with a strikeout call and praised his own team for -- wait for it -- self-policing. No word on if that occurred when Sean Rodriguez fought a water cooler in public and in front of Hurdle in 2015.

Baez responded Thursday after being told what Hurdle said.

"I respect 90, I respect whatever," Baez said. "But you don't go out there and talk trash about someone.

"If I got to apologize, I got to apologize to my teammates and my manager. Not to the other team." 

Damn right. And it might even be argued that even Cubs teammates would do better to just let Javy be Javy if he’s not literally hurting anyone. 

Duke University political science professor Christopher Johnston spoke to the New York Times last week about authoritarianism in politics. 

"Over the last few decades, party allegiances have become increasingly tied to a core dimension of personality we call ‘openness,’" he said. "Citizens high in openness value independence, self-direction and novelty, while those low in openness value social cohesion, certainty, and security. Individual differences in openness seem to underpin many social and cultural disputes, including debates over the value of racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity, law and order, and traditional values and social norms."

A lack of openness equates to more tendency toward authoritarianism. Now, baseball isn’t elections and campaign speeches, but it has its own brand of politics for sure, and Johnston’s explanation slides pretty smoothly into the great divide between those who believe there’s a "right way" to play the game and those who wish the squares would shut up. Fans, players and coaches who value "independence, self-direction and novelty" appreciate bat flips and getting pumped up at second base after a clutch double and any demonstrations of individuality and raw emotion. The baseball authoritarian, genus brianus mccannae, prefers cohesion, certainty and security, such as traditional meaningless stats like RBIs, rules about facial hair for grown men and everyone giving a firm handshake with eye contact after hitting a home run. 

Johnston’s note about debates over diversity have played out in baseball’s increasing culture clash involving stuffy status quo against mostly non-white players, mostly from Central and South America and the Caribbean. "Law and order" is obviously unwritten rules and "players policing themselves," often in the neanderthal form of beanballs. "Traditional values and social norms" are the awful, hollow and illogical "respect for the game." This stuff all leans toward reactionary authoritarianism.

And authoritarianism stinks because authoritarianism claims both superiority where none has been earned and credentials that are gray while seeing the world in only black and white. Authoritarianism also hates fun and fears change. Both of which baseball needs more of to wag in the baseball cops’ pouty faces.

Tim Baffoe is a columnist for 670TheScore.com. Follow Tim on Twitter @TimBaffoe. The views expressed on this page are those of the author, not Entercom or our affiliated radio stations.