Bryce Harper and The Search For A Hero

Recently Washington Nationals outfielder and probable National League Most Valuable Player Bryce Harper was hit by a weaponized fastball.  San Francisco Giants pitcher Hunter Strickland decided that he would throw in and tight to the lefty slugger to send a message.

It seems that back in the 2014 NL playoffs Harper made mincemeat of a couple of Strickland’s pitches and let the veteran hurler know with a mean mug.

Harper decided that he wanted to dance with the  right handed flame thrower.  He grabbed his helmet and tossed it like he was playing frisbee golf while running to the pitcher’s mound.  

Strickland had an inkling that Harper was on his way so as the helmet was being tossed he started his warmup and began to fire punches at the batter.  

Harper fired a few in return like two battleships next to each other with their guns pointed too close they only made incidental contact but no direct hits.  Bullpens and dugouts ran to the field and everyone acted like they were auditioning for a part in West Side Story- you’re either a Jet or a Shark baby.

After all the crazies had left the field, it was up to  me to ask: was Strickland seriously pissed about those two home runs for three years?  Come on dude you won a World Series with the Giants in 2014.  Did you not see Frozen?  Let it go already.

But it’s not just Strickland, there have been numerous incidents where batters were thrown at or hit by pitchers because they took them deep.  Maybe they also put a little “jump” in their step too when they rounded the bases, but it’s a sport isn’t it?  When was the last time you played or watched a sport you cared about and didn’t get emotionally involved?

One of my favorite players lights up the radar because he tends to hold on to his bat “too long” or toss it “too high.”  In case you aren’t sure, I’m referring to Jose Bautista, or “Joey Bats” as he is lovingly called,  of the Toronto Blue Jays.

During the 2015 American League Division Series, the Jays were tied with the Texas Rangers 3-3 in the decisive fifth game.  The series had been a grueling nasty affair and neither team liked the other.  With two men on base, two outs and relief pitcher Sam Dyson on the mound, “Bats” saw a 97 mile per hour fastball and crushed it over the left field fence.  

He watched the ball fly reminding me of Roberto Alomar’s 92 ALCS home run off A’s pitcher Dennis Eckersley.  Alomar put his arms out as he ran to first, he had never hit a bigger home run in his career.  He would never hit another as big as that.

Bautista however paused, watched and then threw his bat as if to say “you can’t throw a 97 MPH fastball by me.”

The Rangers however were none too impressed. Most of baseball wasn’t impressed.

But I wonder, in a sport where we celebrate the home run and passion behind it why is it so wrong for hitters to show emotion?  Haven’t we moved past the point where our home run slugger gently places a bat down and runs as fast as he can around the bases?  Why are we so afraid to “show up the pitcher?”

If the pitcher didn’t want to be shown up, throw a better pitch.  The pitcher holds all the advantages in this game- he can fire pitches at someone’s body and ruin a career.  If Sam Dyson faced Joey Bautista again and wanted to “send a message,” he could throw the ball at the Jays’ slugger’s head.  If he made contact it could be lights out especially at 97 miles per hour.

Letting pitchers “send messages” only serves to create more conflict, cause injuries and take away the passion in the game.

Would You Quit Professional Baseball For Your Child?

On March 15, Adam LaRoche walked away from the Chicago White Sox on principle.  He walked away from the game he loved because upper management informed him that no longer could he bring his 14-year-old son to the White Sox clubhouse as often as he wanted.  White Sox executive vice president Ken Williams informed him that he had to limit the amount of time his home-schooled son Drake had to the club’s spring training activities.

As it turns out, Drake had been coming to his dad’s spring training back to his days with the Washington Nationals some five years ago without any issues with coaches, players or management having issues.  All that changed when Williams brought Drake’s presence in the clubhouse to the forefront as an issue.

So LaRoche made a decision that certainly doesn’t come easy for an athlete.  Choose the team and the pursuit of a championship or choose your family?

LaRoche chose his son and on March 18, 2016 White Sox pitcher Chris Sale walked to his locker room to find autographed Adam and Drake LaRoche jerseys hanging at Sale’s locker.

Adam decided to walk away but not before leaving his ace pitcher and supportive teammate a note – “Thanks for everything.  I’ll never forget you.”

For his part, Drake was just as gracious – “Chris, thank you for taking care of me.”

Sale took his case to Williams on behalf of LaRoche, because they felt that it was unfair, even taking it so far as to say Drake was part of team referencing his maturity and his appearance on the field during drills.

Adam doesn’t seem like the guy that wanted to cause a stir in the clubhouse however on March 18, he released a statement on Twitter where he talked about his retirement:

Over the last five years, with both the Nationals and the White Sox, I have been given the opportunity to have my son with me in the clubhouse. It is a privilege I have greatly valued. I have never taken it for granted, and I feel an enormous amount of gratitude toward both of those organizations.

Though I clearly indicated to both teams the importance of having my son with me, I also made clear that if there was ever a moment when a teammate, coach or manager was made to feel uncomfortable, then I would immediately address it. I realize that this is their office and their career, and it would not be fair to the team if anybody in the clubhouse was unhappy with the situation. Fortunately, that problem never developed. I’m not going to speak about my son Drake’s behavior, his manners, and the quality of person that he is, because everyone knows that I am biased. All of the statements from my teammates, past and present, should say enough. Those comments from all of the people who have interacted with Drake are a testimony to how he carries himself.

Prior to signing with the White Sox, my first question to the club concerned my son’s ability to be a part of the team. After some due diligence on the club’s part, we reached an agreement. The 2015 season presented no problems as far as Drake was concerned. (My bat and our record are another story!)

With all of this in mind, we move toward the current situation which arose after White Sox VP Ken Williams recently advised me to significantly scale back the time that my son spent in the clubhouse. Later, I was told not to bring him to the ballpark at all. Obviously, I expressed my displeasure toward this decision to alter the agreement we had reached before I signed with the White Sox. Upon doing so, I had to make a decision. Do I choose my teammates and my career? Or do I choose my family? The decision was easy, but in no way was it a reflection of how I feel about my teammates, manager, general manager or the club’s owner Jerry Reinsdorf.

The White Sox organization is full of people with strong values and solid character. My decision to walk away was simply the result of a fundamental disagreement between myself and Ken Williams.

 

Simply put, LaRoche directs the blame on Williams for breaking the contract AND trust that he came to with Williams and the White Sox.  If his play was suspect, which he no doubt discusses in his explanation, then go to him about that.  But it feels like the attempt was a dirty ploy.

Was this a dirty ploy to get $13 million that he was owed off the books?  Or was this a dirty ploy to get the players to rally together and hate management and play for each other in one of those “rah rah let’s win one for Adam and Drake” things?  If so, both are poorly thought out and really bad ideas.  The Major League Baseball Players Association is now getting involved and that can only bring some sort of bad publicity for the club as well.  One this is for certain, this won’t be good for Williams or club chairman Jerry Reinsdorf.

I can’t say for sure what I would do if I was in the same position as Adam LaRoche.  I would like to think I would give up my spot on an MLB team for my daughter.  If I was set money-wise like it seems LaRoche is and comfortable with my position in the game’s history.  If the club isn’t going to respect our agreement on bringing her to spring training and letting her be around, what else would they want to cut out of my contract?

Some may say that LaRoche quit on his teammates, but apparently they aren’t seeing how much he means to them.  Or maybe they don’t see the bigger picture, if the club is going to cut out its promises to one player to bring his son to spring training, a teenager who did nothing to disturb the club at all, then what else are they going to cut? Isn’t it like the owner of the Indians in the movie Major League, Rachel Phelps?  Phelps begins cutting luxuries from the Indians (hot water and a private jet for instance) in order to make the club lose so that they are less profitable and she can move them to Miami.  Who wants to play for someone like that?  Maybe Adam LaRoche was right?  If you had the choice what would you choose?