When Jose Bautista gets beaned by a Rangers pitcher during this week’s Blue Jays/Rangers series, no one should be surprised.
After all, baseball has administered its own brand of justice for far less than what Bautista did in last year’s ALDS with his home run pimp job seen ’round the world. I mean, Jonathan Papelbon choked out NL MVP Bryce Harper for not running out a ground ball – and they were on the same team!
Baseball has an allergic reaction to celebratory emotion, especially when it comes on the heels of a great, game/changing accomplishment. Such behaviour makes the other team feel as if they’re being snubbed, disrespected, or ‘shown up.’ Whether it’s a fist pump, a bat flip, or a ‘pimp job,’ it all looks like arrogance and bragging to the fragile pack of narcissists on the other side of the diamond.
Though much of the celebratory emotions aren’t meant to offend, it’s still taken as an offence.
Because if narcissi like one thing more than themselves, it’s being offended.
Bautista’s epic ALDS bat flip, however, was meant to offend. If a bat flip and slow trot is showing up the other team, then Bautista’s stand, stare and mic-drop-home run-uber-pimp is like rubbing the Rangers’ collective faces in the wet spot they left on the carpet.
Suffice to say, the Rangers will not let Bautista’s insults stand. There will be a reckoning and it will most likely come in the form of 90 mph-plus fastball to the ribs.
And no, it doesn’t matter that Bautista’s transgression happened last season. Baseball has a long memory for sins like his, and if it has to wait for the right time and place to get even, so be it.
Revenge in baseball is a peculiar art worth further exploration. Let’s break it down, shall we?
First off, Bautista won’t get hit when the game is late or close. A revenge beaning does not take priority over the game.
If the Rangers opted to hit Bautista in a situation where he could represent the tying or winning run, then the narrative changes from ‘getting even and serving justice’ to ‘blood-thirsty Rangers blow game to get revenge.’ A team that’s out to get even cannot sacrifice winning to do so.
Secondly, the blow will come from an established player. It has to.
If a younger player throws a ball that settles the score, it’s too easy to say that that young player took the law of baseball into his own hands. If that happens, the result will be someone on the Rangers team getting beaned in retaliation for not keeping their younglings in line.
That said, there’s strange reverence reserved for older, established players. During my first tour of duty with the Blue Jays in 2009, I joined the team for a trip to Boston. Adam Lind was red-hot and had belted multiple homers. The Red Sox took offence and decided the best way to cool him off was to bean him.
We felt that was sour Boston grapes (turned into physical violence) against our budding silver slugger. The bullpen conspired for revenge, but it was the established and formidable Roy Halladay who sent the message.
He started the following game and during David Ortiz’s first at bat, Halladay drilled him on the first pitch. It was telling everyone, “You know who I am. I know who you are. You know what that was for. It’s over. Clear?”
And it was over. Sure, Ortiz was mad. But he got the message because it came from Roy Halladay – not some punk kid who would dare try and teach a franchise legend a lesson.
Third, the beaning pitch will be a fastball.
A fastball is a command pitch. Any Major Leaguer worth his salt should be able to control a fastball well enough to stick it into the large, fleshy mass of a player’s back. A slider to the back foot or a curveball that hits the shoulder can be construed as a accident.
Ironically, if an opposing team makes too many of these ‘accidents,’ the opposing team may start making some ‘accidents’ of their own. The pitch that carries the verdict will be a heater, and it will be intentionally placed.
Fourth, the bean ball will come from someone that throws it hard. The harder the better, in fact.
If you’re going to go to all the trouble to hit someone, you want them to feel it. The pitch is meant to carry the anger and venom of the entire team, so it had better leave a welt the size of an elephant ear.
If the game is lopsided in the later innings just before Bautista comes up, the Rangers will bring in a seven-foot power reliever touching 100 mph. That just might be Bautista’s queue to pull a hamstring or tweak an oblique.
The trouble is, if Bautista does spot the punishment coming and bows out, it doesn’t go away. It will only build. In the next match up, it’ll be there waiting in the wings for him. There’s no escaping this punishment.
Heck, even if the one most offended by Bautista’s bat flip – Sam Dyson – gets traded, the bean ball gets traded with him. Bautista could match up against Dyson four years from now as members of National League and if the score is right, Bautista will wear a pitch.
The lesson here? Baseball has a long memory for offences. I was involved in a brawl in my first year in the minors and our coaches afterwards told us we’d get revenge, even if it took us a couple years to do it!
So if you want to know if the stage is set for a beaning or brawl during this Blue Jays/Rangers series, yet are still confused about the how and when, you need only look to the top step of the dugouts.
The players will be there, waiting for the game to go sideways.
Waiting for a chance to charge into one another and teach the same lesson – respect.
You’ll never hear me say that a player can’t celebrate in the moment or embrace the big stage with a big personality. Players work as hard as they do for as long as they do to have a chance to put their mark on baseball the way Jose Bautista did in last year’s playoffs.
But just because I don’t believe there shouldn’t be consequences for that kind of behaviour doesn’t mean there aren’t any. If I was a betting man, I’d say Bautista is going to feel it at least once during this series.
Dirk Hayhurst is a former Major League pitcher with the Toronto Blue Jays and San Diego Padres and a best-selling author.
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