If you’re horrified over the punch that Rangers shortstop Rougned Odor landed on Jose Bautista, answer me why. And then think about what you expect…and why?
In the course of the days since it happened earlier this week, a number of people have asked me (or have asked Hal McCoy in his regular “Answers” column) about the fight between the Texas Rangers and Toronto…the one where Jose Bautista slid hard into shortstop Rougned Odor and Odor retaliated by punching him in the jaw.
1) People have asked me, “You umpired all those years, did you ever see anything like that in the minor leagues?” The answer: Yes, it was commonplace that at least twice or three times a year there would be a dustup like that between teams, particularly ones where there was bad blood between them.
2) People have asked me for years, “What did you do to stop it or break it up?” The answer: Nothing. What can two or three umpires do to break up a fight between 50 ballplayers? And why would we care, anyway? If someone gets hurt they get hurt and they know that they’re the ones ultimately responsible.
3) And last, people always ask, or say, “Well I think it’s terrible because professional players should be setting a better example for the young people who come and watch…those who look up to athletes as role models.” My reaction: Professional athletes do not think of themselves as role models when they’re on the field. They’re out there trying to further their own cause and career. Occasionally it comes down to same human emotions that the rest of us have…frustration, anger, and self preservation…and they respond in kind. THEY’RE NOT THINKING ABOUT LITTLE JOEY’S THINKING IN THE FRONT ROW!
Generally baseball fights don’t amount to much, just a bunch of pushing and shoving and posturing…more yapping than slapping. It’s actually laughable if you’ve ever been that close to one. But I have seen the opposite, of course.
One night several years ago in Memphis one of the Cardinals’ young prospects decided he was going to charge the mound after a knockdown pitch, more for show than actual show of strength. Only trouble was, when he got out there the Memphis pitcher, a rookie to professional baseball, hadn’t been briefed on professional baseball fight protocol. He was a big, strapping guy, and he was waiting…and he decked him, breaking his nose and a few teeth. Knocked him out cold as a mackerel. I never heard any talk during the melee’ about Joey in the front row.
Professional athletes are just that. They’re athletes and when work is over they’re like many of the rest of us. They head for wherever their habits lead them. When I was growing up I was always a fan of Mickey Mantle…the ballplayer. But I also read where Mantle and his pals, Billy Martin and Whitey Ford, liked to hit the Manhatten bar scene at night. And while I was a fan of what he did on the field, I knew that what he did apart from baseball would never appeal to me.
There are countless other examples like that. There always has been…Joe Namath, Charles Barkley, Tiger Woods, etc., et.al. A lot of people admired them as sports personalities, but no one really wanted to be like them away from sports.
So to the parent who’s horrified over the latest fight, I say…don’t ask athletes to be the model of behavior and sportsmanship you want for your kids. You do that yourself. You’re never going to walk in their shoes, so don’t ask Jose Bautista to walk in yours.
And if you think that bad behavior is avoidable in sports, or can be legislated out if we just do enough public service campaigns…forget it. There’s two things mankind has never been able to legislate – morality and character. Those are things you learn at home.
If you still don’t believe, then make sure you’re kids don’t aspire to be professional athletes. Have them be doctors and lawyers and such, as the old Waylon Jennings song says. When you get out there where dollars dictate self-preservation…it’s a long way from the Golden Rule!