THE STRIKE ZONE
Sometimes Sports, Sometimes Sportsmanship
Back in May/June in the state of Texas, a youth coach was fired for being caught on video instructing his kids to intentionally hit the umpire with a pitch.
It gets worse...
This coach had already been banned and shouldn't have even been near these kids or this field.
Jeremy Knox is the coach in question. He has a history that mirrors these types of incidents. In fact, according to his LinkedIn profile, he worked as a scout for the San Diego Padres at one point. I can only imagine they fired him when they realized who he was or what he was doing.
The articles that discuss this incident do enough of a job shaming Knox and calling him out for such behavior, so to dig deep into the obvious poor sportsmanship is almost redundant. But there is one thing we should examine.
How did this get out?
Interestingly enough, a player on Knox's team caught the whole conversation where Knox told his kids to hit the umpire on his cell phone, and the kid proceeded to post it to Snapchat so the coach of the opposing team could see it. He even included a note to the coach to explain what he was watching and hearing. The coach then posted it to Facebook to make sure it got out.
Kudos to the kid for getting the word out. That kid is wise beyond his years. He deserves a medal.
You might remember the brawl between Hunter Strickland of the San Francisco Giants and Bryce Harper of the Washington Nationals that took place on Memorial Day this year. If you don't, check it out because there were a ton of layers to it. It wasn't just a standard fight...this thing was discussed for a week or more.
The reason we bring it up again is because Mike Venditti of Sporting News "gets it."
Venditti wrote an article shortly after it thanking the Nationals for not abiding by the unwritten rules of baseball and throwing at people in response (something discussed in previous posts). The biggest take away from the article is that Venditti understands what the biggest revenge is in these types of situations: winning the game.
Instead of retaliating the next day, the Nationals came out and beat the Giants. That's how it's done.
The article discusses this issue in more detail, comparing the brawl to other bench-clearing incidents earlier in the season. But there's one more point that should be made. Venditti then calls out people who think that brawls are the only exciting part of baseball. It goes to the fact so many people think baseball is boring. His answer? Baseball isn't for you then, and that's okay.
If you're the type of person who just can't get into baseball unless a bunch of man-children in polyester are fighting, why do you even bother? If you're that bored with baseball and are that concerned about the pace of play, why do you watch? Go do something else...
...Which is ironic because people who like to fight or retaliate on a baseball field should go do something else too.
Referee Magazine publishes a supplement to the NCAA Baseball Rules prior to each season. The 2017 supplement began with a cover story titled "Respect and Integrity." It was their way to enforce the importance of reducing the number of conflicts within the sport.
The cover included a graphic that discussed the number of ejection/suspension reports submitted during the 2016 season. Of note from that graphic:
So where do we start?
How about with the 693 reports??? That means that 693 times in an environment that is supposed to be promoting the educational experience of the student-athlete did a report have to be filed regarding a disqualification and pending suspension. If that happened in a nursery school, the local town would be quarantined.
Beyond the graphic, the article discussed how umpires and coaches need to work together to make sure the integrity of the game is met. However, the graphic discussing the submitted reports shows that this is not necessarily the case. If there was a handful of issues reported, it would be different. But preaching this type of relationship when the statistics show differently reeks of the NCAA only paying this idea lip service.
And by the way, it's Referee Magazine that is publishing this article. How many coaches and players read this?
The fact of the matter is that collegiate athletics still don't understand that they aren't the pros.
At the end of May, Kansas City starting pitcher Eric Skoglund made his debut against the Detroit Tigers, and he pitched a gem. There was a nice moment at the beginning of the game when Tigers' first baseman Miguel Cabrera gave Skoglund a thumbs up before getting in the box for his first at-bat. Cabrera has been an ambassador to welcoming people into the fraternity of Major League Baseball.
However, the celebration over Cabrera's good sportsmanship caused me to pause: isn't this the same guy who has racked up a handful of ejections over his attitude? And isn't this the same guy whose attitude has caused a couple of brushes with conflict concerning other players on other teams?
Cabrera has been something of a hot head who fits the stereotype of the Latin ballplayer who takes things too seriously. He, like his brethren, take an "us-against-the-world" mindset in situations that deal with sports officials. Sure, he may be considered one of the best (if not the best) hitters of his generation, but does that raw talent excuse poor behavior?
The ironic thing that mirrors this is the story line with Albert Pujols, who, just shortly after the thumbs up with Cabrera, hit is 600th career home run. Pujols was very humble in his interviews celebrating the feat, constantly mentioning his family and his blessings from God, but Pujols seems to forget he's in that same boat as Cabrera: accepting ejections as a battle scar that he thinks proves he was right and someone else was wrong.
We could take a lot of lessons from this conversation. We could dissect it very deeply. But the conversation could go on for a long, long time. Perhaps we should just be more careful than to laud professional athletes unless they are of the Derek Jeter mold.
Baseball player, umpire, coach, fan; professional musician; founder, President & CEO of The OSIP Foundation, Inc.