Baseball in 2016 is as hostile as it has been at any point in my lifetime, and that’s not good.
Saturday night, Chase Utley became the latest target of the beanball game, as the Los Angeles Dodgers veteran infielder was thrown at (actually thrown behind) by New York Mets pitcher Noah Snydergaard.
This latest incident of belligerence in the American pastime came just 13 days after a horrific brawl between the Texas Rangers and the Toronto Blue Jays, which resulted in discipline for 14 players and coaches. In that instance, Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista was thrown at, then took his frustration out on second baseman Rougned Odor with a malicious slide, and Odor, in turn, landed a punch in Bautista’s jaw, and within seconds a near-riot had broken out.
While the specifics of the Mets-Dodgers situation were far different from the Rangers-Blue Jays duel, the two incidents had something in common: both altercations pointed back to things that happened in the 2015 MLB Playoffs.
The Mets retaliation against Utley was after Utley, in Game Two of last year’s NL Division Series, slid past the second base bag to try and break up a potential double play, and upended Ruben Tejada, resulting in Tejada breaking the leg he had planted near the base as he tried to throw to first.
Utley was suspended two games my MLB, but the suspension was later overturned on appeal. As it would turn out, the Mets would eliminate the Dodgers three games later, and did just fine with Tejada out with his injury, reaching the World Series. If you ask me, the Mets had already gotten the ultimate revenge by beating the Dodgers and ending their season, and their shot at a title, and the matter should have remained in 2015. Unfortunately, that was apparently not the case.
Hostilities between the Rangers and Blue Jays were rooted in their heated meeting in the AL Division Series, and particularly in a decisive fifth game that will go down in the annals of baseball as one of the most unbelievable–and unusual–playoff games in history.
Emotions were incredibly high after Texas took the lead on a controversial play in the top of the seventh, then after three errors by Texas shortstop Elvis Andrus helped Toronto tie the score, Jose Bautista hit a three-run homer to take the lead–and flipped his bat in celebration. Benches cleared moments later, but nothing else happened and cooler heads prevailed.
While I understand the Mets frustrations that Utley’s slide resulted in one of their players being injured, and lost for the duration of the playoffs, a player who has always shown some level of swagger flipping his bat after one of the biggest homers in the history of the game is no reason to get up in arms and retaliate.
That being said, while the Rangers were unable to win the series to get the level of revenge the Mets got by simply winning the series, the situation should have been put to rest over the offseason by both teams. Why? Both instances happened last year, in a different season, and should not have been carried over into the 2016 campaign, regardless of the circumstances.
Retaliation during the same game is one thing. While I don’t like it, I understand that sometimes players and teams are upset at each other, although that doesn’t make it right to throw a 95-mph missile at someone. But something that happened last season should be the last thing on anyone’s mind as they focus on playing their best in 2016.
To drive this point home even further, it is ironic that the Mets retaliated against Utley now, since Ruben Tejada is no longer part of the Mets organization. I understand sticking up for your teammates, but isn’t it going a little far when the person being stuck up for, for something that happened seven months ago, was released by the team doing the sticking up 10 weeks ago?
Worse yet, in the Rangers-Blue Jays debacle, the pitcher who threw at Bautista, Matt Bush, was not on the Rangers last year, and was actually in prison when the bat flip happened (Bush signed with the Rangers in December after his release, and was making his second MLB appearance when he hit Bautista). After the brawl, Jesse Chavez of the Blue Jays threw at Rangers designated hitter Prince Fielder, and was promptly ejected. Chavez, who was stupid to throw at Fielder in the first place (did he not think he would get ejected?), was a member of the Oakland Athletics in 2015.
Another issue I have with each situation is that both teams had played multiple games in 2016 before their respective retaliations. The Mets and Dodgers actually played three games in the playoff series after Utley’s slide, and were playing their sixth game against each other in 2016 when Snydergaard drilled Utley. The Rangers and Blue Jays were in their seventh and final meeting of the 2016 season when Bautista was hit.
While the teams shouldn’t even be doing this to begin with, waiting through several games against each other before retaliating is just silly. Bautista called it “cowardly” that the Rangers waited until his last at-bat of the season against them to get some level of revenge.
The day after the Rangers-Blue Jays brawl, I was in the waiting room at a doctor’s appointment when, on a TV in the room, I saw The View discuss what had happened the previous day between the two teams. While it was fairly comical to hear these women who don’t know much about the game talking about the fight, and the reasons for it, Aisha Tyler made a very good point, saying that when a professional athlete, who is making millions of dollars to play the game, engages in such retaliatory behavior, it makes them look childish.
I’d agree with that statement. The revengeful climate in today’s game of baseball often makes the grown men who play it look immature, and can’t be good for the game. I get that conflict sells tickets, and raises ratings, but the game today is not the same game that was handed down from the last generation to this one, and that’s really a shame.