The Persnickety Atlanta Braves

As the Braves prepare to enter the Division Series, I want to return to two controversial incidents at the end of their regular season, when they embroiled themselves in two separate incidents when a batter admired his home run for far too long. First it was Jose Fernandez, the inspiring and amazing Rookie of the Year candidate, hitting his first home run in the majors; then it was Carlos Gomez, taking revenge for what he perceived to have been an intentional hit by pitch three months earlier. In both cases, Brian McCann got rather peeved. (He also got memed.)

So, here’s what happened, as explained by Jason Turbow on his Baseball Codes blog. (I quote him every time I write about unwritten rules, because he breaks everything down from the perspective of unwritten rules violations.)

September 11:

Bottom of the sixth: Fernandez blasts a nearly 400-foot drive off Braves left-hander Mike Minor for his first career homer, flips his bat away and—ostensibly in response to Gattis—stands to admire it. This is not an innocent would-be slugger in awe of his own unexpected power; the move is intended to disrespect the Braves, who take it precisely that way.

As Fernandez crossed the plate, Brian McCann got in his face and yelled at him.

September 25:

Carlos Gomez, the game’s second batter, homered against Paul Maholm Wednesday, then lingered in the batter’s box. Once he began to trot, his churn rate increased with every step; he shouted with increasing fervor at first baseman Freddie Freeman and Maholm even before reaching third.
Watching this, McCann decided to unload a few of his own notions on Gomez, and made sure that his message could not be ignored. The catcher planted himself about 15 feet up the third base line, completely blocking Gomez’s path to the plate. The runner would not pass without first getting an earful.
As it turned out, he would not pass at all. McCann shouted him down without ceding the baseline, players from both teams stormed the field, Reed Johnson landed a punch to Gomez’s noggin, and the ensuing scrum carried everybody to the backstop. Gomez was ejected shortly thereafter, and left the field without ever touching the plate.

I’m always interested in unwritten rules and the seemingly irrational ways that baseball players enforce them. In this case, Brian McCann and the Braves took a fairly uncontroversial one: you’re not supposed to spend too long admiring your own home runs — “pimping” them — because that is disrespectful to the other team. But the Braves’ angry reactions caused them to lose both moral arguments in the court of public opinion.

Jonah Keri called the Fernandez brouhaha “just another case of baseball players taking themselves and their ridiculous unwritten rules way too seriously,” and the Gomez incident led to multiple articles where a yelling Brian McCann was photoshopped into other historical events, as Mike Bates writes, “to tell them to tone it down and cut the fun short.” Emma Span pithily summed up the Braves in a playoff flowchart: “The slightest perceived slight will be met with a benches-clearing brawl.”

That said, both of the players accosted by McCann apologized. Fernandez said, “I feel like I don’t deserve to be here, because this isn’t high school. This is a professional game. I made a mistake. I’m going to learn from it… I embarrassed a lot of people. It’s just not right for the game. For sure I can promise 120 percent that that will never ever happen again. I won’t show anybody up like that.”

And Gomez tweeted this:

So there appears to be a disconnect: there is a popular viewpoint that the Braves and McCann are in the wrong, while Fernandez and Gomez appear to believe that they were in the wrong. The easy answer could be because they were all in the wrong and that two wrongs don’t make a right. But it is curious to note that Gomez got suspended for his actions, while McCann only got fined. Here is what is likelier: while people outside of baseball think all of these unwritten rules are ridiculous, people in baseball agreed with the Braves.

In baseball, what Fernandez and Gomez did was unambiguously wrong. You don’t show up the other team, ever, for any reason. Meanwhile, while McCann’s actions may have been over the top, his intentions were laudable: he was sticking up for his teammates, which in baseball is unambiguously good. Standing in the baseline may have caused a bench-clearing scene, but Brian McCann didn’t do it for the fans, he did it to stand up for Maholm. Defending your buddy’s honor may be old-fashioned and dumb, but that’s what baseball players are.

As Michael Wex once wrote, referring to the Yiddish practice of referring to one’s wife as “tsiherste,” meaning “Do you hear me?”:

This is what people mean when they talk about a lost world—it might not be to our taste, but the people who used such expressions understood what they wanted to say, and it isn’t always fair to fault them for our own incomprehension.



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Alex is a writer for FanGraphs and The Hardball Times, and is a product manager for The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @alexremington.


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Antonio Bananas
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Antonio Bananas
2 years 9 months ago

Thanks, now Tyler Pastornicky has a new nickname.

Marco Lepe
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Marco Lepe
2 years 9 months ago

“You don’t show up the other team, ever, for any reason.”

I don’t know if this is necessarily true anymore; it *mostly* is, but that language suggests there are no exceptions. Baseball is moving in a direction where celebrations and this kind of behavior are slowly working their way in, I think. Slowly, though.

Nice piece to think about there at the end. ‘The Other’ – how to understand s/he (it), eh?

Anon21
Member
Anon21
2 years 9 months ago

Just noodling… isn’t there room for a distinction between celebration and showing up the other team? Even if you’re competing, isn’t there some space for simply enjoying a good thing that you or your team did without it being taken as “and you suck, opponent”? (Clearly there is some space; no one gets on guys for celebrating after a walk-off or high-fiving a teammate in the dugout.)

Rule of Law
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Rule of Law
2 years 9 months ago

Brian McCann is such a redneck bitch.

Chris Johnson
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Chris Johnson
2 years 9 months ago

I was an imbecile and the rest of my teammates overreacted when Fernandez went yard, but Gomez was yelling at the pitcher talking shiite the whole time around the bases. That could start a fight in a rec-league softball game.

SS
Guest
SS
2 years 9 months ago

Gomez was yelling at the pitcher, but McCann also started it off by yelling at him to run. And Freeman followed him around 1st base yelling at him. Gomez was blame-worthy of starting a fight, but so was Freeman and especially McCann.

Dan Ugglas Forearm
Member
Dan Ugglas Forearm
2 years 9 months ago

I don’t think that’s the way to look at it. Gomez clearly came into the game, and at bat, with something to prove. After the first pitch (a whiff), he stared Maholm down. We all know what happened next. To say that anyone else on the field provoked Gomez is wrong. He was there to do exactly what he did, and no one was going to stop him or encourage him to act more like a child. McCann’s actions were the ones that cleared the benches, but Gomez was going to act a fool regardless.

Guest
Guest
Guest
2 years 9 months ago

Since both Fernandez and Gomez apologized; isn’t it obvious that all these writers bashing McCann that aren’t in MLB have no idea what they are talking about?

Anon21
Member
Anon21
2 years 9 months ago

Not necessarily? The team might have just said to them, “Look, the Braves are assholes, but we’re not interested in starting any beanball wars and maybe getting someone hurt. Just go out and say what you need to say to make nice and everyone will forget about it.”

Statements meant for public consumption aren’t necessarily a reflection of the speaker’s views.

Josh
Guest
Josh
2 years 9 months ago

Exactly, those comments almost assuredly are not those players true feelings. I’m sure they’re both embarrassed and wish they had done things differently, but I’m also sure they walked away thinking McCann is a jackass. Like everyone else that’s seen those clips. Those comments are released for PR purposes.

Sam
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Sam
2 years 9 months ago

I’d say that Gomez’s was for PR purposes (but that he really did need to apologize).

From everything I’ve seen, Fernandez’s was legitimate (but that all he really needed was an introduction to the game’s unwritten rules).

Brad Johnson
Member
Member
2 years 9 months ago

I don’t see how you can draw this conclusion since the opinion of the fans (proxied by the writers) is arguably of substantially greater importance. The sport exists in its current state to make money and the fans enjoyment of the sport is what makes that money. In essence, the customer is always right.

Dan Ugglas Forearm
Member
Dan Ugglas Forearm
2 years 9 months ago

I imagine the Brewers PR team was waiting in Gomez’s hotel room when he arrived later that night, and aggressively pursued his Twitter password.

semperty
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semperty
2 years 9 months ago

Why does everyone over look McCann chirping at Gomez before the AB even started, and then yelling at him before he ever said a word to Freeman? The incident between the Braves and Brewers as instigated by McCann and heightened by Gomez – not the other way around.

Dan Ugglas Forearm
Member
Dan Ugglas Forearm
2 years 9 months ago

Because that didn’t happen?

semperty
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semperty
2 years 9 months ago

Watch a replay of Gomez stepping into the box. It clearly happened.

Frank Robinson
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Frank Robinson
2 years 9 months ago

no

evo34
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evo34
2 years 9 months ago

Exactly. McCann is an unbelievable douche.

James
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James
2 years 9 months ago

I get why some people would get annoyed with McCann over the Fernandez incident, though clearly Fernandez himself wasn’t too proud of his behavior. But I have no idea how people are getting on him so much about the Gomez incident. It wasn’t just that Gomez was pimping his homerun, he was also screaming at Maholm and staring him down the whole way down the line. Why is anyone surprised that a catcher would have his pitcher’s back in that situation?

semperty
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semperty
2 years 9 months ago

I’m assuming you missed the part where McCann screamed at Gomez within seconds of the contact being made? McCann instigated that, Gomez just took it to another level.

Antonio Bananas
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Antonio Bananas
2 years 9 months ago

Did you see the whole at bat? Gomez swung for the fences on the first pitch them glared at Maholm. McCann only said “run goddamnit”. Which isn’t that big of a deal. But them Gomez talks to everyone all the way around? Gomez has a reputation of being like that too.

SS
Guest
SS
2 years 9 months ago

So you’ve decided, for no reason, that yelling “run goddamnit” isn’t a big deal? McCann 100% had a hand in escalating before Gomez said a word.

Antonio Bananas
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Antonio Bananas
2 years 9 months ago

In he grand scheme of things and what Gomez did before, during, and after his trot, no.

KDL
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KDL
2 years 9 months ago

Prove to me that McCann’s actions didn’t trigger or escalate Gomez’ reaction, and then you might have a point.

Much like we judge process instead of results when it comes to stats and decision making around here…I think it’s fair to look at this the same way. Is the “process” of yelling at someone one that will tend to have triggering or escalating, or calming one’s. McCann clearly made the situation a lot worse than it needed to be. To deny this is absurd. And to agree with it doesn’t absolve Gomez. In my book they’re both idiot meatheads. I really don’t see why it can’t be both.

RC
Member
Member
RC
2 years 9 months ago

I’m also assuming you missed the part where Gomez turned to McCann and starting talking trash BEFORE THE AT BAT STARTED. You can tell by the expressions on their face it’s not the normal “hey, how’re you doing” home plate exchange.

Travis
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Travis
2 years 9 months ago

It honestly baffles me why so many people sided with Gomez after what he did. Watching your home run is one thing, but what he did crossed the line. When you see the look on his face after that first pitch swinging strike, you could tell he went up there with an agenda. If the Fernandez thing didn’t happen a couple weeks earlier (Which WAS ridiculous on the Braves side), would more people have sided with McCann and the Braves?

Anon21
Member
Anon21
2 years 9 months ago

Yes, probably, in the sense that a lot of the pile-on to McCann was people who were just sick of/amused by the constant drumbeat of “Braves instigate confrontations over HRs allowed” stories.

SS
Guest
SS
2 years 9 months ago

I don’t side with Gomez, but it’s obvious McCann yelled at him to run before Gomez had said a word (although he did glare at Maholm). Gomez is to blame, but so is McCann.

John C
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John C
2 years 9 months ago

I don’t side with Gomez at all; he richly deserved to get tossed for instigating. I’m OK with McCann yelling at Gomez to run; also a time honored baseball tradition.

But McCann blocking a home plate and denying the runner a base that he was entitled to under the rules? That’s both unprecedented & ridiculous. He should have been excused from play & suspended. It sets a terrible precedent.

evo34
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evo34
2 years 9 months ago

Well said. What a fukking joke.

Mark
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Mark
2 years 9 months ago

Yeah, Gomez “went up there with an agenda” — to hit a home run. Seems fair enough to me.

SKob
Guest
2 years 9 months ago

The Braves have turned themselves into the type of people non-Atlanta fans can’t support! They are not perfect and don’t act perfect, but they expect other teams to act with respect. I don’t side with Gomez here, but I find it hard to side with the Braves anywhere!

Brian
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Brian
2 years 9 months ago

I wonder how I would react if someone hit me with a baseball on purpose. Actually no I don’t. I’d be pissed. Because hitting someone with a baseball on purpose is bullshit. I’d react the same way Jules would react if someone threw him out a window like they did to Tony Rocky Horror. Someone throws a 90 mph fastball at me, they better kill my ass cause I’ll kill the motherbleep.

FIN

Brian L
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Brian L
2 years 9 months ago

I think your perception of the “popular viewpoint” is a little too new school skewed. I’d speculate that a majority of baseball fans, aka the ones who would never look at this site, are on the side of McCann and the Braves. Therefore its more that baseball continues to reflect and stick to the code of the old school fan – similar to the ongoing struggle between advocates of advanced statistics and the baseball community/traditionalists/average fans.

My point of view is that in both cases its the player expressing themselves, and its entertaining. If the benefit of players like Fernandez having more fun and being more expressive on the field is that it makes the game more entertaining, I’m not sure why watching Mac express himself would generate a backlash because that’s pretty entertaining as well – seems like a win-win.

Will
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Will
2 years 9 months ago

There is a guy who posts here using the “butthurtBravesfan” moniker for a reason, and the players themselves seem to reflect that. I totally get it, in that the fans are annoyed that the Nats were so roundly picked over them to start the season when, really, it wasn’t at all that clear a case. But the players, too, seem to have this edge (well, not just the players… there was that insane coach) and it goes beyond just these two instances. When Harper got nailed first pitch after homering off (I think) Teheran, then hit two more times in just the following week by the Braves, well, that’s just one more thing. One can point to each at bat and give reasons why it wasn’t intentional, but as a whole that’s hard to buy. But, it seems to feed each side (the fan and team mentality) as the Braves fans gave standing O’s when Harp was hit in ATL those second and third times when he did absolutely nothing to possibly ask for it.

TKDC
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TKDC
2 years 9 months ago

The idea that the Braves are somehow “worse” than any other team in baseball in caring about the unwritten rules and not getting shown up, etc., is laughably stupid. The idea that Braves fans are somehow “worse” about getting butt hurt about any sort of slight or anything like that is also laughably stupid. Welcome to MLB. And welcome to America. Enjoy.

TKDC
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TKDC
2 years 9 months ago

The whole system is a bit stupid, but I’d much rather see a team face up someone right away than hit him in the ribs the next time up. Honestly, Gomez’ behavior running around the bases should have gotten him ejected. If we aren’t going to condone retaliatory beanings, we either have to say “any sort of taunting celebration etc. is okay” or there has to be some consequences.

Brendan
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Brendan
2 years 9 months ago

As a Braves fan. The only problem I have is that it’s often phrased as if McCann is reacting to a simple home run batflip/honest enjoyment on behalf of the home run hitter. The reality is that Gomez and Fernandez both pretty clearly were intentionally trying to show up/disrespect.

Whether they had the right to do so, were responding to previous instigations, or if McCann was over the top in his response is up for debate but it should be viewed in the proper context. Personally I don’t think anyone came out looking good, and don’t see much of a reason to get into it more than that. There were minor escalations back and forth on both sides, they yelled at each other to get it out. No one got plunked and everyone moved on.

semperty
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semperty
2 years 9 months ago

So Gomez and Fernandez intentionally showed up the Braves in their HR celebrations, but Gatis and Upton are trying to respect their opponents when they flip the bat and admire their shot?

The Braves are no better than any other team (and probably worse in some cases) in terms of respecting/disrespecting opponents, but expect their opposition to show them absolute respect. New flash: if you flip your bat and admire your home run, your opponents will do the same against you.

CJ
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CJ
2 years 9 months ago

Chris Johnson was really the instigator of the Fernandez incident. I have no idea why he was chirping at Fernandez. After Fernandez hit the HR McCann just met him and told him that he was going to get someone hurt if he does stuff like that in the future. Then a crazed Chris Johnson comes charging in and sets off the benches clearing scuffle.

The Gomez incident was different. Gomez acted like a crazy man as soon as he stepped in the batter’s box. There isn’t a team in baseball that wouldn’t have defended Maholm in that particular game.

McCann is getting way too much grief by a lot of people over this business.

TKDC
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TKDC
2 years 9 months ago

from the pluses in this article, it seems that while people enjoy the Brian McCann memes, they also pretty much agree that what he did was at least normal if not the right thing to do.

Jake
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Jake
2 years 9 months ago

Or maybe it is mostly Braves fans reading this article about their team. That could also influence the pluses and minuses.

semperty
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semperty
2 years 9 months ago

You are aware that the benches were stirring/clearing before Johnson took a step toward home plate, right?

Roy J
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Roy J
2 years 9 months ago

The Fernandez game wasn’t that big of a deal. In fact, McCann wasn’t even really screaming at him. He was just talking to him, probably upset, but he wasn’t overreacting like some would prefer to believe. So that moment got blown out of proportion more by the fans and people on the internet than the players involved.

As for Gomez, nobody knows what McCann said to Gomez when he came up to bat. So for everyone to automatically assume that he tried to start anything with Gomez from the beginning is laughable. Gomez proceeded to swing and miss at the first pitch, then stared down the pitcher until he swung and hit the second pitch over the wall. He was pretty hostile from the beginning. Then, he talked shit all the way around the diamond. As far as I’m concerned, Gomez earned McCann screaming in his face. As for McCann stopping him from ever touching home plate, I don’t necessarily agree with it, but I sure as hell liked watching it happen. I never saw that before. Always fun seeing something new in this 100+ year old sport.

Dwayne Carter
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Dwayne Carter
2 years 9 months ago

“Two wrongs don’t make a right. But three lefts do.”

Mike B.
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Mike B.
2 years 9 months ago

Or, sometimes we comprehend things just fine, and still find it ludicrous. It’s one thing to understand and then assume that one should be accepting because one lives outside that social sphere; it’s another to understand, consider, then come to one’s own conclusion: ludicrous.

KW
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KW
2 years 9 months ago

Unwritten rules generally look dumb to outsiders, because human customs develop in response to an incredible number of factors that usually aren’t accounted for by the pat theories of those who aren’t involved.

Not that they’re above criticism…but we need to stop acting like ANY custom or unwritten rule is dumb. The fact is any healthy community has them, and needs them. Try to take them away, and you all too often end up unraveling the social fabric.

SillyGomez
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SillyGomez
2 years 9 months ago

If you watch the replays you can see a Brewers coach (I forget his name) yelling at Gomez after the mini brawl. I can almost guarantee people in the Brewers clubhouse talked to him about his actions after the incident and game, leading to his apology. Pretty certain Gomez didn’t type the whole thing himself either. Kind of shows you who was thought to be in the wrong among baseball circles.

I’m a Brewers fan but blame is at least as much on Gomez than McCann and also think most non Brewers baseball fans think the same way. Yelling as you walk around the bases not to mention the staredown the pitch before(who does that?) make Gomez look like the bigger douche. The unwritten rules may seem silly and often are but I don’t see a problem with them. Those who have played usually agree. Emotions are part of competitive sports but one of the nice things about baseball is that emotions don’t overrule judgment and respect as much as many other sports, IMO. The risk of getting a 90+ mph fastball to your body will do that, for better or worse.

semperty
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semperty
2 years 9 months ago

Absolutely. Gomez was by no means innocent here, but neither was McCann. People are trying to make this a right/wrong situation, when both sides were equally wrong. You don’t yell at players to run while watching their home run (especially when you’re teammates with Justin Upton…), and you don’t follow getting yelled at by yelling at different players.

Gomez was wrong. McCann was wrong. Both should’ve been punished.

Joshua
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Joshua
2 years 9 months ago

The Fernandez incident was 100% the Braves’ fault. Not only did Gattis admire his bomb and then stare at Fernandez, but when crazy-man Chris Johnson lined out, he was clearly saying to Fernandez “That’s a weak-a$$ fastball” over and over. So when Fernandez did the improbable and went deep, he had all the right in the world to watch it go. Then crazy-man Chris Johnson decided to get in the act again by spitting in Fernandez direction as he was going around the bases (which then cause Fernandez to spit on the base), before sprinting in from home and hiding behind the umpire while yelling at Fernandez. Just a joke.

Joshua
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Joshua
2 years 9 months ago

Well, maybe not 100% the Braves fault, but very heavily.

TKDC
Guest
TKDC
2 years 9 months ago

Really just Chris Johnson. I hope this is his last year on the Braves. Rooting for him takes some serious cognitive dissonance.

stretchfest
Member
stretchfest
2 years 9 months ago

Hockey player sliding head-first down the ice after a big goal. Soccer player dancing in the corner for three seconds after a goal. A Brady/Manning/whoever fist pump after a TD. Jordan holding his hand in a follow-through after a GW three. Baseball player putting his head down, running the bases in 22 seconds. One of these moments just doesn’t capture the raw emotion of tilting a game.

I for one LOVE this new generation of ball players who leave it all on the field: energy, skill, emotion, whate’er. You’ll always have your Greinke-Quentin or Cueto-LaRue moments, as tragic as they are, but how rare are those? A player doesn’t just hit a home run, he hits a home run off of *you*. A pitcher doesn’t just get a strikeout, he strikes out *you*. You get revenge in kind, not by jawing. Oh McCann, you’re mad at Fernandez? Then jack one off of him.

Look, I’m not an athlete anymore and I’m kinda drunk (Cards start playoffs and Blues start hockey the same day?) but sports is nothing without emotion.

stretchfest
Member
stretchfest
2 years 9 months ago

Caveat: I’m not saying all “unwritten” rules are dumb, nor am I saying they shouldn’t be enforced somehow. But to me, when player A “shows up” some player B, and player B responds with verbal complaint, all that means is player A won.

Simon
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Simon
2 years 9 months ago

Can’t help thinking that if these things are important, there should be written rules.

Brandon
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Brandon
2 years 9 months ago

Atlanta is full of thugs. Screw the Braves. They were dead to me as soon as they brought in Charlie Liebrant in Game 6 of 1991. As a 9 year old I knew that was a terrible decision! 9! Eff them.

Dan Ugglas Forearm
Member
Dan Ugglas Forearm
2 years 9 months ago

Yeah, but tell us how you REALLY feel.

The Rajah
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The Rajah
2 years 9 months ago

That was more than 20 years ago…GET OVER IT.

Brandon
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Brandon
2 years 9 months ago

I’ll never forget…

Dan Ugglas Forearm
Member
Dan Ugglas Forearm
2 years 9 months ago

I think the Fernandez incident is a bit overblown. It looked like McCann was somewhat peaceful about his confrontation with Fernandez after he touched home. Just letting Fernandez know he wasn’t happy. He wasn’t yelling. When Fernandez turned to address him, it looked like they were in some intense stare-off, and the benches are the ones that overreacted. I’m sure a lot of people saw it differently, and maybe it happened differently. But it didn’t seem that McCann was doing any more than talking to the youngster.

SKob
Guest
2 years 9 months ago

I think we saw different footage!

Free Bryan LaHair
Member
Free Bryan LaHair
2 years 9 months ago

i think you need glasses. it happened exactly as Dan Ugglas Forearm said it happened. mccann told fernandez that that’s not how they act in the big leagues. there was no yelling. he confronted him. chris johnson was the one that came rushing in screaming like a banshee only to hide behind the ump until the rest of the team got there.

That Guy
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That Guy
2 years 9 months ago

This is where hockey has it totally right. There are guys who are going to fight – they’re allowed to do so until they fall to the ice, and then it’s over. There is essentially never the case where someone is going to otherwise provoke a fight who is not going to be involved. Since the fighting itself in MLB is totally taboo, you get players yelling at each other and then everyone else has to jump in to “defend” the others.

I think a system like hockey’s would keep people who aren’t otherwise interested in fighting from provoking fights that others have to be involved in.

Flim Flam
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Flim Flam
2 years 9 months ago

I just find it weird that teams get offended any time an opponent shows any emotion. In the NFL players show emotion on almost every single play and no one is getting offended.

Harry
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Harry
2 years 9 months ago

this aint football. its baseball. its a thinking man sport. it always has been. most unwritten rules boil down to play the game like a professional, not a 5 year old. being a professional ball player should not an old school mentality and should an expectation of every singly player in the MLB

Sid Bream Slide
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Sid Bream Slide
2 years 9 months ago

Im a big Braves fan and I was happy to see McCann do what he did because it showed the kind of team loyalty that can potentially help the chemistry in the playoffs. I don’t think that it was honorable by objective standards, but it wasn’t dishonorable by the unwritten rules of the game.

Morality aside, if the actions potentially boost your team’s performance, they could be viewed as positive in that respect.

evo34
Guest
evo34
2 years 9 months ago

Remington: where is the racial/gender angle? This piece makes no sense in the grander scheme of your “work”.

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