For the second time in as many weeks, the Atlanta Braves took the way an opponent admired his home run and blew the situation way out of proportion with a benches-clearing fracas.
Exhibit A: Braves at Marlins, September 11, Jose Fernandez’s home run
When the incident happened, I didn’t feel the need to write about it. But I certainly had my opinions, which, in light of what happened last night, need sharing.
Apparently, Marlins rookie pitcher Jose Fernandez had been having words with some member of the Braves (I suspect it was third baseman Chris Johnson, based on the events that unfolded). Then the kid, just 21 years of age, belts his first home run of the season and has an extended pause at home plate to admire the shot. Sure, it was an “in your face, Atlanta” moment from an extremely immature player, but it shouldn’t have been enough to throw the Braves into such a frenzy.
This was not a bad-blood rivalry, not at that point in the season. Atlanta was well on its way to the postseason, and to possibly finishing with the best record in the National League. Miami was well on its way to a 100-loss season and the worst record in the National League. The Braves play on a level light years ahead of the Marlins; they should carry themselves the same. Instead, they stooped.
If Atlanta was unhappy with Fernandez’s post-homer act, plunk him the next time he gets up to bat. If he’s making he doesn’t have another at-bat, plunk him next game. If he doesn’t have another at-bat this season, plunk him next season. From my understanding, that’s how the oft-cited unwritten rules of baseball dictate situations like these be handled. The Braves’ actions escalated matters to an exaggerated and unnecessary degree.
Exhibit B: Brewers at Braves, September 25, Carlos Gomez’s home run
This melee happened in the first inning of last night’s game. Another long pause by an opponent to ogle at a home run, another case of the Braves, feeling their honor besmirched, going off the deep end.
Atlanta catcher Brian McCann got things started by yelling “run!” to Gomez. Gomez, who was still miffed from a June 23 beaning at the hands of pitcher Paul Maholm, who he hit the homer against last night, yelled back. Braves players yelled at Gomez all the way around the bases. Gomez continued to yell back. And then McCann met Gomez midway between third base and home, and from there it was on.
Both benches cleared, several punches were thrown and players had to be restrained and later ejected.
Again, I ask: where is the bad blood? These two teams are not even in the division. At 71-87, Milwaukee has been waiting for next year pretty much since the start of this season. At 93-65, Atlanta has already clinched their division title and is in pursuit of home field advantage in the National League.
Which begs a different question: why does Atlanta care so much about these home runs? There has been nothing on the line against either the Marlins or the Brewers, yet the Braves’ tensions have been running unfathomably high.
And McCann, who is supposed to be the veteran leader of this club, is the one carrying the torch for Atlanta’s oversensitivy. It was McCan who initially got into Fernandez’s face. It was McCann who first yelled at Gomez. It was McCann confronted Gomez halfway up the line last night to jaw at him and try and prevent him from reaching home plate.
In both cases, McCann was instigator; the primary cause-in-fact of both scuffles.
I am not trying to defend the actions of Fernandez or Gomez. But at least they both have since taken responsibility, admitted they were wrong and apologized. That’s far more than what anyone with Atlanta can say.
Worse than anything, from comments made by teammates last night, it appears the Braves are proud of the way they have been carrying on of late.
“Don’t make us get involved,” said Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman in the aftermath of last night’s chaos. “We’re going to back up our pitcher. I’m fine with how everybody handled it.”
“Mac doesn’t stand for that stuff,” third baseman Johnson said about the Marlins incident. “I don’t think Mac was interested in having that kid go home and touch home plate, so he met him halfway up the line and had some words for him. But he handled the way a true pro should handle it and back up his pitcher.”
He handled it like a true pro should? Excuse me? He incited a brawl!
And to what gain? Like Johnson, Braves players are going to throw out the cookie cutter excuse that they were sticking up for their guys, blah, blah, blah.
To me, Exhibit A and Exhibit B indicate that Atlanta’s pride is more important to them than winning, and especially more important to them than winning with dignity and grace.
A true professional wouldn’t need sophomoric bravado. A true professional could not be baited by a last-place team that poses no threat to the season’s well-being. A true professional would know that irrational and emotional defense of pride tarnishes one’s honor, it doesn’t uphold it.
But it isn’t just about professionalism. It’s about intelligence, too.
Anytime there is a rage-induced pileup on the field, there is an inherent risk of injury. Atlanta should have its sights set on much bigger prizes than these individual meaningless games against irrelevant opponents. The organization is postseason bound, and should be motivated solely by the hunt for a championship. Yet this team remains willing to risk one or more of its star players getting hurt because it feels it has been disrespected by a team already eliminated from contention. It makes no sense.
I could understand this type of athletics immaturity from an up-and-comer, a team not used to being in this position and not accustomed to winning.
The Atlanta Braves are not newcomers to the Major League spotlight. They have been one of baseball’s most successful and consistent franchises since the early 90s. After two decades worth of winning tradition, one would think these lessons would have been learned a long time ago.
Recent events go to show that there are still some tricks that one old dog needs to forget.