KANSAS CITY – Tony Clark answers questions deliberately, taking care to keep the big picture in mind. It’s hard to imagine now, but there were times during Clark’s 15-year playing career that he reacted viscerally instead of thoughtfully.
“Every time I think back to when I was a player and when I tried to control my emotions, my son brings out a picture of me after one of the games where I’m screaming and yelling on the field after I got a hit. It’s in there,” says Clark, the MLBPA’s executive director. “I wish I had enjoyed more of those opportunities when I had had them myself.”
So when Clark watched Jose Bautista celebrate a decisive three-run home run with a bat flip for the ages Wednesday, he thoroughly enjoyed it. The MLBPA doesn’t want hitters showing up pitchers, and there are times when restraint’s more appropriate than emotion, but given the context of Bautista’s home run, Clark felt the reaction was appropriate.
“There’s a way to do it and as I told Jose, that situation at that time even as a fan, it was an exciting time,” Clark told Sportsnet. “That’s not a disrespect to the pitcher – that’s not a spot that he wants to be in either — but oftentimes over the course of a six-month season and 162 games folks may think guys are going through the motions. The truth is it’s in there and guys do the best they can to control it, and there are times when it comes out and when it does I think it’s great.”
Sam Dyson, who allowed the home run, was understandably miffed by Bautista’s reaction.
“He’s doing stuff that kids do in whiffle ball games and backyard baseball,” Dyson told reporters. “It shouldn’t be done.”
But the home run was widely accepted — even celebrated around MLB. Cleveland Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis spoke up in support of the bat flip and Anthony Rizzo of the Chicago Cubs did a tribute flip at Wrigley Field Thursday.
Bautista’s home run was so emotionally charged because it came the half inning after the confusing and controversial play that allowed Rougned Odor to score and the Texas Rangers to take the lead. The play frustrated fans so much that they started pelting the Rogers Centre field with beer cans, creating a chaotic environment that put both fans and players at risk.
“You never want to see that happen, so you’re simply hopeful that as tensions increase and the intensity of the game increases that those who are in the stands enjoying the game don’t get caught up so much to where things start flying,” Clark said. “During the game I thought everybody did a very good job of making sure that everybody was OK.”
If fans had continued throwing litter onto the playing field, Clark expects play would have been stopped. He credits players for helping calm down a full stadium of angry fans.
“I’d go far as to say that today’s players are even more connected with the fans than they have been in the past,” said Clark, who played from 1995-2009. “It wasn’t surprising to see the guys try to rally everybody and try to get everybody calmed back down so the game could continue.”
The Blue Jays are fortunate the game didn’t have to be stopped, since it was only a matter of minutes before Bautista’s home run sent them to the ALCS in unforgettable fashion.