Why HR celebrations will continue to cause conflict

Carlos Gomez, left, tries to get past umpire Fieldin Culbreth, centre, as Pittsburgh Pirates third baseman Josh Harrison (5) tries to get to Pirates starting pitcher Gerrit Cole. (Gene J. Puskar/AP)

Two Sundays ago, Carlos Gomez pimped a drive that ended up hitting the centre-field wall and went for a triple, traded words with an angry Gerrit Cole at third base to trigger a wild brawl, and then refused to apologize.

That made me think of last October, when Shane Victorino pumped his fist in the air as he rounded first base, pounded his chest twice en route to second and again as he crossed the plate on a seventh-inning grand slam that sent the Boston Red Sox to the World Series, and couldn’t stop apologizing.

The two incidents underline just how divergent the viewpoints are on what is an acceptable amount of emotion on the baseball field, and why the potential for continued conflict between exuberant and flashy players like Gomez and their more staid and reserved counterparts exists.

“Everybody has their opinion on emotions and what’s showing the other team up, what’s being flamboyant or over the top with a celebration,” says Victorino, who usually keeps his emotions inside but couldn’t control them after his pivotal grand slam sealed an ALCS clinching victory over the Tigers.

“That was one of those moments that if you sit back and look at the situation, everybody understands. I wanted everyone to know that I wasn’t doing that to show them up, but to understand the magnitude of the moment for myself, my teammates, the city of Boston.

That’s why I was so apologetic. I’ve always been on that other side, I’ve never liked players who like to (show off). That’s just my upbringing, my parents taught me never to be cocky, never to be arrogant because just as fast as you go that way, when you strike out are you going to do the same things? That’s the fine line. Go out there and play the game correctly. People understand that in moments like that you can show a little more emotion.”

Gomez’s faux pas was not only that he admired his drive and then tossed his bat on his way up the line, but that he did it on a ball that didn’t even leave the park. Cole gave his two cents and was walking away when Gomez took an aggressive step forward, setting off the melee.

Part of Victorino’s thinking in publicly apologizing to the Tigers the night of his home run was that he didn’t want an entire team gunning for him, either. So aside from making
his point in the media, he also cleared things up with Detroit outfielder Torii Hunter.

“He texted me after the game congratulations, and I said to him via text, ‘I hope you guys didn’t take it the wrong way,'” relays Victorino. “He said, ‘Absolutely not, I would have done the exact same thing. Probably more.’

There may be somebody in that clubhouse that didn’t like it, but at the end of the day, it’s understanding the magnitude of moments, the energy, getting caught up in the moment. For me, it wasn’t like it was Game 1 of the season.

“My big belief is that if you’re going to do it when you’re 0-for-4 with four strikeouts, then you should be able to do the same thing (when you succeed). That’s why I always try to balance that act, just because I got that game winning hit here, would I be doing the same thing if I had punched out in that situation?”

SLOWING DOWN: If baseball games are feeling longer to you so far in 2014, there’s a good reason for it: they probably are.

Through Saturday’s games, only five teams in the majors were averaging game times under three hours – St. Louis, Seattle and San Diego were all at 2:58, while Kansas City and Cincinnati were 2:59, according to Baseball-Reference.com. Meanwhile, 12 teams were at 3:10 or longer, with the Los Angeles Dodgers leading the way at 3:23.

Compare that to 2013, when six teams averaged less than three hours per contest – the Toronto Blue Jays and Royals were best there at 2:55 – but only four teams were over 3:10, with the Red Sox tops at 3:15.

One key factor is likely the addition of replay.

In data compiled by Baseball-Reference.com, there have been 130 challenges leading to 54 calls being overturned, and that’s definitely slowed down the games in which they’ve happened. Though challenges seem to be creeping under two minutes consistently, they’re going to skew the numbers.

While that’s led some players, coaches, fans and media to complain about the new delays, Baltimore Orioles manager Buck Showalter says there’s nothing wrong with pace of game and pace of reply.

“I try to consider the sources when people complain about pace of game. I’ve sat in the stands with fans and whatever, it’s a good game. Mostly the people who seem to complain a lot about it are people that see every game, whether it’s media, TV or print, whether it’s umpires, people that see every game,” he says. “I think replay is going to eliminate a lot of arguments, I kind of miss that, but you’ll see it get quicker as the season goes on.

“I don’t really feel a need to walk out to an umpire. If we’re taking that long then we got the wrong replay guy. We hired an ex-umpire (Adam Gladstone). The biggest part of that is what they’re viewing conclusive or inconclusive? What we think is conclusive evidence doesn’t matter, it’s what they think is, so you’ve got to understand what they’re looking for.”

Of the 130 challenges, 30 were issued by the umpires themselves (leading to six call changes) while the other 100 came from managers. Even if replay adds a few extra minutes to the games, Showalter doesn’t think critics should get hung up on the pace of games.

“It’s a very easy target for people,” he says. “The time it leaves for people to talk about the game in the stands – people love that, the strategy in between. Don’t try to make it football, don’t try to make it basketball, it’s got a certain popularity, people kind of like it, so be careful what you wish for.”

CHAVEZ DEALING: The injuries to Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin opened up a spot for Jesse Chavez in the Oakland Athletics rotation, and the former Toronto Blue Jays right-hander is one reason why the defending AL West champions haven’t missed a beat.

Chavez allowed five runs, four earned, in five innings Friday but the A’s won for the fifth straight time when he’s started, 12-5 over the Houston Astros. How good has he been? Consider that in each of his first four starts, he allowed only one earned run per outing, striking out 29 batters in 26 innings.

Not bad for someone who pitched in a mop-up role for the Athletics last year, when he was 2-4 with a 3.92 ERA in 35 games. Oakland purchased him from the Blue Jays on Aug. 24, 2012 after he had gone 1-1 with an 8.44 ERA in nine games, two of them starts.

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