Over this weekend’s Yankee Stadium half of the 2009 Subway Series, plenty of media grist was derived from the verbal — and at one point almost physical — scrap between Yankees’ reliever Brian Bruney, and Mets closer Frankie “K-Rod” Rodriguez. Most baseball fans are doubtless familiar with the whole thing, so I’ll just recap briefly.
A moment before the series opener ended with an improbable Yankees win when Mets second baseman Luis Castillo dropped an easy pop fly, Rodriguez, who’d induced the pop-up, was apparently primed to launch into his familiar mound celebration: shouting at the top of his lungs, jabbing his fingers at the sky, thumping his chest, and sometimes adding a little James Brown-ish flourish — a one-legged spin that finishes with him dramatically sinking down onto one knee. But when Castillo messed up the basic little league play, Rodriguez instead wound up holding his head with both hands in astonished dismay.
Asked about the game’s wild climax Friday night while completing a rehab stint with the Yankees’ Double-A Trenton Thunder, Bruney remarked that, “It couldn’t happen to a better guy on the mound, either. He’s got a tired act.”
“I just don’t like watching the guy (K-Rod) pitch,” he would go on to say. “I think it’s embarrassing.”
When Bruney’s comments were relayed to Rodriguez, he irately responded by saying that the Yankees’ righty “better keep his mouth shut and do his job, not worry about somebody else.” He also claimed, “I don’t even know who the guy is. I’m not going to waste my time with that guy.”
But during Sunday’s pregame warm-ups in the outfield, Rodriguez seemed to know exactly who Bruney was when he stormed up to him pointing his finger and shouting some heated words. The confrontation might have come to blows if not for Mets pitcher Mike Pelfrey, the Yankees’ Jose Veras, and a few other players and coaches who fortunately stepped in to separate the two.
That apparently ended the whole business except for a high volume of media noise about it, most of which hasn’t so much debated the merits of Bruney’s remarks, but questioned whether he should have publicly made them in the first place.
At his locker after Sunday’s game, Bruney in essence conceded it was a mistake. And it probably was. Once they’re relayed to the criticized party via the press (as they always are), shots of the sort Bruney aimed at a fellow player usually lead to nothing but fan and media rubbernecking. Nothing beats a good sideshow in this world.
Admittedly, though, my first reaction on hearing what Bruney said was a “Go Guy!” fist pump of my own at the TV screen. Like many players and fans, I find Rodriguez’s routine an annoyance. In fact, I wish the grandstanding that’s infected all of professional sports like a stubborn diaper rash would go away. If I want that kind of stuff, I can watch Wrestlemania.
A few years after it first showed up in the NFL via the Mark Gastineau dance, things got so bad I found watching the games tough. I couldn’t stand Gastineau.
When I met him in person much later on, my reaction was very different. I used to occasionally hang at a bar called Jimmy’s Corner on Times Square, which was owned by a fight trainer who also had a boxing gym in the area. Gastineau, who worked out at the gym during his boxing career in the ’90’s, was a fairly frequent visitor to Jimmy’s, as were many boxing personalities. Gastineau was always polite and low-key. I found him very likeable. Once, I recall him helping the barkeep’s wife mop a spill off the floor on a busy night. It was hard to connect that guy with the showboat I’d seen on the tube. I was always tempted to ask why he’d chosen to be a clown on the field — but he’s a lot bigger than I am.
Anyway, the sack dances were small potatoes compared to what would follow. In 2002, as I recall, Terrell Owens, then with the San Francisco 49ers, pulled a Sharpie pen from his sock after scoring a touchdown, signed the ball, and handed it off to his financial planner in the stands. But the capper for me came the next year in a game between the New Orleans Saints and New York Giants, when New Orleans receiver Joe Horn pulled a cellphone he’d tucked under the padding of a goalpost and — he said — made a call to his mom on catching a touchdown pass.
I’m not big on so-called “excessive celebration” rules. I think they open the door to penalties based on very subjective interpretations of a player’s actions. But I was glad with the NFL installed just that kind of rule. It made it easier for me to watch pro football.
NBA basketball’s another story. For me, it’s become unviewable. I grew up a huge Knicks fan rooting for old school players like Walt Frazier, Willis Reed, and Dave DeBusschere. They played hard and never showed up their opponents.
I had no problem with Michael Jordan decades later. He was more demonstrative than the old guard players, sure. But when he’d jump up in the air and pump his fist, it was an honest display of emotion.
For a while I liked the New Jersey Nets. This was during the four or five years when Jason Kidd reenergized the team and took them to the finals in 2002 and 2003. Kidd and his teammates reminded me of the old Knicks. Kenyon Martin sometimes got a bit carried away but I felt his passion on the court was genuine.
I didn’t like it after Martin was traded away, and Vince Carter came along, and started doing his motorcycle-revving bit when he scored. The team never went to the finals with Carter. I don’t know what he was revving about.
Alonzo Mourning was another player whose premeditated outbursts got me. Alonzo’s stunt was to make a muscle like Popeye after a big basket or block. Spontaneous? Right.
And the beat goes on in the NBA. The latest irritant for me was the so-called Hannibal Lecter grimace that Kobe Bryant affected throughout this year’s playoffs. Kobe’s a great player, maybe the greatest active player in the league. He’s won multiple championships. But he never made that puss in his previous postseason runs. Why now all of a sudden?
Maybe I’m wrong, but I believe that people don’t start mugging like that out of the blue. I’ve been in many high pressure situations over the years. My facial expressions have stayed the same. Look at old Super Eight movies of me from when I was eight or nine years old, there’s a recognizable consistency. Even my happy dances are the same as when I was a kid. At no point in my life have I started making cannibal faces or anything.
In pro sports, it seems every other athlete has a shtick. I hate it most in baseball because I love baseball more than any other sport by leaps and bounds. The Barry Bonds school of styling is awful enough — note to Robinson Cano — but it really irked me when Manny Ramirez started wagging his fingers at pitchers off whom he’d hit homeruns.
After a tight save, the Red Sox’s Jonathan Papelbon usually gestures in a way that isn’t fit for family consumption. When it’s not so tight, he just throws out a “*%*$* yeah!” without bothering to cover his mouth with his glove. He knows the cameras are on him. He knows kids are watching him curse. Don’t think he doesn’t leave the glove down on purpose.
In his first seasons with the Yankees, Joba Chamberlain’s fist pumping got over the top after a while. I believe the gesture to be authentic — heck, his dad does it — but he needed to rein it in some, and he did to his credit. Not so for all pitchers. There’s lot of dancing, yelling and posing to be seen on mounds throughout baseball nowadays.
Maybe these guys need to be taught their lessons. Say a pitcher’s sent to Dr. James Andrews out in Birmingham for an MRI on his shoulder, and Andrews starts jumping up and down, gyrating his hips, and fist-pumping when he locates the source of the guy’s pain on the scan: “A tear! A tear! I found it, yeeeeaiiiiiiioow Mama!!”
You ask me, Frankie Rodriguez wouldn’t be too appreciative of that.
I don’t want to make a big deal out of all this. But like Bruney, I find it all tiresome and unsportsmanlike. So how about managers and coaches ask players to please limit the contrived theatrics? Would it really hurt?
Of course, if that doesn’t happen, the best way to put an end to it is always to simply beat the showboats. As we saw with Frankie, that’s when their hands go from pointing at the sky to their caps.