Inside Baseball: Not enough villains

Red Sox batter David Ortiz follows through on the swing of his two-run home run against the Yankees...

Red Sox batter David Ortiz follows through on the swing of his two-run home run against the Yankees earlier this week. (JESSICA RINALDI/Reuters)

MIKE RUTSEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:39 PM ET

Bryce Harper is a brash hot prospect while David Ortiz is a seasoned, well established big-league star.

But this past week both players were the talk of the baseball world for being a little too hot-doggy, a tad too colourful for the conservative world in which they perform.

Both players were accused of crossing the line, taking the extra step in what some people view as showmanship while others — and they seem to be in the majority — view their actions in far less charitable terms.

Harper, the No. 1 draft pick of the Washington Nationals last year, is playing for class-A Hagerstown and this week after hitting a home run in a game against Greensboro, rounded third and blew a kiss towards pitcher Zach Neal.

Naturally, everybody blew a gasket and there is a long lineup of those who think the best tonic for the unrepentant Harper is to take him to the nearest wood shed and apply a good caning.

And it isn’t just a bunch of old geezers who were offended by his action.

Pitcher Dylan Bundy was selected as the Baltimore Orioles first-round pick in this week’s draft and on a follow-up interview on a Baltimore sports radio show, he was asked how he would deal with Harper if he happened to be facing him the next day.

“Well, if I was pitching the next game I’d hit him all four at bats,” Bundy replied enthusiastically.

Bundy’s answer, or a variation of the same theme, was the usual response one got when the incident was raised.

Harper, more than a few intoned, should get drilled and be straightened out pronto, made to understand such actions were not acceptable in any way, shape or form.

Former Washington GM Jim Bowden was among the horrified and said Harper’s action could be detrimental to his teammates as well.

Now an analyst for ESPN, Bowden said: “A player’s maturity is just as important as his talent, something the player must understand. Harper, who is 18, won’t just have opposing pitchers throwing at him in the future; he also puts his teammates at risk. When you get to the major league level, blowing kisses won’t be tolerated. He’ll see a high frequency of 95 m.p.h. fastballs that could put him on the disabled list.”

Ortiz, meanwhile, didn’t blow any kisses but in a game against the hated Yankees on Tuesday he homered, then flipped his bat in triumph and did a pirouette before strolling the bases in his home run trot.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi, naturally, was appalled.

The next day Ortiz said more or less that Girardi could kiss his ass.

As the incident involved the Red Sox and the Yankees, it quickly became a very big deal and everybody was having their say.

One of the more interesting takes on the Harper kiss was supplied by Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports who opined that baseball needs more of the same, that there is nothing wrong with the staid sport having a few villains, some colourful characters to stand out from the army of grey suits.

Passan opened up: “Baseball’s greatest villain is an 18-year-old minor leaguer with a heinous moustache, an equally off-putting mullet and the scent of someone who emptied a bottle of Eau du Arrogance all over himself.

“And you know what? He’s exactly what the sport needs.”

Later on he wrote: “Baseball has long lagged behind football and basketball in the villainy department. It’s easy to hate headhunting linebackers and pretty-boy quarterbacks. It’s cool to decry sharp-elbowed centres and a Decision-making swingman named LeBron. Because baseball players hew so tightly to their self-enforced code, scant few display the sort of personality that draws fans’ ire.”

Passan may have a point.

In baseball there is no spiking of the ball, no TD celebration. Players who flip a bat like Ortiz get ripped as do pitchers who are over-zealous in exulting with a few fist-pumps after striking out a batter in a clutch situation.

Individual celebrations and antics are frowned upon, the offending player deemed to be a jerk.

If a Mark Fidrych appeared upon the scene, I wonder how he would be greeted in this day and age?

Or how about Al Hrabosky, the Mad Hungarian, who was such a fan favourite for St. Louis while pitching for the Cardinals in the 70s.

A little spontaneity, a little off-the-wall colour, a little going against the grain may not be such a bad thing.


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