Harper's kiss, Ortiz's pirouette frowned upon

MIKE RUTSEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:19 AM 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 the 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 are not acceptable in any way, shape or form.

Former Washington general manager 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.

Z SLAMS BUS IN REVERSE

Is Carlos Zambrano one crazy mother, or what?

The Chicago Cubs' mercurial starter has managed this past week to be even more quotable thaN White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen and that's almost impossible.

But Zambrano, who has the shortest fuse this side of Lou Piniella in his prime, completely lost it last Sunday when Cubs closer Carlos Marmol blew a save and afterwards threw said closer and his teammates under the bus. Then he put said bus in reverse and backed over Marmol just for spite.

In his post-game rant, he called the Cubs "embarrassing" that they are "playing like a Triple-A team" and that "we stink."

The next day he was gushing apologies and letting the bull crap really fly.

"I just want to get together with this team and play better, be a good leader for this team, do the best I can to help this team win a ball game," Zambrano said. "We can be 11, 12, 15 games out, but we start winning games, who knows?

"It's not over yet. Believe me guys, it's not over for the Cubs."

Believe me Carlos, it is.

CHOO'S TRIBE-ULATIONS

That thud you heard the other night was not that ancient oak keeling over in your backyard but the sound of the Cleveland Indians falling back to earth.

Running like a quarter-horse in the mile-and-a-half Belmont Stakes, the Indians shot out of the gate and, for the opening two months of the season, were the surprise story of the year.

But now they appear to have snapped out of their coma and may be set to sink out of sight in the up-for-grabs AL Central.

Heading into Friday night's action, the Indians' lead in the division had been cut to one game. They had lost seven of their past 10 and 11 of their past 15. On May 23, they had a 30-15 record and a seven-game lead. Now they are plugging leaks in the dyke.

No player on their roster is fighting a greater uphill battle than outfielder Shin-Soo Choo.

Since he was arrested for suspicion of drunken driving on May 2, Choo has gone into the tank. Clearly embarrassed by the incident, he has allowed it to affect his performance on the field.

"I wanted to show better play and try to make people forget about what happened," he said recently. "It's not only that, but a lot of little things were happening at the same time."

Now he is clearly pressing at the plate.

"I know what the problem is: I'm trying too hard, I'm thinking too much," Choo said. "That's just my natural thought. It's given me a lot of stress. I need to slow down my mind."

The way the Tribe is playing these days, he may well have been speaking for the team.

SUMMER HEAT

It appears that Aroldis Chapman is back on the rails and the express bullet train that is his right arm will be visiting a National League city soon.

Chapman is the Cincinnati Reds' flame-throwing phenom who last year set hearts racing when he arrived in the big leagues with his heat-seeking missile of a fastball.

Chapman's heater has topped out at 105 m.p.h., both in the major leagues last September and in a couple of minor-league games both this season and last.

In 15 appearances in 2010, Chapman had a 2.03 ERA and, in 13.1 innings, had 19 punchouts against five walks.

This season has been a harder grind as Chapman has a 6.92 ERA in 16 relief outings before he was placed on the disabled list May 16 with left shoulder inflammation. His final four appearances were especially brutal and highlighted by bouts of wildness. In those final four outings, a total of 1.1 innings, Chapman walked an incredible 12 batters.

In his rehab outings, he has shown that his velocity is still there but, alas, so is the wildness. In his most recent appearance at double-A Carolina, Chapman did a pretty fair imitation of Bull Durham's Nuke LaLoosh with two runs, walked two and also fired a pickoff attempt into the bullpen. Sadly there was no mascot bull to hit.

NO ZIP FOR ZEP

There are games where you come through in the clutch and there are games when you don't. Then there are games like the one suffered by Blue Jays reliever Marc Rzepczynski on Monday night. The lefty came into the game at K.C. with two out and one on in the seventh inning. The first pitch he threw was a strike. It would be his last. His next 12 pitches were balls, the final one bringing in the tying run from third. His line was three batters, three walks, 13 pitches, one strike, 12 balls. Following is a list of pitchers since 1988 who threw the most pitches in a game with one or fewer strikes.


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