Outside of Arlington: Are the “Fightin’ Royals” Really Such a Bad Thing?
Maybe it was frustration, maybe it was for the perceived “dirty” slide, but emotions got the better of Yordano Ventura on April 18th, and he “allowed” a pitch to “get away” from him (quotes intended) as he hit Brett Lawrie in the elbow. Home Plate umpire Jim Joyce immediately ejected Ventura, but none of the attempts to keep peace were fulfilled as both benches emptied. Ventura was fined by Major League Baseball.
Two series later, the Royals faced the White Sox. This time, the drama came about as a result of something that had happened two weeks earlier. Flashback: Jeff Samardzija hit Lorenzo Cain with a pitch after a Kansas City homer. Maybe emotions got the better of Shark then, but tensions ran even higher on Thursday as Chris Sale accidentally hit Mike Moustakas and Ventura didn’t think it was an accident. Ventura hit Jose Abreu and everyone thought that was it. Then an Adam Eaton comebacker found its way into Ventura’s glove and as the Royals pitcher went to throw Eaton out, some words were exchanged and the benches emptied. Once again, benches emptied and Ventura was thrown out. This time, punches were thrown and the action was even more hyped.
But that’s not where the drama ends.
Chris Sale reportedly went to the Royals locker room afterwards looking for a fight. He didn’t find it, but he did find a suspension, as did five other players involved in the fracas.
All of it was delicious, juicy, talked-about drama. And there are some people, crazily enough, who think it’s out of hand and not good for the game.
To all of that, I ask: How could you not want it?
Maybe we’ve been going about this whole “make baseball more appealing” thing all wrong. Here we are looking at between-innings clocks, keeping the batter’s feet in the box, expanding strike zones, blah blah blah. Perhaps we need to look at incidents like these as being good for the “watchability” of baseball?
Last year, the Royals were the underdogs, fighting the good fight for all of us who were ever told we couldn’t make it. Yordano Ventura was the upstart kid, ready to take the torch from the departing James Shields, ready to prove people wrong by taking over the “ace” mantle and keep the Royals in contention for years to come. Then, the Royals made it to the dance. They didn’t win, but they were there.
This year? Not so much the lovable underdogs. Kansas City is no longer the team that suffered through a thirty-year playoff drought. They are the reigning, defending, American League (heavyweight) champions (of the world!)!
And they’re playing with a bit more swagger. The events of last week have garnered national attention, and well, don’t you want to know what happens when Ventura, Samardzija, and Sale return from their suspensions? What about what happens when Kansas City and Chicago face off again? You can’t tell me that you’re going to be paying more attention to how many times Jose Quintana gets Eric Hosmer swinging on changeups. Alex Gordon making another huge play might be highlight reel worthy, but let’s face it – we want to see what happens when Ventura takes the mound. We want to know what – and where – Sale’s first pitch is going to end up.
Be honest with yourself: are you more interested in the outcome of Josh Hamilton’s first at-bat with the Rangers or how the fans are going to receive him when he’s introduced by Chuck Morgan? What do you think the national media and the casual baseball fan is going to pay attention to?
One of the most iconic moments in Rangers history is Nolan Ryan beating down Robin Ventura after Ryan hits him with a pitch. Who won that game? Who scored the runs? What was the count when Ryan hit Ventura? Who cares? All we see is Ryan, twice Ventura’s age, grabbing the current White Sox manager in a headlock and giving him several accelerated noogies with a trajectory ending somewhere at the bottom of Ventura’s skull.
How about when Ian Kinsler came back to Texas and homered off of Colby Lewis and waved at the dugout? Remember Jon Daniels’ response to the incident? He said it on the radio (105.3 The Fan, actually), so nothing could be misconstrued by context.
“I thought that was kind of a, unfortunately, a little bit of a statement on our team,” Daniels said on Monday. “There was no response. I’m not talking about hurting anybody or anything like that. There are ways to do it within the respectful boundary of the game. To say hey, we’ve got a little pulse over here. We’ve got a little heart. Even just somebody barking at him from the dugout. Quite frankly, I think if Ian had been on our team and somebody had done it at that time, he wouldn’t have let that go with nothing done. At minimum, he would have barked at the guy. I was a little disappointed from that standpoint. Not at anybody in particular, just the whole club as itself. You want to see some fight and some fire in those situations.”
If we want baseball to be more appealing to a bigger crowd, maybe it’s not the pace of the game or the lack of offensive production we should be analyzing. Maybe it’s not the Statcast feature that will build a whole new level of talent evaluation. Baseball needs a little more storyline and drama. I’m not saying we need to see beanballs every game. I don’t want to see the benches clear every series – besides, how anti-climactic is it to have the bullpens be the last guys out in a brawl?
What I’m saying is that giving people a little more investment, outside of the whole “Win the game to advance in the standings” might not be so bad for the game. Rivalries such as Cardinals-Cubs, Yankees-Red Sox, weren’t just built on fights for divisions. They were forged from an inexplicable hatred for the other team’s logo, players, and fan bases. When Jacoby Ellsbury went from Boston to New York, the reaction wasn’t, “Oh man, he makes the Yankees a contender!” It was “WHAT?! How is a Red Sox going to go be a Yankee?!”
We love the drama, and while some writers and analysts may hate where the Royals have taken their game, I think this may be just the thing to help the game reach wider audiences. Am I wrong? Do you think this whole “aggressive” Royals thing is bad? Isn’t a little tension and animosity between two clubs good for the game? When does retaliation need to stop?