Proper etiquette in baseball has long been a divisive issue. The traditionalist school of thought leans toward a lack of virtually all displays of emotion, no matter how benign their intent or subtle their presence. According to some, an extra second spent lingering in admiration of a homerun is grounds for a fastball to the ribs, and a passionate fist pump on the mound warrants a hostile confrontation.
It’s a gentleman’s game and if you don’t behave as such, they will threaten to throw things at you or beat you up. No excessive celebrations allowed; that sort of behavior isn’t tolerated. They are gentleman, after all.
I never understood this traditionalist school of thought, probably because I belong to a younger generation. We are far more lenient and willing to shrug off the displays some would deem excessive. Many from the younger crowd even praise extreme passion and visceral reactions after making a key play.
I’ve seen how old-school reactions normally play out. They end in pointless bench-clearing standoffs, or worse, brawls resulting in suspensions.
I’ve also seen how new-school reactions normally play out. Typically, nothing happens. Although, some moments become memorable when both parties just remember that it’s okay to instill a bit of levity into the game they love. Thus was the case earlier this week during an exchange between Pedro Strop and Brandon Phillips.
The playful back and forth between Strop and Phillips began on Tuesday. Strop was on the mound facing Phillips in the 8th inning as the Cubs were clinging to a 5-4 lead. Phillips was taking some particularly powerful hacks during the at bat. Strop responded with his own power in the form of a mid-90s fastball. Phillips swung and missed, ending the inning.
Strop pumped his fist emphatically as he bounced off the mound. Instead of reacting in a petty, egotistical manner commonly seen in baseball players, Phillips, a guy renowned for his jovial demeanor, simply grinned and flashed Strop a big thumbs up. There was not a hint of sarcasm. Phillips realized that Strop made a good pitch, so he genuinely paid him the proper respect. You bested me this time. Well done. It was refreshing to see such a classy and sportsmanlike response in this situation.
That gesture by Phillips was noteworthy enough, setting an example for how to diffuse tension rather than intensify it. What followed on Wednesday made for something really special.
Again Strop entered the game in the 8th inning of a close game. Again he squared off against Phillips. A few murmurs rumbled through the stadium from those who remembered yesterday’s encounter. Phillips’ grin was gone, replaced by a stone-like expression of focus.
This time Phillips won. He cracked a solid single then conspicuously flipped his bat and teasingly mimicked the Cubs mojo head rub as he hustled to first. Standing on the base, he peered over at Strop and smiled. Strop nodded at Phillips and offered a friendly point in his direction. Heading off the mound after the third out Strop and Phillips playfully exchanged backslaps and smiles on their way back to their dugouts.
A less humble man may have been angry with Phillips’ histrionics. But not Strop. He understood that there was no malice intended from Phillips, just as he meant none with his fist pump the day before. So he allowed Phillips to enjoy his win. To the victor goes the spoils. A little celebrating never hurt anyone. It was all in good fun.
The display of sportsmanship between these two emphatic yet affable competitors went a long way in showing us a great way (not necessarily the right way since I doubt only one correct way really exists) to handle harmless, mild celebrations after making a key play on the field. Everyone witnessed two grown men having a little extra fun on the diamond. That’s something people of all generations can appreciate.