Ralph Branca

Why all of you horrible savages are wrong for booing ballplayers

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There are two areas in baseball — I think just two, but I’m sure someone will remind me if I’m missing any — in which I will freely own up to being an impossible annoying self-righteous prig:  beanball wars, as we discussed yesterday, and booing ballplayers.

My thing about beanball wars is pretty defensible I think, as guys really can get hurt. I don’t care what you say — even if you’re being rational and otherwise persuasive about it when you take issue with me — I’m never going to abide intentionally throwing a baseball at someone.

The booing thing: eh, I realize I’m out-of-step with most sports fans (with “most” meaning “virtually all”).  I just hate booing. I find it to be unseemly and kind of rude. I never boo anyone sincerely (I’ve ironically booed people before, not that it would make a difference to the target). I prefer to be all passive-aggressive about it and simmer with silence and resentment. Maybe it’s just a repressed Midwesterner thing. It’s our way.

Maybe if someone were truly villainous I’d boo them — like if a player did something decidedly evil in a game but somehow avoided being ejected — but I can’t ever feature myself booing my own team’s player simply because he made a mistake or was slumping. Or another team’s player because he played well against my team. Or any player because of some lame contract dispute years and years ago, a minor hubbub or scandal or what have you.

Anyway, the reason I bring this up is because the subject of booing was mentioned at a charity event featuring Bobby Valentine last night.  For those who don’t know, Valentine’s father-in-law is legendary Brooklyn Dodgers’ pitcher Ralph Branca.  Branca, as I hope you do know, served up the pitch that became Bobby Thomson’s “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” that catapulted the Giants into the 1951 World Series over Branca’s Dodgers.

A goat that cost the Dodgers the pennant? In Brooklyn of all places? Surely that man was booed until Hell wouldn’t have it, right? Wrong! Branca was at the event and spoke thusly:

In a discussion about big markets and small markets and how players respond to being booed, Branca took the microphone and reminded the crowd that he knew a little bit about the topic. Branca gave up one of the most famous homers in baseball history, Bobby Thomson’s three-run shot that gave the New York Giants the 1951 NL pennant over the Brooklyn Dodgers.

“Me get booed? Never,” Branca told a few hundred people at Fenway Park on Monday night. “I did lose a few [fans]”

I’m never gonna convince anyone that booing is low-rent. And the next time I write a head-shaking post about fans who, in my view, unjustifiably boo a player, I am absolutely certain you will all call me out for being the impossible and annoying self-righteous prig that I am on this topic.

But do your worst. Boo me, even. I don’t care. If people in Brooklyn in 1952 weren’t booing Ralph Branca, no one deserves to get booed, ever.

Now if you excuse me, I’m going to retire to my fainting couch. I feel a spell of the vapors coming on.

UPDATE:  This man is so, so right. That’s just one guy’s opinion.

Yordano Ventura represented the best and worst of baseball’s culture

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 28:  Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers in the first inning during a game against the Boston Red Sox on August 28, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
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It was reported this morning that Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura was killed in a car accident in the Dominican Republic. Former prospect Andy Marte was also killed in a separate car accident. Along with Jose Fernandez and Oscar Taveras, the baseball world has lost a lot of young, exciting talent in a very short amount of time.

Ventura was, like all of us, a complex human being. At his best, he was an exciting, talented, emotive pitcher who featured an electric fastball which sat in the mid-90’s and occasionally touched 100 MPH. At his worst, he was an immature, impressionable kid trying to fit in by exacting revenge against batters he felt had wronged him by slinging those electric fastballs at vulnerable areas of their bodies.

Baseball needed Ventura when he was at his best. It is players like him and Fernandez, not Mike Trout, that bring in new fans to the sport. To baseball die-hards, Angels outfielder Mike Trout is the pinnacle of entertainment because we know he’s an otherworldly talent. But to the average fan, Trout is just another player who hits a couple of homers and doesn’t do anything particularly interesting otherwise. Trout is milquetoast. Ventura was never an All-Star, but fans knew who he was because he made his presence felt every time he made a start. He was fun, if sometimes vengeful.

Ventura’s baseball rap sheet is rather lengthy for someone who only pitched parts of four seasons in the big leagues. Early in the 2015 season, Ventura found himself in a handful of benches-clearing incidents in quick succession. On April 12, he jawed with Trout, apparently misunderstanding the motivation behind Trout yelling, “Let’s go!” Though catcher Salvador Perez intervened, Trout’s teammate Albert Pujols ran in from second base and the benches cleared shortly thereafter. On the 18th, some drama between the Athletics and Royals continued. Ventura fired a 99 MPH fastball at Brett Lawrie, resulting in his immediate ejection from the game. More beanball wars ensued in the series finale the following day. Finally, on the 23rd, Ventura hit White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu with a 99 MPH fastball in the fourth inning. Ventura was not ejected… until after the completion of the seventh inning. Walking back to the dugout, Ventura barked at White Sox outfielder Adam Eaton and — you guessed it — the benches cleared. All told, Ventura was fined for his behavior with the Athletics and suspended seven games for the White Sox incident.

In August 2015, Ventura called Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista a “nobody” and accused him of stealing signs. He apologized shortly thereafter. Two months later, during his start in Game 6 of the ALCS against the Blue Jays, Ventura got into it with Jays first base coach Tim Leiper. Nothing happened beyond that, but apparently it was part of the Jays’ plan to try to put Ventura “on tilt.”

Most recently, in June this past season, Ventura hit Orioles third baseman Manny Machado with a pitch. Machado charged the mound and got in at least one punch before the players spilled out onto the field in a blob of royal blue and orange. Ventura was suspended for eight games.

Ventura was by no means a model of civility, but he was a product of baseball’s intransigent culture forcing players to assimilate or be ostracized. The old culture taught players to never show emotion. Hit a home run? Put your head down and circle the bases in a timely fashion or risk taking a fastball to the ribs. Players like Fernandez and Bautista — typically players from Latin countries — challenged those old cultural norms and are, as a result, the vanguard of the new culture. Ventura displayed aspects of each, the worst of the old culture and the best of the new. He was not a one-dimensional person; he was strikingly complex. At one moment willing to use a fastball as a weapon, the next stopping by some kids’ lemonade stand and giving out fist bumps. Baseball is made more entertaining and more interesting by its personalities and Ventura’s was a behemoth, for better or worse. His absence from the sport will be felt.

MLB remembers Yordano Ventura and Andy Marte

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 28:  Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers in the first inning during a game against the Boston Red Sox on August 28, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
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Following the tragic passing of 25-year-old Yordano Ventura and 33-year-old Andy Marte, both of whom were killed in separate car crashes on Sunday morning, players and executives from around Major League Baseball expressed an outpouring of grief and support for the players’ families and former teams.

Fans have gathered at Kauffman Stadium in memory of the former pitcher.