Craig Calcaterra

Blogger at NBC's HardballTalk. Recovering litigator. Rake. Scoundrel. Notorious Man-About-Town.
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You people don’t know what a “sucker punch” is


Forgot to mention this in my earlier Bautista-Odor post, but it’s really bugging me. I’ve seen a lot of people — almost all of them Blue Jays fans, but let’s ignore that for a second — referring to Rougned Odor‘s punch to Jose Bautista‘s jaw as a “sucker punch.” Here’s an example. And another. And another. Here’s a total Twitter search for it and you can see a gabillion examples.

This is madness. A sucker punch is, by definition, a surprise punch, hitting a person who is not expecting it, not looking or who is otherwise unaware that he’s about to become the recipient of some violence. It is not a punch to someone who has literally got his dukes up, preparing for a fight. And, in Bautista’s case, has a hand extended already, be it for a punch or some preemptive defense or whatever it is he’s doing here:

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What Odor did after that was not a “sucker punch.” It was a “punch.” Because the two men were in a “fight” and just because Bautista lost the fight does not make it a “sucker punch.” Nor is it a sucker punch because, most of the time, ballplayers don’t punch each other. Unless I missed something and there are unwritten rules about that too.

Like I said above, this almost all comes from Toronto people because, it seems, they are very invested in making Odor out to be the bad guy here. When, as I explained this morning, everyone was kind of a jackwagon in this whole incident. If it makes you feel better to think one side was way worse than the other, fine, do what you gotta do. But at least appreciate that words mean things and “sucker punch” does not mean what you’re saying it means here.

Doc Gooden: “I never thought I’d live this long”


Memorial Day weekend there will be a reunion of the 1986 Mets team at Citi Field and one of the most famous members of hat Mets team was Doc Gooden. He was also one of the most infamous members of that Mets team as well, what with his decades long struggle with drug and alcohol abuse which, it’s not unreasonable to say, robbed him of what could have easily been a Hall of Fame career.

John Harper of the Daily News caught up with Gooden and has a story about his ongoing battles with addiction and a now-five-year commitment to sobriety. Gooden is unflinching in his assessment of himself and where his life has been and in how hard he works to keep his life on the straight and narrow:

“That’s what makes every day so joyous for me right now because I remember the days when I was in houses with people I didn’t know, getting high, not knowing if I was ever going to get my life back together. And at times accepting, ‘maybe this is who I am, maybe I’m going to die like this.’ When I look back at everything I’ve done, even if it’s just everything I did to my body, I never thought I’d live this long.”

The story talks about Gooden’s time in prison as well as just how hard it has been for him to adjust to life outside of it. Most worrisome are the many references he makes to how hard it is to stay clean now, especially given (a) how much he credits his family and domestic life to keeping him clean; but (b) his most recent marriage ended in divorce and he doesn’t always get to see his kids on a regular basis.

Here’s hoping he continues to find his way, no matter how hard it gets.

Who were the good guys and who were the bad guys in the Rougned Odor-Jose Bautista fight?


Baseball fights are notoriously lame. This one was . . . not. Say what you will about the ethics and advisability of gettin’ chippy on a baseball field, but there’s no doubt that Rougned Odor and Jose Bautista throwing down yesterday afternoon was a different thing than we’re used to seeing. We covered it all here, here, here and here, but here are some additional observations I have about it all.

Rougned Odor, Jose Bautista and Matt Bush all played a part in this big mess. There was a bad pitch, a bad slide and a punch thrown that never should’ve been and everyone contributed to this silliness. There was last night and certainly still will be today, however, an effort by columnists, pundits, radio hosts and fans to portray who among them was worse. Resist that urge and ignore people with hot takes about who was so very wrong and who was so very right.

For one thing, a huge amount of it will be people from Texas or with with Rangers sympathies saying one thing and people from Toronto or with Blue Jays sympathies saying another. They’ll all act like they’re being objective and they’re all lying, to themselves as well as everyone else. The fanboy crap — even from some professionals who like to claim they’re above that — started immediately after the punch was thrown and isn’t going to stop for some time. Calcaterra’s First Rule of Sports Opinion is that one’s opinion on any sports controversy can invariably be determined by one’s rooting interest in the participants of the controversy. It’s no different here. If you’re a Rangers or a Blue Jays fan, save it. You’re blinded by the laundry.

More broadly than that: everyone — Bush, Bautista, Odor and some side participants — was kind of wrong and it took all of their wrongness to create this. We’re so conditioned to create heroes, villains and martyrs when it comes to sports stories, but it’s rarely appropriate. That’s the stuff of fiction, not real life. As one of my favorite fictional characters once said after being told he was one of the good guys, “There aren’t any GOOD guys. You realize that, don’t you? I mean: there aren’t EVIL guys, and INNOCENT guys. It’s just – it’s just… It’s just a bunch of guys.” That goes for this too, no matter how objective Jays fans and Rangers fans claim they’re being here. It’s a thing that happened in which no one really cloaked themselves in glory, so don’t pretend it was something otherwise.

With all of that out of the way:

  • Throwing at a guy like Matt Bush did to piss Jose Bautista off, sliding dirty like Bautista did to piss Rougned Odor off and then throwing haymakers like Odor did — and like Bautista was prepared to — are all bad things that should not be encouraged and should be punished. We don’t want that to happen and we certainly don’t want more of that in baseball because, while thankfully no one was hurt here, someone could’ve been at any point of that sequence.
  • All of that said — and in light of the fact that no one got hurt — I don’t think it’s inconsistent to admit that . . . holy crap, that was all kind of entertaining. I said that on Twitter and a bunch of people said I was being a hypocrite based on what I’ve written about violent acts in the game before, but I’m not buyin’ it. There are a lot of things that are bad and dangerous and which you shouldn’t do but let’s not pretend that, in the moment, when you do them, there is fun to be had. One can enjoy this whole spectacle given its particular circumstances without wanting it to be repeated.
  • Odor’s suspension should be interesting. Historically, you’ve never seen more than, say, 8-10 games for on-field incidents. That includes some pretty notorious fights. Odor’s impulse and act was no different than what a lot of players have done before, but I feel like he’s going to get a bigger suspension simply because his punch was captured perfectly in videos and photos and spread so quickly and virally. In the space of an hour it was all around the world on multiple social media platforms and memes and t-shirts and everything else. As I’ve written many times, baseball is an entertainment like movies or music or TV in ways that it doesn’t often admit, and it proceeds in ways like entertainment companies do in many cases. Part of that is its concern with image and PR. Bryce Harper probably wouldn’t have gotten a suspension for his F-bomb if it wasn’t so clearly captured on video and spread so quickly on social media. I bet the same goes for Odor’s punch. I bet he gets hit with a much longer suspension, at least at first, than someone might’ve gotten for it ten years ago. Punished for his effectiveness and some good photography, less so than for his actual act.
  • Bautista dropping the “play the game the right way” bomb after the game last night is one of the more hilarious things I’ve heard in a long time. A guy is gonna say what he needs to say to get through a postgame interview, but for him to not acknowledge that just about every anti-Bautista sentiment since last October’s bat flip wasn’t grounded in some variation of “that’s not playing the game the right way” is high comedy and a painful lack of self-awareness. Jose Bautista is now gonna police purpose pitches? OK. Maybe Carlos Gomez can hand out fines for excessive on-field exuberance and Bryce Harper be the head master of baseball’s new Institute for the Personality Restraint.

I guess that’s all I got right now. If you need me, I’ll be trying to track down Goose Gossage. I’m sort of worried about him. He’s somehow gotta reconcile the fact that a policing purpose pitch came from a guy who literally had been in the league 48 hours and not some wise veteran, an old-school, hardnosed slide came from a guy he said was destroying the game and the best punch in it all came from a skinny little infielder who people say doesn’t play the game the right way. He and some of the other old schoolers are gonna need some help wrapping their heads around it all.