Domonic Brown may finally get his chance

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Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro, amid all of his wheeling and dealing over the years, had one hard and fast rule: hands off Domonic Brown. Amaro traded for Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, and Hunter Pence, completely depleting his team’s farm system but for one player. Brown was rated the #4 overall prospect by Baseball America entering the 2011 season, but the outfielder suffered a hamate fracture in his right hand early in spring training. When he finally returned, his power was gone — the lefty hit just five home runs in 209 plate appearances at the Major League level between May 21 and July 29. Brown was demoted to the Minors at the end of July but his fortune did not improve.

Brown began the 2012 season in the Minors as Amaro wanted his outfielder to get regular playing time, rather than irregular and unpredictable playing time in an outfield that at the time included Pence and Shane Victorino. Brown was finally given his shot at the end of July, but did not impress in the final two months of the season, hitting just .235 with five home runs. Amaro, once thought to be wise to hold on to Brown, now looked foolish for failing to maximize the value of his once top prospect while others, such as Travis d’Arnaud and Jonathan Singleton, thrived in other organizations.

ESPN’s Keith Law suggested that it takes 12-18 months for a player to recover his power after suffering a hamate bone injury. The end of the 2012 season marked 18 months, effectively meaning that Brown’s failure at the plate going forward could not be blamed on his injury any longer. The spring competition for two corner outfield jobs marked Brown’s final chance, at least in the Phillies organization. If he could not beat John Mayberry Jr., Laynce Nix, and Darin Ruf for one of two outfield vacancies, he could not beat anybody.

Brown, thus far, has been up to the task and is viewed as the early favorite to earn an everyday spot in the outfield. In 33 spring at-bats, Brown is hitting .424 with a team-high three home runs. He has also walked more times than he has struck out (six to five), displaying his trademark eagle eye at the plate. His 13 runs scored leads all spring training participants while his six walks ranks fourth. Perhaps most impressively, his defense has looked cleaner. He is still no Gold Glover out there, but an off-season of work and a clean bill of health appear to have given Brown ample time to improve his biggest weakness.

Delmon Young is expected to take over right field on an everyday basis when he returns from an ankle injury, but Brown could man right field in his absence. He would then shift over to left upon Young’s return. Brown’s other competitors aren’t faring so well this spring. Ruf is hitting .200 and has looked completely lost in the outfield. Mayberry is hitting .250. Nix is hitting .111. The stars seem to be, at long last, in alignment for Brown, the victim of so much adversity early in his Major League career. And there may be no one happier about this development than Amaro.

Hunter Strickland says he doesn’t have an anger problem

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Giants closer Hunter Strickland struggled in the ninth inning Monday against the Marlins, surrendering three runs en route to a 5-4 loss. Strickland took issue with Marlins outfielder Lewis Brinson, who tied the game with a single and celebrated as he rounded first base. When Strickland was yanked from the game, Brinson was on third base, so Strickland had some parting words on his way to the dugout. Then, in the clubhouse, Strickland punched a door in anger, breaking his pitching hand. He’ll miss six to eight weeks as a result.

Strickland posted to his Instagram on Tuesday, taking responsibility for his actions. He wrote, “To my family, my teammates, my coaches, this organization, and our fan base, I am truly sorry that one split second, stupid decision has caused so much harm and now set me back from being out there with my team to pursue our goal.”

Speaking to the media for the first time since breaking his hand, Strickland said (via Bob Nightengale of USA TODAY Sports), “I don’t think I have an anger problem, but sometimes I let my emotions get the best of me.”

Well, if that emotion is anger, and you let it get the best of you, then you have an anger problem. This isn’t an isolated incident.

In the 2014 NLDS against the Nationals, Bryce Harper had Strickland’s number. In Game 1, Harper hit a solo home run ioff of Strickland, putting the Nationals on the board trailing 3-1. Strickland gave up another home run to Harper in Game 4 which tied the game at 2-2. Though the distance made it a no-doubt home run, the ball went down the right field line, so Harper was watching the ball in the air and didn’t immediately run the bases, which irked Strickland. The Giants still went on to win the game and advance to the NLCS, but Strickland carried the grudge with him into the 2017 season. The 2017 season! It just so happened that Strickland never faced Harper at all in the 2015-16 seasons, which makes sense because the two clubs only meet for two series per season and Strickland only pitches one inning per game if he gets into one.

The Nationals and Giants met in San Francisco at the end of May last year. In the first game of the series, Strickland entered with the Giants trailing 2-0 in the eighth inning. He got two quick outs, bringing up Harper for their first meeting since Game 4 of the 2014 NLDS. With his first pitch, Strickland nailed harper on the hip with a 98 MPH fastball. Harper didn’t like it, so he charged the mound and the two threw punches at each other as the benches and bullpens spilled onto the field.

In the 2014 World Series, Strickland had a beef with Royals catcher Salvador Perez. Strickland gave up a double to Perez, then a two-run home run to Omar Infante. As Perez crossed home plate, Strickland started yelling at Perez. He appeared to yell, “Get in the dugout, boy.” The term “boy” carries a racist connotation when used by white people towards men of color. It’s unclear why Strickland was upset with Perez, but Perez said Strickland started jawing at him when he was on second base after hitting his double.

So here’s what we know about Strickland:

  • He gets angry when players look at their home run balls in the air, even if that player is unsure if it will stay fair
  • He gets angry if you get a double off of him in an important game
  • He gets angry when players pump their fists and yell in celebration after getting a big hit in the regular season
  • He gets angry a lot
  • He sometimes gets violent when he’s angry

Short of hitters not showing any emotion at all and not getting hits off of him, it’s not clear what kind of behavior satisfies Strickland and won’t make him angry. So, essentially, anything a batter does could potentially set Strickland off. I’d call that an anger problem. If this weren’t in the context of sports, Strickland’s behavior would be problematic.

Strickland’s behavior doesn’t come off as particularly unique because he’s far from the only player to injure himself punching something in anger. He’s far from the only player to get ticked off when batters get a hit off him and celebrate. This anger is part of baseball culture, part of sports culture at large, and embedded in masculinity — what it means to be a man. We teach men, particularly athletes, to repress a wide range of emotions. As a result, many men resort first to anger — one of the few emotions we allow men to express openly — when dealing with any type of adversity.

If Strickland were a well-adjusted person with high emotional intelligence, he would realize that throwing a baseball close to 100 at someone with the intent to injure them is not a good way to resolve a conflict. Strickland could have gone to the Marlins’ clubhouse after the game and had a level-headed chat with Brinson, saying, “I felt embarrassed and emasculated when you got a hit off of me and celebrated the way you did. Perhaps in the future, you could tone it down.” But we don’t teach men and allow them to discuss and express their emotions in healthy ways, so Strickland lashes out at Harper and Perez and Brinson instead.