“Respect the Game?” Phooey.

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I went on SportsDash on the NBC Sports Network this afternoon and talked about how, as long as players aren’t being truly rude and in the face of the opposition, there is nothing wrong with celebration. Bat flipping. Exuberance. Some occasional strutting. The sort of stuff I’ve been going on about for a  couple of days here. As soon as I came back upstairs from the little studio in the basement of my fortified compound, however, I got these two messages:

Setting aside the ridiculousness of a couple of La-Z-Boy warriors telling me that I can’t opine on the game if I didn’t play it at a high level, I am just so taken with that last bit. The bit about how Carlos Gomez must “respect the game.”

Like so many sports topic and phrases that seem to exist only in the world of talk radio and “Around The Horn” — whether someone is an “elite quarterback” or whether a basketball player is “coachable” spring to mind — the phrase “respect the game” is as ridiculous as it is meaningless. It’s a cliche that allows its user to pour in any amount of subjective criteria, smatter it with a healthy helping of bullcrap armchair psychology and turn a matter of opinion or aesthetics into some quasi-objective assessment. I sorta messed with the hashtag #RespectTheGame on Twitter earlier today, but if you scroll down past my shenanigans, you’ll see a lot of self-serious (and almost exclusively young, white male) baseball fans speaking about how important it is to respect the game. Repeating that phrase more like a religious incantation than an actual idea.

Of course, when asked to explain those concepts, it’s hard for their proponents to avoid tautology. Johnny Utah is an elite quarterback because he has won Super Bowls and that’s an elite accomplishment. Joe Shlabotnik respects the game because of the way he goes about his business. How does he go about his business? Well, respectfully. Tyrone Shoelaces is a coachable NBA player because he has not yet physically assaulted his coach. Utah, Shlabotnik and Shoelaces are all one failure or gaffe away from losing their elite, respectful and coachable status, of course. Suggesting that these concepts are conveniently malleable.

I actually played football at a higher level than I ever played baseball, so I suppose by some people’s logic I can talk more intelligently about football, but we know that’s not true. I can talk about baseball, though, and I’ll observe that, in baseball, there are a lot of players who have disrespected the game before Carlos Gomez came along. At least in what I presume to be the judgment of guys like my Twitter correspondents up there. Even some guys who, when it’s convenient for the speaker, are held up as examples of Game Respecters Par Excellence. Guys like this:

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Pete Rose. There’s a guy who would never toss his bat and strut out of the box. He totally respected the game. Or how about the Lords of Baseball during its Golden Age?

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More recent Hall of Famers?

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Baseball legends?

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Greater baseball legends?

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Even greater baseball legends?

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The greatest baseball legend of them all?

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The fact of the matter is that baseball is a 150+ year-old game with a grand history of showoffs, jackoffs, clowns, rakes, rogues and irregular characters. I adore a straight-shooting player like Al Kaline, but I thank God for Mark “the Bird” Fidrych. I have nothing but respect for the eternally polite and accommodating Harmon Killebrew, but Rickey Henderson made baseball exciting for my entire childhood and beyond. For every upstanding player that the Respect the Game crowd can point to, I can point to another one of those clowns, rogues and rakes. And I can point to people who find that stuff a lot of fun. Or, even if it’s not intended to be fun, somewhat interesting.

Baseball is in no more need of being respected by any one player than the sun is in need of being respected by cosmic dust. Baseball is way bigger than any of these guys and can survive — or even benefit from — these guys who are alleged to be so lacking in respect. Guys who don’t take everything so damn seriously all the time. Guys that sometimes lose their cool. Guys who use baseball as a vehicle for humor or for ego or for showmanship. Guys who do these things to get butts in the seats or their faces on magazines. Baseball has always survived them. At times, it has even embraced them. The game has never been weakened by them. Indeed, it is often made stronger.

So color me unimpressed with the latest calls for Carlos Gomez or Yasiel Puig or whoever the talk show warriors’ next punching bag happens to be to respect the game. The game has been disrespected by way better and way more disrespectful than the likes of those guys and will be disrespected by many more in the future.

And I’ll enjoy every minute of it.

Nick Markakis: ‘I play a kids’ game and get paid a lot of money. How can I be disappointed with that?’

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Earlier today, the Braves inked veteran outfielder Nick Markakis to a one-year deal worth $4 million with a club option for the 2020 season worth $6 million with a $2 million buyout. Though Markakis is 35 years old, he’s coming off of a terrific season in which he played in all 162 games and hit .297/.366/.440 with 14 home runs and 93 RBI in 705 trips to the plate. Markakis had just completed a four-year, $44 million contract, so he took a substantial pay cut.

Per David O’Brien of The Athletic, Markakis asked his kids where they wanted him to play and they said Atlanta. O’Brien also asked Markakis about the pay cut. The outfielder said, “I’m not mad at all. I play a kids’ game and get paid a lot of money. How can I be disappointed with that?”

This seemingly innocuous comment by Markakis is actually damaging for his peers and for the union. Baseball as a game is indeed a “kids’ game,” but Major League Baseball is a billion-dollar business that has been setting revenue records year over year. The players have seen a smaller and smaller percentage of the money MLB makes since the beginning of the 2000’s. Furthermore, Markakis only gets paid “a lot of money” relative to, say, a first-year teacher or a clerk at a convenience store. Relative to the value of Liberty Media, which owns the Braves, and relative to the value of Major League Baseball itself, Markakis’s salary is a drop in the ocean.

That Markakis is happy to take a pay cut is totally fine, but it’s harmful for him to publicly justify that because it creates the expectation that his peers should feel the same way and creates leverage for ownership. His comments mirror those who sympathize first and foremost with billionaire team owners. They are common arguments used to justify paying players less, giving them a smaller and smaller cut of the pie. Because Markakis not only took a pay cut but defended it, front office members of the Braves as well as the 29 other teams can point to him and guilt or shame other players for asking for more money.

“Look at Nick, he’s a team player,” I envision a GM saying to younger Braves player who is seeking a contract extension, or a free agent looking to finally find a home before spring training. “Nick’s stats are as good as yours, so why should you make more money than him?”

Contrast Markakis’s approach with Yasmani Grandal‘s. Grandal reportedly turned down a four-year, $60 million contract offer from the Mets early in the offseason and settled for a one-year, $18.25 million contract with the Brewers. Per Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, Grandal said on MLB Network, “I felt like part of my responsibility as a player was to respect the guys that went through this process before I did. Guys like Brian McCann, Russell Martin, Yadier Molina, These are guys who established markets and pay levels for upper-tier catchers like me. I felt like I was doing a disservice if I were to take some of the deals that were being thrown around. I wanted to keep the line moving especially for some of the younger guys that are coming up … to let them know, if you’re worthy, then you should get paid what you’re worth. That’s where I was coming from.”

Grandal’s comments are exactly what a member of a union should be saying, unapologetically. The MLBPA needs to get all of its members on the same page when it comes to discussing contracts or labor situations in general publicly. What Markakis said seems selfless and innocent — and I have no doubt he is being genuine without malice — but it could reduce the bargaining power players have across the table from ownership, which means less money. They are already being bamboozled, at least until the next collective bargaining agreement. They don’t need to be bamboozled any more.