The When in Rome theory of fandom and baseball gear

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I just got the email confirmation. Couldn’t be happier:

source:

That’s right. I bought a Yasiel Puig shirsey for me, one for my son and a Clayton Kershaw for my daughter. Even though I’m not a Dodgers fan.

Why? Partially because I want my son to learn the values, character and deportment of Yasiel Puig. This is a boring-ass country sometimes and it needs a little shaking up. The boy is gonna flip his pencil and strut when he finishes his SATs in eight years if I have anything to say about it. My daughter wanted Kershaw because (a) she didn’t want to be like her brother and me; and (b) I think she thinks Kershaw is cute, but I don’t want to ask her about it because that’d embarrass both of us.

But mostly it’s because the three of us are attending the Dodgers-Reds game on June 12 in Cincinnati and I am teaching my children one of the most rewarding things I’ve learned about baseball fandom over the past couple of years: when in Rome, do what the Romans do. When you go to a ballpark, commit. Either wear the home team’s colors or the visiting team’s colors, but don’t be neutral and don’t be that guy who wears a third team’s gear.

Why do this? It’s more fun that way.

If you’re wearing the home team’s stuff, even if it’s not your team — which is always the case for me given where I live — there’s a great sense of community to be had if you let yourself enjoy it. Random high-fives. Knowing comments from fan to fan. Or, quite often, totally ignorant comments from fan to fan but which are fun anyway because they assume you agree with them and people want to commiserate. You wear the home team’s gear for the same reason you don’t wear your fanny pack and go to McDonald’s when you travel in Europe. Try to go native. You may learn something. Or at least experience something.

As for wearing visiting team gear, well, sometimes you just can’t wear the home team’s stuff. I mean, I’m all for experiencing things, but if I find myself in Philly for some reason I’m not wearing Phillies gear for any reason. We all have to have standards. Circumstances may dictate it too. I went to a Padres-Dodgers game in Petco last year and the group I was with — and about 75% of the rest of the crowd —  was wearing Dodgers stuff, so why not? My son wants to wear Dodgers stuff in June for reasons explained below, so why not? Certainly if I see the Braves on the road anywhere I’m wearing my Braves gear. Again, the point is to commit to something, even if it’s for only three hours.

Now, obviously, there are some issues with this. For one thing, it can be expensive to buy a cap or a shirt for a one-off game. I’ll admit, I’m lucky in this regard in that, because I work from home, I don’t have to buy a business wardrobe. Most days I’m wearing baseball t-shirts around the house, so I’m getting way more use out of ’em than you might.

For another thing, wearing various teams’ colors on a day-to-day basis is easy for me in that I’m nowhere near my favorite team, geographically speaking so I don’t have to deal with people giving me garbage for having a Pirates or a Tigers shirt on once in a while. Indeed, Columbus is a pretty non-committal town, baseball wise, with a fair amount of transplants. If anything I get people happy to see someone else wearing random team gear from time to time. If you’re a Yankees fan wearing Rockies stuff in New Jersey, though? Yeah, you’ll probably get a lot of hassle. But, if you can afford such things for one-off or two-off wearings and if you don’t mind the occasional insult, it can be a lot of fun.

A couple of final thoughts about the When in Rome theory: I’ll make allowances for minor league or fictitious team gear in a big league park. If you have a Carolina Mudcats cap you bought or if you just can’t leave you house without that Hackensack Bulls jersey you bought at “Brewster’s Millions-Fest 1992,” well, go for it. Also, if you just can’t afford or bring yourself to buy gear, cool. At least try to commit in terms of cheering because you’ll get good mileage and karma out of that too. Just don’t be That Guy who wears Yankees stuff to a Red Sox-Orioles game in Baltimore. It’s a sign of pathetic insecurity.

Back to my kids and their Dodgers gear and my application of the When in Rome theory to them. This is not about teaching them to not to pick a favorite team. That’s happening slowly and organically and I am not going to force anything on them, be it my Braves fandom or even liking baseball a whole bunch if they’re not into it. But they are in to it for now, and it’s been cool to watch them figure out which team to like and why. For various reasons my son has gravitated to the Dodgers, which is why we’re going to this game in the first place, but it’s certainly nothing solid. My daughter is non-committal — she has a Braves shirt, is partial to the Padres because she saw her first big league game at Petco and likes to watch Tigers games because my girlfriend does — but I figure she’ll eventually have preferences. Just as I’m lucky to be able to afford gear from various teams, I’m lucky to have the Extra Innings package so we can watch any team we want.

But until their choices in this regard solidify, I’m happy to introduce them to everything. To let them cheer the Dodgers in Cincinnati or the Tigers in Detroit. To let them be a homer or a confrontational visiting team fan. I just want them to have fun and get involved and to enjoy themselves. Because that’s what it’s all about.

Even if Bob Ryan tells me I don’t know how to do that.

Something needs to change to avoid future incidents like Machado-vs.-Welke

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On Monday, Major League Baseball announced that Padres third baseman Manny Machado was suspended one game and fined an undisclosed amount for “aggressively arguing” and making contact with home plate umpire Bill Welke after a controversial strike three call in the fifth inning of Saturday’s game against the Rockies in Colorado. The clip of the incident is below, showing that Welke’s call was poor. Machado’s behavior was also poor, as he indeed made contact — inadvertently or not — with Welke and repeatedly swore at him. Machado also threw his bat, though it was not in anyone’s direction and no one was put in harm’s way.

Machado chose to appeal his suspension, as is his right. While that matter is in the process of being resolved, the Major League Umpires Association put out a lengthy statement on Facebook and a shorter but hashtag-laden post on Twitter. The statements were problematic for a number of reasons, chiefest being that the union is publicly commenting on an ongoing matter. MLB can keep Machado’s suspension at one game, which seems likely, or it can reduce his suspension to zero games. The league can also choose to reduce or remove the fine as well. Once the matter is resolved, the MLBUA should feel free to comment publicly on the matter.

MLBUA’s statement was also poorly proofread, hyperbolic, and creates a very legitimate argument for bias against Machado and/or the Padres going forward. The MLBUA described Machado as “violently” throwing his bat “with no regard to anyone’s safety.” It continued, “It is NOT okay to throw a temper tantrum and physically touch someone of authority, just because you don’t agree.”

MLBUA then moralized, asking, “What does this teach the MLB’s immense and ongoing influential youth movement trying to attract young fans to the game? Major League Baseball has to always lead by example in all cases of violent behavior, on and off the field.” It closed out, saying that the union was “extraordinarily disappointed” in MLB’s “inaction.”

Among the hashtags MLBUA used on Twitter were “#TemperTantrum,” “#RepeatOffender,” and “#Nonsense.”

Major League Baseball then released a statement on Tuesday night, saying, “…we do not believe it is appropriate for the union representing Major League Umpires to comment on the discipline of players represented by the Players Association.” The league added, “We also believe it is inappropriate to compare this incident to the extraordinarily serious issue of workplace violence.”

Whoever put out the message on behalf of the MLBUA should have asked themselves, “What is my purpose here and for whom am I posting this?” The entire purpose of a trade union is to create a cohesive unit, establishing bargaining power on behalf of labor versus capital. So, MLBUA is not writing this for fans, for players, or for MLB executives; it is publicly commenting for umpires. An ancillary benefit might be to engender public support for umpires vis-a-vis Welke.

It must then ask itself if the statement creates solidarity among umpires. And I think that’s a solid no. Machado is not the first player and will not be the last to make contact with an umpire and to throw a “temper tantrum” of that magnitude. So why single Machado out and die on this hill today? I would be shocked if more than a handful of umpires outside of Welke and his closest confidantes appreciated the MLBUA reacting the way it did. It doesn’t help them achieve any union-specific goals and might actually hurt them. Repeatedly referring to Machado’s actions as a “temper tantrum” and “nonsense,” and calling him a “repeat offender” is unprofessional. It’s something an Internet commenter would write in the heat of the moment, not the representative of a trade union in one of the most profitable industries in the country. Furthermore, in singling out Machado, Machado himself as well as his teammates have a legitimate reason to believe Welke and his crew might be biased against them not just for the remainder of the season but for the foreseeable future.

On a more pedantic note, the MLBUA wrote that it is not okay for players to act the way Machado did against “someone of authority.” It’s not the power that should shield umpires from workplace violence; it’s their humanity. Machado should no more or less scream and yell at an umpire than he should anyone else in any walk of life. However you rank umpires, coaches, front office executives, teammates, opponents, fans, etc. — they should all be treated equally.

All of this being said, there was one part of MLBUA’s statement that rang true. As mentioned, Welke did suffer violence in the workplace. I disagree with MLB that the comparison was inappropriate. There is nuance to what constitutes “workplace violence.” Is it a mass shooting? Of course not. But in no other employment setting would it be appropriate for one person to scream, curse, and throw items across the room during a disagreement. The union correctly wrote, “Physical contact simply cannot be tolerated.” The crux of all of this is that Major League Baseball doesn’t discourage altercations between umpires and players/coaches. Things have gotten better since the implementation of instant replay, but some instances — especially ball/strike judgment — can turn into very heated altercations.

MLB needs a flat rule instructing players and coaches not to argue with umpires. The team of the offending person(s) would incur an in-game penalty as well as a potential fine and suspension. In exchange for this loss of power on the part of players and coaches, the umpires should be subject to actual oversight. As it stands, umpires are almost never punished in any way for any kind of behavior towards players and coaches, nor are they often punished for poor results in terms of correct calls made. The umpires already have the advantage with their authority; their lack of oversight puts that advantage on steroids, which is why there’s often so much frustration. Umpires instigate confrontations a non-negligible amount of the time. If they felt like they would actually be held accountable for it, they might be much more reluctant to act, for example, the way Ron Kulpa did towards the Astros in early April.

MLBUA helped gain that power imbalance for its members, so it isn’t likely to give it up very easily. I don’t see my utopian dream coming to fruition anytime soon. But that’s the crux of every umpire-involved confrontation: authority. Umpires and players/coaches need to be on a level playing field in that regard, and the rules need to be crystal clear on what kind of behavior is allowed from both sides. Until that happens, we’ll be seeing a Machado-vs.-Welke incident once or twice every year ad infinitum.