No, the Bautista-Odor fight wasn’t “great for baseball”

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I’ve seen a lot of sentiment since yesterday afternoon that the Jose BautistaRougned Odor fight was supposed to have great meaning of some kind. More to the point, that it was actually good for baseball. I don’t think it was bad for baseball — it was just a thing that happened, just like fights have happened in baseball for 150 years — but to say it was “great for baseball” seems odd to me.

C.J. Nitkowski of Fox thinks it was great for baseball because it “created buzz” and jacked up the TV ratings. If you saw some of his tweets yesterday, you learned that it was also great because it, somehow, put “nerds” in their place. I don’t fully understand what Nitkowski was getting at with that, but it had something to do with the slide rules and people wanting baseball players not to get injured which, I guess, he considers to be a bad thing. You’ll have to ask him about that.

Joel Sherman of the New York Post thinks it was great for baseball for another reason: there’s too much friendliness in the game, in his view, and it’s better when opponents hate each other. As New York writers always do, Sherman makes something that has nothing to do with New York about New York and uses it to explain how upset he is that Yankees players are friendly with David Ortiz now instead of hating him like the Epic Yankees-Red Sox rivalry allegedly demands. Never mind that the grand old days of the rivalry he describes are, like, 12 years old and no one is left on those teams from that time except for Ortiz and Alex Rodriguez. Never mind that the rivalry past 2004 or so, the last time the Yankees and Red Sox met in the playoffs, is primarily a creation of fans and the media and that the players don’t care at all anymore and likely didn’t care as much as people like to think they did.

These takes have one thing in common: for them to make coherent sense, players have to play roles to satisfy an audience rather than be actual human beings with feelings. Bautista and Odor are buzz-creators or rivalry-stokers here as opposed to humans who got caught up in an emotional thing and let their aggression take over for a few minutes due to some provocations that made sense to them in the heat of the moment. No, they were serving the audience in some way and, not only that, they had to! For the good of the game!

This is all artificial nonsense. Baseball players are people. Their job is to serve the audience when they play baseball. While there were aspects of what happened yesterday that were in and of themselves entertaining (mostly because no one got hurt) it’s not their job to serve fans and the press with that stuff and the fact that they did didn’t Mean Anything Big And Important. It was just a thing that happened. Players likewise can be and should be friends with one another if they choose to be without it harshing the buzz of some columnist who misses what he got to write about over a decade ago. Not saying Odor and Bautista ever will be, but if they do a commercial goofing on their fight this fall, we will not have lost anything by their antipathy being diminished.

I don’t know. I read stuff like what Sherman and Nitkowski wrote and I wonder whether the people who think like that view players as people with agency or mere characters in a drama. I wonder, if Bautista and Odor issue statements apologizing to one another today or make that commercial one day, if guys like Sherman and Nitkowski will be sad. More than anything else when I see stuff like this I think about all of the weird and unfair gladiatorial expectations we place on athletes and remember exactly where it comes from.

More position players have pitched this year than ever

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Yesterday, in Milwaukee, utilityman Hernan Perez pitched two scoreless innings, and backup catcher Erik Kratz pitched one himself, mopping up in a blowout loss to the Dodgers. In doing so they became the 31st and 32nd position players to pitch this season. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that is the most position players who have taken the mound in a season in the Expansion Era, which began in 1961. Presumably far fewer ever did so when the league had only 16 teams.

It’s pretty remarkable to set that record now, in this age of 13 and sometimes 14-man pitching staffs. That’s especially true when teams shuttle guys back and forth from the minors more often than they ever have before and when, due to the shortened, 10-day disabled list, it’s easier to give guys breaks because of “injuries” than it ever has been.

Pitcher usage is driving this, however. While teams carry far more relievers than they ever have before, they actually carry far fewer swingmen or mopup men who are capable of throwing multiple innings in a blowout to save other pitchers’ arms. Rather, teams focus on max-effort, high-velocity relievers who go one or two innings tops, thus requiring catchers and utility guys to help do the mopping that actual pitchers used to do.

I don’t know if that’s a bad thing necessarily — some of these backup catchers throw harder than a lot of pitchers did 30 years ago and it’s always kind of fun to see a position player pitch — but it is yet another way the game has changed due to a focus on specialization and velocity when it comes to pitchers.