Madison Bumgarner shows up the opposition

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There was a little incident in last night’s Giants-Padres game. Nothing major. Benches cleared, but no one fought or even seemed like they were prepared to. It was what baseball “fights” look like these days, the Bautista-Odor fracas on Sunday notwithstanding. Some jawing and obligatory milling about, but not much else.

What set it off was interesting, however. In the third inning, Madison Bumgarner struck out Padres first baseman Wil Myers. As Myers walked back to the dugout, Bumgarner  barked at him and stared him down. Myers, surprised at this, said “C’mon, man, don’t stare me down.” Bumgarner barked more and walked toward Myers, which led to the benches clearing.

There’s no history between these two that anyone knows of. There was no chippiness in the game. Myers certainly didn’t do something aimed at provoking Bumgarner. Bumgarner just decided to be all sour-faced about it. He wasn’t amped up at striking a guy out or anything. Indeed, After the game he admitted that he was putting on a bit of a show, saying “I just wanted to be mad for a minute.” Mad MadBum, I guess.

Of course, he wasn’t just being mad. Through his actions he was doing that thing that self-proclaimed old school baseball men and unwritten rules enforcers always complain about: he was showing up the opposition. In this case, Myers. Adding a little football spike onto the end of his strikeout. This was not some spontaneous show of emotion. As he admitted, he was consciously putting on some attitude in a way to put another player in his place.

Not that I’m criticizing him for that. Bumgarner pitched a fine game. One that had to make him feel better given the relatively rocky start he had to the season and the health issues he’s fought since the spring. If he needs to do things to pump himself up, hey, more power to him. Whatever works. He’s got three World Series rings and is a grown man. He can do whatever he wants to on the field. I’ve defended all manner of non-violent behavior from players on the field as a function of them being human beings who should be allowed to do what they want and to be who they want to be. I’ll likewise defend Madison Bumgarner’s right to be whoever he wants to be.

But let us remember this the next time someone gets on the case of a player who flips a bat, pumps his fist or otherwise shows some exuberance on the field, be it spontaneous or contrived. Let us cut the next guy some slack on such behavior. Because I don’t think anyone is going to write a column lecturing Madison Bumgarner about his little staredown today. And I hope we don’t want this to be a sport where it’s considered professional and acceptable to be artificially miserable but somehow awful and unprofessional to be genuinely happy.