Remember that time David Ortiz destroyed the bullpen phone in the dugout at Camden Yards? It was an understated dangerous moment for everyone else in the Red Sox dugout. An angry 6’3, 230-pound man was furiously repeatedly swinging a bat within feet of his teammates against the phone, causing the bat to break into shards.
What if there were a designated space for players to let out their anger? Let’s say, a safe space? Some ballparks are doing just that, as James Wagner of the New York Times reports.
Miller Park has installed an Everlast heavy bag in the bathroom of the visitor’s dugout. Mets second baseman Neil Walker said, “I’ve beaten that bag up a few times,” referring to some frustrating moments against the Brewers as a member of the Pirates.
Turner Field, too, has a punching bag, installed in the visitor’s dugout tunnel. Wagner spoke to clubhouse manager John Holland, who said, “We’re trying to minimize the damage.”
Wagner notes that players have other methods of dealing with frustration. Braves outfielder Jeff Francoeur prefers to throw his bat at a wall. Cubs starter John Lackey not only yells at himself, but has taken his anger out on tables and chairs for which he’s had to pay clubhouse assistants.
Other players, like Yoenis Cespedes, are more zen. “I go sit down and think about what I did wrong so that the next time I can do better,” Cespedes said.
Athletes taking their anger out in violent, unhealthy ways is nothing new, so it’s great that some steps are being taken to reactively deal with it. However, my other response to Wagner’s article is: why are men so angry? It’s not just athletes. Men overwhelmingly commit the majority of violent crimes. That may be, in part, because we teach boys not to show weakness, and to respond to perceived slights by violence. Why do you think it’s embedded in baseball’s unwritten rules that if a batter shows up a pitcher, that pitcher should retaliate by throwing a 95 MPH fastball at the offender’s ribs?
What if, instead, we taught boys that it’s okay to feel sad or embarrassed or angry, and that it’s okay to talk about it? To that point, we have also socially demonized seeking help for mental health. What if we taught them that violence, no matter what — whether it’s directed at a person or an inanimate object — is an unhealthy response?
Maybe ballparks wouldn’t need to install punching bags in bathrooms to that angry players don’t put their teammates’ safety at risk, the way Ortiz did.