Lack of communication, not Fortnite, was culprit of Phillies’ clubhouse fracture

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Jeff Passan’s story about the Phillies’ clubhouse woes late last season has been the talk of the town today. The synopsis, in case you missed it: as the Phillies’ season was slipping away, some players were allegedly playing the video game Fortnite during games. Former Phillies first baseman Carlos Santana got upset about that, so he smashed the clubhouse TV with a bat.

As Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia reports, Phillies starter Jake Arrieta takes issue with Santana’s version of events. Arrieta said, “There is some untruth to the story, some things that were not portrayed correctly. I don’t believe that guys were playing video games during the game. That’s something that I would not allow and a majority of the guys on the team would not allow.”

Arrieta added, “There was a lot of video-game playing and I was a part of it, too, but well in advance of the game — and that was something that we bonded over. It brought us close together and it was something we had in common. It was fun. But as far as during the game, and I’ve talked to a bunch of our guys, I do not believe that was taking place.”

Arrieta also said Santana smashed the TV late at night, when the clubhouse was mostly empty. In other words, Santana was doing it more as a way to express frustration while avoiding the immediate blowback his actions would incur. According to Arrieta, Santana never communicated his displeasure beforehand.

A lack of communication, not video gaming, is the issue. MLB clubhouses have long been a collective petri dish of masculine id. Players are taught that one emotion – anger – is acceptable; all others are unprofessional. Hence why bat-flipping has, until very, very recently, been a baseball culture no-no, but throwing 99 MPH baseballs at other players’ heads to exact revenge is seen as appropriate behavior. Generally speaking, players aren’t taught conflict de-escalation skills, nor are they taught how to resolve their differences verbally. Santana, who turns 33 years old next month, likely didn’t have the tools to express himself because players – and men at large – are socialized to stamp down their emotions and convert it into anger. Anger is the language every man in the clubhouse speaks.

Predictably, the Fortnite-playing players were seen as at fault. But neither Passan nor Salisbury’s report are clear about the actual impact of the video game-playing. No players were specifically named, and as mentioned, Arrieta disputes that video games were being played in the clubhouse during baseball games. Even if video games were being played during baseball games, though, were they being played by, say, relief pitchers in the first inning? A third-string bench guy? It’s a lot different if it was Mitch Walding and Jake Thompson playing Fortnite, hypothetically, since they’re almost certainly not going to get into the game until the late innings. And if they do have to get into a game earlier than usual, they will have had advance warning (e.g. in a blowout).

Aside from that, video gaming outside of baseball game hours is a completely overblown issue, and Arrieta hints at that. Per Salisbury, Arrieta said, “Everybody’s wired differently, everybody locks in for a game differently. For one guy to think that video games are a disturbance to the team, is another guy’s version of getting prepared for the game. You don’t have to be sitting in front of the video screen watching videotape up until the first pitch to get ready for the game. Everyone is different in that regard.”

As someone who was briefly an education major in college, one of the most valuable things I took from my classes was that every student has a different learning style. These styles are broadly put into three buckets: visual, auditory, and kinesthetic. Some add a fourth bucket, tactile. Personally, I’m a visual learner in that I need to see an example of something first before I understand the concept well. Reading about calculus won’t benefit me at all until the professor does a practice problem on the white board. I never studied for tests by reading the textbook because it never did me any good. Doing and re-doing the same example the professor did for the class helped me much more. Similarly, Phillies players who are less visual or auditory learners may not get as much from pre-game preparation as the players who are visual or auditory learners. Watching tape and going over charts won’t help too much. On the other hand, calming pre-game anxiety with a round or two of Fortnite? That could prove to be very beneficial. As Arrieta alludes to, it could have been a net positive as something for players to bond over as well.

Whatever the case, let’s not forget that professional baseball players are still human beings. They get nerves before games. They get exhausted or bored in the dregs of a long season. It is a totally human thing to want to decompress by playing some video games. They are not robots who need to eat, sleep, and breathe baseball 24 hours a day, seven days a week in order to be successful.

Ultimately, though, video games are being used as a scapegoat for the Phillies’ late-season woes. The same was done with the 2011 Red Sox, who went into a tailspin of their own late in the season. It was later reported that some players were drinking beer, eating fried chicken, and playing video games in the clubhouse. Had the Phillies not spun their tires and instead made the playoffs last year, this would have been a non-story. But we got these juicy details and linked the two things together retroactively as we always do. Manager Gabe Kapler seems to realize that tendency, saying, “When you’re winning, the chemistry is great and everybody is bonding. But when you’re frustrated and losing the way that we did at the end of the year, you start to search for answers.”

Rich Hill keeps Cardinals off balance into 7th, Pirates complete three-game sweep with 2-1 victory


PITTSBURGH – When he’s on, Rich Hill‘s pitches still dance. They still dart. They go this way. Then that way. They can baffle hitters with their movement, particularly the ones that don’t come close to breaking the speed limit on most interstates.

In a game that seems to get faster each year, Hill is a throwback. A survivor. At 43 and 19 years into a career he figured would have been over long ago, the well-traveled left-hander knows he’s essentially playing on borrowed time.

Hill is in Pittsburgh to show a young staff how to be a pro while occasionally showing the kids he can still bring it. That example was on display in a 2-1 victory over St. Louis on Sunday that gave Pittsburgh a three-game sweep of its longtime NL Central nemesis.

Knowing the bullpen needed a bit of a break, Hill (5-5) kept the Cardinals off balance for 6 2/3 innings, expertly weaving in and out of trouble with a series of curveballs that hover around 70 mph offset by a fastball that can touch 90 mph but plays up because everything else comes in so much softer.

Hill walked three and struck out six while giving up just one run, a seventh-inning homer by Andrew Knizner that drew the Cardinals within one. He allowed the leadoff hitter to reach in the first four innings and stranded them all as the Pirates pushed their winning streak to five.

“He threw the pitches he wanted to throw,” Pirates manager Derek Shelton said. “They didn’t swing at them. The fact that he’s able to just bounce back and continue to execute shows how savvy he is as a veteran.”

Ji Hwan Bae‘s two-run single off Miles Mikolas (4-2) in the first provided all the offense Hill would need as Pittsburgh swept St. Louis for the first time in five years. Ke'Bryan Hayes singled three times and is hitting .562 (9 for 16) over his last four games after a 3-for-32 funk dropped him to seventh in the batting order.

David Bednar worked the ninth for his 13th save and third in as many days, striking out Knizner with a 98 mph fastball that provided an exclamation point to three days of tight, meaningful baseball, the kind the Pirates haven’t played much of for the better part of a decade.

“We know we have a very good team,” Hill said. “We’ve had meetings in here and we talk about it and reinforce it and just continue to go out there and give that effort every single night and understand that (if) we continue to put in the work, it’ll start to show every night on the field.”

Tommy Edman had two hits for the Cardinals, and designated hitter Luken Baker picked up the first two hits of his career after being called up from Triple-A Memphis early Sunday.

The middle of the St. Louis lineup – Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Gorman and Nolan Arenado – went a combined 0 for 11 as St. Louis lost for the fifth time in six games. The Cardinals left 27 men on base at PNC Park over the weekend to fall back into last place in one of the weakest divisions in the majors.

It’s a division the Pirates – coming off back-to-back 100-loss seasons – are managing to hang around the top of for a solid two months. The bullpen has evolved into a strength, with Bednar at the back end and a series of flashy hard throwers like Dauri Moreta in the middle.

Moreta came on for Hill with two outs in the seventh and struck out Goldschmidt with the tying run at first while Hill was in the dugout accepting high-fives, already thinking about his next start, likely on Saturday against the New York Mets. It’s a mindset that has kept Hill around for far longer than he ever imagined.

“Every time he picks up a baseball, I know he feels blessed to be able to continue to throw baseballs for a living,” Pirates catcher Austin Hedges said. “I think that’s one of the best things he can teach our young guys.”


Cardinals: Continue a six-game road trip in Texas against the Rangers on Monday. Adam Wainwright (2-1, 6.15 ERA) faces Martín Pérez (6-1, 4.43 ERA) in the opener.

Pirates: A season-long nine-game homestand continues on Monday when lowly Oakland visits. Johan Oviedo (3-4, 4.50 ERA) gets the start against JP Sears (0-3, 4.37 ERA).