Monday, May 23, 2016

One Ranger, One Riot

By Jeff Kallman

It's been a little over a week since the punch seen around the world. Much was written, much was said, about half of it wise and half of it foolish. Perhaps a sober review is in order.

First, though, a sober scolding: baseball people are only human, and humans love to profit from anything they can think of within reason. It wasn't within reason for anyone, Rougned Odor or otherwise, to even think about selling a field disgrace for profit. You'd like to think Odor came to what remained of his senses when he cancelled an autograph session at which he would sign for profit photos of his right cross to Jose Bautista's left cheek.

That's what you'd like to think. Unfortunately, the session was cancelled not because Odor felt a pang of conscience but because the manager of the Texas memorabilia store where he would have done the signings felt the pang of "bad timing." As in, bad timing for conducting such a session while Odor was still appealing his eight-game suspension over the Bautista punch-out. Make note of that, ladies and gentlemen. Bad timing. Not the bad taste in which the session surely was conceived.

Texas is the state in which taxpayers willingly let localities hold them up for millions to build a high school football stadium. And, in which some school athletic coaches have been known to seek professional protection if their teams endure losing seasons. Lately it's known as a state in which enough of its citizens were prepared to hand Odor the keys to the state, free feed for life, and maybe even the title deed to its oldest lands. So it seemed. What does it say of Texas's finest citizens that even they were prepared to canonize a thug?

A week ago Sunday, concluding a weekend at home and the season's series against the Toronto Blue Jays, the Texas Rangers managed to stand on its head the one-time motto of their namesake law enforcement agency. That was then: The law-enforcement Rangers lived by the motto, "One riot, one Ranger." The motto was fashioned by a Ranger captain, William McDonald, when he was sent to Dallas in 1896 to stop (wait for it) a prize fight. This is now: The baseball Rangers lived Sunday, May 15, by the apparent motto, instigated by Odor, "One Ranger, one riot."

All on behalf of avenging ... a bat flip in last fall's postseason.

Bautista last October squared up Rangers reliever Sam Dyson for a nuclear 3-run homer that helped send the Jays to the American League Championship Series. In front of a Toronto audience who hadn't seen live postseason baseball since the first Clinton Administration. The Rogers Centre crowd went only slightly less nuclear than the ball Bautista drove toward the Aleutian Islands.

In a moment like that, folks, you might expect even businesslike Hank Aaron or tortured Roger Maris to flip his bat and join the crowd in whooping it up. (Reality check, gang: What's passing Babe Ruth compared to hitting one out that means a showdown for the pennant?) But never mind for now.

You don't throw at a man who flipped his bat in the ecstasy of the moment seven months earlier. Not even if, in his previous plate appearance in the game, he drilled a bases-loaded double to the gap in left center to put you in the hole, 5-2. And if you're fool enough to do so, you don't assign the dirty work to a rook who wasn't even in your organization when the naughty bat was flipped in the first place. (In fairness: It's always possible that Matt Bush, to whom the Rangers have given the unlikeliest of second chances, was trying to ingratiate himself to his new teammates.)

If you're fool enough to do so, you don't wait until his likely last plate appearance against you all season long, not counting whether you might or might not meet him in the postseason again. At least, if you didn't think about it a week and a half earlier when you visited him and his, while him and his were taking two out of three from you otherwise, you should have thought about it early enough in the series now concluded. Like in the first game, for instance. Especially when you had the ideal candidate available to do the job: Bautista faced Dyson in the opening game in the Toronto set a week and a half earlier. And Dyson never made a move against him.

If you're fool enough to do so, moreover, you don't get to cry foul when, on the subsequent grounder, the bat flipper seized the opportunity to deliver a message by driving a hard slide right into your middle infielder, a hard but not exactly dangerous slide, no legs or arms flailing, the runner never leaving the baseline but sliding right over the pad instead of around or away from it.

What did Odor expect to receive at second base after Bautista got drilled by Bush so late, if Bautista was given the chance, a singing telegram? Bautista's only mistake was starting his slide a little on the late side. Otherwise, he wasn't looking to kill or maim. "I could have injured him but I chose not to," Bautista said after the game. "I tried to send a message that I didn't appreciate getting hit."

What was that with trying to decapitate Bautista with the relay throw? Infielders are taught to drop the arm on relay throws if a runner is sliding or if they want to compel the runner to slide, but it looked like Odor was at least as interested in separating Bautista from his head on the throw. Having failed that, and apparently ignorant of how in the wrong Bautista wasn't, Odor watched Bautista spring up preparing to defend himself, knowing Odor looked as though he had further mayhem on his mind. And then it came. First Odor shoved Bautista. Then, when Bautista extended an arm in a very obviously defensive position, Odor swung and landed that right cross.

Both sides poured out of their dugouts and bullpens. Bautista and Odor got the ho-heave post haste. So did Josh Donaldson, who had loaded the bases for Bautista two innings earlier when he pried a walk out of Tom Wilhelmsen. So did Rangers bench coach Steve Buechele. When a semblance of order was restored — and with both teams having received warnings about further brushbacks, plate ump Dan Iassogna giving them the moment Bush drilled Bautista, though he didn't eject Bush — Toronto reliever Jesse Chavez hit Prince Fielder with a pitch and was tossed fast.

Nobody threw any punches when the teams poured out of the dugouts and pens for a second time. But Jays manager John Gibbons — who'd been tossed in the third for arguing a ball call on a pitch that replays showed was clearly enough a corner strike — will face some sort of discipline for returning to the field during one of the brawls despite his early ejection.

Apparently, this isn't exactly virgin territory for Odor. In 2011, playing for the minor league Spokane Indians, Odor took out Vancouver Canadians shortstop Shane Opitz on a late slide, then saw fit to punch out Opitz and another Canadians player on his way back to the dugout. That got him a four-game suspension.

Odor's Sunday punch got him eight games and what amounted to tip money, even on his $500,000+ salary, for a fine. Bautista got a single game, probably because the slide was illegal under the new Utley Rule — even if it wasn't anything close to genuinely dirty. (Funny how all the so-called "old schoolers" canonizing Odor forgot Bautista answered that unwarranted plunk the old-school way. Throw at Jackie Robinson, Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson, Willie Mays, Duke Snider, and if they got the chance on a followup grounder they'd have sliced and diced the nearest middle infielder on the play at second.)

The least plausible argument, but offered up anyway, was Bautista "getting what was coming to him because" ... well, because he's a "whiny punk" with an "attitude problem," to make palatable an awful lot of the expletives thrown his way. I didn't know being a whiny punk with an attitude problem gave someone the right to throw at him, and someone else the right to punch him out, seven months after he flipped his bat celebrating a division series-winning home run, and in his likely final season at-bat against said someone for good measure.

Otherwise? Bush was hit with a fine but nothing more, probably because he wasn't ejected for throwing at Bautista. Chavez got a three-game suspension for throwing at Fielder, appropriately. Jays manager John Gibbons got three games off for going onto the field during the scrum despite having been ejected earlier over called balls and strikes. That's the rules, even if Gibbons was trying to protect his players. Elvis Andrus of the Rangers got a suspension, apparently for throwing a punch in the middle of the melee. Donaldson and Kevin Pillar, the first two Jays flying out of the dugout after Bautista got bopped, got fined but that was all. Surprisingly, since they were the two most animated Jays in the rumble.

Dyson was fined for "aggressive actions" during the rumble. Fellow pitcher A.J. Griffin and catcher Robinson Chirinos were fined for going onto the field during the rumble despite being on the disabled list.

Somehow, by the way, the Rangers managed to win that 15 May disgrace, 7-6. And, to win the season series against the Jays, 4-3. If it made a hero of Odor in some places, in other, more sensible places it's costing the Rangers something more precious — respect. One Ranger, one riot.

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