Last night, the Kansas City Royals got into a bench-clearer. Again. This time with the White Sox. Who said what and did what will no doubt never be 100% figured out and there most definitely are plenty on both sides who made some very poor decisions.
But this is true: it feels like clockwork so far this year that the Royals are getting into some sort of fracas, whether vocal or physical. There was the whole thing with the Athletics that culminated in Kelvin Herrera appearing to throw at Brett Lawrie‘s head. There was the thing with Mike Trout. The Royals relief corps has probably spent more time running in en masse from the bullpen so far this month than most do in a entire season. Due to injuries in earlier starts and ejections in his most recent ones, Royals’ pitcher Yordano Ventura has yet to be pulled from a game because of managerial decision.
Perhaps it is all coincidence. Perhaps this is just the rest of the team being dragged into a vortex by a small handful of pitchers with chips on their shoulder. Perhaps the Royals will be upstanding citizens for the rest of the season. But, well, it’s probably too late to matter: baseball fandom-at-large has declared that the Royals are villains this year. One article declared them to be the most despised team in the league. They’ve turned to the Dark Side, become heels and taken up the role of bad boys (despite some pleas not to use that phrase).
Again, such labels are for the most part bunk, but the human sports fan loves to label things. It’s why the Yankees are often the “Evil Empire”, why some coaches are called “geniuses” or “slimeballs”, and why there was an entire documentary on why people hate Christian Laettner. It’s our way of projecting fairy tale ideals of good and evil and right and wrong onto what are essentially random events that, unlike the real worlds of politics, business and so on, actually have a score that leaves who won or lost in clear black and white print.
And so, the zeitgeist says that the Royals are the villains. Maybe they are. Maybe they aren’t. But is it a good or bad thing?
Well, one thing is clear: the Royals should stop having bench-clearing brawls and bean-ball wars. And definitely no throwing at heads. Somebody is going to get hurt sooner rather than later if these continue. Maybe it’ll be a Royal. Maybe it’ll be a player on another team. It must stop before it gets to that- there is no reason for people to get hurt over stupid grudges, hurt feelings, and violations of THE UNWRITTEN RULES (TM).
However, what about the emotions and swagger that the Royals are showing? The fist-bumps and exaggerated hand-claps, the shouts and screams of victory? No doubt some of the violations of THE UNWRITTEN RULES (TM) are because of this, and perhaps some of the incidents so far are related to these. And this leads to a bigger question within baseball: how much emotion and expression is too much?
A few days ago, you may have heard, Chris Rock did a monologue for HBO on why baseball no longer had the same hold on youth- especially black youth- as it once did. And while some of what he said was exaggerated for comedic effect, he hit the nail on the head when he pointed out that baseball, more than any other team sport, tries to hold back the public self-expression and emotion of individual players.
And what are the Royals doing? They are showing emotion. They are at times celebrating openly in manners more like basketball players or football players… and, yes, occasionally brawling like hockey players.
And is that bad? Aside from when they reach those tipping points where emotion becomes violence, are the Royals really showing disrespect to the game of baseball? Maybe, maybe not. Likely it depends on any given occurrence.
But perhaps the Royals are a breath of fresh air, a beacon of exuberance in a sea of the mundane. Perhaps the Royals are the villain that Major League Baseball needs, not the one it wants.
But, still… they have to stop getting into fights and beanings. Because there is most definitely such thing as too much emotion, and it’s when people might get hurt.