A plea for MORE emotion in sports

The “Stro-Show” & its MIXED reviews

 

I find it odd when I speak with others who claim to share my passion for sports and the competition it showcases night in and night out, but choose to take issue and find it totally wrong and offensive when a player lets their emotions out during the course of play – a fist pump here, a roar of excitement there, a harmless touchdown celebration with teammates…whatever the case is, I truly can’t wrap my head around the reasoning behind wanting those emotionally charged moments reduced, or in the eyes of some, eliminated entirely.  What is so different between a pitcher fist pumping and yelling after a critical strike-out and a golfer firing up the crowd after sinking a clutch putt??? If you ask me, nothing, yet both are met with such different reactions.  Throw in the displays often exhibited on the tennis court or the soccer pitch and it simply adds to the confusion around when and where it’s appropriate for a professional athlete to “let loose”.  After all, they are competing at the highest level of their respective sport, and succeeding at something that .01% of the population of this planet have a hope in hell of achieving…Don’t quote me on that stat – I’m simply trying to convey just how bloody hard it is to succeed as a professional athlete!

The case of Marcus Stroman continues to be polarizing for the exact reasons discussed above.  A fiery pitcher, small in stature, who wears his heart on his sleeve and never lacks an emotional presence on the mound is no stranger to the criticism that often finds outspoken and extrovert athletes.  Fuelled by his personal motto “Height Doesn’t Measure Heart” (HDMH in short but when you put it like that, it sounds like an acronym for a performance enhancing drug), Stroman has made headlines recently for his antics on the mound.  Flashback a couple of weeks to July 27th, Stroman was 1 of 3 Blue Jays ejected by umpire Will Little, who would later be named first star of the game and week.  After a series of questionable balls and strikes, Stroman yelled an expletive into his glove, a clear sign of frustration with his command and Little’s strike zone – IN THAT ORDER! What followed was completely ridiculous – Little removed his mask and essentially baited Stroman into saying something — TOSSED! Russell Martin turned around and before he could even question the ejection, he was promptly ejected for what I believe to be bad breath cause like I said, HE DIDN’T EVEN SAY A WORD!  Nonetheless, the Jays prevailed but you can’t help but take issue with another instance when an umpire forgot their purpose within the game.  I am all about respecting authority but it must come with the understanding that not a single fan paid money to watch the umpires flex their power muscles.  If it wasn’t Stroman being ejected for the above, it was Adrian Beltre being tossed for jokingly moving the on-deck circle in what many thought was a laughable altercation between him and the umpire.  Umpires need to chill the f*ck out and remember that while they remain a semi-integral part of the game (*cough* ROBOT UMPS! *cough), their core function can be done so without trying to thrust themselves ontoSportsCentre highlight packages.

More recently, Stroman got into an altercation with rookie White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson.  During an at-bat in the 7th inning, with nobody on base, Stroman utilized a hitch in his windup, something he is mixing in more and more as a timing disruptor.  He almost goes into a rocking motion before delivering the pitch.  Well, Anderson wasn’t digging the delay brought forth by the rocking and called for time right in the middle of Stroman’s delivery.  Now I won’t go on another umpire tirade but a batter cannot do that.  Calling for timeout in the middle of the pitcher’s delivery is not permissible, yet  umpires continuously grant them, and Stroman has been a victim far more than once.  And pardon me for questioning the legitimacy of Anderson’s argument that it disrupted his timing — dude, at the time, you were hitting a scorching .232 with an OBP of .254 in 366 ABs…you got more pressing issues with your plate approach than worrying about a pitcher rocking slightly before they inevitably retire you…Stroman comes set…and the pitch…slider out of the zone that Anderson chases.  Shocker, I know.  Stroman turned away and took the well-known stoic stroll around the mound as his infielders threw it around the horn — all while Anderson trudged back to the dugout glaring at Stroman.  I applaud Stroman for taking issue with the stare.  What did he do wrong? Most will say he shouldn’t have said anything to Anderson after striking him out — Why was Anderson staring at him? For disputing his timing? — There was nothing wrong with what Stroman did and while I understand the ones who take issue with Stroman jawing at Anderson, it definitely didn’t necessitate both benches clearing, even if it was only for a few moments.  Benches used to clear when guys heads got thrown at.  Now, everyone feels the need to “get together” when something as inconsequential as the Stroman-Anderson situation arises.  Feelings today, both in sports and general life, are far too fragile and we see this in how individuals deal with and respond to perceived slights.  In witnessing many of these moments first hand and on TV, I can’t help but feel that sometimes, it isn’t always worth looking at the BIG PICTURE, but instead focusing on a micro-level, on the precise moment in question, to fully understand why individuals react the way they do.

As is often the case in regular everyday life, our reactions are and should be shaped by context – and it is this simple concept that is often lost on people who oppose emotional outbursts in sports like the ones being discussed in this article.  I’m not saying it’s acceptable to pour out your emotions and make a spectacle out of a first inning, bases empty strike out, much like I wouldn’t find it too appealing to see a golfer high-five the entire crowd surrounding the green after a birdie on the first hole of the first round at the Waste Management Open.  But I do subscribe to the belief that there is a time and a place for things.  Re-visiting the above scenarios, is it so wrong for a pitcher to “let loose” after striking out a batter with the bases loaded in the 8th inning of a must-win game? Is the same golfer disrespecting his opponents and soiling the game if he struts, fist pumps, and high fives green side fans after making a putt to tie for the lead on the Sunday of a major tournament?…No and No.  And if you disagree with me on either, sports doesn’t need you as a fan.

In closing, I plea for leagues and fans to embrace emotion from players and coaches alike.  The line is not blurred – we should all be able to agree what constitutes an appropriate celebration or tactic in the course of a game (BAT FLIP!).  Sports and the respective fan bases have survived and thrived with emotions for decades, centuries and even millenia (picture a gladiator emerging victorious in the Colosseum — running around with his hands and weapon raised, so happy to still be alive , only to be booed and scorned by the crowd for “excessive celebration”) – Seems a tad harsh, no? Emotionally charged athletes like Marcus Stroman are good for the game, much like a passionate hard-working employee is good for their employer.  The quicker and sooner today’s sports fans realize this, the quicker we can move past the erroneous belief that sports would be better off with no emotional barometer at all.

Keep doing you Marcus.

Til next time…

JS

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