February 25, 2011
The Jonny Gomes Hypothetical
Jonny Gomes walked into the Cincinnati Reds spring training clubhouse early Wednesday morning singing at the top of his warbly voice. The melody was not recognizable, but the words were plaintive: “Wainwright’s gone, Wainwright’s gone, Wainwright’s gone,” he sang joyously.
Well, that's what veteran beatwriter Hal McCoy had to say on Wednesday, shortly after the incident allegedly happened. Gomes categorically denies singing at the expense of Wainwright's injury and McCoy himself has removed the initial article with the story. In his explanation, McCoy says that he didn't mean to make Gomes look like a bad guy and that he's certain he heard the name "Wainwright" mentioned in whatever song Gomes was singing (which, apparently, was "You're the Best" from Karate Kid).
Let's choose to believe Gomes for a moment here. Hal McCoy heard him wrong and he wasn't actually singing about Wainwright's year-ending surgery. All the apologies and damage control that he's had to do since then have been entirely unnecessary, the fault of a simple misunderstanding. Even if all of that is true, the question still remains to be answered: was it really all that bad of a thing?
As long as we're dealing in hypotheticals and assumptions, let's make one more: Jonny Gomes was not happy that "Adam Wainwright, the person" is hurt. Instead, he's happy that "Adam Wainwright, the opposing pitcher with a nasty breaking ball" is no longer playing. Gomes was not thinking to himself - in this hypothetical - "Good! Glad that jerk of a pitcher is injured! I hope his arm falls off from all the pain!" That's just plain silly.
Adam Wainwright is one of the best pitchers in baseball. He's finished second or third in Cy Young voting for two years in a row, and he's deserved each of those accolades. And, with Wainwright pitching alongside Chris Carpenter, the Cardinals were looking to go into the season with one of the best staff 1-2 punches in the game and one of the best lineup 3-4 punches in Matt Holliday and Albert Pujols.
As an opponent of Wainwright and the Cardinals - indeed, as the Reds primary threat for the division crown - Gomes would no doubt like to see his toughest competition weakened. Sometimes this means an off-year from a star player or an ill-advised trade from the General Manager, but sometimes it means an injury. Whatever is going to get the opponent's star out of the lineup is good for your team. The schadenfreude that Gomes allegedly expressed was completely understandable, even if it does seem distasteful.
Now, granted, teams don't want to feel like they were just given the title. They want to feel like they earned it by playing strong opponents. A team without its star doesn't always cut it as a "worthy" adversary. But that doesn't mean a team is going to refuse a championship trophy due to weak competition. In the same way a dribbler down the line looks like a line drive in the box score, a win against a weakened opponent looks the same in the standings as a win against the 1927 Yankees.
Ah, the joys of complex human emotions.
So, was the hypothetical Johnny Gomes out of line with his Wainwright song? Should fans outside of St. Louis start booing Gomes every time the Reds come to town? Is it really so cut-and-dry? Personally, I don't think I would or could have broken into song so soon after hearing the news, no matter what kind of situation I found myself in. My first reaction is always going to be one of empathy.
But I understand where hypothetical Gomes was coming from. He's a ballplayer looking to win! Even I can't deny feeling a little bit of relief at the Brewers' new chances once the news broke. It's just the nature of fandom - and Gomes, hypothetical or not, is certainly a fan of his team. Next time, though, hypothetical Jonny Gomes should probably look around the clubhouse for certain scribes before breaking out into song.