With our dear Editor-in-Chief leaving Baseball Prospectus for his next chapter, we wanted to highlight some of our favorite chapters of his career here. There's an incredible number of timeless Sam Miller articles to choose from, but we whittled it down enough to not break the internet. This article originally ran on May 16, 2016.
On Sunday, Jose Bautista slid hard into Rougned Odor, who nearly threw a baseball into Bautista's face, after which Bautista stood in a posture of aggression before Odor, who shoved Bautista, who prepared to punch Odor, who punched Bautista first. There are no heroes in that story. There were heroes in the story around them, though. The first half of this article will list them, while the second half will exalt what made each actor's actions heroic.
Heroes no. 1 and no. 2: Bryan Holoday and Justin Smoak
Bryan Holoday is the catcher. He has been playing in the majors for five years, yet has started only 83 games. I'm one of maybe 80,000 people who actually know who he is, and even I misspelled his name twice already. (It's apparently spelled "Holaday".) So Bryan Holoday does not often have the chance to contribute to a major-league outcome, but on Sunday, in the eighth inning, he found himself in position to retrieve a live ball that had gotten loose. He could be the savior of this situation for the Rangers, preventing live baserunners from advancing in this totally live play. He approached the ball, and then he decided that live baseballs are everywhere but friends are rare. He left the baseball.
Justin Smoak is the batter. He hit into a fielder's choice, then after crossing first base safely he looked to his right and saw that the ball had eluded the first baseman. Stranger, he saw the defenders were deserting the baseball like it was a high school boyfriend and they were all starting college. It was just him and the totally live ball, Justin and the ball, and the sky, and the ground, and three bases between him and glory. All he had to do was run. So Justin turned, and he ran
a pile of defenders
Heroes no. 3 and no. 4: Eric Owens and Luis Rivera
Early in the game, Blue Jays first base coach Tim Leiper was ejected. This doesn't happen very often, the first base coach getting run, but even if it did we'd hardly notice, on account of first base coaches being the Proof Of Insurance Card of baseball coaches. In none of the tweets or articles (mid-game or post-game) announcing Leiper's ejection was his replacement named, but here we have the pleasure of naming him: Eric Owens. Owens was a major-league baseball player through 2003, and retired from baseball two years later at the age of 34. He's now the assistant hitting coach for the Blue Jays, but was nonetheless deemed qualified to be the first base coach in a pinch, on further account of there was a uniform that had his name on the back. He was born almost exactly one month before Keegan-Michael Key.
So he's doing his thing, blending in, when suddenly all the physics of baseball break down. Fielders are fleeing baseballs. Runners are chasing fielders. And Owens finds himself on the vanguard of the Blue Jays' cavalry. So he does what the first base coach should do in that situation: He runs.
Oh, he runs.
Luis Rivera is the third base coach. He's there, too. He's no. 4.
Heroes no. 5 and no. 6: The pointers
The first gentleman is pointing (upper left, red shirt, no hat, standing up) because hardly anybody is looking at second base and he thinks that the runner interfered with the throw from second. He's right, in a sense!
The second gentleman is pointing (middle-left, red hat, black sunglasses, sitting down) because hardly anybody is looking at second base and there's about to be a fight, y'all. He's right, in every sense.
The result of this man's efforts: The woman in blue sitting one seat over and one seat in front of him makes a fight face for the ages.
Heroes no. 7 and 8: Kevin Pillar and Hector Ortiz
After Rougned Odor delivered some packages to Jose Bautista's face (boxing expression), Adrian Beltre ran over and held Bautista while a bunch of ballplayers hustled out for some scrumming. This is enough to qualify as a brawl, and more often than not the story ends here. But to really get a brawl going, you need a rabid skunk, and Kevin Pillar served as that skunk. While Bautista and Beltre hugged for an exceptionally long time
Pillar rushed to defend Bautista's honor, by means of putting two pinches of salt in Odor's soup (MMA expression). His attempts were obstructed by tons of people not wanting him to do that, but he persisted, repeatedly spinning and being spun and ducking and deeking and altogether giving the impression of a public-gym basketball player trying to create his own shot. Point is, eventually he spins free and with great enthusiasm charges toward where he thinks Odor is, when something odd happens:
He finds not Odor but Ortiz. In a rabid fit, he begins to cock back, and Ortiz, seeing the madeyes, does what a normal person would do: He puts his hands in front of his face, and he cowers.
Heroes no. 9 and 10: The security guard and the child
The security guard, and the child.
Heroes no. 11 and 12: John Gibbons and Jeff Banister
Jays Manager John Gibbons was ejected earlier in the game, too, which means this dude absolutely guaranteed a suspension by running all the way from the clubhouse, through the tunnel, down the stairs, up the stairs, through the dugout and onto the field just so he could exchange crazy eyes
with Rangers manager Jeff Banister, the one man on the field Gibbons is allowed to fight and who is allowed to fight him, and who bless his heart does not let Old Man Gibbons down.
(To be super duper ultra clear: They are making these faces at each other.)
Heroes no. 13 and 14: Josh Donaldson and Skylyn Goodenow, 9, a fourth grader at Rolling Ridge Elementary.
Donaldson dips in and out of the shot during this brawl, but what makes him a hero has nothing to do with his actions on Sunday. Rather, it is in recognition of this play from almost two weeks ago, in which he tagged Rougned Odor out at third base in a totally normally, completely unexceptional baseball act.
Skylyn Goodenow, 9, a fourth grader at Rolling Ridge Elementary, has raised $936 in donations for the Make-A-Wish organization, according to the Erie Times-News.
And now, the breakdown of their heroics:
1 & 2. Absolutely nothing that happens in a baseball game means anything, or even makes sense. It's fine that we enjoy the spectacle, and that we even convince ourselves that we care who wins and who loses, because damned if we don't, but it's all make-believe. What means something is that relationships are built; that pledges of loyalty are honored; that, when a career is over, a man has a lifetime of people who cared about whether he behaved in a way that reflected well on his character; and that you saw it, holy cow did you see that, you saw it right? For this moment, Holaday and Smoak, two men who have more to gain than almost anybody from a heads-up play that contributes even slightly to the team's chances of victory, cut through the bullshit and make it clear for now and forever that the baseball doesn't matter; the fight matters.
(The twist is that the fight doesn't matter, either, but it takes most of us until our dying breaths and beyond to learn that one.)
3 & 4. To see what is in front of one's nose requires constant struggle, the saying goes, and let's be honest: What's in front of our nose is that we're going to be older tomorrow than we are today, and this cruise only goes one way. Sometimes I think the whole point of sports is that these players are the only metaphor of our physical deterioration that our brains can handle without despair. And sometimes I think that the whole point of coaches is to be the slightly more on-the-nose metaphor for the dense or denialist among us. Look at Eric Owens run. Elite professional athlete one decade ago! Same age as Jon Hamm! Runs like a duck!
Now look at Rivera. You know what happens when you get old? Nobody will fight you, that's what happens. The ultimate indignity. And he's not even that old!
5 & 6. The first pointer is a hero for his optimism. This game is about to turn into something ugly and awful, and he's worried about whether MLB Rule No. 6.01(j) is properly enforced. Air sirens are blaring and this guy's flossing his teeth.
The second pointer is a hero because there is literally only one hero in a fight: The guy who yells FIIIIIIIIIIIIGHT! so that we can all run and watch it. Everybody else is either a violent lunatic, a blood-thirsty mob that wants to see pain, or the fuzz coming to make everything boring again. But the FIIIIIIIIIIIGHT! yeller just wants everybody to come together.
7 & 8. Okay, it's hard to say Pillar's a hero. He's totally out of control, and I basically hate him. But there's a Nixon Goes To China thing going on when he decides not to punch Ortiz, the Rangers' 47-year-old first base coach. Mob actions run on inertia, and sometimes they need somebody like Pillar to realize, just in time, that he was about to do something horrible–to see himself in the action that was just barely avoided, and to change the crowd's instructions from crescendo to dimunuendo. After this moment exactly, the fight tempered down considerably. I don't want to give Pillar too much credit here, but, uh, he didn't punch the Rangers' 47-year-old first base coach in the face, so.
9 & 10. The security guard reminds us that, hey, guys, you know, it's possible to not watch. As a security guard I'm paid to not watch, of course, and if I weren't paid to not watch I'd probably watch. But here I am, not watching, and my bowels remain functional. Have you tried not watching? Give it a try. Join me in the Not-Watch Gang.
The kid is blurry and out of focus, as the children in Think About The Children! usually are. It's never really a real kid we're asked to think about. It's not even usually "my kid," because the people who Think About The Children tend to think their kids are way better than the rest of the world's kids, so they'll be fine anyway. No, it's the blurry children, the abstraction of children, and here we have a blurry child who despite the blurry out-of-focusedness nevertheless makes a pretty compelling argument: Maybe we should think about this little guy! I assume most kids can handle the concept of adults fighting. But these aren't just adults. These are adults who were deemed so important that this kid's parents spent a ton of money just so they could sit close to these men and scream ecstatic praises at them. What's that sound like to you? Going to a special building where families can sing praises and be close to (but not, like, physically touching) idealized versions of humanity? Exactly. It sounds like where most of us go to learn right and wrong. Damnit.
11 & 12. We're almost entirely the same person we were when we were 6, just with more facts and different incentives.
13 & 14. We will believe that this fight was about something bigger, that it's about what happened last October between these two teams, that it's about what happens when we demand our athletes play at a level of intensity that clouds their ability to harness their emotions, or it's about making baseball fun again, or it's about cultural divides between domestic and international styles of play, or it's about any of 50 other Big Picture takes one might generate, but thanks to Josh Donaldson's benign tag a few days ago, we can ignore all those hot takes and remember that it's about Rougned Odor really loving to fight. That's all. You can judge or not judge, celebrate it or plead for somebody to think about the children, but at the end of the day, Rougie Odor needs somebody to slug.
Besides raising $936 for Make-A-Wish, Skylyn volunteers on Friday nights at Brevillier Village Retirement's ice cream socials. According to the Erie Times-News, she "pours root beer into glasses for root beer floats and helps with the cleanup afterward. But her favorite part of the evening is when it's time to play Pokeno. Think bingo with playing cards. Skylyn will call out the cards using a microphone, or sit with the residents and help them play the game.
"Skylyn has donated some of her stuffed animals to use as prizes for Pokeno winners."
Thank you for reading
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