The always quotable Earl Weaver once said: “I think there should be bad blood between all [baseball] clubs.”
If true, Weaver would certainly love to be in the heart of the latest saga in the on-again, off-again rivalry between the Los Angeles Dodgers and their kid brothers down south, the San Diego Padres. The blood between the two clubs is currently so bad that the medieval practice of using leaches to suck out the toxins is a viable option. It’s a rivalry with a growing dislike that at times has compared to some of the greatest rivalries we’ve seen: Coca-Cola vs. Pepsi; Mac vs. the PC; Lakers vs. Celtics. David vs. Goliath.
Perhaps that last analogy is the one that suits this current edition of the Dodgers-Padres rivalry, for it certainly feels as though the free-spending Dodgers and their quarter billion dollar lineup qualify as Goliaths in their own right and the Padres, with their Dollar Tree pitching staff and their lineup full of “hopefuls” are the scrappy David. It’s telling that the scouting reports for both teams couldn’t be any more different. For the Dodgers most would use the ‘if everything goes wrong’ caveat in describing how their season could unfold, for it is almost a foregone conclusion that the season will go well. For the Padres, the only optimism lies in the ‘if everything goes right’ line, and there are a LOT of ifs for that to happen this season.
However, when these two teams show up on the same diamond to square off, wins and losses, payroll discrepancies, and star power are tossed aside. This is one of those rivalries where the intensity is always there, records aside (I still remember going to a Padres-Dodgers tilt a few years back when both teams were mediocre at best and the stadium had playoff-level intensity). It may not be quite what the Dodgers-Giants rivalry has been in recent years, but that’s more attributed to the fact that the Pads haven’t held up their end of the bargain by winning.
So, when Carlos Quentin went all Jerome-Bettis-at-the-goal-line on Donald Zachary Greinke (thank you baseball-reference.com for sourcing this awesome name discovery) last week, it seemed inevitable. A rule of thumb is if the fans of both teams are fighting in between beers in the parking lot before the game, the players on the field probably feel much the same. A broken collarbone and an eight-week DL stint for Greinke and an eight game suspension for Quentin has sparked controversy and dialogue. Is it fair for one team to lose a core player for two months while the other team only misses the guy who hurt that player for a couple weeks? Let’s examine.
Fact: there is a (by now) well documented history of Greinke drilling Quentin with some less than friendly fastballs from their days in the AL.
Fact: there is a well documented history of on-field fights between the Dodgers and the Padres.
Fact: Greinke forgot to warn the Dodgers catcher (A.J. Ellis) of the previous history between the two players.
Fact: Quentin was pissed after being drilled yet again by Greinke.
Fact: Greinke muttered something from the mound.
Fact: Quentin stampeded and lowered his shoulder into Greinke.
Fact: Greinke didn’t move and also lowered his shoulder to absorb the impact.
Fiction: Quentin is at fault for the outcome (the injury, DL stint, suspension, etc.).
Look, if you’re a pitcher with a figure as imposing as a sixth-grade gymnast and you’ve already drilled a man who played football in high school twice before, you probably should expect something to happen if and when you hit that player again (accidentally or not). Secondly, if and when you do hit that player and he stops to glare at you, you probably should keep your mouth shut (Zack Attack muttered what looked to be a challenge in Quentin’s direction). Thirdly, if and when you hit that player for the third time, then have the gall to yell at the man and incite a charge to the mound, and you just signed a monster contract to be the pitching savior for the city of L.A., you probably should move the hell out of the way when you see a rhino barreling towards you.
Should Quentin have kept his temper in check? Sure! But, that’s easier for me to say. After all, I’ve never been drilled by a baseball going over 80 MPH by the same man on three (THREE!) separate occasions. I would imagine that maintaining composure when you’re dealing with the sting of that fastball and your already existing dislike for the pitcher who launched it at you is as easy to do as appeasing a child throwing a tantrum. And, to further note, Quentin reacted in the way that hundreds of players have before him. The game has a lengthy history of batters charging the mound in anger after being hit by pitches (remember Robin Ventura and Nolan Ryan?). It’s been part of the game in the past, it’s part of the game now, and it will remain part of the game in the future.
Baseball’s a sport that holds onto more of those old-fashioned mentalities of loyalty and retaliation more than other sports. Quentin was sending a message that he’s not some pushover who’s going to tolerate being hit by the same man three (THREE!) times. Greinke felt the need to assert himself as well, lest he be perceived as a pushover. Both men had an agenda, and at that point, the bigger man usually wins. Quentin could probably eat three Donald Zachary Greinkes for a pregame snack.
Here’s one more thing: if you’ve just signed a contract for as much money as Greinke just did this offseason, it’s your job to make sure you do all you can to go out there and pitch 30 starts a season. If standing your ground and lowering your shoulder in anticipation of a violent collision seems like a good idea, you’re probably doing it wrong. He could have easily thrown up his hands or side-stepped the charge, but he didn’t. And for that, he’s just as responsible for the injury he suffered as Quentin.
So, for all those crying in outrage and anger that one man is only suspended for eight games while the injured victim misses eight weeks, save it. Your boy’s only out because he was foolish and tried to hold his ground. Our boy’s only out because he was foolish and charged the mound. They both controlled their destinies on this one, and there’s no other way around it. I’m not one of those to pass blame. I won’t do it for two grown men, either.
One thing I do know, Earl Weaver would’ve been a happy man. A rivalry grows between two men while the rivalry between their respective teams also intensifies. Baseball is as it should be.