Show Me Up, Show You Up

The New York Times

May 22, 2009

By Doug Glanville

Under no circumstances should you show up a baseball player. We hold grudges forever and we will...

Sure, it seems petty, but it’s what makes this game go ‘round. Beat me with your fastball or with your timely bunt with two outs in the ninth, and I will tip my cap to you. But do not ever ever, ever show me up.

Showing someone up can take many forms. It could be a self-admiring gesture you make on the field — pretending your hands are six-shooters and firing them off after striking someone out. It could be the way you record an out — you’re pitching, and you field a ball, but instead of throwing to the first baseman, you run over and step on first base unassisted.

You could even show up your own teammate — say, you’re playing outfield, an opponent hits a mammoth home run against your pitcher and you don’t even turn and make a courtesy run after the ball, even though you know it’s probably going to break someone’s windshield in the parking lot.

This past week (as if the Giants and Dodgers need any other things to fight about, dating back to their days together in New York and their subsequent escape to California) the San Francisco pitcher Brian Wilson and the Los Angeles third baseman Casey Blake had a misunderstanding. Apparently, Wilson, who is the Giants’ closer (and a fan of the U.F.C.) had engineered a gesture after each save that expresses both his religious inclinations and his dedication to his late father. (My best attempt at describing it would be if you crossed your arms in an “X” with one index finger pointing to the sky.) So should you hit against Wilson, it is quite possible that after a 99 m.p.h. fastball blows by you to end the game, he will turn his back and make a sign you won’t understand — unless you’ve done a little research.

Blake took exception (out of ignorance of the genesis of Wilson’s sign, as he later admitted, although he did not “apologize”) after Wilson blew Blake away with one of his fastballs to save a game recently, and then formed his sign to mark the occasion. According to the “never to expire” grudge rules, if Blake felt he or his team had been wronged, he had infinite time to respond in kind.

But, as sometimes happens in baseball, he only had to wait two sleepless nights.

In the next game, Blake would prevail, smacking a home run off Wilson. Upon returning to the dugout, he imitated Wilson’s symbol. Within minutes, one of Wilson’s buddies used the magic of text messaging to deliver into Wilson’s inbox a photo of Blake sitting on the bench, approximating an ersatz replica of Wilson’s sign.

Wilson was initially angered, but after ranting a bit in the locker room decided that he wanted to move on, and felt no need to further explain his method of expression on the field.
Did Wilson show Blake up, and then did Blake show Wilson up? Was Blake overreacting?

Does it really matter? Not really. You just have to feel shown up to justify recourse. And circumstantial evidence is admissible.

It is important to note that there is little latitude in the world of showing someone up. Players tend to understand that it’s permissible to point to the sky to acknowledge the loss of a loved one, like Bobby Abreu would do after a hit over his entire career. But even those types of gestures have slim room for interpretation, and depend on when, and how emphatically, you exhibit them. It is one thing to get a base hit in the fourth inning and make a quick gesture as you go back to first after making your turn; it’s another to hit a home run and point to the sky all the way around the bases while glaring at the pitcher as if he was the one who put your loved one six feet under.

For the most part, players assume the worst. Wilson decided to express himself after he saved a game. Those tend to be high-octane moments. If you’re a closer (as Wilson is), one pitch can change the fate of the game. Closers usually end up either heroes or goats so they tend to be emotional (let’s exclude the unflappable Mariano Rivera for argument’s sake) and need to release all that tension from living one pitch from the penthouse, one pitch from the outhouse. But opposing teams accept no excuse when it comes to how you release that tension. They don’t want to hear it. Don’t show me up. Period.

Once when I was playing with the Phillies, my teammate Wayne Gomes was pitching after some bad blood had developed over a few days with the Giants. We had intentionally hit Barry Bonds with a pitch earlier that game and there was some glaring and jawing.

Gomes threw a pitch that J.T. Snow deposited into the right field stands. Snow stared at his handiwork for a second, threw the bat around his back as if he was Magic Johnson (it rolled further than the “show up” rules allow) and then took a nice slow trot around the bases. I am sure Snow felt vindicated on behalf of his team, since we had kind of started it. But Gomes was fuming, and after the game, he told any teammate who would listen that if he ever got a chance to face Snow again and struck him out, watch what he will do.

Ah, the beauty of baseball. The next night, Gomes got his wish and he delivered, striking out Snow. All the way in centerfield I could hear Gomes yelling at him — “Sit down! Get out of here!” — as Snow walked toward the dugout. Of course, I am leaving out a few words, but you get the picture.

It was one of the few times a brawl almost started over showing up where no one was hit by a pitch, no one was spiked, there was no contact whatsoever.

Regarding the attitude of Blake and many other players, it would seem you should give a hall pass if a sign is meant for a lost loved one or as an expression of faith. But as my good friend Steve Fiffer puts it, “there becomes confusion sometimes when players have to define separation between church and plate.”

We are baseball players and showing someone up is showing someone up. You don’t have to understand what the other guy was trying to do, you don’t have to forgive and forget, you don’t have to take it with a grain of salt. After all, your ego is at stake, and your looking like a punk will be all over the Internet if you don’t protect your honor.

My son at 11 months old has to understand this about his father when I put his sippy cup on his tray and he sweeps it onto the floor as soon as I turn my back; my dog has to understand this when I try to put her leash on and she bites it in defiance in front of the neighbors; my business partner has to understand this when he interrupts a point I’m making in the middle of negotiating a construction loan.

Baseball players are crazy when it comes to being shown up. So, for you own sake, should you come into contact with a ballplayer, remember to choose your gestures wisely, even if you have a good reason, and understand that you make them at your own risk.

New York Times 05/22/2009


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