When Lou Piniella was a player for the New York Yankees, he once flung his batting helmet in the dugout in anger and grazed the head of his manager Bob Lemon.
“But that was a ricochet,” said Piniella’s Yankees’ teammate Fred Stanley, defending his buddy. “It bounced off two things first. It was not an all-out assault.”
Just the same, Lemon started wearing a helmet in the dugout after that, just in case.
Piniella, now the manager of the Chicago Cubs and two years removed from his last serious temper tantrum when he kicked dirt on the shoes of the third-base umpire (who acted all offended as if somehow this was unexpected), finds himself in a little bit of an awkward position.
This week alone, Piniella has had two players ejected and two take their bats to the new drink dispenser in the dugout as if it was a giant orange piñata. These incidents shockingly did not involve Milton Bradley, a player who once had to be physically restrained from running up to his team’s TV booth in full uniform to yell at a broadcaster who said he lacked self control.
On Wednesday, Piniella’s pitcher, Carlos Zambrano, put on a show that had one Internet outlet calling it “one of the top meltdowns ever,” strong words in a sport that boasts more babies per square inch than your average daycare center.
Zambrano, arguing a call that, naturally, was incontrovertibly correct, was thrown out of the game by the home plate umpire and responded by trying to throw out the umpire. When that didn’t work, Zambrano threw the ball into the outfield and then proceeded to attack the Gatorade dispenser.
Piniella raced out of the dugout to help restrain Zambrano, which is required of all baseball managers when one of his players is seriously disturbed, but Piniella could barely contain the giggles as he watched Zambrano give the ump the heave-ho.
It’s hard for Piniella to act all self-righteous when one of his players acts like a two-year-old, since he was the poster two-year-old as a player.
But now Zambrano faces a suspension, which means that just as he’s maybe returning to form after a stint on the disabled list, he will be on the bench again.
Every sport has its goofballs. Hockey has its goons. But there is still a certain honor there that is not present in the seemingly more dignified sport of baseball. I am watching Wednesday night, as the Chicago Blackhawks line up, as hockey tradition dictates, and shake hands with the Detroit Red Wings after their overtime loss in overtime sends Detroit to the Stanley Cup Finals against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Like they’re taught in pee-wees, they go down the line saying, “Good job,” to opponents who only minutes earlier tried to rupture their spleens.
Hockey is, well, charming as hell.
The Red Wings refused to touch their conference trophy after their victory, because they didn’t touch it last season and they went on to capture the Stanley Cup.
That’s a tradition as well. You don’t touch something as trivial as a conference trophy in hockey, you barely look at it, because it’s not the big one, the Stanley Cup, the one that demands your full respect and attention.
The Penguins touched their conference trophy, though. They put their fingerprints all over it, even carried it around. Why? Because they didn’t touch it last year and they lost to Detroit in the Stanley Cup Finals.
How do you not love this sport?
Baseball players don’t shake hands with their opponents. They act like babies and beat up drink dispensers and reduce their managers to those parents you feel sorry for in preschool when their kid is the biter.
You suspect Piniella will handle things. He’ll explain to Carlos why it’s wrong to try to throw the umpire out of the game and to swing your bat in the dugout.
And if that doesn’t work, Piniella can always start wearing a helmet.