Friday, September 27, 2013

Great Moments In Oversimplified Media Narratives, Atlanta Braves Edition

The narrative is clear. Brewers outfielder Carlos Gomez admired his home run against the Braves and took a slow trot around the bases, causing Atlanta catcher Brian McCann to confront him before he got to home plate. This triggered a bench-clearing brawl, which resulted in ejections, suspensions, and an injury to Brewers infielder Aramis Ramirez. But in the aftermath, McCann was lauded for upholding the unwritten rules of the game, and Gomez got blasted as a showboating punk with no respect for baseball or anything else.

Lots and lots of fans  and media types piled onto that narrative, vociferously defending Atlanta and McCann and calling Gomez some fairly awful things.

Except.



Carlos Gomez does extensive work with the Make-a-Wish Foundation in Milwaukee. And he was awarded the Brewers' "Heart and Hustle" award, which is given by former ballplayers to the player who best exemplifies "the values, spirit, and tradition of the game". This award, as noted, is given by former players, who presumably know something about the way the game is supposed to be played "right".

So maybe Gomez isn't just a classless punk after all.

Except he was supposedly jaw-jacking at every infielder he passed as he went around the bases. So he was apparently not acting like someone who respected the unwritten rules of the game.

Except Braves pitcher Paul Maholm yelled at him to "@#$#ing run" after he hit the homer. So maybe the trash-talking was started by the Braves.

Except Gomez had supposedly stared down Maholm previously, and did take a long time to admire his homer. So that could be perceived as showing the Braves up.

Except Maholm had already hit Gomez twice in previous confrontations, which is a little suspicious, and suggests there was some history there, and that this didn't start when Gomez began his narrated trot around the bases.

Except McCann's actions were loudly lauded by the media - especially former players - and in his own dugout.

Except that it was former players who gave Gomez that award, and by starting a needless brawl against a team that had been eliminated from playoff contention, McCann was risking getting key players hurt or suspended for the playoffs.

Except the Braves had been in multiple situations like this before, like the one with that Fernandez kid in Florida, and the one with Bryce Harper of the Nationals, where he took over 20 seconds for his home run trot. So they were justified in being tired of being shown up.

Except Harper actually ran the bases several seconds faster than Braves outfielder Justin Upton did earlier in the game, and ha also endured a barrage of getting plunked by Braves pitchers (who nail him more than anyone else). So maybe the fault wasn't entirely his here.

Except McCann was upholding the mantle of leadership bequeathed to him by Bobby Cox and Chipper Jones.

Except one might suggest that Chipper was not entirely a paragon of good behavior, and Bobby's habit of getting himself thrown out of games he didn't want to be on the field for could be construed as being against those all-important unwritten rules.

Which means: nothing, really, except that the simple, prepackaged narrative with "good guys" and "bad guys" and "disrespect" and "playing the game right" is generally, at best, an oversimplification, and at worse, a lie concocted to support an image. In this case, the narrative is that the Braves are "the team that plays the game right", largely because the team's best and most personable players have spent large portions of the year either injured or not performing. There's no other simple narrative that wraps around this team for easy consumption - what, you think anyone's really that excited about Chris Johnson fighting for the batting title? - so "they play the game right" is what they've got. And anything that runs counter to that narrative - even those pesky facts - gets shoved aside, because it's September and these guys might be in the World Series and we'd damn well better have a line in place on how to sell them to fans if they get there.

But.

McCann isn't a spotless defender of all that is good and true in baseball. Gomez isn't just a disrespectful punk. Jumping to either extreme of the argument isn't likely to produce a reasoned take. And nothing happens in a vacuum.

Except, maybe, when John Kruk starts talking about PEDs. But that's another post entirely.

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