Last night in Montreal, the Blue Jays were closing out their spring schedule with a two-game set vs. the St. Louis Cardinals. Marcus Stroman made his final spring start in preparation for the regular season.
The pitcher – who has described himself as emotional – was in fine form, pitching 4.2 innings and striking out six. But when it comes to theatrics, Stroman was in mid-season form. Case in point: a Tommy Pham at-bat in the top of the fourth inning:
“In the top of the fourth inning during the Blue Jays’ spring training game against the St. Louis Cardinals, Stroman struck out centre-fielder Tommy Pham on three pitches, hopping off the mound as home plate umpire Stu Scheurwater signalled the out.
Pham took exception to the action and stared Stroman down on his slow walk back to the dugout.”
Hitters taking exception to the Stro-show is nothing new.
Tim Anderson, a 24-year-old in his second major-league season … said he felt disrespected by Stroman. “Just the way he carried himself, I felt like I felt disrespected,” Anderson told reporters, according to Gregor Chisholm of MLB.com.
Stroman’s emotional mound-hopping, chest-slapping, primal scream celebration after his complete-game gem in Sunday’s 6-2 win reopened baseball’s ongoing clash … (Albert) Pujols stepped onto the field, and several Angels glared from the dugout during the Stroman’s celebration.
“There’s no reason for it, it’s an unsportsmanlike way to behave. You just dominated somebody. Just high five your teammates and go back in the clubhouse and celebrate. I don’t understand why the jumping around, the flashy, the showboating, the rubbing it in people’s face.”
(Chase) Headley went on to specifically say that Stroman “was friggin screaming at our guys when he’s pitching, yelling at our guys to get off the field when he’d strike someone out.”
Gif via Blue Jay Hunter
To be quite honest, I didn’t like the hopping after the Phan strikeout, and I don’t like the shimmying, shucking, and jiving after each strikeout. However, I’m certainly not one of those “old school” baseball guys who thinks the game needs to be played a “certain way.” After all, I love Yasiel Puig bat flips, Jose Bautista’s iconic bat flip, and the culture of bat flipping in the KBO.
I am in complete agreement with Blue Jays manager John Gibbons when he says:
“The game’s changed. Baseball used to be a real conservative game. You didn’t step out of line, you didn’t celebrate anything, there was a tremendous amount of respect that was thrown around. But baseball has really changed like every other sport, like society, and I think the fans love it. It’s promoted on TV and things like that and I think a lot of that is good for the game.”
With all that said, it does seem like I have opposing viewpoints on celebrating on the mound and celebrating in the batter’s box. How I can be against Stroman’s post-strikeout celebrations but be in favour of gratuitous bat flips? The answer lies in the frequency of each event.
Home runs are, generally speaking, a rare occurrence in baseball. Notorious bat-flipper Yasiel Puig hit 28 home runs last season – a career high. In 2017, it took Marcus Stroman all of five starts to reach that many strikeouts. He finished the season with 164 strikeouts, about as many hits as the average major league position player accumulates over the course of a season.
Puig had 28 total chances in 2017 to celebrate a home run with a bat flip. When you take into consideration that he probably wouldn’t flip his bat in a celebratory fashion when his team is down 9-1 or up 9-1 (though I wouldn’t put it past him), those opportunities to fling his bat into the sky like a toothpick decline even further. For Puig to be able to celebrate a personal victory as much as Stroman does, he would have to bat-flip every time he managed a hit or a walk. Bat flipping on a single gets old very, very quickly – and you won’t see too many pitchers shrug off a bat-flip from an opposing batter who just stroked a ground ball single.
A parallel can be drawn with other sports. In the NFL, celebrating and choreographed dancing is reserved for touchdown celebrations. Very rarely – if ever – will you see a football player shimmy, shake, and hop around after a play that nets a six yard gain. In soccer, it’s acceptable for a player to tear off his shirt and slide all over the pitch following a goal because they are so rare and meaningful. You will not, however, see a player scream and fist-pump after executing a successful pass to a teammate.
I’m all for Stroman expressing himself in the manner to which he has grown accustomed, as long as the situation warrants it. A complete game shutout? Sure, go nuts! Getting out of a bases loaded jam? Have at it. Win a big playoff game? ~*Dance like no one’s watching*~
Even the emotionless Roy Halladay cut loose after winning his league-leading 22nd game. But you would never see him scream and fist-pump after striking out an opposing batter in a spring training game. Showing up the opposition by celebrating a personal victory that occurs, on average, seven times per game for Marcus Stroman… it’s superfluous and veers into the realm of poor sportsmanship. By all means, have fun and be yourself. But save the theatrics for when it actually means something.
Featured image screencap from Rogers Sportsnet’s broadcase of the game. All animated gifs courtesy of MLB.com