Aroldis Chapman's Mistake

CINCINNATI, OH: Aroldis Chapman #54 and Ryan Hanigan #29 of the Cincinnati Reds celebrate after the final out of the game against the Milwaukee Brewers at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati, Ohio. The Reds won 4-3. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Reds closer Aroldis Chapman decided upon a couple of somersaults after competing a save on Tuesday, and, yeah, those weren't going to escape attention.

Aroldis Chapman is back in the news because of something he did with his arms. Ordinarily, he's in the news because his one arm throws baseballs super fast and awesome-like. Presently he's in the news because his arms balanced him through a pair of celebratory somersaults Tuesday night. I don't know if a closer has ever celebrated a save with somersaults before, and I can't Google it now because Chapman has screwed it all up. Yesterday, I could have Googled baseball + closer + somersault. Now, all I'd ever get are Aroldis Chapman results. Here, let me check. Yuuuuup.

Children do somersaults. Children, and very bad adult gymnasts. There's an argument that Chapman was just celebrating with childlike enthusiasm, but let's make it clear that Chapman is no child. He's no pure, exemplary soul. For one thing, he's a pitcher in the major leagues! He drives dangerously fast. He hooks up with or hooked up with a stripper in Pittsburgh. Aroldis Chapman is a 24-year-old man who makes good decisions and mistakes.

It was startling to see Chapman pull his maneuver at the time, and Dusty Baker and various Reds veterans immediately took to straightening Chapman out. This was all handled internally after the game, but Baker has issued assurances that it won't happen again. Chapman wore a wide smile after registering the final strikeout, and then he was glum in the clubhouse after getting lectured by Baker and Joey Votto and others. Chapman's move was said to be inappropriate, unprofessional, an example of a young player crossing the line.

This is a bit of a divisive story. Among a number of baseball people, Chapman shouldn't have done what he did. The majority of fans, meanwhile, seem like they don't mind Chapman celebrating however he wants to. The NFL drew criticism for cracking down on celebrations, and people don't want to see baseball go down the same road. Celebrations are personality, and what fun are sports without hints of personality? Personality helps stir the emotions. Without them, sports are just a thing that we watch for too many hours.

In isolation, I didn't really mind Chapman's somersaults. They were weird, because adult athletes don't do slow somersaults on purpose, but I've seen enough Francisco Rodriguez and Jose Valverde in my day to have built up a tolerance of or even appreciation for these things. Chapman had been going through a rough stretch, and then he recorded a save, and he acted out of glee. Acceptable! The problem is where Chapman set the expectations. I present to you three recent Aroldis Chapman saves that ended with strikeouts:

Chapmansave1

Chapmansave2

Chapmansave3

Hardly any expression of anything. Maybe an ephemeral fist-pump, and then Chapman greets his catcher. Chapman has not been a demonstrative closer in the past, and then Tuesday night, somersaults. Somersaults!

Chapmanroll_medium

You can't go straight from "modest fist-pump" to "double somersault" and expect people to just sit back and take it. It's jarring. What causes people to respond to an event is not the event itself, but rather the nature of the event relative to the expectations. People had no expectations of Aroldis Chapman acting out in celebration, so when he did, it was noteworthy. It'd be noteworthy if Jose Valverde pulled a double somersault, too, but it would generate a lot less press. Valverde was already a showy son of a bitch, so somersaults wouldn't change anything. For Chapman, this is something new, and something new is change, and people often don't respond well to change.

Aroldis Chapman's somersault idea was ... you know, I wonder, was this premeditated? Did he get this idea earlier on, or did it just come to him in the heat of the moment? It was an interesting and not necessarily inappropriate idea, but Chapman did nothing to set it up. He didn't consider the repercussions of going straight from zero to gymnastics. This isn't something Chapman could have helped, of course, so his mistake was a mistake in retrospect. Had Chapman acted out to a greater degree before, he wouldn't have drawn so much criticism for acting out on Tuesday.

The more I think about this episode, the more I love it. Fitting that it came against the Brewers, who have shown more swagger than any other baseball team in recent seasons. The Brewers deserve to have somebody celebrate against them as demonstratively as they've celebrated against others. I love seeing baseball players act human, and if this fans the flames of a rivalry, all the better. So many rivalries exist only between fan bases. The game's better when actual teams are ticked off.

But Chapman probably wishes he hadn't done what he did. The Reds certainly wish Chapman hadn't done what he did. It makes sense, because Chapman celebrated in a highly unusual fashion, but maybe the very problem is that the celebration was so unusual.

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