This morning, my old Baseball Prospectus colleague Jason Parks tweeted this item regarding Zack Greinke:
I asked a FO source about Greinke: "Really good pitcher. Would welcome him on my team. But he's a total punk and I can't stand him." #want— Jason Parks (@ProfessorParks) June 12, 2013
One of baseball’s great truisms was uttered by Dodgers manager Leo Durocher (more or less, he didn’t quite say it the way it was reported) circa 1948: "Nice guys finish last." Some of baseball’s greatest stars have been true S.O.B.s. Ty Cobb was pathological, Ted Williams was more interested in hitting and marlin fishing than human contact, and when you hear Tim McCarver tell one of his countless Bob Gibson anecdotes, you get the sense that he loved Gibson a lot more than Gibson liked him (broken parallel intentional).
Meanwhile, Don Mattingly, New York’s Donnie Baseball, who has never been accused of anything more offensive than nose hair, is a perennial also-ran. He failed to make the playoffs in his prime, and when, in the dregs of his career, the Yankees got good again and he finally got to the postseason, he did himself proud by hitting .415 and driving in six runs in five games -- and yet, his team was denied. He joined the Yankees as hitting coach, hitched his star to Joe Torre’s just as the older man’s career was fading, and then inherited the Dodgers in their most confused and dysfunctional period since the 1930s, when the team was split evenly between two feuding ownership factors and Wilbert Robinson, the manager and team president, couldn’t use his office because one of the partners lurked outside each morning waiting to thrash him with his colostomy bag.
There have been times this season when Don Mattingly called out his team, but it came across as petulant, not peremptory. The man who George Steinbrenner once derided as "Jack Armstrong from Evansville, Indiana," doesn’t do bitterness well, and it’s saddening to think that this year’s Dodgers might be teaching him how. And yet, if Durocher was right, then Mattingly needs to learn. No one asked you to be a manager, to get down in the dirt, but if you’re going to do it right, you can’t be a tourist. In this regard, a player like Greinke, "total punk," or not, wouldn’t be a bad role model to have.
The tweet above was no doubt solicited in reaction to Tuesday night’s brawl with the Diamondbacks, and its assessment may or may not be true, but it doesn’t change anything about who initiated the fight. Ian Kennedy of the Diamondbacks threw up and in to Yasiel Puig in the bottom of the sixth and hit him in the face. Greinke retaliated by hitting Miguel Montero in the back to lead off the top of the seventh. That should have been the end of it, but Kennedy escalated by buzzing Greinke’s head in the bottom of the frame. Given that Kennedy had already demonstrated that his control is no longer fine enough that he can pitch in the region of the head without risking homicide, this was a decidedly irresponsible gesture for which he was ejected and will properly be disciplined by Major League Baseball (though possibly not disciplined properly, which is a separate matter).
Yet, some things don’t change. Don Mattingly’s son Preston tweeted this in the game’s aftermath:
This video of my dad throwing down Alan Trammell like a rag doll gets me so hype!!!!i.imgur.com/Iqa0DRE.gif— Preston Mattingly (@Pmoney30) June 12, 2013
Well, great, but here's the thing: Alan Trammell hit .450 with two home runs in the 1984 World Series and personally knocked the Yankees out of a couple of pennant races. I will never forget the three-game series played between the Yankees and Tigers at Detroit from June 20-June 22, 1988. The Yankees came in leading the division by half a game. The first game went to extra innings tied 1-1. Cecilio Guante pitched a scoreless ninth for the Yankees and manager Billy Martin left him in for the tenth. With one out, Tom Brookens hit a walk-off home run. The next day, the Yankees took a 6-1 lead into the bottom of the ninth. Neil Allen allowed the first two batters to reach, and Martin brought in closer Dave Righetti. Rags got two outs, then loaded the bases. Consecutive walks forced in two runs and brought Trammell to the plate. Martin went for Guante again. Cue the walk-off grand slam.
The next day the Yankees looked broken. The third game was tied going to the bottom of the 10th. The Tigers won that one too, though they walked off on a Luis Salazar single, not a home run. Martin was fired for the final time. The Yankees went back into first place about a month later, but you knew it was a tease. An era was over. Mattingly's team was done until the mid-90s, and so too was he -- his back had already begun to erode his power and would destroy him almost completely within a couple of years. Meanwhile, Trammell would go to the postseason again in 1987, missed getting there by one game in '88, and will make the Hall of Fame someday, even if the voters are presently being obtuse about it.
As such, throwing him to the ground seems like it falls short of evening things out.
For one night, the Dodgers were in the right. Kennedy did something unconscionable. Greinke may or may not be a punk, but the epithet seems irrelevant. The Diamondbacks are still in first place, the Dodgers are still in last place. The moral victory is secured to punk and failing manager alike. The true winning awaits, as it has for about 30 years.