Make no mistake, Kirk Gibson is bad for baseball.
It's painful to say that. One of my first memories, perhaps the thing that cemented my life into place as a baseball fan, was watching him pump his arm as he rounded second base on October 15, 1988. More than almost any other baseball moment I've seen before or since, the drama of that moment and the triumph of the physically wrecked MVP willing himself to deliver the game-winning home run off of Dennis Eckersley, has stuck with me and continues to remind me of how exhilarating baseball can be at its best.
Now, as he drives the Diamondbacks into the ground, Gibson has become a reminder of how awful the game can be. How cold and calculating. How unempathic and how childish. Kirk Gibson has built a culture where head-hunting is simply an automatic response. It's a math problem. If one of our guys goes down, one of yours will too. It's dangerous and it's stupid.
He is not the only manager to be doing this, of course, and he won't be the last. One thing I'm convinced we will never run out of is idiots who think that putting other players in danger is a matter of pride. He is, however, the most prominent and the one who seems to be the most unapologetically proud of his players for risking the health and safety of their opponents. So when Paul Goldschmidt broke his hand on an unintentional pitch that sailed slightly high and tight, you just knew what would be coming.
Like Goldschmidt, Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen is one of the brightest stars in the game today. He won the National League Most Valuable Player Award over Goldschmidt just last season. Pittsburgh has now lost him in the middle of the pennant race, which hurts the Pirates and has deprived the league of one of its most beloved and marketable players. That the Pirates subsequently lost McCutchen for an as-yet undetermined amount of time for apparently unrelated reasons to the HBP is beside the point. It would be a tragedy if any player had had his career altered by Randall Delgado's fastball, and to lose McCutchen or any player for reasons related to imaginary machismo would have been unforgivable.
Oh sure, Gibson played innocent, insisting that Delgado's fastball slipped. Miguel Montero and Delgado said the same thing. Goldschmidt claimed to understand that sometimes pitchers have to go inside, and that sometimes batters get hit because of it. While I'd love to believe that this is all a big coincidence, and I believe both in eschewing mind-reading and giving players the benefit of the doubt, the idiotic posturing of the Diamondbacks last year, during the offseason, and throughout this season have exhausted my entire supply of doubt. If Delgado didn't do it on purpose, D'backs leadership is still ultimately to blame for making such suspicions plausible.
Let's review. After the 2013 season, dead-GM-walking Kevin Towers told listeners of his weekly show that he wanted his pitchers to practice "an eye for an eye" in 2014. And for anyone who wouldn't toe the company line? "There's ways to get you out of here, and you don't follow suit or you don't feel comfortable doing it, you probably don't belong in a Diamondbacks uniform." While Towers would later try to backtrack and say he simply meant he wanted his pitchers to throw inside, you have to suspend a lot of disbelief to think he didn't mean exactly what it sounds like he meant. Then, in spring training, Wade Miley seemed to deliberately hit Troy Tulowitzki after Mark Trumbo had been plunked earlier. Then Gibson cheered when his rookie reliever, Evan Marshall, hit Ryan Braun to load the bases against the Brewers (though he cheered far less when Jonathan Lucroy followed it with a grand slam).
Sure, in this particular case, Gibson may not have given the order for Delgado to fire one at McCutchen, given that the manager had already been ejected from the game. But the manager bears the responsibility for the environment he creates, and there is little doubt that the atmosphere Gibson has created is toxic, poisoned by his obsession with "grit" and toughness. He chased off Justin Upton and Stephen Drew because he questioned their toughness, and both deals have been disasters for the Diamondbacks.
Not that it's all Gibson's fault. Towers hired Gibson and let him off of the leash. Moreover, Gibson is only doing what has been expected of him. Towers made it perfectly clear what kind of club he wanted when he went on the radio last October. Towers, by the way, had 68 minor league plate appearances as a pitcher before earning his release. He was never hit by a pitch.
If there is to be any justice in the punishment that Major League Baseball will hand down, Gibson and Towers would share in it. Delgado doesn't deserve to twist alone given that he was only following the edicts -- overt or embedded in the clubhouse culture -- of his bosses to "protect" his hitters from clearly unintentional beanings. It will be impossible, however, to claim Gibson ordered the hit from the clubhouse, and of course suspending Towers would be without precedent. No, they're merely guilty of filling a room with bear traps, and making their pitchers to push opposing hitters into it, and Bud Selig doesn't hand down suspensions for making a macho, vindictive viper-pit out of a baseball team.
The good news is that Gibson and Towers' reigns of terror will soon be over. Tony LaRussa will clean house the moment the World Series ends and reassert some control over a franchise that has become a stain on the sport. I only hope that Gibson and Towers don't do more damage in the meantime and really get someone hurt.