It's been a wonderful week for baseball-related hate. First, Brett Lawrie slid with his spikes up, which led to a procession of hit-by-pitches and ejections. Check the World Wide Web: Fans of both the A's and Royals are still so danged mad, days after the last plunking.
Now we have Jose Bautista vs. the Orioles:
Oh, this is a delightful one. Here's an unwritten rule for you: Getting thrown at -- accidental or not -- and hitting a home run in the same at-bat means you're allowed to pretend the bat is a mic on top of a long microphone stand, and you're entitled to sing a Queen song the entire time you round the bases. You pick the Queen song. I'm partial to the idea of "Seven Seas of Rhye," but maybe you're not a fan of subtlety and you'd go for "We Are the Champions." There's no wrong answer.
Unless you're Adam Jones. He's not a fan:
That's not what those words mean, Adam. I mean ... if you're using the literal definitions ... look, never mind. The point is that both teams are fired up. You can tell the takes were hot because when they met the open air, the heat distortion warped the camera image.
This is a rivalry that makes sense. Both of them should be competitive in the AL East this year. Both of them wear pictures of animals that can be killed with a BB gun. Neither of them have had a really good rival for a while, possibly dating back to the days of Armando Benitez and Darryl Strawberry. I love it. Hate makes this game stronger.
Well, it makes it more interesting, at least. The A's and Royals make a lot of sense, too. There's the postseason game of legend, for one, and then there's the idea that they're both supposed to be mayors of Pluckytown, small-market teams who can stand with the big teams. Why are they fighting? This is like when El-P and Vast Aire fell out. Gentlemen, the enemy is them, stop the in-squabbling, it does no one any good for you to hit each other with baseballs. It does the fans good, I guess. Got me a column idea or two. But you, specifically, have nothing to gain.
So we have the Blue Jays and Orioles now. The A's and Royals are a thing. Let's add them to the existing things:
- Yankees vs. Red Sox
- Cubs vs. Cardinals
- Giants vs. Dodgers
There used to be a Braves and Mets thing, what with the "Larry" chants, but that's pootered out with the Mets being lousy, which segued into the Braves (presumably about to happen, right?) awful stretch. If the Braves really are good this year, there will be renewed rivalries, or at least a chance for them. The A's and Angels are constantly on the edge of becoming something like Giants/Dodgers, but there needs to be something more of a shared history for that to happen. There's no New York connection, no Bobby Thomson or Roseboro/Marichal moments. Not yet.
The two temporary rivalries and three classic rivalries mean that 20 teams are just sitting there, without someone to hate for no good reason. We need to manufacture some bad blood. Here are three rivalries that need a U.S.S. Maine:
Astros vs. Rangers
This was one of the reasons the Astros moving to the American League made at least a little sense. It was one of the reasons MLB was pushing to the masses, at least. Look at this interesting, natural rivalry! Eh, eh? Same state! Eh?
You know what, though? They're right. When the both of these teams are fighting for the same division, the hate will flow so naturally. That's a huge caveat, though. Both teams have to be good first. If that doesn't happen, player(s) from one team have to cross the line in some overwhelming fashion, which would make it too easy for outsiders to pick a side. There's no rivalry just yet:
Rangers pitcher: /throws behind Astros hitter
Astros hitter: Hey!
Rangers pitcher: /crumples to ground, holds swollen sternum
Astros hitter: Oh, jeez, are you OK, buddy?
Soon, though, the Rangers will be a normal big-market team and the Astros will be a normal big-market team. They play in cities that probably argue about regional crap like barbecue or music venues or the general quality of Great Clips in the area. It will happen, even if it takes 30 years to ferment.
In the meantime, though, I wouldn't be opposed to a bat-flip leading to a plunking leading to another plunking leading to a shoving match leading to another plunking leading to something with actual fisticuffs leading to outstanding postgame quotes. Even bad teams can have that special relationship. It would build a good foundation for the future of hate in Texas.
Mets vs. Nationals
Mets vs. Braves will never go away. That is a case of baseball herpes, always waiting to flare up when conditions are right. That has roots that date back to the 1800s, at least on a subconscious level. But with the Braves on a rebuilding journey, the Mets are going to need something to sustain their hate for the next couple years.
Here, then, are the perennial NL East favorites, assuming that everything will be theirs for the next few years. They have youth, they have pitching, they have money. The Mets have youth, they have pitching, and they have ... the promise of money. This could be something. All it needs is a little tinder.
Matt Harvey is a latter-day Joe Namath. Will he drunkenly hit on a sideline reporter in 40 years? Yes. Yes, he will. Until then, he has a legacy of brash, bold and beautiful to build. He needs to annoy his team, enrage the other teams, and completely endear himself to his fans.
Bryce Harper hasn't thought about anything that isn't baseball since 2001. His favorite hobbies are putting donuts on baseball bats and glowering at baseballs. He has no time/interest for the party scene, and he has no time/interest for clowns. You think he chose that word idly? No, clowns bug him. Their shoes squeak. Their little cars scare the elephants. He wants to see people risk death from 100 feet in the air. Clowns are the worst.
It's possible for Harvey to play the clown, then. The New York media can give it a cute nickname, like Har Squared or HarHarHar or HAR-GATE. One HBP with an under-the-breath comment as Harper takes his base. That's it. There doesn't need to be a takeout slide or some complicated clubhouse-quote-related buildup. One plunk. One comment.
If not for Harvey and Harper, we're probably out of luck. I picture Michael Cuddyer and Doug Fister shaking hands between innings and talking about magic after an HBP. These two teams should be good for a bit, fighting each other all the way. They should let the hate flow and give us a window to peer in.
Padres vs. Mariners
Different leagues, sure, but somehow they're matched up as interleague rivals every single year. They fight for the affections of Eddie Vedder every year. That was cute and amusing when the Padres were the Mariners of the NL and the Mariners were the Padres of the AL. They would each pretend to be the other team when there was a substitute teacher, and they'd laugh and laugh about it, even though no one noticed or cared. But now both teams are relevant. Both teams are very relevant.
This is a desirable rivalry for a couple reasons. One, because both teams need a little spice after being piles of moist Wheat Thins for most of the last decade. They're good now, sure, but they need a #brand. Two, this wouldn't be overdone. The Yankees and Red Sox are probably going to play four hours today, and they have 48 games left, give or take. The Padres and Mariners meet for a handful of games every year, though.
The problem, though, is that there isn't a natural pile of tinder. All of these folks seem so nice. Austin Jackson seems like a pleasant dinner guest. I'll bet Tyson Ross can tell a good story. We need Logan Morrison and Wil Myers to start dating Alyssa Milano at the same time, but that seems to be a stretch.
We need to root for something completely dumb and unnecessary. Here's Angel Pagan throwing a piece of gum at Derek Norris:
Why did he do that? Because Pagan is kind of a jackass. That's all it took. That's all it took for Craig Kimbrel to throw at him, and that's all it took for Pagan to glare at Kimbrel after hitting a triple. One dude being kind of a jackass in an amusing way.
Throwing some gum, erasing the logo painted on to the other team's field, flipping a bat, staring the pitcher down after a home run, a postgame celebration that's a little too demonstrative, refusing to shake hands after the postgame "2-4-6-8" chant ... there are a lot of possibilities. Pick one, Mariners. React to one, Padres. That's all it will take.
Until another team takes the plunge, be thankful for the O's-Jays and A's-Royals. They're adding spice to a sport that isn't over-seasoned just yet. Make sure that no one actually gets hurt, and let the hate flow.