Baseball / Sports

Showing up pitchers never goes out of style

"The Natural" pimped it.

Of course, they didn't refer to showboating after hitting home runs as "pimping" when Bernard Malamud wrote his classic baseball novel in 1952.

But when fictional slugger Roy Hobbs cranked his line drive homer in the pivotal moment of the book, Malamud wrote "Roy circled the bases like a Mississippi steamboat, lights lit, flags fluttering, whistle banging coming round the bend."

Carlos Gomez is no Roy Hobbs, but when Pirates pitcher Gerrit Cole thought the Brewers outfielder was "pimping" a would-be homer last week that stayed in the park and turned into a triple, he took umbrage and mentioned it out loud to Gomez as he pulled into third base.

That precipitated a brawl that resulted in suspensions for Gomez and three others, though Cole wasn't disciplined at all.

How a player should react after hitting a baseball a long distance has been debated forever.

Should he keep his head down and run the bases at a brisk clip, or enjoy the moment, maybe flip the bat or watch the ball fly and take his own sweet time rounding the bases?

As one of the better hitting pitchers in baseball, Cubs left-hander Travis Wood has had opportunities to pimp his own home runs but hasn't done so.

And if someone does it to him, Wood has no problem with that.

"I don't care," Wood said. "Either I made a bad pitch and you hit it or I made a good pitch and you hit it. Either way, you did your job."

Like Wood, Diamondbacks pitcher Brandon McCarthy has no issue with hitters who want to pimp their homers, saying it's nothing new in baseball.

"I don't see it being more prevalent or even an issue," McCarthy said. "When I was 5 or 6, Ken Griffey Jr. came into the league and (showboated). That's something I've known as being part of the game almost my entire baseball life, and certainly my entire professional baseball life.

"If you haven't adjusted to it now, then you are looking to be offended, or you're looking for something else. If it's something that is a part of you that you want to stand up for and you don't think that's the way (to react), then by all means, go ahead.

"But I don't think that means everybody is going to be on your side. There have been hot dogs in every generation, and people who stood out as the ones who have an issue with them. But don't expect everyone to follow suit."

Baseball is a game of numbers, and there's even a website that tracks the time every player takes rounding the bases after a home run, excluding inside-the-parkers.

According to tatertrotracker.com, the three slowest home run trots of 2014 entering the weekend all belonged to the Red Sox's David Ortiz, at 33.39 seconds, 29.64 seconds and 28.06 seconds.

The quickest trot, ironically, belonged to Gomez at 16.18 seconds, followed by the White Sox's Adam Eaton (16.72 seconds). Gomez had three of the top six quickest trots.

Maybe Cole overreacted, but only a pitcher knows that feeling of being crushed. Pitchers are supposed to be unemotional after giving up home runs, but it doesn't always work that way.

Former Cub Ted Lilly slammed his glove to the ground after serving up a home run in the 2007 playoffs, a Charlie Brown moment for the ages. Former major league third baseman Al Rosen had a memorable first major league home run, off Tigers starter Freddy Hutchinson in the Indians' 1950 opener.

Rosen later told writer Roger Angell that Hutchinson followed him around the bases, berating him the whole way. When Rosen touched the plate, he said Hutchinson yelled: "You hear me, don't you, you bush (bleep)."

"I said 'Yes, Mr. Hutchinson, I hear you," Rosen recalled. "And I went back to the bench and sat down. Quite a feeling.' "

In the 1980s, the A's "Bash Brothers," Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco, began the forearm salute after home runs, which some saw as the start of a golden age of showboating. Giants outfielder Jeffrey "HacMan" Leonard had his famous "one flap down" home run trot, gliding like an airplane, infuriating the Cardinals during the 1987 NLCS.

Sammy Sosa's home run hop is remembered fondly by many, and the Cubs even have named a cocktail for it at Wrigley Field. But few recall the time during 1999 spring training when Sosa added the home run "bow" to his celebratory repertoire.

Diamondbacks pitcher Todd Stottlemyre ripped into Sosa after serving up two homers to him during a Cactus League game, then watching him bow to fans at the plate.

"He looked like a bullfighter out there," Stottlemyre said. "Take it back to Japan. ... I have all the respect in the world for Sammy. But to bow after a home run? There's no place for that. I don't ever remember Mickey Mantle bowing after a home run. ... I wasn't around to see him, but I guarantee Roberto Clemente never bowed after a home run."

Sosa abandoned the bow the next day after teammate Rod Beck conceded he would throw at a player who bowed after homering off him, and Henry Rodriguez informed Sosa he did not want to be thrown at for the hot-dogging.

The term hot-dogging evolved into pimping, and someday it will be called something else.

"I don't think it's going to stop any time soon," said Diamondbacks broadcaster Bob Brenly, a former Cubs broadcaster, World Series manager and catcher. "It's just this generation of players coming up watching 'SportsCenter' and highlight shows. And all you see on highlight shows are home runs. Ballplayers consider themselves entertainers, and I guess part of that entertainment is drawing attention to yourself and embarrassing the other team."

Former All-Star third baseman Bill Madlock said Alex Johnson is the only player he remembered from his playing days who "pimped" home runs. Madlock watched the Gomez-Cole incident and absolved Gomez.

"I saw a clip of Pirates hitters doing much worse things," he said. "The only thing a pitcher can do is get them out. The pimping and the embarrassment, it started way before (Gomez) pimped it. The guy hit the ball off the wall. That kid, Gomez, you may not like him, but he plays hard. Of course, we policed ourselves back when I played."

In other words, throwing at the offending player was the best way to handle the situation, at least until it led to official umpire "warnings," foiling that strategy.

"That's always a potential remedy, but that doesn't seem to do much good either," Brenly said of throwing at hitters. "Plus, in my eyes it's the right intention on the part of the pitcher, but he's going to be suspended and end up missing a start and paying a big fine. And the guy who is pimping home runs is still going to still be pimping home runs while you're sitting at home watching it on TV.

"Unfortunately, in my eyes, it's just something we're going to have to get used to. It's part of the game, part of this generation. My son (minor leaguer catcher Michael Brenly) tells me, 'I don't see anything wrong with it.' That's what they've been raised watching."

So whether flipping a bat or going flaps down, there always will be hitters who take their enjoyment of a home run to the extreme. On the flip side, there always will be some pitchers who shake it off, and others who go ballistic.

The wide range of characters help make baseball such an interesting game.

"As diverse as baseball is, there are very different viewpoints people take," McCarthy said. "It shouldn't be this one homogenous game. You have different teams, different styles as players, and that's how you create heroes and teams that you like, as well as (villains) and teams you hate.

"And those are all good for a sport. It's entertainment. If everyone looks the same and acts the same, count me as someone who is bored by that."

(c)2014 Chicago Tribune

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