Baseball’s a grind and can be taxing mentally. To the frustration during slumps to the waits during rain delays, the regular season could make anyone grumpy. Through 162 games, a player needs to find motivation in the mundane.
But sometimes, you can find motivation in perceived slights.
San Diego Padres rookie pitcher Chris Paddack went into his start against the New York Mets on Monday night with a chip on his shoulder. Recently, New York’s Pete Alonso became the fourth Met rookie to be named National League Rookie of the Month (joining Justin Turner, Jacob deGrom and Steve Matz). Alonso impressed many in his first month as a major leaguer. The first baseman hit .292/.382/.642 with a 1.024 OPS with nine home runs. He also tied Darryl Strawberry’s franchise record for most home runs by a rookie in any month.
Alonso told the New York Daily News that he’s “just really appreciative of the opportunity that I’ve had. Breaking with the camp has meant absolutely everything to me. I just want to say thank you to the Mets for being able to give me that opportunity. I’m really happy.”
This didn’t sit well with Paddack who pitched to a 1.91 ERA and 35 strikeouts in 33 innings. Paddack told reporters on Sunday night that he looked forward to facing Alonso for one particular reason.
“He’s a great player, no doubt. Does he deserve (the Rookie of the Month award)? Absolutely. But I’m coming for him. We’ll see Monday who the top dog is. That’s something I’m looking forward to, for sure. And I’m not saying that in a cocky way. I’m saying that because I know what I want, just like I’m sure he knows what he wants. It’ll be a fun little matchup.”
Yes. Thank you, Mr. Paddack. Thank you for making a regular season game in early May must see television. Paddack pitched on Monday like it was Game 7 of the World Series. Screams and fist pumps galore. Alonso went 0-for-3 against Paddack. After the game, Alonso wondered aloud why Paddack took umbrage with him being named Player of the Month.
“If he was upset about it, I’m assuming he could have been a little jealous,” Alonso said after going 0-for-3 against Paddack in Monday’s 4-0 loss to the Padres. “He had a helluva first month. I’m happy to win it. If he was mad about that, there’s five other months.”
The next night, Alonso went off going 3-for-5 with four RBI and two runs scored. The icing on the cake included a go-ahead home run in the top of the 9th.
SNY, the network that carries Mets games, had a little fun at Paddack’s expense.
— SNY (@SNYtv) May 8, 2019
Bickering between Mets and Padres fans online echoed Paddack vs. Alonso. Rivalries or dramas between players on opposing teams makes baseball more interesting. Even when an actual game might not be entertaining, no matter the sport, interpersonal drama add some panache to an event.
What leagues like the NBA have gotten right is emphasizing player personalities and individuality over teams. The league acknowledges its history and reminds young fans of its lineage, but doesn’t lean on the past as a crutch. Adam Silver and company recognize that it’s still about the now. Baseball relies too much on franchise history and its past. Baseball play-by-play announcers and color commentators lament the on-field play. Some still haven’t accepted the statistical and data-driven revolution that’s overtaken the league in the past decade.
But the uniformity that’s come with the data-driven revolution has resulted in a loss in franchise personalities. Teams had their own way of doing things and conflicting styles of play made matchups interesting. Go back to the 1980s and you’ll see teams like the “Harvey’s Wallbangers” Milwaukee Brewers and the speed and stolen base-oriented St. Louis Cardinals. In 2019, franchises have embraced the “elevate and celebrate” mantra and have hit home runs at record rates. That’s all well and good, but you need personalities to make “elevate and celebrate” interesting.
Baseball used to be littered with personalities. Just 15 years ago, you had Pedro Martinez, Manny Ramirez, Barry Bonds, Randy Johnson, Ken Griffey Jr. and Ichiro Suzuki. With a bigger emphasis than ever on “keeping your head down” and “not ruffling feathers,” players are afraid to show emotion and display personality. Tim Anderson‘s leading a one-man fight to save baseball from itself, but he needs an army. Dramas like the one between Chris Paddack and Pete Alonso could help.
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Writer. Reporter. New Yorker.