Javier Baez flipped his bat, and Clint Hurdle flipped out.
The Pirates manager fashions himself as baseball’s Judge Judy, scolding those who don’t conform to his narrow view of how baseball players should act on the diamond.
Baez made amends with his teammates for a misdemeanor – flipping his bat in frustration and dogging it to first base after an infield popup Wednesday night. Veteran reliever Pedro Strop addressed Baez in private, and – unprompted – Baez said he felt bad about “the way I looked in front of the kids and anyone who follows me.”
Cubs manager Joe Maddon applauded his players for self-policing, calling it “a proud moment” and one that “galvanizes the culture” of the team.
That should have ended the story.
Yet Hurdle felt the need to chime in Thursday morning.
“You watch their kid flip that bat last night? Where’s the respect for the game?” Hurdle told reporters. “The guy hits four homers in two days, so that means you can take your bat and throw it 15, 20 feet in the air when you pop up like you should have hit your fifth home run?
“I would bet that men over there talked to him, because I do believe they have a group over there that speaks truth to power.”
OK, Judge. Thoughts on any other Cubs?
Hurdle apparently thinks he’s fit to manage both teams. He said of catcher Willson Contreras, who reacted angrily to a called third strike: “The catcher … he’s a talented young man. There is a day, he would have been thrown out as soon as he [gestured] that the ball was high.”
And then Hurdle again cited “respect for the game.”
As you can imagine, Baez’s teammates found Hurdle’s comments absurd.
“Four homers in two days and he doesn’t respect the game; you should have hit five, Javy,” Anthony Rizzo said loud enough in the clubhouse for everyone to hear.
Asked about Hurdle’s “respect the game” line, Kyle Schwarber offered a look of what on earth are you talking about?
Said Schwarber: “He is full of energy and loves the game, and the way he goes about it rubs off on everyone. Like [Thursday], we’re down 6-1 and he has a big smile on his face even though he’s 0-for-4. He’s a really good human being and really enjoys the game.”
Baez found out about Hurdle’s remarks while showering after the Cubs’ 6-1 loss.
“I bust my ass every day to play hard,” he said calmly. “I don’t think anyone plays this game harder than me. I respect 90 [feet].
“If I have to apologize, I have to apologize to my teammates and my manager, not to the other team. We’re playing a game, we’re winning 13-to-something [Wednesday], and I think it got to him. We lost the series, but we’re still the same. I’m happy; there’s music in the clubhouse. People who talk about me, they can save it. I don’t really care about it.”
Baez plays with a flair that most fans love.
Schwarber said before the silly controversy that “it’s so good to have him on our side. I got wowed every time by what he does. He’s the same guy every day, always having fun. Doesn’t matter if he’s 0-for-20 or 20-for-20.”
Maddon is of the generation as the 60-year-old Hurdle, who should have known better than to jump on an opposing player – two of them, actually.
That’s probably why Maddon was taken aback by Hurdle’s criticism – and was ready to respond Friday.
The Cubs manager spoke specifically about Baez (“He plays with a joy. … Billy Williams said he runs the bases like Willie Mays”), and generally about how odd it was for Hurdle to come down on a 25-year-old player from another team for reacting to an at-bat that yielded an infield pop-up.
“I don’t understand why [Hurdle] did what he did. Whenever you want to be hypercritical of somebody,” Maddon said, “just understand you are revealing yourself and your beliefs more than you’re evaluating somebody – because you have not spent one second in that person’s skin.
“I’ve had commentary. But to try to disseminate what I think about a guy on another team based on superficial reasons, I’ll never go there.
“I don’t know the guy enough. I’m not in the clubhouse. I haven’t had these conversations. I don’t know what kind of teammate he is. ... Just like people making decisions on [Pedro] Strop based on wearing his hat [tilted]. I think most of the time when you hear critical commentary, it’s self-evaluation. ... It reveals you more than it reveals the person you are talking about.”
Maddon said of Baez: “I thought Javy did a great job in his response. I’m very proud of him … He owned up to it. ... How old is Javy – 24, 25? Just put yourself in that position. When I was coming out of Lafayette playing some ball and getting released, I was an absolute idiot. And I’m not saying Javy is. I’m saying give young people an opportunity to make some mistakes. The mistakes of youth are preferable to the wisdom of old age any day of the week.”
Maddon said he and Hurdle, by the way, “have a great relationship.”
The Cubs and Pirates will meet 16 more times this season.
“I believe Javy is motivated anyway,” Maddon said. “But I will be curious and eager to watch him perform in Pittsburgh.”
Last year Maddon compared Baez’s flashy style to a Harlem Globetrotters player and said: “The moment you try to subtract from his joy on the field by making him into your perception of what he’s supposed to look like, you may lose a very good player.”
Maybe that’s what Hurdle wants, and why he came down on Baez.
Guess what? It’s not his courtroom.
Baez only has to answer to his teammates, his manager and himself.