Chapman Controversy is Much Ado About Nothing

The Reds had just won their second straight game against the division rival Brewers, rebounding nicely from the disappointment of the previous week. Jay Bruce gave the Reds a 3-0 lead with a long home run. Bronson Arroyo threw 7 1/3 no-hit innings, before allowing Milwaukee to tie the game in the eighth. Then Drew Stubbs hit a long homer of his own to give the Reds a 4-3 win. It was a thrilling victory, even more so when you consider that the Reds had lost their previous six one-run games. And yet all anyone could talk about afterward was Aroldis Chapman’s gymnastics moves.

In case you missed it, Chapman struck out Martin Maldonado to end the game and pick up his first save since June 16. After the strikeout, Chapman took a couple steps toward home, stopped, and then did two somersaults. I didn’t think much of it at the time, so I was surprised to see it start such a controversy.

On the postgame show, Thom Brennaman said that people across the baseball world would be debating Chapman’s somersaults in the coming hours and days. I thought this was just more Brennaman hyperbole, but he turned out to be right. National writers chimed in to say that Chapman was showing the Brewers up. Even our own Barry Larkin went on ESPN and said that it was an unnecessary act of showmanship. Marty Brennaman later said he was so stunned by Aroldis’s rolls that he forgot to end the game with his usual, “And this one belongs to the Reds.”

The criticism continued from both dugouts; surprisingly, the Reds seemed more upset than the Brewers did. Dusty Baker said, “We don’t play like that.” According to Fox Sports Ohio, Joey Votto and Jay Bruce pulled Chapman aside after the game and gave him a talking to. And the Brewers weren’t fans of the acrobatics, either. “Two somersaults? That’s rough,” said third baseman Taylor Green. Let’s just hope we don’t see any fastballs aimed at Votto’s head today in retaliation.

Which, for the record, would be stupid. I fail to see the harm in Chapman’s antics. Yes, it may have been an unnecessary touch, but it didn’t seem like he was trying to insult anyone. After watching replay after replay online, what stands out is the joy on Chapman’s face. This is a 24 year-old kid who came to the United States not knowing the language or customs. All he knew how to do was throw a baseball, and even that hadn’t been going well lately. Chapman had blown his last two saves and had given up three home runs in his past five appearances, after not giving up a single earned run until June 7.  People were calling for him to be removed from the closing role, or even to be sent down to Louisville. It started to get to him, and last night was a temporary escape from the struggles. He was happy, he wanted to show it.

All this goes back to baseball’s so-called “unwritten code of conduct.” In baseball, showing joy is frowned upon; celebration is seen as showing up other players. Brandon Phillips smiles and claps after a big hit or throws the ball between his legs, and he is criticized for being too flashy. Old school baseball fans don’t want players like Chapman or Phillips. They want a Derek Jeter or Mariano Riviera, players who show up, work hard, take the game seriously, and leave. What these fans fail to understand is that Phillips and Chapman work just as hard, take the game just as seriously, but do it all with a smile on their faces. Baseball is meant to be fun. It’s a game. I like the fact that Phillips and Chapman remind us of what it was like to play the game as kids, out in the backyard (even if none of us could throw the ball like Chapman).

If Aroldis can return to the way he was pitching earlier this year, he can somersault his way to the division title. I’ll cheer for him the whole way.

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