This July, Minnesota Twins prospect Miguel Sano was benched four games for showing up a pitcher after a home run. At the time, especially after seeing the video, I thought it was completely ridiculous to hold him out so long.
Sure, he pimped it. He walked about the first 15 feet, then broken into a very slow home run trot. There was also apparently some history between Sano and the pitcher, which does add some fuel to the fire.
But four games? That’s a long time.
The minor leagues are all about learning and development. That’s not just limited to baseball skills. These young guys also need to be taught what is and is not acceptable down on the farm before making it to the show. If that doesn’t happen, they can embarrass themselves and their organizations.
Here’s what Twins assistant general manager Rob Anthony told Mike Berardino of the Pioneer Press at the time of the benching:
“You’ve got to send messages and impress upon people that handling yourself as a professional is important. That’s all part of this. It’s not just learning how to hit the breaking ball. It’s learning how to become a professional.”
If teams start letting their prospects get away with showboating, what’s going to stop them from doing the same once they get called up? Celebrating a home run may seem harmless, but what happens when a player incites a benches-clearing brawl and get suspended or injured, or if one of his teammates gets injured on a retaliation beaning?
Gomez, a former Twin now with the Milwaukee Brewers, has always been an emotional, flashy player. He came up to the plate jawing, apparently having a score to settle with pitcher Paul Maholm.
He blasted a home run and took his time getting out of the box and around the bases, continuing to run his mouth. He put on such a show that Atlanta Braves catcher Brian McCann actually got in his face before he ever reached home plate, causing both benches to clear.
To his credit, Gomez has been very apologetic about the incident, admitting he took things too far.
A similar incident happened, again with the Braves involved, when Miami Marlins rookie pitcher Jose Fernandez decided to put on a show after hitting his first career home run. He flipped his bat, took his sweet time breaking into his home run trot, spit in the direct of third baseman Chris Johnson and had an altercation with McCann after finally reaching the plate.
I have to admit it is exciting when things like this happen and I do think baseball could lighten up a bit and be more accepting to players showing some more emotion on the field. But, when it comes to showing someone up on this level, things start to look more like professional wrestling than professional baseball.
Also, in defense of Gomez and Fernandez, you have to wonder if there’s something to the fact the Braves were involved in both incidents. Evan Gattis had admired a home run of his own hit earlier in the game off Fernandez.
In the minors, there are so many players just trying to hang in there that a lot of guys are going to be afraid to act out against someone showing them up. Sure, someone might get drilled by a pitch later in the game, but you’re probably never going to see anything like what McCann did.
Things are also different in the bigs because if something like this happens, many more people are going to see it and react to it than if it happens in the minors. That makes it more likely there will be a backlash from the opposing team.
Fernandez, 20, didn’t get to learn those lessons in the minors. Neither did Gomez, who was 21 when he broke into the majors.
After riding the pine for four games, you can bet Sano got the message loud and clear. It may have seemed harsh at the time, but the club made sure to get its point across.