Of punks and players

I’ve been too busy enjoying baseball this weekend to talk about this yet, but let me state clearly and for the record: Carlos Quentin is a punk.

Not just because his charge of Zack Greinke broke the $147 million-dollar-man’s collarbone and sidelined the Dodgers pitcher for eight weeks after Greinke had the audacity to hit Quentin with a pitch in L.A.’s 3-2 win in San Diego on Thursday night. But because getting hit is what Quentin does, and his style of “play” is an insult to the game of baseball.

In seven years (2,406 at-bats), Quentin has been hit 116 times. He’s hit by a pitch every 20.7 at-bats, or once every six games. Yet when Greinke hit him (and yes, Greinke’s hit him before, but who hasn’t?) on Thursday night, in a one-run, late-inning, full-count situation, he decided to charge the mound, slamming into Greinke’s left shoulder and emptying the benches.

There was plenty of idiocy to go around, on both sides, in the melee that followed. Matt Kemp, upset about an earlier head-high pitch that send him spinning out of the way but not charging the mound, was particularly demonstrative about his displeasure.

But the chump here is Quentin.  

The all-time active hit-by-pitch leader, Jason Giambi , has been hit 175 times – in 18 years and at 7,021 at-bats. No. 2, Alex Rodriguez, has been hit 167 times – in 19 years and 9,662 at-bats.

No. 3 on the list, Derek Jeter, has been hit 163 times in 18 years and 10,551 at-bats. That’s 47 more times than Quentin - in 8,145 more at-bats.

I’m no Yankees fan, but Derek Jeter is everything good about baseball. You, Carlos Quentin, are no Derek Jeter, and my fervent wish is that instead of lowering his shoulder to meet you, Greinke had channeled his inner Nolan Ryan and grabbed you in a Robin Ventura-esque headlock.

Quentin isn’t in the same league as any of the active hit-by-pitch leaders, including Chase Utley (4,472 at-bats, 151 hit-by-pitch). These men are among the premier hitters in the game, power or percentage or both, and Quentin is … someone I had paid almost no attention to before he went after Greinke like a bull scenting a drunk tourist on the streets of Pamplona.

Spiking popularity and steroid rumors momentarily aside, Giambi is a career .280 hitter and A-Rod a career. 300 hitter.

Jeter is a career .313 hitter and the ultimate gamer, a player who puts on his pinstripes and does his job, through injury and contract controversies, without complaint – or much talk of any kind.

Utley, a career .288 hitter, has less cartilage in his knees than most 90-year-olds, but keeps grinding out rehab assignments in the minors at an age when some players would have been happy to take their cleats and their World Series ring and go home.

These men are baseball players. Quentin is a punk and a .250 lifetime hitter who dives into pitches or, at the least and as was the case on Thursday, makes no effort to get out of the way.

I’m not naïve about the game that I declare my love for over and over. I know there are situations that call for pitching high and tight (like against the great hitters mentioned above), or even, in the minds of some, for throwing at a guy in retaliation for his or a teammate’s sins. The sixth inning of a 2-1 game, on a 3-2 count, is not one of them.

And yes, I’m a Dodger fan, but as L.A. manager and former Yankee great Don Mattingly so adroitly put it to MLB.com: “We weren’t throwing at him in that situation. That’s zero understanding of the game of baseball.”

 And that game, to me, is sacred. It’s the sinking sun against the high-rise horizon of a city that is still foreign in many ways but familiar inside a stadium with a pitcher’s mound, four bases and nine players to a side. It’s the first sip of the first beer as you settle into your seat, the evening breeze from the open roof ruffling your hair.

It’s the instant camaraderie that forms with similarly clad members of your visiting tribe, the shared laughter and the mock unison “boooos” when the opposing pitcher throws to first (a move the home team fans apparently find offensive in the rare instances when they have a runner on).

It’s the popping leather of the bullpen catcher’s glove. It’s the dirty look you get from a Mets fan – seriously, a Mets fan? – on a return trip to the beer line. 

It’s the stomach-tightening 10th inning, the suspense-laden 1-2 pitch, the rifle shot down the first-base line that curves just foul.

It’s the unspooling joy when the bat cracks and the ball stays fair, rolling into the right-field corner while the go-ahead – and eventual game-winning – run rounds the bases. It’s the high-fiving of total strangers.

It’s the look on my husband’s face, under his Phillies cap, as he gazes back at a day-glow stadium, glinting like a stubborn post-firework-show sparkler in the night, after he’s watched his team win.

It’s why Quentin offends me. It’s why, beyond the roughly $7.2 million dollars (assuming Greinke, signed to a six-year deal that pays him, on average, $24.5 million a year, will miss 10 starts in eight weeks) that will be benched during games that could become critical in autumn division races, Quentin's preferred method of transportation to first base makes me livid.

Some – most – players play the game, this game, this wonderful, magical game. Others try to play it to their advantage. And Quentin’s well-deserved but inadequate eight-game suspension isn’t going to change that fundamentally flawed approach.

The Miami skyline

The Miami skyline