As wonderful a game as it is, Major League Baseball can be as prickly as an artichoke.
Analytics has moved the game seamlessly into the 21st century, but some of its guardians are still living in the past when it comes to the rules of comportment on and off the field.
We direct your attention to the current hullabaloo surrounding Cinncinnati Reds outfielder Derek Dietrich.
In a year when Cody Bellinger, Christian Yelich and Pete Alonso have been jacking home runs at a blistering pace, Dietrich, in his seventh season, has all of a sudden developed into a power source.
On Tuesday in Cincinnati, he hit three home runs and had six RBIs in an 11-6 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates. The dude has killed Pittsburgh this season with seven homers. He was asked whether he thinks the pitchers have noticed.
“Other than they probably don’t really like me, no,” Dietrich told MLB.com. “I don’t treat it any differently, honestly. It just so happens that I’m kind of hot right now. I didn’t go up there with any extra expectations or anything like that.”
One person who has noticed is Pirates broadcaster John Wehner, a former MLB player.
Like we said, Dietrich has never been a big-time home run hitter. But he has been known as an occasional showboat. And after a few of those homers earlier this week, Dietrich stopped to enjoy them by lounging around in the batter’s box and watching them soar into the seats.
Wehner doesn’t like that. He espouses MLB’s unwritten rule that a player should do nothing to show up a team after he hits a homer. No bat flip. No slow trot. No glaring at the pitcher. Nothing that in anyway expresses any emotion.
Guys like Wehner want guys like Dietrich to just put their heads down, run to first base and get to home plate as fast as they can.
Wehner went on a radio show even before Dietrich’s big night on Tuesday and ripped the kid for admiring his homer during Game 2 of Monday’s doubleheader and then strutting slowly around the bases.
“I can’t stand him,” Wehner said. “I just don’t see why – I don’t understand why you have to do that. It’s different if you’re a Hall of Fame player, you’re a 60-homer guy, you’re an established guy. Nobody ever heard of him before this year.
“I heard of him because of his grandfather (Steve Demeter) who used to be a Minor League coach for the Pirates. He was the nicest, sweetest guy in the world. He’s rolling in his grave every time this guy hits a home run. He’s embarrassed of his grandson.”
Sure, John. We’re absolutely certain that’s what’s happening. What a dork.
Wehner continued: “It’s just being arrogant. I don’t get it. I don’t get why you do that. It doesn’t make any sense to me.”
Dietrich has apparently been a hot topic in Pittsburgh all season. On April 7, he deposited two homers into the adjacent Allegheny River. After the first dinger, Pirates starter Chris Archer zipped one behind Dietrich’s ass. And because of that, the benches cleared and five players were suspended.
On Monday, Dietrich smacked a homer into the top row of the right field seats and he dropped his bat and watched the baby sail. He was asked about it after the game.
“I’m going to keep playing the way I play,” Dietrich said. “I think everyone should play the way they play. I’ve got no problems with it. … I’m just coming to play ball and hit the ball hard. We’re having fun and trying to win. This is baseball.”
Take that, Johnny boy! What specifically is the problem with a player feeling good about himself after a big hit or strikeout? If the spike was on the other foot, you can bet the Reds would be pissed off at Dietrich, too.
On Wednesday, the Reds broadcasters, Thom Brennaman and Jeff Brantley, offered their opinion about Wehner’s protestation.
“John Wehner, former Pirate player, nice guy, good guy. Always enjoy talking to him, really good guy, but really got personal saying Dietrich’s grandfather would be ashamed of the way his grandson stands there and watches home runs,” Brennaman said. “And that he’s rolling over or turning over in his grave.”
Said Brantley: “Well, the game evolves in different ways. I can remember a good friend of mine, Buck Showalter, made the comment about Ken Griffey Jr. when he had his hat backward. As you get older and you look back, you want the youngsters to play the way that you did. Every young kid whether they’re 12 or 25 or 30, they want to make their own mark.
“Our game has changed. It really has. We’re the older ones. We’re the ones that have to adapt to the change that’s on the field. It’s not just Derek Dietrich. It’s pitchers, it’s position players, it’s other batters on other ballclubs. The issue at hand is do the fans love watching what they see on the field? I think Reds fans love to watch what they’re seeing with Derek Dietrich and really fans in baseball, in general, they like to see the swagger and they like to see the action.”
Thank you, Jeff, for the common sense exploration into the modern world of professional sports. Things aren’t the same anymore and those fixated on old-world rituals are being absolutely ridiculous.
Wouldn’t you be happy if you were Dietrich? He wasn’t even signed until the Reds offered him a Minor League deal in the middle of February. In his first six MLB seasons with the Marlins he’d hit only 60 homers, including a career-high 16 in 499 at-bats last season.
Dietrich has 17 homers in 53 games and 122 at-bats this season. His slugging percentage is .713. His OPS is 1.081. He should be jumping up and down.
There’s more: Dietrich is the third player this season to have six straight hits go for home runs, joining Jay Bruce of the Seattle Mariners (March 31 to June 9) and Gary Sanchez of the New York Yankees (March 31 to June 7).
“[It’s about] how comfortable I feel here,” Dietrich said, “and how the Reds just let me be myself and do what I’ve always known I’m capable of doing from day one when I stepped into the big leagues. They believe in me and have given me an opportunity. Really, I think that’s all I really needed along the way.”