Here it is the first week of August and already we see evidence that all heck is breaking loose in Major League Baseball. From incidents of “sweating” on umpires to multiple ejections to head hunting, baseball is once again living up to the old axiom that August brings out the worst in some players. The dog days, here we are.
Major League Baseball is often a grueling long distance race leaving many players on the Disabled List and some unemployed or in the minors. The promise of the first gentle, warm April days often gives way to the cold hard reality of another long and unsuccessful season wrought with failure, injury and harsh criticism from the media. Even seasoned veterans can fall victim to this seemingly most trying of all baseball months. With each passing day, time to overcome any obstacles seems to be slipping faster and faster away. Time to turn an individual’s season around now seems to be the enemy. For some, the whispers of wait until next year are becoming louder and more direct.
It’s not only the players and coaches who succumb to emotional outbursts. Umpires tend to have a shorter fuse and are less tolerant of questions concerning their competence or general rule interpretations.
Such questions or comments which might have been ignored in the previous four months seem more personal and confrontational now. As umpires seek to maintain control, players seek more and creative ways to bargain their way out of situations or bend the rules. Both seem to be walking that proverbial tight rope when there is only room for one.
One would imagine that the distractions of the July 31 trade deadline might have lessened or even been eliminated for some. The uncertainty of will he or won’t he have to uproot his family, get used to another city or league and fit in with new teammates should have come and gone, having been decided one way or another. Either a new happiness and sense of excitement has set in (going to a contender), disappointment in staying with a hopelessly out of the race team, or a huge sense of relief at not changing teams is now setting in. Certainly the July 31st deadline doesn’t mean the end of player movement as we have so often witnessed in the past. Some players will continue to look over their shoulders, wishfully or otherwise, until the conclusion of the regular season.
The pressure keeps building and something has to give. Players who are normally quiet and businesslike can suddenly explode over previously shrugged off borderline calls. The “gee ump that looked a bit low from here” is now replaced by various colorful metaphors and the questioning of an umpires mothers standing in the community. Such actions which in April, May, June, or July would be dutifully ignored or greeted with a knowing smile, become personal and inflammatory in August. The pen may be mightier than the sword but an umpire’s thumb is the mightiest of them all and if the manager doesn’t like it, he is more than welcome to quickly join his offending player in the showers.
The admiration of a long home run, however brief, is not tolerated in the dog days. The phrases unwritten rule and payback are used to justify mid 90’s fastball aimed specifically at the batter responsible for such a now-dire oneuppance. Naturally this action will justify and cause a retaliatory reaction from the opposition and so forth and so on resulting in warnings/rejections or the meeting near the mound of all players from both teams for an exchange of opinions and suggested solutions.
Normally docile fans can also fall victim to the dog days. The frustration of their team’s failures, the success of the opposition or an umpire’s failure to decipher the strike zone or a missed tag can ignite behavior which wouldn’t be tolerated at the biker bar down the street. Even the gentler sex has been known to become an all seeing and all knowing expert umpire, correcting on field decisions with passionate and explicative filled reports and body language.
Grandmothers and little children beware, lock your doors and turn off the lights. At least until September. At least until the dog days are done.