I don't often point out the positives of MLB Network's Harold Reynold's commentary, because there often is not a lot of positive to point out. But in the recent game between the Miami Marlins and the Atlanta Braves, there was a scuffle following the home run by Jose Fernandez because Fernandez stood around too long at the plate. SB Nation's Grant Brisbee graded Fernandez's indiscretion of the unwritten rules as significant, but I say that the most unfortunate part of it was that it ruined an otherwise excellent evening for the Fish.
Here is Reynold's play-by-play commentary.
Let's take ourselves step-by-step through this process.
Step 1: Gattis home run
I was not fully convinced about the Gattis staredown, as it was significantly shorter than Fernandez's eventual eyeing of his home run. But as Reynolds points out, Gattis stares for a second and looks directly at Fernandez for a second as well. Fernandez responds by looking "impressed" with the home run.
Which one of these initial actions became the trigger for the events that followed? It's hard to say that either of these issues were really incendiary. Fernandez certainly does not look sincere in his "marveling" of Gattis's home run, but that may be because he felt Gattis's stare was not right. However, on the surface it looks as though Fernandez's response angered some of the Braves.
Should either player have done what they did? Almost certainly not, but it feels as though Fernandez was a bit more at fault there in terms of inciting problems. But overall, neither the event nor the response looked significant to me.
Step 2: Chris Johnson's jawing, Part 1
Here, I believe, is where the fun begins. Thanks to Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs, we have the GIF.
Johnson: /flies out
Johnson: weak-ass fastball
What you don't see on here is the follow-up by Fernandez, which involves him saying some, ahem, choice words in return. Chris Johnson is clearly inciting a conflict here by audibly yelling it out to Fernandez. Earlier in the plate appearance, Johnson also visibly looks unimpressed with Fernandez, and he continued to jaw at him even as he runs to first on his way to a fly-out.
Johnson is clearly in the wrong here, as he escalates the altercation with his words for Fernandez. Fernandez is then rightfully peeved, though he continues to express his attitude in the dugout after the inning, as he jawed at Johnson from the bench. He was so incensed that pitching coach Chuck Fernandez and manager Mike Redmond had to come over to discuss things with him, and it seemed from the video that Fernandez more or less blew them off in their attempts to calm him down.
Fernandez should not have gotten so visibly upset, but Johnson was essentially taunting him all throughout the plate appearance. The response from the 21-year-old rookie was not the most mature, but it was certainly understandable given the circumstance and the player involved. Johnson is having a good season this year, but he is also a lifetime .291/.329/,440 (.333 wOBA) hitter, so it is not as though he is a world-beater to be able to judge Fernandez's skill.
Step 3: The Fernandez Home Run
Now, obviously Fernandez stared down his home run, this is of no dispute. But as we discussed in the previous article, he is a pitcher hitting his first professional home run, it's a rarity to behold to begin with! More importantly, it was a wonderful moment that was ruined by the ensuing scuffle, and while Fernandez should not have stooped to that level necessarily, the instigation particularly from Johnson had him riled up. Reynolds showed Fernandez on deck saying to himself that he was "hot" and looking fired up. The passion for good ol' fashioned revenge was there.
The only thing that the Marlins could have asked for was to let Fernandez's game speak for itself. He hit a home run a very long distance, and I would have been happy with him enjoying the shot for a little while, though probably not for as long as he did. He stood a bit longer, and it crossed the silly "unwritten rules" transgression that, while many fans dislike, remains a staple among baseball players.
Step 4: The Spit
The spit was an interesting incident. On first view, for me it seemed an incidental finding, but given the history that Johnson and Fernandez were jawing for some time before that and that Johnson incited Fernandez with the initial comments, it cannot be taken as coincidental. At the same time, Fernandez spits closer to third base than he does at Johnson's feet, as he had already passed Johnson when he unleashed the loogie.
At the same time, Reynolds points out something i did not originally see: Johnson spits too. You can see the video version at the 3:04 mark.
It is easier to tell in the video that Johnson purses his lips and lets out a little loogie of his own, though Fernandez does it almost smoothly directly after him. That makes Fernandez's choice to hawk one up a little less over-the-top.
Step 5: The Play at the Plate
Neither Fernandez nor Brian McCann can be wronged for their conversation, though Fernandez made it look more confrontational than it probably was. Then there was Johnson charging to the plate, slowing down to get behind the umpire, and doing the "yapping" hand signal at Fernandez. Meanwhile, Fernandez more or less responds in hysterical fashion.
Originally from Chad Moriyama
Johnson's hand motions and gesticulating look silly in the face of Fernandez', as Brisbee puts it, "don't-give-a-shit" face. Was Fernandez wrong? In the purest sense of the unwritten rules, yes. In the more reasonable sense of said rules? Probably. But Johnson was just as bad and while two wrongs don't make a right, they certainly don't make the more visible wrong stronger than the other.
As we ultimately mentioned in the last article, all of this discussion on Fernandez's activities that night ruined an otherwise awesome evening at Marlins Park, but they will all be soon forgotten in the face of the spectacular 2013 season Fernandez has had. Voters for the Rookie of the Year are going to remember the good, and these little details that we just went over are going to get glossed over amid all the positives that happened this season. The play-by-play was nice, but in the end, the fault lies most likely with everyone involved, if there is any fault to be even mentioned.