- Tim Keown, ESPN Senior Writer
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Great theater should never be discouraged. For that reason, there's no need for the actions of Carlos Gomez and Brian McCann to send you to the nearest fainting couch, muttering about what to tell the children. Gomez and the Braves turned a game nobody cared about into something thought-provoking and hilarious. A rare feat. So thanks, guys.
There are so many layers and sublayers here. There's the whole idea of whether Paul Maholm, following the tradition of many before him, has at times decided that hitting Gomez with a fastball is a better approach than trying to get him out. There's Gomez and his General Sherman trip around the bases after crushing a homer off Maholm in the first inning Wednesday night. There's Freddie Freeman with his vocal objections and McCann with his physical ones.
With one swing of the bat and one nearly complete home run trot, Gomez ignited a series of events that raised a ton of questions while answering few. Gomez believes Maholm drilled him intentionally two months ago, and this was his payback. "You hit me. I hit you," were apparently the words that rocked the Braves' world. Is that a worse offense than intentionally hitting someone? Do the Unwritten Rules -- a tiresome, overused description -- reserve their greatest punishments for acts of showmanship?
(I keep reading and hearing about Gomez's home run "celebration," but what I saw was not a celebration, not with all that anger attached. It was a spiteful display, equal parts vengeful and belittling. Don't get me wrong: I enjoyed all parts of it, but I didn't detect any joy.)
The greedy among us keep coming back to one specific question: What will McCann do for his next act? After confronting Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez at home plate less than three weeks ago to discuss transgressions real or imagined after a home run, he upped the ante by walking down the third-base line to stop Gomez before he could feel the satisfaction of his shoe hitting the plate. At least he let Fernandez score. The next guy who runs afoul of Sheriff McCann might find himself tackled from behind near the first-base coach's box. Keep your head on a swivel, boys.
Is there a chance McCann is working on a higher plane? Knowing his team has been struggling -- and perhaps discounted as a legitimate World Series contender as the postseason approaches -- is his judge-and-jury act a calculated effort to send a message to his team and any future opponents? Is he taking on the role of leader of men in the post-Chipper era? Or is he simply a hair-trigger enforcer playing schoolyard cop? If his motivation was to motivate, the Braves' response -- two hits and zero runs off Kyle Lohse in their nine offensive innings after the incident -- should have him considering other approaches.
The responsible reaction is to state the obvious: Everybody was wrong -- Gomez, Freeman, Gomez, McCann, Gomez. We can all enjoy baseball's frequent side trips into foolishness and immaturity while acknowledging their ridiculousness. What will we tell the children? How about you start with this: Adults can be goofballs sometimes, son, whether they're wearing a baseball uniform or not. Now sit down and watch what McCann does right … about … now.
At the risk of falling face-first into rhetorical quicksand -- I imagine it looks like Alpha-Bits, only thicker and smellier -- what about the cultural aspects of this? (Wait, is that an elephant in the room?) White players seem to have a death grip on The Code, while Latin players seem more comfortable with their emotions. The majority of American-born players were raised in a hypervigilant and ultrasensitive baseball environment. From Little League on up, the emphasis is on keeping emotions hermetically sealed. Do your job, keep quiet about it and by all means take offense when someone strays from your ethos.
Latin players come from a different environment, with fewer hang-ups and perhaps without the same focus on narrow, ill-defined rules.
One side preaches the humility necessary to achieve success in a sport that is all about failure. The other sees a sport that is so fraught with failure and frustration that grand achievements should sometimes be honored accordingly.
It's part of what makes the game unique and compelling -- different people from different worlds displaying their personalities in different ways. If everyone approached the game like McCann -- in other words, if everyone always abided by the Big League Code of Honor -- baseball would lose something. And if every home run trot became an exercise in angry self-aggrandizement, the game would be anarchy.
It's clear Gomez chose the wrong time and place to deliver his message of personal redemption. Within the rigid constructs of the game, he was wrong and admitted as much. But the Braves are an uptight bunch right now; it apparently isn't taking much to set them off.
And amid the moral, cultural and procedural questions raised by this random confluence of events, one stands alone: Who among us is not disappointed the Brewers and Braves don't play again right away?
When you peel away the layers of Wednesday night's Brian McCann-Carlos Gomez incident, what's left? Maybe the guilty pleasure of wanting to see more.