The 2021 Major League Baseball season is winding down, and while we’ve had an awful lot of fun this year — tons more fun than not — there have inevitably been some pretty dumb “controversies” over the 162-game grind. For the purposes of your sweet, sweet internet clicks and the maximum amount of dismay, let’s run them down.
Here are the five silliest “controversies” of the 2021 MLB regular season.
5. Rat or raccoon?
Back in May in the tunnel at Citi Field, it was apparent that Mets shortstop Francisco Lindor had a confrontation with teammate Jeff McNeil. In the big picture, it’s not really that big a deal to see two teammates arguing. They spend every single day together for at least seven months. There are bound to be disagreements, especially if someone is struggling after being traded and signing a new, gigantic extension like Lindor at the time.
What lands this altercation on the list is the explanation. Lindor claimed the two were arguing about whether they saw a rat or raccoon in the tunnel, and the New York media/Mets fans on social media took over from there. I don’t even want to think about how mind-numbing local sports talk radio was the next day.
Unsurprisingly, this isn’t the last we’ll see of the Mets.
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4. Substance check freak outs
The league-wide crackdown of the so-called “sticky stuff” was a huge topic earlier in the season. I say this with the most drippingly condescending tone as possible: Somehow, we all survived.
I mean, good lord. Remember all the drama around it? Batters are going to be hit by pitches excessively! No pitchers are going to know where the ball is going!
As it turns out, there were pitchers skirting the rules because it helped them pitch better, not because they somehow couldn’t get a grip on a 7.3-centimeter sphere.
And while it was certainly an adjustment to see pitchers spot checked on the field in between innings, it really isn’t that big of a deal. If you’re clean, let the umpire see your glove and hat and even the inside of your belt. No big deal.
Some did make it a big deal, though. Sergio Romo, come on down.
He knew this was coming. It was happening all over the league. The umpires probably didn’t even want to be doing this, they were following directions. How infantile. How embarrassing.
Romo wasn’t alone. There were others, but his example is just the one that stuck the most in my head.
3. Mets’ thumb war
I’m not going to attempt to hide my obvious and over-the-top bias for Javier Bàez. He’s my favorite player. I also realize he makes mistakes and he absolutely should not have told the whole truth about making the “thumbs down” gesture. Báez, Francisco Lindor and other Mets started giving each other a thumbs down after making good plays, to, as they put it, let fans know how it feels to get booed. There’s just no good that comes from seemingly going after an entire fan base.
“It feels bad when I strike out and I get booed. It doesn’t really get to me, but I want to let them know that when we have success, we’re going to do the same thing, to let [fans] know how it feels,” Baez told reporters. “…They got to be better. I play for the fans and love the fans. If they’re going to do that, they’re going to put more pressure on the team.”
The aftermath was astounding. A decent portion of the fan base lost its mind. Local media did its thing and went bonkers.
The Mets even released an official statement calling the gesture “unacceptable.”
There was an awful lot of misguided discourse along the way, too. For example, the “fans pay the players’ salaries” thing is, in a vacuum, true. Coming down specifically on Bàez for this, however, is outrageous. He earned his entire 2021 salary as a member of the Cubs and had only been on the Mets a few weeks. In his 39 games with the Mets to this point, he’s hit .307/.383/.555 with seven doubles, nine homers and 19 RBI. Any Mets fan complaining about how they pay his salary as if he personally owes them something is way off base.
2. The case of the scouting card theft
Here’s our jumping off point, because this one happened this week. Blue Jays catcher Alejandro Kirk lost a data card from his pocket during a Monday game against the Rays. Said card included information on the Jays’ gameplan, including how they’d attack each Rays hitter. Rays center fielder Kevin Kiemaier picked up the card and took it to his dugout. Controversy ensued. Kiermaier got hit by a pitch that sure looked intentional on Wednesday.
We could spend all day arguing about whether the data card is fair game when it falls out of a player’s pocket, but that doesn’t seem very productive, does it?
Also, teams so extensively scout these days, I’d be utterly shocked if the Rays don’t already have a very good idea about how other teams plan on pitching to their players. It’s not even a difficult concept to grasp. Scout your own players’ weaknesses and that’s how the other team is going to try and exploit them. This isn’t even in the ballpark of stealing signs or using “sticky stuff.” It’s a card with data they already have. Gimme a break.
“I hope we play those guys, I really do,” Kiermaier said after the game, discussing the two teams possibly facing off in the playoffs.
I’m not sure I agree. This was so incredibly dumb.
1. La Russa throws his player under the bus
I already covered this at great length back in May when it happened, but let’s recap the dumbest controversy of the 2021 season. White Sox rookie Yermin Mercedes hit a home run on a 3-0 pitch with the White Sox leading 15-4 in the ninth inning against the Twins. The Twins were pitching Willians Astudillo, a position player tossing it up there at around 50 miles per hour. White Sox manager Tony La Russa was not happy with his slugger swinging 3-0. Apparently you aren’t allowed to try on a 3-0 pitch even if the other team has already given up on the game.
“I heard he said something like, ‘I play my game.’ No he doesn’t. He plays the game of Major League Baseball, respects the game, respects the opponents. And he’s got to respect the signs,” La Russa said.
The worst part of all this is La Russa made sure to publicly discuss how awful he felt about this for two days. He even said he had no issue with the Twins throwing at his player the next day. I just can’t wrap my head about the stupidity of the whole situation.
Oh, and for all the people who yelled at me about what an amazing job La Russa is doing overall this season:
- The White Sox have a worse winning percentage than they did last season
- They play in a division where no one else has a winning record
- They are 25-29 against teams .500 or better
- He was the No. 1 problem on the dumbest thing that’s happened this season, says me.
Is he really doing that great a job?