One of the undeniably attractive qualities baseball offers its fans is a sense of intimacy. Over the course of the 162, and season after season, players become familiar. We come to know their rituals, superstitions, and quirks. The spot on the cap that’s always caked with rosin. The moment the bat comes off the shoulder. The way the cleat hitches against the rubber. The charming nuances become comforting, in a way, and remind us that there’s something beyond the name on the back of the jersey.
It’s fun, right? We watch our favorite players, remembering that story we read once about how Kevin Gausman eats a sleeve of donuts between each inning, or wondering if one of these days Lincecum’s just going to tip over. It’s America’s pastime, everyone’s happy, and we all remember why we loved the game so much as kids.
And then something happens.
Something like Carlos Quentin purposefully charging the mound on an imagined vendetta in a one-run game, breaking the collarbone of a smaller pitcher and shelving an ace for two months. It isn’t pretty, it isn’t fair, and it certainly isn’t in the script of the quirky, feel-good human nature of the game. But each incident like Quentin’s–each time a player reveals something of himself we’d rather not see– reminds us that there can be a dark side to that comfortable familiarity that makes baseball so appealing. We like our players flawed in palatable ways, like the french fries that fall to the bottom of the bag. But when dealing with human beings prone to human failings, there’s no such thing as pick and choose. Even if baseball makes us want there to be.
What Quentin did was inexcusable. He let anger and paranoia rule over common sense, driving him to turn his beef with Greinke physical, instead of calmly tossing the bat and walking to first base. And in that act, he made us all uncomfortable. Baseball doesn’t feel like it should breed villains–at least not outside a 90s movie–but that’s exactly why it’s at its ugliest when it does. We revel in every feel-good story–every pitcher who makes his debut after Tommy John and every backup infielder who drives in the winning run, against all odds. The grind-to-a-halt, center stage aura of the game breeds those moments. But the spotlight shines just as brightly on the things we’d rather not see. Greinke’s injury will be an eight-week reminder of that.