When watching Richard Sherman's emotional outburst following the Seahawks' 23-17 victory over the 49ers in Sunday's NFC Championship Game, did anyone think to him or herself, "Gee, I wonder if anything like that would ever happen in baseball?" I'm guessing no, but there might have been a few baseball-starved fans who pondered the possibility. (Though I wonder if those truly yearning for baseball at this point were even watching football on Sunday. That could be a whole other post.)
I certainly wasn't, but mostly because Sherman's anger and outspokenness reminded me more of a pro wrestling interview than what we're accustomed to seeing in most sports, professional or amateur. Sherman could've been talking to the WWE's "Mean" Gene Okerlund or Tony Schiavone, rather than Fox Sports' Erin Andrews. (Incidentally, I did not know that Schiavone is now the play-by-play announcer for the Braves' Triple-A affiliate in Gwinnett. This is today's thing I learned.) All that was missing is Sherman flexing to the camera, spouting a catch phrase and maybe smashing a two-by-four.
Like many of us, Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander saw Sherman's interview and reacted immediately on Twitter. Some thought Sherman showed no class in talking down a rival after the game was completed. Others thought the Seahawks cornerback's candor was refreshing, a window into the emotion of the moment where sound bites, platitudes and cliches didn't apply. Verlander was among those who didn't seem to care for Sherman's behavior and seeming lack of grace, posting the following on Twitter:
So Russell is a class act! Sherman on the other hand.... If he played baseball would get a high and tight fastball.— Justin Verlander (@JustinVerlander) January 20, 2014
Hey now! Of course, this comes from the land of baseball, where trash-talking and showboating are deeply frowned upon. Just ask Brian McCann. If only he also would've chimed in on Twitter about Sherman. But would something like Sherman's outburst ever been seen in baseball, particularly during a televised interview?
Well, probably not. I don't think I'm taking a controversial stand there. Though I will follow it up with the Captain Obvious statement that football is so very different from baseball. Football is fueled by aggression and a likely disdain for the opponent. It has to be tough to just flip a switch and turn that off when the game is over
This is especially when two players have been going at each other for three hours as Sherman and 49ers receiver Michael Crabtree were. Sherman was obviously still amped up in the immediate aftermath of their battle and that fell into his postgame interview. Baseball just doesn't have anything within the game like the one-on-one matchup between a defensive back and wide receiver, wrestling with each other at the line of scrimmage and then following each other all around the field.
Baseball does have a one-on-one confrontation between the batter and pitcher. But there's 60 feet, six inches of distance between the two. While it might be personal as both participants try to guess what the other is doing and gain an advantage, the same physical aspect isn't there. That applies even more now that home plate collisions have been banned from the game. And with the distance from the pitching mound to home plate, there likely isn't the same amount of trash-talking. (Although maybe the catcher makes up for that a bit, if and when he's talking to the batter, trying to rattle him.)
It's not inconceivable that a batter and pitcher could develop extreme dislike toward each other. Yet baseball isn't a game that depends so strongly on aggression — at least not in the same manner.
Certainly, baseball players can take an aggressive approach, whether it's pitching inside or working in the strike zone. A batter can look for the pitch he wants and take a fierce swing at it. There can be aggression on the basepaths, taking the extra base or sliding hard into an infielder at second base. Throwing a baserunner out from the outfield could be viewed as an aggressive play. Baseball doesn't necessarily award aggression in the same way as football does. In fact, it can often lead to mistakes, such as taking a bad swing, making a poor pitch or throw, or causing harm by running into a wall or diving into the stands.
The closest situation we might see to Sherman's reaction to Crabtree is a batter after hitting a walkoff home run. But could you picture Miguel Cabrera, for example, saying something like this (language barriers aside)? "I'm the best hitter in the game! When you try me with a sorry closer like Perez, that's the result you gonna get! Don't you ever talk about me! Don't you open your mouth about the best or I'm gonna shut it for you real quick!"
Or maybe with a pitcher immediately following the game-ending strikeout in a series clincher. It's not difficult to imagine Grant Balfour erupting with, "I'm the best closer in the game! When you try me with a sorry hitter like Martinez, that's the result you gonna get! Don't you ever talk about me! Don't you open your mouth about the best or I'm gonna shut it for you real quick!"
OK, that might be kind of fun once. Of course, it would just be so shocking. And as Verlander said, such a brash show of bravado would likely result in that batter having a pitch thrown at him — preferably in the back or hip, rather than at his head, which is what the "high and tight" remark seemed to indicate. Like it or not, that's how baseball often legislates such behavior within the game. And it's been pretty effective through the decades, perhaps because the potential consequences are so frightening.
Ultimately, however, we very likely wouldn't see a Richard Sherman type of player in baseball because the game doesn't take a kind view to those sorts of outbursts and such demonstrations of personality.
If that behavior was demonstrated by a player in the minors, it could very well prevent him from being called up to the big leagues. Personally, I'd like to see more flair in baseball, though maybe not to the extent the Brewers' Carlos Gomez took it when he trash-talked the Braves while jogging around the bases after a home run. But maybe this just speaks to a fundamental difference between baseball and other sports. It might just be something that just isn't going to change because the game doesn't encourage nor provide an outlet for aggression.
However, one thing that baseball and football do share is a standard for sportsmanship. According to Sherman, in an article he wrote for SI.com, one of the reasons he reacted the way he did was because a postgame handshake with Crabtree was greeted by a shove in the face. Maybe Crabtree took that gesture as disingenuous, and this is only one side of the story, but it's easy to see that kind of incident potentially triggering a brawl.
Such a circumstance could happen on a baseball field. We don't often see a pitcher and batter attempt to shake hands when a ballgame is over. But if it happened, and one player responded by shoving the other in the face, that would obviously start something. So in that regard, maybe the two sports aren't so different. However, I'm presuming that most baseball fans are glad that the sport is, in fact, different from football and we wouldn't see anything like this. Erin Andrews only has to worry about getting some of a shaving cream pie or Gatorade shower.
UPDATE: Tony Schiavone commented on the interview on his blog. Of course, he noticed the pro wrestling parallels too.