So Thursday afternoon I was watching MLB Now (yes, again) and of course they were talking about Brandon Phillips ripping into writer C. Trent Rosecrans in Dusty Baker's office; if you somehow missed it, here's the video (the audio, really) and my off-the-cuff commentary.
Anyway, Joel Sherman was on the show, and Brian Kenny asked him if anything similar had ever happened to him during his years as a beat writer and columnist. I'm now going to paraphrase his response from memory, but I'm fairly sure I'll get most of the words right and all of the spirit ...
It happened to me a hundred times. Literally a hundred times. Ruben Sierra threatened to kill me, and Steve Howe threatened to kill me, and Mel Hall threatened to kill me. Sure. Deion Sanders. All of them. It happened all the time. What's different now is there are cameras everywhere, and Twitter. So when something like this happens, now we all know about it.
To me, it's just a part of the job. Nine times out of 10, I would go back to a guy the next day and say, "Are we okay?" And he'd say, "Yeah, we're fine. I was just blowing off some steam." And that was it.
We do excuse behavior from baseball players that we don't typically excuse from regular people. When baseball players get all angry and stuff and punch and kick one another, nobody gets arrested. Sports are hilarious that way. But there's a sort of covenant that makes a fair amount of sense: Everything's fair in love and war and all that. Crimes of passion, if you will, and in France nobody goes to jail for those. Sports! Where everyone's French!
But if things get too terribly out of hand, there will at least be suspensions levied. Three games here, five games there ... it's not much, but maybe every little bit helps. I sorta miss the days when Graig Nettles could kick George Brett in the face and Brett could throw a huge punch and Nettles and the benches could clear and nobody would even get kicked out of the game ...
... but those days are gone, and probably for the better. It's all good fun until somebody gets hurt, like when Bill Lee's left shoulder got shredded in a fight with (yes, of course) the Yankees. In the heat of the battle, players still lose their tempers, but it's understandable and there are official limits.
I'm not as willing to excuse players for threatening to kill a sportswriter, or calling one what Brandon Phillips called a sportswriter Wednesday night. I will unhappily acknowledge that there's almost nothing that can be done; the writers don't want anything to be done, because doing something would only make their jobs even harder. All the writer can do is hope that tomorrow the player will return to at least some level of civility, because a beat writer can't do his job if the players won't talk to him.
Which is why C. Trent Rosecrans can't file a complaint. All he can do is show up again tomorrow and do his best to forget that Brandon Phillips behaved abominably.
Which doesn't mean the rest of us must excuse Phillips' behavior. There's no heat of battle in the clubhouse an hour before a baseball game. Phillips' verbal assault was almost certainly premeditated, and thus inexcusable. Alas, there's really nothing we can do with this. Except for one thing: We can collectively recognize Phillips as the product of a culture that permits its professional athletes to act like muscle-stuffed, testosterone-loaded adolescents who have rarely been schooled in the ways of civil society.
Brandon Phillips is probably lost. After all, he does have a history of popping off. But there are hyper-talented kids growing up right now who might yet be saved. Maybe even by you.