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Tim Anderson-Brad Keller incident shows how baseball remains inconsistent about home run behavior

It's just a continuing bad look for the sport, especially as it works to cultivate the next generation of fans, a group that likes end zone celebrations or the disco-crazy antics after a soccer goal.

The White Sox's Tim Anderson is restrained by

The White Sox's Tim Anderson is restrained by Jose Abreu after he was hit by a pitch by the Royals' Brad Keller as benches cleared during the sixth inning in Chicago on Wednesday, April 17, 2019. Photo Credit: AP/Nam Y. Huh

Amid all the bat-flipping, lip-flapping and pack-jostling that accompanied Wednesday’s bench-clearing incident between the White Sox and Royals, did we all just forget to mention how much credit Brad Keller deserves for drilling Tim Anderson in the correct spot?

Keller, despite his ego being so bruised by Anderson, somehow maintained enough composure to accurately plunk the Sox shortstop on the left backside. Accidentally, sure (wink, wink). But if he was giving Anderson a refresher course in baseball’s unwritten rules, Keller certainly taught him a lesson, right? By throwing a 92-mph projectile that fortunately didn’t find bone? 

We’re kidding, obviously. To think we still discuss a right way and a wrong way to intentionally hit somebody with a baseball, in 2019, is ridiculous, given the velocity involved and the potential for devastating injury — as unintentional as causing that injury might be. Yet, it keeps coming up, along with the debate over showing an excessive amount of joy between the lines.   

You would think by now, following not one but two ad campaigns by Major League Baseball, that the game might be past this. Apparently, “Let the Kids Play” as a slogan hasn’t exactly taken hold in every clubhouse yet. And baseball, as always, has to perpetually toe the invisible line that separates having fun from having too much fun, at least in the eyes of some people.

One of those people is Keller, who allegedly took offense with Anderson flinging his bat toward his own dugout after a fourth-inning home run. Not at the Royals’ dugout, not at the mound, not even straight up to the sky, where everyone could marvel at the hang time. No, this was back at the Sox’s on-deck circle, as an excited Anderson screamed to get his teammates going.

Pretty fun scene, actually, for a midday game in April between two sub-.500 teams. The fact that anybody at Guaranteed Rate Field was this fired up on a Wednesday afternoon had to be good for the game, in our opinion. But Keller disagreed, and two innings later, he put a tattoo of Rob Manfred’s signature on Anderson’s backside.

What followed was predictable. Anderson got mad at Keller, because getting hit with a baseball certainly is not fun, and the benches emptied. There was the standard amount of pushing and restraining while umpire Joe West ejected the two parties involved, along with White Sox manager Rick Renteria and Royals bench coach Dale Sveum.

On Friday, MLB’s czar of discipline, Joe Torre, meted out the punishment, with Keller receiving a five-game suspension — the routine amount for a starting pitcher — and Anderson getting a one-game ban, for his “conduct after the benches cleared.” That sounded peculiar until ESPN reported later Friday afternoon that Anderson called Keller the N-word. Just for the record, Anderson is African-American, Keller is white.

Keller’s penalty is a slam dunk. But Anderson isn’t seen doing any physical harm, like throwing punches. Isn’t he allowed to be a little ticked off after what just happened? And suspended for on-field language? In this particular case, with the words allegedly used, the punishment doesn’t seem to be a fit here.

Once again, we find ourselves circling back to the argument on home-run behavior. If pitchers can leap off the mound after strikeouts, screaming to their heart’s content, why can’t a hitter enjoy their big moment, as well? Why should they have to be crash-test dummies the next time they step to the plate? It’s just a continuing bad look for the sport, especially as it works to cultivate the next generation of fans, a group that likes end zone celebrations or the disco-crazy antics after a soccer goal. Heck, I’m old (ish) and I like those things, too. 

“I’m going to continue to be me and keep having fun,” Anderson said after Wednesday’s game. “Our fans pay their hard-earned money to come to the ballpark to see a show, so why don’t I give them one?”

Good question. Baseball is just never able to come up with an answer that makes sense.

Nimmo finds it

Brandon Nimmo’s obsession with reducing his 2018 strikeout percentage ironically had the opposite effect on him early this year, but the Mets outfielder felt like he had fixed the problem before a stiff neck sidelined him this week.

Nimmo’s K-rate of 26.2 percent was the 12th-highest among qualified hitters in MLB last season, but his effort to combat the problem led to it spiking to 38.8 percent through his first 17 games. That was mostly due to the first eight, when he whiffed 17 times and batted just .077 (2-for-26) with a .250 on-base percentage and .327 OPS.

In the next eight games, however, Nimmo batted .393 (11-for-28) with a .500 OBP and 1.321 OPS, and cut his strikeouts nearly in half, with nine.

“I would have liked to have brought [the K rate] down a little bit this year from last year, and so maybe I was expanding [the zone] a little bit to try and put the ball in play,” Nimmo said. “Maybe it’s just a part of the player that I am. I’m going to take those marginal pitches, and in order for me to be successful, that means I’m going to strike out some.

“I don’t have a 100-percent answer, but I do know that it was in the back of my mind. Trying to knock that down a little bit, coming into the season, and put the ball in play more.”

Looking back, it was only eight games, yet felt like eight months. To get through it, Nimmo had to summon every positive crumb from last year, to convince himself that the darkness would be temporary. Sometimes, this was a pitch-by-pitch self-therapy session.

“You know it’s there,” Nimmo said. “But you’re like, well, where is it right now?”

Also, Nimmo took notice of how the rest of the Mets’ young lineup was picking up the slack, and he’s been impressed by their maturity. Nimmo, 26, had last season to lean on — including a .917 OPS in the second half — and this year’s crew, like Pete Alonso and Jeff McNeil, already possess the self-assurance of far more accomplished hitters.

“Will the league make adjustments? Yes, they will,” Nimmo said. “But I believe they’ll be able to make those adjustments and capitalize on mistakes. They are a confident bunch. Honestly, those guys have confidence you can’t teach. They just have it. They’re fierce competitors.”

Good call by MLB umps

The 11th annual Umps Care Charities online auction, coordinated by MLB’s umpires, is now underway and offering up more than 400 items, including autographed sports memorabilia, VIP experiences and ticket packages. Some of the signed baseballs include Jacob deGrom, Aroldis Chapman, Joe Torre and Ichiro Suzuki, to name a few. All proceeds from the auction support Umps Care youth programs, which work to provide everything from MLB experiences for critically ill kids to college scholarships. The auction can be accessed at mlb.com/UmpsCare and closes at 10 p.m. ET on Monday, April 29.

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