By Tim Baffoe-
(CBS) Baseball fights are dumb, and their autopsies have yet to find any benefit to the game at hand. That said, in the moment, they bring out the school kid in me yelling “Fight! Fight! Fight!” from a distance as two kids argued nose to nose in the cafeteria or hallway.
(An aside: Nobody dared actually ever fight me back in the day. I was far too … likely to tell an adult and have you reprimanded appropriately and then avoid you the rest of my life.)
In the 10th inning of Thursday’s game between the Cubs and Reds, the benches cleared following some Chicago players taking exception to some high and tight fireballs in the ninth inning by Cincinnati closer Aroldis Chapman to Nate Schierholtz, and that extended to the Reds dugout having some choice words with Anthony Rizzo as he warmed up in the field. Rizzo decided he wasn’t going to take that like a sports blogger and instead tossed off his glove and cap and dared one or more Reds to leave the dugout.
According to witnesses near dugout, Latos (former SD teammate) snapped at Rizzo to "shut up and play some [freaking] ball." Hilarity ensued.—
Gordon Wittenmyer (@GDubCub) July 10, 2014
Mat Latos is not only too cool for a second T in his first name, but he’s the same guy who intentionally hit Cubs megaprospect Kris Bryant with a pitch earlier this year in a Double-A rehab start after Bryant took him yard the prior at-bat. Because Mat Latos is cool and an enforcer and was conspicuously nowhere near Rizzo as all that went down.
In retrospect, the whole thing was silly, gave nobody any momentum, delayed a getaway day game that was already in extra innings and caused the umpire to issue a warning to both benches that squeezes respective pitchers in how they can approach the hitters. And it was awesome.
Watching Rizzo — almost exclusively known as an “Aw, shucks, I’m just glad to be here” kind of personality his entire time as a Cub — go antihero and walk menacingly alone toward a dugout full of opponents was pleasantly jaw-dropping. He was, like, 20 minutes away from a final tally on votes for the last spot on the National League All-Star team, and of the 8.8 million votes he received (more than any of the other nine vote-in finalists), I’m guessing about 2 million came after he stopped what he was doing to make the audience go “whoa.”
But this wasn’t just a case of too much testosterone overflowing or solely some lame machismo act. That stuff usually happens in blowouts. This was Rizzo taking a step from super nice guy doing fine work with kids with cancer and granting any reporter an interview to letting it be known that, as bad as the Cubs are overall right now, they are not resigned to being a joke. They are young, amassing viable talent as we speak and going to be around for a while.
No violence occurred, but a little bit more of that “lovable loser” stereotype was shed Thursday — especially as the Cubs went on to win the game that will be a drop in the bucket as far as their record on paper looks by season’s end but also one that went a ways toward showing maybe these aren’t just some pretty boy robots the nerdy organization is putting together. Be careful how early you tell them to shut up and wave a glove dismissingly at them.
Cubs 2.0 were floating around for a few years as an unstable bunch, they and fans not exactly sure how the talk of Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer would manifest into something visual. They traded Andrew Cashner for Rizzo, who had a .149 average in 49 games with the Padres. “But Cashner is gonna be an awesome closer! What the hell?” was 2012’s “How can you trade Jeff Samardzija?” Last season the first baseman’s most redeeming quality was signing autographs. Now he’s an All-Star. (Cashner is on his second disabled list stint of this year with a shoulder issue and no timetable for a return, for what it’s worth.)
Now the Cubs have what looks to be a solid floor that can only go upward. Also some fight. I kind of like it.
Because guys like Arismendy Alcantara will have more four-hit games than just the one in his second career big league appearance, overshadowed by a fracas or not. Starlin Castro is an All-Star in 2014 after a historically terrible 2013. Plunk the kid Bryant on purpose all you want.
You’ll just have to deal with Anthony Rizzo next. You’ll also have to pitch to him.
You can follow Tim on Twitter @TimBaffoe.