Spotlight on Chris Archer: Getting riled up during an uninspiring Red Sox season


It’s Wednesday, and the Boston Red Sox have bigger fish to fry than a caper of bat flips and bruised egos from the weekend. There’s the issue of trading their ace, Jon Lester, who is being skipped in the rotation tonight, perhaps signifying an exit from his home for nearly nine seasons. There are also the games being played on the field, where the Sox have lost six of seven, in no more excruciating fashion than Monday’s 14-1 payback crushing at the hands of the Blue Jays.

But in this uninspiring campaign where fans have waited for the Red Sox to play like there’s something on the line all season long, it was (who else?) the Tampa Bay Rays who finally brought some bile to the surface over the weekend, as they do seemingly every time the teams meet. In this particular instance, it was Rays starter Chris Archer with the achy belly, as he whined to reporters about a David Ortiz bat flip after the burly DH took him yard in the third inning on Sunday. Sound familiar?

Of course. The 25-year old Archer was just miming rotation big brother David Price – you know – the guy with the bruised bottom after Ortiz humbled him during last year’s ALDS. You might remember Price’s girlfriend taking to Twitter to denounce Ortiz following her boyfriend’s failure. The Rays (and their girlfriends) certainly have the act down. BSI’s Joe Meehan recently told them to shut up.

Michael Hurley of CBS Boston Sports said it best during the Rich Keefe Project Monday night – who appointed the Tampa Bay Rays “arbiters of justice” in baseball? These guys are insufferable. Worse, they’re a relatively young team taking cues from their manager. Joe Maddon possesses a singular brand of intelligence. He also doesn’t try to hide an approach that gets more smug and self-righteous every year (remember when he was just the Angels bench coach with the funny glasses?)

But it’s not just the Rays. The “no-fun police” mentality is endemic throughout the game. Just witness last year’s postseason: you had the Devil Rays, the Brian McCann-led Braves (who admonished nearly everyone who hit a home run for the opposition last season) and the Cardinals, whose collective heads nearly exploded when matched up against the Dodgers and Yasiel Puig, one of the more ebullient young talents in the game.

And oh, yeah, there was the time Grant Balfour, currently displaced Rays closer, then a member of the Athletics, screamed at Victor Martinez, a highly respected veteran, for absolutely no reason during an at-bat. Chalk it up to “Balfour Rage,” I guess.

Don’t worry; this goes over to the Red Sox dugout, too. Back in May, in the midst of a ten-game slide, the Red Sox took offense to Yunel Escobar, noted donkey, taking an extra base in a blowout. David Ross admonished Escobar. The shortstop got heated. And Jonny Gomes, a red-blooded American who considers an affront to the unwritten rules of the game nearly as serious as a Constitutional violation, came running in from left field to dish out some justice.

It was another in a long line of examples of baseball players getting animated over perceived slights. As Will Leitch wrote: “the reason the unwritten rules are not written down is because they are not real. They can be fudged and twisted and contorted into whatever shape you want them to be. They are, by definition, absolutes only to the person who cites them.”

Jason Turbow, author of The Baseball Codes (a very entertaining read, by the way) argues the unwritten rules are “a highly effective technique by which players avoid escalating trouble, not something they utilize to find it. It’s a release valve for animosity that builds up over the course of a game, series or season.”

To his credit, Archer didn’t throw at Ortiz (as Price did). But he is taking a sizeable leap of faith admonishing a guy with 456 career home runs for a bat flip. Particularly when his argument conveniently leaves out shenanigans like this:

Whether you agree with Leitch or Turbow, the belly-aching Rays or the petulant Ortiz; the war of words, bat flips and beanballs will persist (either igniting or extinguishing disputes, depending on your perspective). For the record, I tend to side with Mo Vaughn‘s take on the unwritten rules: “you get your sh-t wrapped around a pole, don’t throw at the next guy. Get the next guy out and get out of the inning.”

The Red Sox visit Tampa on August 29th. Good seats will likely be available.