Tuesday night was a fascinating display of frustration when St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina bumped and allegedly spit on umpire Rob Drake for a strike three call that really wasn’t all that controversial to begin with. The 10th inning meltdown and the ejection that followed got me thinking about what it means when a player has an emotional breakdown during the game, a show of (usually) genuine outrage from people who spend most of their lives hearing that they only care about where their next contract was coming from. What Yadier Molina did that night wasn’t incredulousness over not getting the call or his stats bumped down a peg, it was a misplaced sense of injustice that shows how human athletes are, but on the other hand how utterly out of touch they are with ordinary working people.
I care, believe it or not, in the quality of my work regardless of whether my boss sees it or not. The client will, and word will probably never get from the client to my boss as to how I performed on the project. But I will hear about it, and that will determine how much will I have to come in the next day. My job is secure, but my sense of self-worth is always up in the air. Athletes are much the same way. Many of them are willing to get thrown out or go on a tirade just so they can bring their teammates up, showing that they have pride in what they do and will exhort other towards greatness.
Of course, like every office, there are the others. Ever had a co-worker who is so secure in his or her job that he or she will only ever work on his or her terms? Meet Albert Haynesworth. Or one who complains to anyone who will listen about their co-workers? Meet Terrell Owens. How about one who threatens to quit if they don’t get a raise? Meet half of the NFL’s great players halfway through their contracts. The professional sports team has the same personalities, and if you are in a job where you don’t really care much anymore and just enjoy getting a paycheck so you can go home and watch the game in comfort, you might have similar characteristics to the player you yell at for doggin’ it on the field. The difference is that no one is watching your cubicle 24/7.
Now, this isn’t to excuse any of the more outrageous behavior. We as Orioles fans love it when Buck Showalter goes off on an umpire or when Ray Lewis is yelling at the defense to perform better. There is an almost primal, adversarial energy that connects to our baser natures and helps reinforce the partisan, irrational side of us that makes us fans of one team or another in the first place (not necessarily a bad thing, but that is for another column). But could you or I walk into our boss’ office and go off on them for not clearly defining an assignment? Can I light into my co-workers for not carrying their side of a project? I certainly could try, but I would wind up in Human Resources or the unemployment line. Two days ago I had the first ever discussion with a co-worker that came to raised voices (I won’t say shouting, but it got close). However, even then it had little to do with actual work, and won’t be landing either of us in HR. That is the American work environment, as utterly sterile and outwardly docile as possible.
Outbursts like Yadier Molina’s let me know in a twisted way that locker rooms aren’t solely filled with self-interested egomaniacs, that they still have pride in what they do and are willing to go to the mat for something they believe in. Molina could have- and should have- just sat down like so many more level-headed players do. The fact that he and other players take legitimate pride in their “work” reminds me that they aren’t entirely different rest of the working stiffs out there. The fact that he was allowed to do so with a short suspension reminds me that there is still plenty of reasons why athletes are far more fortunate than the rest of us.