Josh Naylor Cannot Be Serious
By Kyle Koster
What Josh Naylor did as he sprinted around the bases after sending a 110 mph missile into the right-centerfield seats would have drawn a 15-yard taunting penalty in the NFL. The display, an over-the-top, prolonged baby-rocking motion replete with "that's my f---ing son" shouts, would have been a technical foul in the NBA. This may be what you want out of sports and that's understandable. We are nothing if not Romans packing the Coliseum wanting to be entertained. But there's a reason why professional leagues try to police this behavior out of their product.
Baseball is pastoral and unbounded by the same dead-ball punitive measures its peers employ. It's self-policed, guided by the unwritten yet still fiercely tangible rules. The justice is unsatisfying to so many because they don't agree that the sentence of a fastball to the ribs does not match the transgression of celebrating an accomplishment with euphoria. And while there's a lot to this idea and the product has been improved by relaxing the stance toward bat flips and showboating, nothing about baseball culture is black and white. There are shades of gray. There are still some things that crossover the line from a genuine show of emotion to a blatant and flagrant show of disrespect to an opponent.
The self-appointed Cool and Chill sect on Twitter reflexively defended Naylor, as expected. What they miss, though, is the most important point. He looked like a clown to his peers, the ones who understand the state of play far more than the outside world. His Guardians teammates will never admit it publicly but they, too, know he was out of line. Of the 52 players assembled in Cleveland, 51 knew the deal. And that Naylor was breaking the terms of that deal.
We judge things in the moment, though the most important judgement comes with hindsight. In both cases, Naylor looked ridiculous. The solo shot cut the New York Yankees' lead to one run. Cleveland would never get closer. Now they have nine innings for their season in hostile territory with a fanbase set up to bring back the Who's Your Daddy chant that haunted Pedro Martinez nearly two decades ago. One team responded to the histrionics and it wasn't the one sporting home red. One could make the argument it is already a loser move made by a losing player based on Game 4's result. The Yankees advancing will cement it in history as such.
Consider what Cole did after the longball. He locked back in and recorded 12 more outs without damage. He pumped high-leverage pitch after high-leverage pitch through the zone, showing why he's a bonafide ace worthy of the pinstripes that must be earned. It was a winning performance by a winning player done without the sideshow. It had more import and consequence than a single fourth-inning home run. At the end of the day, there are two ways to assess performance. Gorging on the desert without sustenance leaves one unsatisfied. Given the choice between results and revelry, give me the results.
In the postgame, Cole called Naylor's celebration "cute" while rolling his eyes. It was a fine response though it was not a needed a response. Because he'd already responded on the field, where it mattered.
There are countless ways to experience this great game. I won't make you feel bad for enjoying what happened for 360 feet as long as you don't make me bad for enjoying the karma of someone screaming at the other dugout while losing only to go on to lose. Because that's extremely good stuff and was the only option for revenge the Yankees had: serving up Naylor a cold dish of disappointment by play well.
Naylor and Cole had no history. In the wake of the incident, we learned that this is just what the Guardians' lefthander does every time he hits a homer, which he's now done 38 times in his Major League career, vaulting him to a mighty 2.0 lifetime WAR.
Can you imagine how stupid it would be if every pitcher did a commiserate, in-your-face routine every time they retired Naylor? It would be very, very stupid. But hey, turnabout is fair play. If you want to be an absolutist about touchdown dances on the baseball field, have courage in your convictions.
It's extremely easy to dunk on the grandpas who head the No Fun Committee and pretend baseball should be played by emotional robots. Yet that's not the argument here. There are myriad was to bask in the glory of losing 3-2 in an elimination game that aren't intentionally incendiary. And make no mistake, that's what this little parental message was and is all about.
Do something like this and risk the possibility of looking ridiculous. Naylor is sitting in that place right now, knowing it will only get worse with a playoff exit.