A little while back, Andrew McCutchen was given a brief respite on the Pirates bench. This official “sitting down” was a result of Andrew not having “ants in his pants” and dancing toward first base after striking out when the catcher had simultaneously lost control of the baseball. He was of course called out. Manager Clint Hurdle then called McCutchen “out” again by removing him from the starting line-up the next day because of a lack of hustle.
Looks as if the rain bailed Mr. Hurdle out because if he was really trying to stress and promote discipline, McCutchen’s penalty would have been implemented or resumed on a sunny nine inning baseball day. The Pirates were trailing in the “sit out McCutchen contest” 1-0, when the game was rained out after two innings, go figure.
The only message I got from the Buc’s skipper’s inaction was that Hurdle was holding a sidebar with WPXI chief meteorologist Julie Bologna, Chief Mucka Mucka, chief of the rainmakers and Louisiana Voodoo King, “Dr. Buzzard.” I’m sure that confluence made certain that Hurdle’s decision would turn out positive for all concerned parties.
As far as his decision, Hurdle had this to say, “I know our players clearly understand what’s important to me. I think there are certain things that are non-negotiable. If you lose them over this, you never had them in the first place. We are focused on winning, but we are focused on building something greater and better as we go forward.” In this instance, Hurdle did the right thing. Whether the circumstances were ideal, well that’s another story.
McCutcheon did and said all the right things because no matter how talented a player may be, the Pirates’ minor league affiliate is only a short bus ride from the Steel City.
“You live and you learn, that’s the game of baseball,” McCutchen said. “It needs to be played the right way. It was brought to my attention that that’s not the way I play. And I know that. It’s a lesson learned. That’s not the type of person I am. I just kind of let my emotions get the best of me. I was just frustrated at the time and not focused on the game, not focused on the ball in the dirt.’’
I am disturbed by the actions of McCutcheon but I am also bothered by the continuation of a decades’ long stereotype that Black athletes in general just don’t hustle. If you look at NFL wide receivers Terrell Owens and Randy Moss it seems to be their mantra that their “motor” may not be running on high on every down. If they are “going all out” on certain plays that may not include them, should they risk their careers just to satisfy the critics?
If McCutchen had strained or torn a hamstring or experienced an Achilles or some other type of foot or leg injury running out a third strike to first base, Hurdle and all of his advocates would have been, dumb, dumb and dumb…..er.
There have been many instances that receivers have failed to catch high and errant thrown balls and my colleagues in the press box have hemmed and hawed about the missed connection. They say things like; “that ball was not perfect but it was ‘catchable.’” And, “if the receiver would have just kept going or would have ‘laid out’ that would have probably been a completed pass.” See folks, the word “hustle” will almost always be subjective and so will all of the opinions and actions that are attached to it. There are many athletes in all sports that are slower and less talented than their peers but the perception of them being “hustlers” turned them into superstars.
The great Pete Rose, who spent the majority if his career with the Cincinnati Reds, was such a man. He ran out every ground ball as if it were his last and performed with a ferocity and grit seldom exhibited by any athlete in any sport. But hold on, the reality was he wasn’t going to hit many balls out of the yard so he had to get as much out of the game with what he had, plus his hair flying in the wind and a chest full of dirt and dust flying everywhere as he slid face first into first base was a great photo op.
Now get this. Andrew McCutchen running a third strike out, thighs and arms pumping as he motored down to first base could have turned out negative or positive. I agree with Clint Hurdle that some measure of discipline should have been implemented. A hefty fine along with extra running drills before or after a game might have been just as effective. What if the Pirates would have lost the game in which McCutchen was benched? That would have not only hurt the entire team but would also have affected the fans who paid their hard earned dollars coming to PNC Park in anticipation of a possible Pirates victory.
It is okay to watch and cheer for your favorite player, hustling and giving 1000 percent to the game that you love. Just make sure that you are not being hustled by power driven, poisonous egos and false values as a part of the process.
(Aubrey Bruce can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-583-6741.)