Scuffle proves Rays' Garza needs lesson in maturity

Perhaps they were discussing the upcoming presidential election. Perhaps they were debating the merits of Iron Man vs. those of The Incredible Hulk. Perhaps, like all good citizens of Tampa Bay, they were exchanging ideas of how Jeff Garcia and the Bucs could work out their differences.

Nevertheless, Matt Garza was snapping.

Not to be outdone, Dioner Navarro was snarling.

Just like that, the battling Rays had turned on each other, and the much-discussed fight of a ballclub had been reduced to just another unseemly snit in the dugout. The catcher has some choice words for the pitcher, and the pitcher for the catcher, and before you know it, the team's battery has stopped just short of assault.

Which raises the question: Does this sort of blowup really do anyone any good?

The answer: Maybe it does. Maybe.

Okay, okay. By now, you have heard the Rays' spin doctors tell you that the scuffle wasn't a big deal and that it's private and the team has already moved on to the degree it doesn't even remember who was involved. This is a predictable response, of course, because there isn't much to do in the aftermath of a meltdown except to act as if nothing ever happened. It's like overhearing an argument at the neighbor's house.

This did happen, however, and no, it isn't a private matter. Not when the scuffle is on display in front of ticket-holders and not when it's on television. If James Shields vs. Coco Crisp is news, then yes, Garza vs. Navarro is news.

As far as being a big deal?

If the Rays are lucky, it will be.

Look, the crucial point is not what Navarro said to Garza or what Garza said to Navarro. It is why anyone felt the need to say anything at all. Which leads us to two thoughts.

One, the Rays want Navarro to be more assertive.

Two, they need for Garza to grow up.

By now, it isn't any secret. Whenever Garza starts a game, his temper bats cleanup for the opposition. His own combustibility is the biggest threat he faces, because the higher Garza's blood pressure becomes, the more his earned run average follows suit. That's why Rays reliever Troy Percival threatened to fine Garza $500 for every tantrum.

Even when Garza was with Minnesota, his reputation was as a pitcher in a constant battle for control. His past two starts, against the Red Sox and the Rangers, have shown that. Once something has set Garza off, it is hard for him to get a grip on his composure, let alone a baseball. At that point, his infielders need to wear radiation-proof suits.

Should it surprise anyone, then, that Garza's catcher would say something to him? Remember, manager Joe Maddon, an old catcher himself, took care to point out that "Navi was not the irritant."

If you were Garza today, wouldn't you translate that as, "Garza needs to conquer his emotions?" Eventually, if Garza is going to live up to the promise in his right arm, that's going to have to happen. If it takes a public dustup with his catcher to convince him, then Navarro will have done him a favor.

Like a lot of co-workers, pitchers and catchers seem to rub each other the wrong way from time to time. Yes, they are at opposite ends of a called strike, but except for that, the two don't exactly go around harmonizing to show tunes.

Last year, Cubs pitcher Carlos Zambrano had a fracas with catcher Michael Barrett. When it was over, Barrett had a black eye and stitches. Not long after, he also had a new uniform. The year before, Kansas City pitcher Runelvys Hernandez and catcher John Buck got into a fight in the dugout.

In real life, teammates don't always get along. Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig had their problems. Joe Tinker and Johnny Evers didn't like each other. Jeff Kent didn't like Barry Bonds, and Don Sutton didn't like Steve Garvey, and Reggie Jackson didn't like Thurman Munson. Last week, Manny Ramirez didn't seem to like Kevin Youkilis very much.

And so it goes. Chidi Ahanotu didn't like Warren Sapp. Shaquille O'Neal didn't like Kobe Bryant. If you ask Da' Tara, I'll bet he doesn't like Big Brown.

Sometimes, however, a little friction isn't bad for business, either.

For instance, there was once a young, headstrong pitcher who was full of himself. His name was Curt Schilling. One day, he read where he had been called out in the newspaper by catcher Darren Daulton.

"He was basically letting everyone know I was an idiot," Schilling said years later, repeating the story. "He was right. I was stupid."

As it turns out, the exchange wasn't the worst thing that happened in Schilling's career. As it turns out, it might have been the best.

Just a thought, but perhaps Garza should pay attention.

Scuffle proves Rays' Garza needs lesson in maturity 06/09/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 10, 2008 2:28pm]

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