I don't mind that Joe Girardi feels obligated to protect every player in a Yankees uniform. That is what a good manager does.
And I don't mind that Girardi felt Rays infielder Elliot Johnson crossed a line by bowling over Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli in a spring training game last week. No matter what the Rays, or Pete Rose, or anyone else says, baseball has always had unspoken rules about the time and place for aggressive play.
What I do mind is that now Girardi is acting like a hypocrite.
The New York manager continues to tap dance his way around questions concerning Shelley Duncan's spikes-high slide into Rays second baseman Akinori Iwamura.
Girardi tried to avoid the topic after Wednesday's game, and then again 24 hours later. He said he still hasn't seen a replay, despite video on ESPN, numerous newspaper Web sites and several YouTube posts.
What's disturbing here is that Girardi didn't feel the need to wait before criticizing Johnson and Rays manager Joe Maddon last week. Back then, he used words like "disheartening" and "scary" and "uncalled for."
Now, Girardi says he was too busy watching American Idol and entertaining Billy Crystal to bother with the small matter of watching a replay.
Look, it's not hard to figure out what's going on here. Girardi does not want to publicly criticize one of his own players, and so he is doing what he can to diffuse the situation. He is trying to show the rest of the clubhouse that his foxhole is large enough for 25 guys to huddle inside.
That would be fine, except Girardi jumped on his moral high horse last week, and now looks silly on this dime-store merry-go-round he is riding.
"It's just the way I'm choosing to do it. I'm sorry if you don't like it," Girardi said. "As I said, I don't like dirty baseball, I don't want to see players get hurt, whether it's spring training or the season. I would be mad at one of my players if he intentionally tried to hurt someone. And I would let him know."
Intelligent people can disagree about the appropriateness of Johnson's play at the plate last week. You can say, as Don Zimmer has, that baseball is meant to be played hard no matter what page of the calendar you are on. You can say, as Girardi has, that spring training has a different sort of etiquette, and Johnson is guilty of violating it.
I can see the merit in both arguments.
Where I see no room for argument is in the intent. No one has suggested Johnson was intentionally trying to harm Cervelli. It's a shame Cervelli was injured, and it's understandable if the Yankees are upset because Johnson might have been overly aggressive, but there was no malice involved.
You would have to be awfully gullible, or dishonest, to say malice was not in Duncan's mind.
You would have to believe it was just a coincidence that Duncan was involved in this play when, days before, he suggested retaliation might be on the way.
You would have to believe Duncan thought it was a wise decision to stretch a single when it was obvious he was going to be thrown out by several yards.
You would have to believe Duncan needs remedial sliding courses because he slid across the bag and with his spikes aimed at Iwamura's midsection.
Frankly, all of that requires more faith than I possess. From this vantage point, Duncan was, at the very least, trying to inflict pain. And now he is hiding behind phony-baloney lines about playing hard.
How about this: If you're tough enough to aim your spikes near someone's groin, then at least have the stones to admit it afterward.
Look, I'm all for old-style retaliation. It is part of baseball's charm that players have always policed themselves on the field. But there are proper ways to retaliate, and then there are cheap shots.
What Duncan did was a cheap shot.
Think of it as a beanball war. Your pitcher hits my cleanup hitter, so one of my pitchers is eventually going to get your cleanup hitter somewhere down the line. But what a pitcher does not do is throw behind a hitter's head. That goes beyond retaliation and flirts with danger.
By the same token, the Yankees would have been within their rights to bowl over a Rays catcher or take out a middle infielder on a double play. But Duncan crossed the line of propriety. And he did it purposefully.
For Girardi to avoid addressing that issue is disappointing. We're not talking about some 20-year-old fueled by testosterone who is too macho to admit a play might have gone too far. Girardi is a smart man, and he has the reputation of being an honorable man.
The problem is, you do not get to choose to turn character on and off. Either you have it, or you do not. Girardi talked a good game last week when he wanted his players to know he was standing up for Cervelli, but now is putting integrity on hold when it becomes inconvenient.
Duncan went over the line. Everyone knows it.
Just say it is so, Joe.
John Romano can be reached at [email protected]