Baccellieri: Baseball’s modern-day protests take root in principle, not results

From Emma Baccellieri at Sports Illustrated on July 25, 2019:

There’s something delightfully hardcore in the earliest key example of a professional baseball game played under protest. 

In Game 2 of the 1885 World Series—before it was really the World Series, before there was even an American League, but still, in its early form, the World Series—down by one run in the sixth inning, Charles Comiskey’s St. Louis Browns felt that the umpire made an unfair call against them. So Comiskey threatened to simply pull his men off the field. They weren’t going to play, not like this, not under this ump making these calls. It worked. The call was reversed, and the game went on … until the ninth, which saw another bad call against the Browns. This time, Comiskey made good on his threat. He yanked his team off the field.

Which, by comparison, makes modern protests look decidedly stuffy and toothless. There’s no chance of a team coming off the field. There’s no threat to stop playing, let alone anyone gutsy enough to actually make good on one. A game played under protest looks exactly the same as any other. There’s no functional or technical or aesthetic difference. There’s only a principled one—”principled” used loosely, as it’s rarely framed as anything defending the integrity of the game or the rulebook or any other institution. It’s usually much more basic than that. It’s usually, “I do not like this, I am mad, I am right, you are wrong, let the record show it.” These are the principles behind the protest (“protest”), and it is very seldom more than this. Which is fine! Those, indeed, are principles. And they’re all that is needed for the manager to tell the ump that he believes him to be wrong and is not going to stop the game, is not going to make a big fuss, but is going to play—under—protest. It’s all vaguely reminiscent of the foot-stomping of an aggrieved teen, or the let-me-talk-to-your-supervisor of a huffy customer. The stakes may not always be particularly high, but they feel high, and, anyway, it’s not so much about the stakes anymore. It’s about the principle. I do not like this, I am mad, I am right, you are wrong, let the record show it.

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Originally published: July 25, 2019. Last Updated: July 25, 2019.