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No Need For Nasty

  • by Coach Owen
  • 4 min read

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Rob Dibble was one of the Cincinnati Reds’ “Nasty Boys,” along with Norm Charlton and Randy Myers, a trio of relief aces who dominated the late innings and led the Reds to the World Series championship in 1990.

In Dibble’s case, however, the “nasty” moniker applied just as much to his demeanor as it did to his scorching fastball, which topped out at 101 mph. He was suspended several times for deliberately throwing at hitters and inciting bench-clearing brawls. He even got into a fight with his manager, Lou Piniella, in the clubhouse. 

After one particularly rough outing, Dibble was so disgusted with his performance that he turned and heaved the baseball more than 400 feet into the center-field stands, hitting a female spectator. And that came after a game the Reds won.

“I admit that I lose my temper too easily,” Dibble said following a different incident. “But I’m not as crazy as I used to be.” 

While Dibble often had a harder time controlling his emotions than his pitches, he’s not alone when it comes to players losing their cool in a demonstrative way. Baseball has a notoriously long history of players and managers with short fuses. 

Former Yankees right fielder Paul O’Neill would take out his frustration on innocent water coolers in the dugout. Bo Jackson, one of the greatest athletes ever, snapped after grounding back to the pitcher – and then snapped his bat like a twig … over his helmet. Hall of Fame manager Billy Martin would fight just about anyone, even his own players. He once went after Reggie Jackson in the dugout

Given how often players experience failure, nearly every baseball game becomes an exercise in anger management. From strikeouts and errors, to blown calls and mental mistakes, to dirty plays and poor performances, to brushback pitches and taunting, any negative event has the potential to trigger a negative response.

How players react to perceived injustices and misfortunes on the baseball field resembles how people react to similar circumstances off the field. If someone lies to us, if another driver rear-ends our car, or if our bank account is hacked, it’s hard to resist the temptation to vent. 

The severity of the infraction will often dictate whether we either brush it off easily or release the kraken within. Perhaps no moment in MLB history illustrates the latter more than the pine-tar incident, when George Brett went ballistic after his go-ahead home run was overturned. 

The trick is preventing a momentary loss of self-control that could lead to a lifetime of regret, shame, or embarrassment. MLB players have nowhere to hide; every move is caught on camera, and any display of combustible behavior has the potential to go viral on social media.

How can tempers be tempered before they rise to an unhealthy level, both on and off the field? Try focusing on the following:

  • What you can control: Attitude and effort are the only two things that a person can control. Attitude is the most important because poor effort is the result of a poor attitude, and vice versa. Problems happen when we focus on things out of our control. A dip in the stock market that depleted our savings. An umpire’s strike zone. A boiler that breaks down and spews hot water all over the basement floor. A .150 hitter knocking in the winning run off your best pitch. Why get upset if you had no ability to stop it from happening? Don’t let something out of your control have control over you.
  • What you learned: The worst moments often teach us the most valuable lessons. After a strikeout, instead of throwing your helmet or stewing over the umpire’s wide strike zone, assess what really happened. What did the pitcher throw you? Did you take a good pitch to hit early in the count? Did you chase a slider away with two strikes? What adjustments could you make in your next at-bat? It’s the same process, for example, if you get into an argument with your wife or girlfriend. Don’t allow anger to override your ability to learn from the experience so you won’t repeat the same mistakes. 
  • What comes next: The most important pitch is the next one. Not the one that just happened. Not the one two innings earlier when someone hit a 3-run home run off you. Players tend to carry mental baggage from one at-bat to the next, from one pitch to the next. We do the same thing in life, especially in relationships. Instead of rehashing the past – something you can’t reverse -- recalibrate and focus on the present. Each new moment requires our full attention.
  • What the consequences might be: There are repercussions when we act out in anger. On the baseball field, tantrums, thrown objects, and physical altercations can lead to an ejection, a fine, a suspension, or an injury. Last season Brewers relief pitcherDevin Williams broke his pitching hand punching a wall out of frustration and missed the postseason. Off the field, fits of rage have far worse implications, leaving a path of destruction that could include broken relationships, jail time, psychological damage, loss of employment, physical harm, and even death. Taking a moment to breathe deeply and recognize the potential harm from our actions might keep us from making a choice that could affect us negatively for the rest of our lives. 

There is nothing wrong with having an emotional response if it is expressed in a positive way. In today’s game, players exude passion more than ever before -- from pounding chests and screaming, to pumping fists and pointing at the sky.

Bat flips, however, have long been a source of polarizing emotions. An opposing team might consider an overly exuberant bat flip to be disrespectful and seek retribution – as Rougned Odor did to Jose Bautista.

The responsibility for payback often falls on the pitcher, who holds the baseball on every play and can use it as a ready weapon. Dibble welcomed the opportunity to exact revenge for any perceived offense, even someone dropping a squeeze bunt

Unless the anger is channeled and used as motivation, the ends rarely justify the means – in baseball or any walk of life. As Dibble showed, being a “Nasty Boy” isn’t too flattering when it becomes your identity more than your nickname.

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