Unless you’ve been living in a corner of the universe without the internet for the last several days–and if you have, I’m not entirely certain how you got here, but welcome, technological Luddite!–then you, Blue Jays fan, are at least peripherally aware of Brett Lawrie‘s contentious relationship with umpires over the last couple of weeks. When the Blue Jays played the Rays on the 15th, Lawrie took some issue with the balls and strikes called against him in the ninth inning, and he did so in exactly the manner that Brett Lawrie does everything else: balls to the wall, in your face, intense, leaving no room for doubt as to how he felt. After shaking off an incredibly bad strike two call (having already started to go to first), Lawrie’s frustration boiled over after an even worse strike three call, slamming his helmet into the ground, which then proceeded to bounce up and hit home plate umpire Bill Miller.
Lawrie was suspended for four games, appealed the suspension and then dropped the appeal in a span of 24 hours, and took his lumps sitting out against the Yankees and Mets. With that hullabaloo mostly over, Lawrie was in the spotlight again Tuesday night (again playing the Rays), having gotten past second base on a fly ball, and after it was caught, missing touching it on the way back to first. His protest there was less demonstrative, and just as productive; one wonders if having to run to confront the umpire took some of the steam out of it.
Lawrie’s style makes him a polarizing kind of player. Not so much his on-field talent, which is indisputable, but the way he plays the game. He’s brash. He’s showy. He’s physical, in a way that few baseball players are, throwing his body around with reckless abandon. Watch him yell and celebrate after scoring, or his basketball-esque leaps into home after his walk-off home runs. The bold, confident nature was something that the Blue Jays have lacked the last several years, their locker room filled with the quiet nature of a Vernon Wells, or the reclusive, focused intensity of Roy Halladay, someone who didn’t tend to inspire with action. Lawrie isn’t as established as those two were, but the Blue Jays clearly hope he can get there.
For those who are fans of the Blue Jays, Lawrie can be fun to watch; if you’re not a Jays fan, then you probably don’t like him. Even if you’re put off by his approach, you can’t deny he’s a draw. Every at bat is an event, Lawrie twitching in the batters box with coiled energy. When he’s in the field, he’s in constant motion fielding ground balls, and when he’s in the dugout, he’s constantly talking (which we always see, thanks to Sportsnet showing him with a frightening consistency).
It’s not my intention to further debate either of the calls against the young Jays star, that’s been done better in other quadrants of the internet. This is more about Lawrie himself, and how important it is we understand the kind of player that he is. The intensity (and sheer talent) that makes him such a great player is something even he is learning to harness. He’s going to rub some people the wrong way- opponents, umpires, and probably teammates at some point, even in the seemingly-harmonious Blue Jays locker room. As good a player as (we think) he’s going to be, we should hope the Jays don’t work too hard to change that.
While it’s important that Lawrie learns to control that intensity, it’s equally important that he doesn’t stifle it entirely. It’s so much a part of his makeup, of how he plays, that to eliminate it would take away from the player he is. Whether he reacted to the calls against him correctly in either instance isn’t the point. He’s going to react. That’s how he is. We’ll occasionally roll our eyes at the over-the-top enthusiasm, but who wasn’t smiling after his walk-off home run against the Red Sox last year, watching him wag his tongue around the bases, and take to the air as he leaped onto home plate?
With Brett Lawrie, it’s all part of the experience.