MLB.com Columnist

Anthony Castrovince

Retaliate for celebrating? Come on

Retaliate for celebrating? Come on

The key home run that Bryce Harper hit off Hunter Strickland in October 2014 was a high fly ball down the right-field line that crooked around the foul pole at AT&T Park. Harper stood in the box and watched its mighty arc before depositing his bat and circling the basepaths.

Whether Harper was admiring the poke or simply monitoring its path to see if it went fair or foul didn't matter to Strickland. Harper, who had already homered off Strickland earlier in that National League Division Series and made a slow trek out of the box, had rattled the then-rookie reliever's tender ego and set Strickland on an Inigo Montoya-like revenge plot more than two-and-a-half years in the making.

Giants, Nats scrap after Harper hit by pitch

If that sentence sounds ridiculous, it's because it is. Harper should not have charged the mound. He certainly should not have awkwardly chucked his helmet and made himself a GIF for all-time.

Harper and Strickland's history

But Harper was ultimately not the one in the wrong in Monday's mess at the scene of his supposed 2014 crime. Strickland was in the wrong for prolonging a culture in which the tender egos of precious pitchers lead to vigilante justice that is so preposterous it's beginning -- if we can read anything into catcher Buster Posey's dormant reaction to Harper heading for the hill -- to turn teammates against teammates.

Here we go with this discussion yet again, but players have a right to celebrate, within reason. Admiring a home run when you're up 10 or down 10 is a bad look, and as one manager put it to me recently, "Sometimes when you're looking for attention, you get it." But to go back and watch Harper's two home runs off Strickland from that postseason series -- a series that preceded the famous Jose Bautista bat flip that set off a healthy round of this discussion by a full year -- is to see appropriate reaction to big blasts in big spots.

Harper shouldn't have to risk getting hurt for this nonexistent infraction. And he sure as heck shouldn't have to brace himself for retaliation 966 days after the fact.

Harper on HBP, charging mound

"A baseball is a weapon," Harper said Monday.

And when in the hands of a man too blinded by perceived slights to focus on the fact that he didn't do his job, it's a dangerous weapon, indeed.

Certainly, players get miffed when they're "posterized" in other sports. But baseball is the only one in which the sensitivity to opposing enthusiasm is this strong and becomes this violent. The phrase David Price used to hang in his locker -- "If you don't like it, pitch better" -- would seem to apply here. But Strickland's sensitivity outlasted the Giants' win in that series, their win in the ensuing NL Championship Series and World Series and the two full baseball seasons that transpired before his next opportunity to face Harper.

Pitchers are inherently armed -- and in some clubhouse cultures encouraged -- with the ability to make others pay for their crimes of passion. But if a pitcher shows up a hitter with a pumped fist and howl of satisfaction after a big strikeout, it's not like he can fling his bat at the guy the next time he faces him. Strickland and Harper will probably both get suspended a few games for the way things escalated Monday, but what do you want to bet Harper's suspension would have been far lengthier had his helmet struck its intended target? (Or maybe he calculated this cost mid-throw.)

Giants, Nats on confrontation

When you see this stuff, you understand why guys like Mike Trout keep their on-field intensity on the inconspicuous side of the spectrum. You and I, as fans, might want to see more pure passion from Trout and other stars and an environment more akin to what we witnessed in the recent World Baseball Classic, where the energy radiated from the small screen. (It should be noted that Harper received more than 900,000 votes in first NL All-Star ballot update that was released on Monday, with no other player getting more than 670,000, which suggests that fans are on board with his style of play.)

Unfortunately, pitchers like Strickland, with their long memories and short fuses, are doing their part to hold up the evolution of emotion. To celebrate is to run the risk that the bruised ego you're creating will bruise you down the road. The over-sensitivity needs to stop. Baseball players need to be able to demonstrate how much they enjoy playing baseball.

Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.