Morales' bad break raises questions
Players, skippers wonder if celebrations should be curbed
NEW YORK -- What ever happened to being safe at home? The eyes of the insular baseball world were turned inward on Sunday, one day after All-Star slugger Kendry Morales broke his left ankle in a celebration at home plate following a walk-off grand slam. On Sunday morning, several teams and players began to question their own policies toward on-field theatrics, with many coming to an uncertain conclusion.
"I haven't [worried], but I do now," said Yankees manager Joe Girardi, expressing a popular sentiment. "I was talking to [Mark Teixeira] about it, and he said a guy in the Minor Leagues blew his ACL that he played with. I'd never heard of anyone getting hurt in that situation, but I worry now. As far as talking to the team, I would just tell them, 'Be cautious. Be careful. Let the guy run across the plate. Don't beat him on the head too hard.' I think that's why guys started taking their helmets off. But wow, what a huge blow in such a happy moment."
On Sunday afternoon, the Angels were forced to relive the moment as they were put in an eerily similar position when Howard Kendrick hit a walk-off home run in a 9-7 win against the Mariners. The victory celebration was jubilant, but noticeable subdued. The Padres and the Giants each won with a walk-off single Sunday and both teams mobbed the player who drove in the run at first base. Nobody was hurt.
"We were just trying to be careful that time," Angels outfielder Torii Hunter said. "When I saw [Kendrick] hit the home run, I saw him running around the bases and I saw everybody running out. I'm like, 'Calm down! Calm down! Wait, let him touch the plate.' And I was screaming, 'Two-jump minimum!'"
Angels manager Mike Scioscia was vocal about the celebration gone awry Saturday, and one day later, put in new directives to curb his players' excitement and keep them from hurting each other.
Who would have imagined Scioscia's guidelines would come into play only a few hours later?
"Everybody was [yelling to get back]," Sciosia said. "They knew not to get on the dirt, they were on the grass. I think we got through the celebration unscathed and that's a step forward. ... Still getting over what happened and yesterday, the guys kept playing and this definitely feels good."
It's been an eventful weekend in Anaheim. The Angels went from instant celebration to concern moments after Morales had hit a game-winning grand slam. The hulking first baseman steamed around the basepaths and leapt at home plate, right before he was engulfed in a sea of jubilant teammates. Morales went down to the ground, and it took a few seconds before the Angels realized the gravity of the situation.
"It's sickening to lose a player in the way that we lost Kendry. The best way to put it is, it's just sickening," Scioscia said. "Yesterday's event was terrible, and it was something that we need to address. It's happened before in baseball, [but] it's not going to happen again here. We need to do a little better job than to get hurt in a dogpile scenario celebrating a win. So we put together some guidelines. Our guys will be great."
Other managers weren't quite certain that they'd go that far, but several admitted that they would discuss it with their team. Chicago manager Ozzie Guillen said he's feared this kind of injury for several years, and that he preaches common sense to his players.
"I'm not against people celebrating. Just be careful how you celebrate," said Guillen, a former shortstop. "Hopefully, players will learn from this example about how you are going to celebrate. I see guys jumping in the air, throwing helmets, taking his uniform off. It's fun. It's colorful. It's awesome. In the meanwhile, I hope they learn from that, and be careful what [they] are doing. There are a lot of ways to celebrate, but in the meanwhile, we always have to wait for something to happen to start believing how we are not invincible."
"We've been lucky so far," added Dodgers manager Joe Torre, another skipper with a player's pedigree. "Any time you get a group together, there's always a concern. ... It's the emotion of what goes on in the game. You never want to take the emotion out of it. Everyone's aware of what happened. It looked like Kendry jumped and may have come down wrong more than the beating he took from his fellow players."
Seattle manager Don Wakamatsu, one of Scioscia's key division rivals, said that it might be hard to curb the home-plate celebrations that have become so common in recent years. Wakamatsu said that one of his players -- catcher Rob Johnson -- hurt his ankle last season in an on-field celebration, and he also said that he planned on at least talking about the situation with his team.
"We'll talk about that in our next advance meetings," Wakamatsu said. "You've even seen the change in recent years with guys throwing their helmets off, so they don't get hit in the head. So when tragedies like this happen, it sends a message, and guys will be a little bit more careful."
Another manager, Cleveland's Manny Acta, expressed similar reservations about the situation as Wakamatsu.
"I don't think we, as managers, can say they have to sit in the dugout and wait for the guy to round the bases before they can celebrate, because it's an emotional thing," Acta said. "But the way it's evolved has headed in the wrong direction."
Boston's irrepressible David Ortiz, who stands eighth on the all-time list with 10 walk-off home runs, said he has feared this kind of injury for several seasons. Ortiz said he began flipping his helmet off before he got to home plate because his teammates would beat on his head, and he also said he's gotten nervous from watching other players come around the bases and leap onto home plate.
"I've always been a little concerned about getting beat up," Ortiz said. "You can get an injury like that, when you get beat up in those things. I pretty much wait for everyone to go and do their thing, because they go crazy on each other. And then I walk in. I let everybody do their thing."
Veteran Jason Giambi, another player with extensive experience at celebrating on-field heroics, wasn't quite sure what to make of the Morales injury. He felt bad for the Angels, of course, but he also said that it's hard to stifle the urge to go wild.
"It's an unfortunate accident," said Giambi. "He's a phenomenal player. It definitely hurts the Angels. But people get excited, and you're excited as a player doing it, because it's a rare thing to do in sports, getting a chance to walk off. It's an unfortunate situation."
Another veteran, San Francisco's Aubrey Huff, said that players don't really think about what they're doing while they're doing it.
"You're so excited, you don't really think about things like that," Huff said. "I've been a part of a lot of walk-offs, and there's a lot of stuff going on there -- jabs going on, and haymakers just for fun -- but you don't really expect that something like that is going to happen to somebody. That's just straight-up unfortunate. After all the things that you do see, it is kind of amazing stuff like that doesn't happen more often."
Rangers third baseman Michael Young said he won't be surprised to see teams "ease back" in their celebrations at the plate.
"They've gotten worse and worse over the years," Young said. "Old school used to be touch the plate, shake hands with your teammates and go to the clubhouse. Now there is jumping, punching and kicking, and it's become an accepted part of the game. If it happens to us, you won't see us jumping around. You'll see one or two guys get excited, but we'll make sure nobody will get hurt."
Perhaps the most interesting perspective comes from Arizona bench coach Kirk Gibson, who authored one of the most famous walk-off home runs in history. Gibson, of course, was already injured when he hit a game-winning home run in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series, and he said on Sunday that sometimes fluky things happen, despite people's best intentions.
"How many years of celebrations have we had without an injury?" Gibson asked. "I mean, it's not like he was hotdogging it or anything; it was just pure emotion. If you're going to change because of that, are you going to change how you celebrate when you win the World Series? When guys pile up on the field, there have been people hurt in that, too. They might think about it a little more, but I don't think it would be something I would be thinking about. You hit a home run, you're happy. It's an occupational hazard."
If curbing celebrations becomes a cause celebre, there will be plenty of players and managers on eggshells every time someone gets a big hit in the ninth inning. And it's that factor -- the stunningly routine nature of it all -- that keeps some people from jumping on the bandwagon. Kansas City manager Ned Yost, for example, would sooner point to all of the celebrations where nobody gets hurt.
"There have been thousands of celebrations at home plate, and this is an isolated incident," said Yost. "I don't think you shut down celebrations when you have a walk-off win. I mean, that's the fun of a walk-off win -- the excitement that's generated. ... You fight hard and you work and, all of sudden, the game's over, and your emotions pour out. ... But we need to keep an eye on it and make sure it tempers down a little bit."
As for Kendrick, he has no problem with Angels' new routine following a walk-off home run.
"It's really no different than some of the things other teams come up with," he said. "It's all about being safe about it, and if that's going to keep guys from getting hurt, I'm all for it."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.