Collins's obscene gesture joins ranks of past MLB bad behavior
Miguel Cabrera's two homers and Jordan Zimmermann's 24 1/3-inning scoreless streak should have been the highlights from Detroit’s 7–3 win over Oakland on Monday night, but instead, bird was the word—and not as a tribute to the late Tigers sensation Mark Fidrych. Rookie centerfielder Tyler Collins, who lost a fly ball in the lights that led to Zimmermann's first run allowed as a Tiger, responded to boos from Detroit's fans with a middle-finger salute, joining some not-so-select company by doing so.
The misplay came off the bat of Athletics shortstop Marcus Semien in the sixth inning with the Tigers leading 6–0. The ball landed 10–15 feet in front of Collins, who wasn't charged with an error on the play; a hustling Semien was credited with a double and advanced to third on an error by leftfielder Justin Upton, who tried to pick up the ball but kicked it. Semien then scored on a single by Billy Burns, snapping Zimmermann's scoreless innings streak. Here's the play:
And here's the bird as well as the boos, as well as an opportunity to read Collins' lips for additional commentary:
Sadly, that constitutes the highlight of the 26-year-old Collins's major league career to date. A former sixth-round pick who made his big league debut in 2014, Collins hit .266/.316/.417 in 207 plate appearances for the Tigers last year, though his -5 Defensive Runs Saved offset the modest value of his bat. Occupying the short half of a platoon with Anthony Gose in centerfield (due to starter Cameron Maybin's spring training injury), he's off to a 2-for-20 start this year and is lucky he hasn't already been banished to the minors. Collins remained in the game and expressed contrition afterwards. Via MLive's Chris Iott:
"That hurt," Collins said of the botched play. "To be at home and to hear boos after that play hit a trigger inside of me and I lashed out completely inappropriately. I'm absolutely embarrassed that happened and I'm very sorry to everybody in Detroit. I just want you guys to understand that I love this team and I want to win. So when we come home and get booed, it's tough to swallow. But like I said, I apologize completely. I'm embarrassed at myself. I know my family's embarrassed at me. I'm sure these guys are, too. I'm sorry it happened."
Collins may well receive a fine either from the team or the league, and historical precedent suggests a suspension is even possible, though his contrition will probably prevent things from going that far. Here's a look back at a handful of notable incidents involving obscene gestures from players.
Old Hoss Radbourn, Boston Beaneaters (1886)
Hailing from baseball's bare-knuckle days, this ornery, hard-drinking Hall of Fame pitcher is most famous for his Herculean workload. In 1884—the year restrictions on pitchers' deliveries were removed, but when the front of the pitching box was just 50 feet from home plate—Radbourn completed all 73 of his starts, totaling 678 2/3 innings and going 59–12 with a 1.38 ERA to pitch the Providence Grays to the National League pennant. That massive workload came about because Radbourn had chased off co-ace Charlie Sweeney due to a feud and attempted to atone by volunteering to pitch every remaining game.
By 1886, Radbourn had moved on to Boston, and in a team photo, he's visibly flipping the bird, the earliest known instance of the gesture being caught on film. Historian Edward Achorn used another picture of Radbourn giving the finger, from his 1887 Old Judge Tobacco baseball card, for the the cover of his 2010 book, Fifty-nine in '84. Said Achorn, "Clearly [the finger] did have the same meaning back then … this is Radbourn trying to make a message like ‘screw you,’ or his way to be funny. They had to airbrush some out of photos in later books.”
Between the subtlety of Radbourn's gesture and the limited circulation of the aforementioned photo, it seems improbable that Radbourn was ever disciplined in connection with either photo.
Ted Williams, Red Sox (May 11, 1950)
The Splinter was anything but splendid when it came to his relationship with the Fenway Park faithful. After his rookie season of 1939, he refused to tip his cap to fans cheering his home runs, a stance he maintained all the way through his home run in his final at-bat in '60. Amid a particularly rough doubleheader against the Tigers in Fenway in 1950, things reached a boiling point. In the opening game, Williams dropped a fly ball hit by Aaron Robinson, allowing a run to score, and in the second, he allowed a bases-loaded ground ball off the bat of Vic Wertz to skip through his legs; all three runners scored, erasing a 2–0 deficit en route to a sweep. "With thunderous boos descending upon him, Williams bowed three times to various sections, then made an obscene gesture," wrote the Boston Globe's Larry Whtieside. For good measure, Williams also spit in the direction of fans near the Boston dugout.
"Williams removed himself from the ranks of decent sportsmen. Yesterday, he was a little man, and in his ungovernable rage, a dirty little man," wrote Austen Lake in the Boston Herald. Owner Tom Yawkey dictated an apology for Williams to deliver for his "insulting gestures."
Garry Templeton, Cardinals (Aug. 26, 1981)
A two-time All-star who in 1979 became the first switch-hitter to collect 100 hits from each side of the plate in a season, Templeton fell off considerably in the strike-shortened '81 season. Hitting just .261/.291/.373 and playing through a sore knee, Templeton drew the ire of Busch Stadium fans—on "Ladies Day," no less—by not running to first base on a dropped third strike in the first inning. He responded to the boos via his middle finger, then did it again in the third inning, at which point he was ejected. After Templeton grabbed his crotch in response, manager/GM Whitey Herzog scuffled with him The team fined its shortstop $5,000 and suspended him for three weeks, during which time he entered rehab for a substance abuse problem.
Templeton collected four hits in his return and made a strong September showing, but that winter, he was dealt to the Padres in a blockbuster that brought back Ozzie Smith, who had just earned the first of what became 12 straight All-Star berths and the second of 13 straight Gold Gloves. While Templeton would play for another decade and make the All-Star team once more, Smith would help St. Louis to a championship the following year and additional pennants in 1985 and '87 en route to the Hall of Fame.
Jack McDowell, Yankees (July 18, 1995)
Acquired the previous winter in a trade with the White Sox, for whom he won the 1993 AL Cy Young award, McDowell generally pitched well (15–10, 3.93 ERA) in his lone year in pinstripes. But after being rocked for 13 hits and nine runs in 4 2/3 innings against his former team, he gave Yankee Stadium's 21,118 fans the finger as he walked off the mound and egged them on to raise the decibel level as he departed. The New York Daily News put a photo of the gesture on its back page, captioned "JACK ASS," while the New York Post called him "Yankee Flipper." The Yankees fined him $5,000, sending the money to a children's cancer fund, and AL president Gene Budig ordered McDowell to buy a "substantial" amount of tickets to Yankees games to distribute through "worthy agencies."
That October, McDowell surrendered the winning run in Game 5 of the epic Division Series against the Mariners before departing for Cleveland in free agency that winter. He never posted an ERA below 5.00 again and retired after the 1999 season.
Albert Belle, White Sox (June 3, 1997)
The game's foremost enfant terrible during the 1990s, Belle spent the first half of the decade demolishing AL pitching and running up a resume of misdeeds. In 1991, he was suspended seven games for hitting a heckler in the stands of Cleveland Stadium in the chest with a baseball from about 15 feet away; the fan had been taunting him by inviting him to a kegger, knowing that Belle had spent time in an alcohol rehabilitation program the previous summer. In '94, Belle was suspended seven games for using a corked bat, and in '96, he was fined $50,000 for a dugout tirade at television reporter Hannah Storm before Game 3 of the previous fall's World Series. Shortly after that World Series, he was fined $100 after pleading no contest to a charge of reckless operation of a motor vehicle on private property; he had chased five teenagers off the road with his car after they egged his house; he later settled a lawsuit brought by one teen who claimed Belle's car bumper hit his knee.
Belle left the Indians after the 1996 season to sign a five-year, $55 million deal with the White Sox, and Cleveland fans booed him incessantly upon his return to Jacobs Field. According to the Los Angeles Times, "Fans in the leftfield bleachers waved signs and threw fake money, ice, cups and other debris at him." The game was delayed twice to remove objects on the field, as Belle "motioned to the fans to bring it on." The slugger went 3 for 5 with two doubles and a homer in Chicago's 9–5 win, then gave fans the bird after the final out. In response, commissioner Bud Selig ordered him to buy $5,000 worth of tickets to White Sox games to distribute to disadvantaged youth in Chicago.
Danny Graves, Reds (May 22, 2005)
After notching 41 saves and earning All-Star honors in 2004, Graves converted his first eight save opportunities the following year but was increasingly ineffective due to declining velocity and soon fell into a slump. After allowing five ninth-inning runs while retiring just one batter of what turned into a 9-2 blowout by the Indians, Graves was booed as he left the field. A fan near the dugout heckled him by telling him to go back to Vietnam, where he was born to a U.S. Army sergeant and a Vietnamese woman in 1973; Graves responded by yelling back and giving the finger.
A day later, before he could publicly apologize, the team designated Graves for assignment, with general manager Dan O'Brien saying, ""His performance has been unsatisfactory and unacceptable. It hasn't been up to the standards we've come to expect for the Cincinnati Reds." Graves caught on with the Mets but pitched poorly and was released later that season, and he washed out of the league after 2006.
Joe Nathan, Tigers (Aug. 14, 2014)
Nathan had saved 28 games for the Tigers but had also blown six saves and was carrying a 5.23 ERA into a game in which he struggled to close the door on the Pirates, walking the first two batters before retiring the side. Booed after finally securing the final out, he flicked his fingers off his chin twice—once via each hand—in a rude gesture of masculinity known in France as "la barbe" (the beard):
Nathan apologized the next day.
Jonathan Papelbon, Phillies (Sept. 14, 2014)
Who can forget this recent classic of the genre? After blowing a three-run lead in a 5–4 loss to the Marlins, Papelbon grabbed his crotch in response to booing Phillies fans, a gesture that wound up on the front page of the Philadelphia Daily News:
After being ejected by umpire Joe West for his actions, Papelbon bolted back onto the field and went nose-to-nose with West; his forehead made contact with the brim of West's cap, and the umpire grabbed him by the jersey and pushed him, after which fellow umpire Marty Foster separated the two.
MLB suspended Papelbon for seven games, West for one. Papelbon, who had claimed that he was merely adjusting his athletic supporter, did not appeal the suspension or apologize directly; instead, the Phillies issued a statement on his behalf. He was traded to the Nationals the following July and a little over one year after the crotch-grabbing episode, he was at the middle of an even more controversial act, when he put his hands around the throat of superstar teammate Bryce Harper.