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The Harper-Strickland Brawl, one year later

Technically, the anniversary is tomorrow, but it happened on Memorial Day itself, so let’s talk about it now.

Washington Nationals v San Francisco Giants Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Last Memorial Day, Hunter Strickland aired out a 3-year old grievance. He threw at Bryce Harper after Harper had pounded a couple of home runs off of him in the 2014 NLDS, leading to a brawl and —

Do you really need the history lesson?

Here’s the brawl itself (via the Nationals TV broadcast just to make you clench your teeth some more):

The fight received a lot coverage. Grant wrote an article. Doug wrote an article. Sami wrote an article. It made national headlines. There were suspensions. Michael Morse got a concussion when he and Jeff Samardzija collided. It was the most notable thing to happen to the 2017 Giants besides their ace pitcher nearly ending his career because of a dirt bike accident. Oh, and the team lost 98 games.

It really was the confirmation that the Giants had already started the “beginning of the end” phase of the season. They were 22-30 heading into the series, and even though that alone should’ve spelled certain doom, the general thinking was, maybe if the Giants could tread water until Bumgarner returned and Cueto regained his form, the Giants might be okay somehow down the stretch. But this game — this incident — was a death blow to a team with a fragile morale.

Or, maybe, it was indicative of where the team was already, morale-wise. Hunter Strickland thought that his team being down 2-0 in the top of the 8th inning with their 22-30 record meant that it didn’t matter what he did in this situation. There were two outs, too — maybe it was worth taking the risk to exact some sort of revenge.

A year later, the only takeaway from this brawl is that nothing bad happens to powerful people who use any and every opportunity to assert their will on other people... so long as they provide some sort of value to someone more powerful.

Pitchers will always have the upper hand in any encounter because they’re the only ones in a pitcher-batter matchup who knows what’s coming. Pitchers complain when hitters complain that pitchers get away with more than they should in terms of the strike zone. Pitchers also frequently do the coolest stuff on a baseball field. Most people can’t bend leather-stitched balls across ninety feet at velocities approaching 100 mph, and when those who can do such things do so for our favorite team, subconsciously, we just expect them to be some sort of benevolent dictator.

The myth of a benevolent dictator myth is that “I’ll be taken care of as long as I support the dictator.” That never happens. A dictator will always sell you out for themselves. Hunter Strickland had no problem selling out his team because this was all about him. Pitching is all about the pitcher, it’s never for the team. It’s why I think the real issue when it comes to pace of play involves the pitcher’s ego. “My next pitch is so special and perfect, just like me, that I need to take as much time as possible so that I can throw the perfect pitch to show how dominant I am.”

Just throw your stupid pitch and get off the field. Nobody cares that you can throw 98 mph if you’re losing. Nobody cares that you gave up two home runs to Bryce Harper because your team still won the series. Getting three outs doesn’t have to be performance art. Your maximum effort won’t necessarily be your best effort.

So, again, a year later, in the aftermath of all this, we see that Hunter Strickland boosted his status as a reliever, not just across the league, but as a San Francisco Giant. The face of the franchise wouldn’t rush out to help him for being selfish, but the Giants wouldn’t move him even when the team was out of it and instead they made him their closer, a position they still deem to be one of the most important roles on a major league roster.

The Giants desperately need Hunter Strickland, which just goes to show that character doesn’t count more than stats — which, hey, okay, baseball’s a business, so it’s all about the numbers and these aren’t human beings, except when it comes to PEDs, and then it becomes a morality tale involving corruption, greed and narcissism... but never when it involves launching a projectile at a player for the purpose of hurting them.

They have a closer now, they’re competitive, and Bryce Harper’s still an All-Star and rumored to be an offseason target by the team in free agency, with or without Strickland’s permission. Jeff Samardzija went on to have a decent 2017 which built up high hopes for 2018. So, the main characters of the brawl seem to be doing just fine and we can all just sit back and shake our heads/laugh about it.

Only Michael Morse got boned. He’s out of baseball and was still feeling concussion symptoms throughout most of last calendar year. Things weren’t looking great before the concussion and he was already eyeballing his exit from the sport if his performance didn’t pick up, but it’s always a shame when the unforced error is the thing that does you in. Somehow, sticking up for a teammate — who was in the process of demonstrating that he would never give you a second thought — and having your life ruined (if only temporarily) because of it, seems perfectly appropriate for 2018.

The only lessons the fans should learn from all this is that we’ll never fully understand the decision-making behind roster construction and that the emotions we throw at the sport say more about us than it does about the number-generating bipeds who create those emotions within us.