Exploring the Brandon Phillips, Yadier Molina “Shin-Guard-Tapping” Incident | The Golden Sombrero Baseball Blog | MLB, Fantasy, College & High School Baseball News

Exploring the Brandon Phillips, Yadier Molina “Shin-Guard-Tapping” Incident

Shortly after the bench-clearing brawl between the Reds and Cardinals, I received an email from a good friend and former teammate, asking about one of baseballs many, under-appreciated nuances.  Since it is a discussion that delves into the mentality surrounding the brawl, as well as a discussion about the overall makeup of professional baseball players, I felt that it would be appropriate to post it in it’s entirety on The Golden Sombrero.

Rosey,

So this is a few days after the Cards/Reds brawl, so I won’t even ask if you saw it, since I know you did.  But I was wondering if you knew anything about the shin-guard-tapping-as-a-sign-of-friendship thing that got pissed off Yadi?  I had never heard of that before and was wondering if you knew about it/encountered it anywhere.  I’m going to start looking for it…when I get the rare chance to see a game.

Keep on keepin’ on,

Ryan

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Ryan,

A batter tapping the catcher’s shin guards as he strolls up the plate is a subtle term of endearment within the game, much like when a first basemen chats it up or pats an opposing hitter on the butt after a base hit.  A similar type of courtesy can be observed when a catcher hands the batter his bat after running out a foul ball, when the batter picks up a catcher’s mask for him after an admirable foul ball attempt, and when a hitter picks up the ball at his feet after the catcher wears a foul tip.

Being able to temporarily put aside your competitiveness shows another player that you aren’t taking yourself over seriously, that you have a human side.  Like myself, most baseball players will talk to anybody on a baseball field- regardless of where I played on the infield in my career, I always chatted it up with any players willing to engage back, as well as other coaches and the field umpires.  Even when I was in the left field I was always jabbering and joking with the shortstop, especially in between pitchers or between innings.

I watch my fair share of Diamondbacks’ games just because I enjoy listening to a drunk Mark Grace provide color commentary, and I remember a story that he told that epitomized the social-butterfly baseball player:  At the beginning of the game, Grace would draw a tic-tac-toe board in the dirt adjacent to the bag.  He would then make the first move so that his counterpart knew to play along, and evidently their matches would continue for most of an actual game.  Whenever either of them reached first base, they would give each other shit about the tic-tac-toe game, not the actual baseball game.

However, the circumstances surrounding Brandon Phillips‘ tapping of Yadier Molina’s shin guards had nothing to do with endearment or respect.  While I have heard that Phillips is a great teammate and a beloved baseball personality, and I’m sure that he and Yadi were friendly prior to this incident, his choice to do what he did was an insulting and disrespectful gesture directed towards both Yadi and entire Cardinals team.  It was like that was his way of saying I’m sorry, you know?  It suggests that Phillips knew he went over the top with his comments and was trying to save his own ass to an extent.  However, Yadi was clearly already on edge with him, and I suspect that any possible apologetic gesture that Phillips’ might have offered would have generated a similar result.

Also, I would bet that had Jaime Garcia been able to start the at-bat without the altercation and subsequent brawl occurring, that his first or second pitch would have whizzed right beneath Phillips’ chin, if not drilled him.  Yadi actually did the Cardinals a favor by involving himself, rather than risk a potential Garcia suspension.

Lots of baseball players do the whole “shin-tapping-thing” as a way of getting on a catcher’s good side.  After all, it is the catcher that controls the most intricate aspects of the game, not the pitcher.  Therefore, just in case a beanball war were to occur, perhaps the catcher might spare the friendly batter the pain and repercussions associated with the inevitable bench clearing brawl.

There is a place in every baseball game for respectful gestures, but if it comes at the wrong time, it will automatically be perceived as insulting, or that it’s intended to show up another player/team.  If you’re going to look for it during games, I think it’s equally as important just to notice who players are talking to at any given time.  Is the runner on first talking the first baseman? Is he talking to the first base coach? Is he talking to the ump? Is everybody talking to each other out there?

Like I said, baseball players love to talk with everybody- most guys take real pride in the rapport that they have established over the years with other players, coaches and umpires.

The next time that you receive an at-bat in Belgium, I suggest that you give the catcher’s shin guards a tap and then see what happens.  It’s the only true way for you to understand the situation…

Good Luck,

Rosey

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