Those of us Phillies fans who have been used to watching Mitch Williams on Comcast SportsNet and MLB Network in recent years may not be surprised to discover that he has no problem venting his spleen about baseball, especially with the hallowed "unwritten rules" of the game that are bound up in the sport's more regrettable, likely-compensating-for-something overly macho culture claptrap about ritualized manhood.
But the recent reports of Williams' poor behavior at a New Jersey baseball youth tournament go beyond bad behavior and scrape the cliff railing onto criminal behavior. When you use your role as a coach, especially one who has played at the major league level, to instruct your pitcher to throw at another team's pitcher to win the game, you are stepping squarely into the world of abuse, to say nothing of assault and battery and corrupting a minor.
There's a lot more to this story clearly unwritten, including the aspects at the bottom and in the comments about he has "acolytes" who cheer his lunkheaded behavior along, and about how he has bullied Medford, New Jersey in other athletic leagues and venues. But if the Ripken League has gone so far to have a "handler" for him in place, they are going the absolute wrong direction. And while I'm at it, I'll call out the MLB Network, too; if one of the rhetorical purposes of having such an outlet is to promote the game in all its glory, putting Williams on camera, or even keeping him there, is a poor decision.
I am biased in a number of ways here, and ones that I hope are consistent. I don't understand this culture (or any culture's) bizarre need to thrust pre-teens into hyper-competitive environments, no matter what the sport, whether team baseball or individual gymnastics. I've coached soccer and baseball for children from 4-12 in my town for 20 years in more of a mamby-pamby leagues that emphasize learning, development, and having fun with an ultimate goal of making lifelong body movers and/or fresh-air takers-inners, not professional or even scholarship athletes (though I'm proud of them when they go that far to at least helped engender a love of the sport). And while I'll cop to having been, at times, overly emotional in my fandom in my teens and 20s, now in my 40s my passion doesn't extend to profanity or derision, and when the game's over, it's over. If I'm worked up about it I might write a poem.
I still feel bad for Williams that he had to endure death threats after he did this in 1993:
It's a pity that so many baseball players who use their time off the field so productively to help others - recent prominent Phillies examples include Shane Victorino, Cole Hamels, Jimmy Rollins, and Jamie Moyer, to name a few - have to share their profession with such arrogant lunkheads.
It's an additional pity that the stockade is considered cruel and unusual punishment; although the Internet is a wonderful viral shaming tool in its own right, this seems most appropriate here. This noxious, corrosive behavior is bad for baseball no matter what the level, and needs to be confronted and not brushed aside.
It's time for the Ripken League and MLB Network to send Mitch Williams a "message pitch."