The tiff defines absurdity, but here it is: The Dodgers did not hit on the field before Sunday’s series finale against the Braves. Instead, they found themselves discussing the previous day’s round of batting practice.
During Saturday’s game, Atlanta broadcasters Chip Caray and Joe Simpson crafted a piece of viral curmudgeonry by ranting about several Dodgers wearing T-shirts during batting practice. The segment lasted multiple minutes. Simpson, who played in parts of four seasons with the Dodgers, focused on Chase Utley for wearing no socks and hiked-up uniform pants, in addition to his T-shirt. Simpson described this as “unprofessional” and Utley’s outfit as “an embarrassment.”
The comments did not sit well with manager Dave Roberts, who objected to Simpson criticizing his team’s professionalism. Simpson visited the Dodgers clubhouse Sunday morning to meet with Utley. An apology was conveyed from the Braves to Roberts, but Roberts did not speak with Simpson before his pregame session with reporters.
“If I said something that was kind of a cheap shot, after I had time to think about it, I would expect an apology,” Roberts said.
Simpson and Caray expressed their view that because the Dodgers were not in uniform, fans at batting practice could not recognize them. This might be an inadvertent show of solidarity for those in Los Angeles unable to access SportsNet LA, but still sounds unlikely in this digital age.
Roberts objected to the remarks on several grounds. Utley was wearing a T-shirt for which proceeds go to cancer research. The rant from Simpson came with prepared footage of batting practice, which played during the fifth inning of a one-run game between two teams with playoff aspirations. To target Utley, a 39-year-old veteran whom the Dodgers treat with a rare sort of reverence, offended Roberts’ sensibilities.
“You’re talking about fans and professionalism,” Roberts said. “And batting practice is to get your work in, which Chase does in an amazing job. All of our players do. To see him take ground balls or to work his routine in the cage, that would be the takeaway. That would be my message to the fans: to watch him, how he works and prepares for a Major League Baseball game, as do all our players.
“So to take a shot at him and our guys, I just thought it was unfair.”
Roberts suggested it was important for the elders in the game, from executives to managers to broadcasters, to embrace the personalities and proclivities of players in order to market the sport.
“The game is driven by the players,” Roberts said. “The world is changing. The game is changing. The commissioner himself is really making it a point to get even more fan interest. Where a bat flip or whatever it might be that adds a little color to the game, doesn’t mean it’s wrong.
“I think you judge a player by running balls out, playing the game hard. That’s what is important. I grew up in a different age. But players are different, and they’re still very talented. The game is about the players.”