KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A baseball player doesn't have a complicated job. You show up to work, put on a jersey, and play a game. Most days, it's for real. Other days, it's not. But the same thing remains true when you're wearing that jersey: You represent the team, so respect the fans and sign your name a few hundred times. It's all part of the gig, repeated by many over the past several decades.
Kansas City Royals starter Zack Greinke, fresh off a return from a stint on the Injured List, apparently isn't a fan of this narrative. He doesn't want to bother himself with signing autographs for the fans, the same human beings who help pay his salary and give his job a reason to exist. One fan on Twitter saw the end of the former Astros and Brewers pitcher's wrath this past weekend.
After making the fan think he was walking up to sign his baseball, Greinke instead chucked the ball as far as he could. When the mystified young fan asked him why, the former Cy Young award replied with something direct yet embarrassing: "For my amusement."
Do we have a video of this? No. Did it happen? According to this screenshot, taken from a Facebook post from Lucas Waterworth, the teenager who had the interaction with Greinke, it did. But it was the following confirmations from family and coaches from Lucas's school that made the Greinke toss even more embarrassing.
Jomboy Media pulled this screenshot (they give credit) from a K.C. native, one who apparently thought this was cool and wanted to vote Greinke into the Hall of Fame immediately. When another Twitter user put it out there that the kid may be lying, Lucas's mother had this to say in her response to the tweet, which is now deleted.
Shortly before, Lucas's baseball coach tagged the Royals team account in a tweet, asking for someone to answer for their player's behavior.
My take is clear: This is unacceptable. Greinke has struggled with anxiety and depression, but there are better ways to handle a situation. No, he shouldn't be suspended for three games, or have his pout forever removed from his expression.
But Greinke, being a representative of the Royals organization, should apologize and make it count. Fans can clamor too hard before and after the game for autographs, and more than a few are looking to sell them. But it's still a part of the job, especially as you walk across the field. And Lucas is a teenager, reportedly 16 according to his mother's follow-up Twitter responses last night. Looking at his Facebook profile, you'll see another picture with a Royals player that had a happier ending.
This didn't happen in a parking lot outside the stadium, or somewhere else while the guy was eating dinner with his family. It was on the field at a regular season game. The easy thing to do would be to tell the fan he can't sign right now, or that he doesn't want to sign. Get someone else, or be kind about it. Another plan would be to entirely avoid the fan like most of the players do.
What you don't need to do is alter the fan's day by throwing his baseball away well over the wall. The one he so eagerly wanted you to sign, the one he wanted to put on his desk most likely at home, next to the rest. Assuming autograph hounds are mere collectors is a narrow-minded view if it is true. I highly doubt a teenager is running home to sell the autograph. A little light bragging rights around friends for the rest of the summer and at school in August, but not something he's putting in a box to ship UPS anytime soon.
Maybe I am overreacting. Maybe I am tired of seeing baseball players, or any athlete in a professional sport, be treated like mythical gods and then act like this. I hope Greinke says something. Entitlement doesn't look good on a guy making $13 million to contribute a 4.68 earned run average, mental health struggles aside. Afflicted or not, we all have jobs to do and should keep a straight face unless rudeness comes from the other side. Don't create rudeness. A pitcher I campaigned for the Cardinals to sign this past spring, Greinke now looks like the whiny Milwaukee Brewer who said he would refuse a trade to St. Louis back in the day.
I am glad Lucas's family stepped up and confirmed what some figured could be a fable. No fantasy. Make it right by inviting him to a game and do it right: Suite, free food and drink, the works. Also, a little pregame catch. Some long-toss, perhaps?