Kendry Morales Hits the Stupidly Disabled List

published May 31, 2010

Say it ain’t so, Kendry.

The power-hitting first baseman of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim is the latest victim of Celebration Syndrome. Kendry Morales’s walk-off grand slam on Saturday became a carry-off tragicomedy when his leap onto the plate into a bouncing clump of teammates resulted in a fractured lower left leg.  He will probably miss the rest of the season, and most likely took the Angels’ hopes for the year with him.

He’s not the first athlete to suffer a major injury celebrating himself, though he’s probably the best and most important to his team.  Kicker Bill Gramatica tore his ACL jumping and gesturing after nailing a ­ game-winning field goal; quarterback Gus Frerotte put himself out of a game by head-butting the stadium wall after scoring a touchdown; goal scorers the world over know that the most dangerous part of a soccer game comes immediately after the ball hits the net, as your teammates converge on you in unrestrained joy.

Morales can be plainly seen on the video [HYPERLINK:] approaching the plate, leaping, being slapped on the upper back by a teammate, landing awkwardly and going down to the ground.  The celebration stops immediately, and his face (unseen) no doubt reflects the pain of the injury.  Yes, a professional athlete should be able to jump in the air and land without incident, but an athlete wearing cleats might want to think twice before leaping when the landing will be on a hard rubberized surface.

“It’s going to change the way we celebrate,” manager Mike Scioscia told the post-game media. [HYPERLINK:] “I’ve always wondered if it’s an accident waiting to happen.”

The phenomenon of a team flooding the home-plate area after a game-ending home run is a fairly recent development.  In days of yore, excessive celebration was viewed as showing up an opponent, with “dusting” of a batter among the likely repercussions.  (dusting, v., to make a hitter throw himself to the dirt, kicking up a cloud of dust, to escape a fastball zooming towards his head.)  The mob scene at home followed the truly extraordinary: a World Series-ending home run, say, or perhaps one that concludes a playoff series against a hated rival.

In Magic Johnson’s first game as a Laker, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar hit a game-winning shot at the buzzer.  Magic gave Kareem a running hug, and the center told him, “Take it easy, rookie, it’s a long season.”  Earl Weaver used to keep his team from getting too high or too low by reminding them, “We play one of these every day.”

When Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth’s single season home-run record, he had to be persuaded to stick his head out of the dugout for a curtain call.  When Ted Williams homered in the last at-bat of his career, he trotted to the bench without acknowledging the crowd.  “He ran as he always ran out home runs,” wrote John Updike, “—hurriedly, unsmiling, head down, as if our praise were a storm of rain to get out of… (T)he other players, and even the umpires on the field, begged him to come out and acknowledge us in some way, but he never had and did not now.  Gods do not answer letters.”

How cool is that?

I know we live in an age of trademark touchdown celebrations and sack dances and curtain calls and slow home run trots and staring in awe at the flight of a ball you’ve just hit – but wouldn’t it be nice to bring back cool?  Forget about the issue of embarrassing an opponent; what could be better after making a big play than to show the world that you know you’re that good, and you expect this of yourself?  When Kobe Bryant hits a big shot, he nods with satisfaction to himself; he seems to be saying, “Yes, this is why I put in all the work, this is why I practice, this is what I’ve prepared myself for.”  (His airplane move after nailing a jumper over Grant Hill Saturday night was extra recognition of the dagger he’d just put into the Suns, scoring nine points in less than two minutes against a defense focused on stopping him.)

Just as minimalism in art came about in reaction to the excesses of abstract expressionism, perhaps it’s time for minimalism in self-congratulatory expression.  Anyone can (and does) leap and prance and preen on scoring a touchdown; the most original move available today is to hand the official the ball and trot on down the sidelines.  Instead of forming a mosh pit at the plate, line up for hand slaps and shakes like you did when you were in high school or Little League.  “Act like you’ve been there before” can be the hallmark of the New Intimidation, daring your opponent to match your confidence and cool.

It’s worth a try.  It’s got to be better than putting yourself at the top of the Stupidly Disabled List.

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