Even casual fans or sports abstainers might’ve been aware of last Sunday’s Pirates-Reds brawl* at PNC Park.

(*Note: This was a baseball ‘brawl,’ so it involved infinitely more ‘hold-me-back’ posturing and awkward bro-hugs than actual punches thrown.)

The reason this particular fracas went viral? It was probably equal parts the clash of garish uniforms and Yasiel Puig’s crimson plunge into a sea of Pittsburgh gold.

Matt Gajtka on Twitter

Now this is a heck of a still frame, all things considered #Pirates #Reds

But if we can put the social media eye candy aside, this bench-clearing incident stuck with me through the week because of the motivation behind it.

You might already know this, but I’ll be brief …

Altruism, engage!

  • Pirates pitcher Chris Archer has frequently drawn criticism — including on Opening Day last week — for his emotional celebrations of significant outs.
  • Reds utilityman Derek Dietrich hit a home run off Archer in Sunday’s first inning, strikingly standing at home plate for several seconds admiring the blast.
  • Archer threw behind Dietrich’s rear end during the latter’s next at-bat, drawing the ire of Reds manager David Bell, who was ejected for arguing that Archer should’ve been sent to the showers.

This kind of vigilante justice has never struck me as appealing, from a fan’s perspective. I believe a pitcher has a responsibility to respect his fellow competitor by not rifling a rock-hard implement at him. At least, not intentionally.

Now, the problem comes in determining intent, but it’s in the rule book that an umpire has it within his right to throw out a pitcher who he deems to have thrown at an opposing hitter.

Archer wasn’t tossed from Sunday’s eventual Pirates win, but his subsequent one-start suspension handed down by Major League Baseball would seem to indicate that Archer should’ve been shown the door by plate ump Jeff Kellogg.

Although Archer denied throwing at Dietrich on purpose, there’s little doubt that’s exactly what the ebullient Bucco hurler was doing. Watch for yourself below.

Denial is par for the course in these situations, so I won’t judge Archer too harshly on his lie to reporters after the game.

What did irritate me is this: Archer is precisely the last pitcher on the planet who should be striking back against an opponent who had the temerity to show some post-triumph emotion. The hypocrisy of the situation is enough to make the discerning sports fan gag.

There’s something else here, too. For those of us who are aching for more outward personality in some of our more stoic pro sports, like baseball, Archer seems a true godsend.

Just last week, I found myself defending Archer’s high-stepping, dreadlock-bouncing celebrations on and around the mound, especially after ESPN analyst and former MLB pitcher Rick Sutcliffe tut-tutted at Archer on national TV. Archer has fun. That energizes the sport.

But then, Sunday happened.

I don’t know Archer one bit — by the time he joined the Pirates last summer, I had left the baseball beat — but I certainly had his back whenever some stick in the mud would crow about Archer not ‘respecting the game’ or ‘showing up the opposition’ or some other label. We could use more joy in the world, I reasoned, so let the man scream and dance and express himself after helping his team succeed.

That’s why I was saddened when Archer took it upon himself to play ‘fun police’ on the North Shore.

How It Works!

How Do-Goodery Works

Laugh if you want, but that’s why I’m still thinking about it several days later.

In the end, I’m grateful for the reminder that much of human behavior is cynical. We largely do what we think is going to advance our self-interest, and for Archer, perhaps the need to publicly ‘stand up for himself’ overrode the side of his brain that would recognize his hypocrisy in the moment.

Or, maybe Archer was encouraged to retaliate by catcher Francisco Cervelli, who was clearly bothered by Dietrich’s showmanship. Group dynamics can be powerful, as most of us know, and the relationship between pitcher and catcher is perhaps the most intimate (and important) on a baseball team.

All of this is to say that I get why Archer did what he did, even if I was personally disappointed in it.

What have we learned from this look into Archer’s hypocrisy?

Well, those of us on the outside the sport can have our preferences and principles, but it’s dangerous to adopt those inside the sport as avatars for some ideal way to play and behave.

And, to be fair, you or I don’t have nearly the stakes in the outcome as the athletes do. I might think I know what I’d do in Archer’s shoes, but I’ll never get the chance to prove it (if you’ve seen me try to pitch off a mound, that’s a good thing for everyone).

So, tread lightly, sports fans. Some of us may try to make the games we watch into a morality play, but more often than not, that perspective just leads to disappointment.