By: Kurt Snyder & Holly Horning
Earlier in the week, Tiger fans got an update on Bruce Rondon. It wasn’t a progress report. It was a video shown from the Venezuelan Winter League. Bruce was involved in a bench clearing brawl initiated by him after first hitting a batter with a pitch and then jawing with him after he arrived at first base.
Tiger fans all over Detroit and maybe even the country responded in the most negative of ways, questioning whether Bruce should even spend another day in a Tiger uniform.
But what do our writers think about what transpired? There is plenty to be discussed that goes beyond the actual brawl.
So let’s let our writers weigh in on the incident.
What does the brawl say about Bruce Rondon?
Kurt – First of all, I think it’s a positive that Bruce is pitching at all right now. But the Tigers no doubt told him he has to pitch winter ball if he wants any shot at all of pitching for Detroit again.
Secondly, I have no problem with him dusting it up with someone in a brawl. Beanballs and brawls have been part of baseball forever. And players who have participated usually aren’t criticized to the point where fans recommend getting rid of them. The difference here though is that Rondon’s reputation for lack of effort and a low level of maturity precedes him, and fans are now like snakes waiting to pounce on him for any hiccup.
What I see in this incident is evidence that Rondon still has fire and the feistiness that every successful closer eventually possesses. But I also see someone who may really be frustrated with his current situation. Bruce is a guy with immense talent and he more than likely had hoped his career would have taken off by now.
But things have not come together for him. The Tommy John Surgery really derailed him and I would imagine it takes an incredible amount of work and dedication to get back to the point where you are pitching again.
So here he was, at the end of a disappointing season with the Tigers, still not in a position where all of us thought he should be; as a clear and leading closing candidate. But he tapped out and the Tigers called him out, leading to a confusing crossroad.
The brawl means nothing; it was one game with two guys arguing themselves into a fight during a winter ball game … whatever.
What’s important is that Bruce should be working on being a lean, mean, fighting machine. He has all the tools. But he needs to be in better shape to get over the hump and that video showed he is not, despite reports that he has lost weight.
Bruce has had to sit back and watch the Tigers move on and improve their pen without a plan that will include him. And if he doesn’t show a real desire to get in the best shape of his life, then his days with the Tigers are numbered; which would be a shame given the gifts he has.
Holly – It would appear Bruce is having a hard time practicing a balance of emotions. While some might say this is a positive sign of him caring, I have to wonder what led to the brawl and why he reacted the way he did.
I’m not a fan of fighting but realize that it is sometimes part of the game. I also realize that the game is being played outside the US where expectations and behavior may be different. And I can understand that the hit batter wouldn’t be too happy. Just wish I could read lips in Spanish as it appeared he was being detailed in his criticism of Bruce.
But Bruce could be feeling a number of emotions – some of them related to his current position with the Tigers. And, quite frankly, I don’t completely blame him for feeling frustrated as I’ll explain now.
I think the biggest disservice you can give a player is to anoint him the closer even before he’s reached the majors as Dave Dombrowski did. When you do that, you take away their incentive to give their best. When you are given something, instead of earning it, you don’t appreciate it and take it for granted.
Add to that, his age. He was 21 when “given” the job. Youth, inexperience and maturity issues make for an easy belief at entitlement. Is it possible that Rondon may have avoided the infamous “lack of effort” if he was told early on that he’d have to battle for a job in the bullpen?
Was Rondon’s involvement in the brawl a typical response when this happens in a game? Or is Bruce a loose cannon? Or, could it be that he is feeling the pressure to perform well in order to keep his job with the Tigers?
Could it also be a little bit of all three rationales?
I don’t think Al Avila will cling to Dombrowski’s vision for very long this year and we could find within the next 3 months if Bruce has had a learning opportunity and matured as a player.