Matheny Manifesto vs. sportsmanship

Published May. 5, 2015 8:03 p.m. ET

It's not often that NPR's Fresh Air features a sports figure -- does anyone else get the impression that Terry Gross isn't a big fan? -- but protocol took a hit Monday when substitute host Dave Davies interviewed Mike Matheny about his new book.

It's a solid piece -- the interview, I mean; I haven't seen the book yet -- and comes with my hearty endorsement. Just picking nits, though, I was intrigued by this exchange:

Davies: One of the things that happens in big league baseball is there are times when it's considered acceptable for a pitcher to deliberately throw at and hit another batter, maybe when one of your teammates has been hit by the opposing pitcher, maybe when a batter has sort of violated the rules of etiquette by showing up your pitcher or, you know, strutting around the bases after a home run. And I - one thing that occurred to me as I read about these things is, you know, I know that you felt that retaliation is never acceptable in youth ball, and you write about a couple of cases in the book where that just should not happen in youth baseball. Why is it OK among grown-ups to do that - to hit somebody in response to something happening in the game?

Matheny: Oh, boy. This is a tough topic. And, you know, I do have my own personal beliefs on where I stand. It is against the rules. It's very clear, and it comes back also to the conversation we just had about being able to stand up for your players and making sure that they're being protected, and this is on the physical side. But I'm glad you started with this not being something that's acceptable at the youth level. I don't - I just truly don't believe - and why do I think it's acceptable in one place and not the other? And I think, one, comes down to it's our livelihood. And we're talking about the health, potentially lives, and so we have to make sure that we're very careful, you know, not to have anything happen to where somebody's throwing it at somebody else's head. And, I mean, some bad things can happen there.

But there are also - I believe there's rules within the rules of the game. If we were having this conversation after something just happened, I'd just be telling you that, yeah, we like to pitch inside, sometimes it gets away. But there's other times when somebody takes too many liberties, and we've got to make sure that they're uncomfortable with the pitch inside to make sure that our guys are protected. That's a fine line to be walking. It's not something that I have a great answer for you because it is very hypocritical when you start saying that it shouldn't happen at the youth level, but we can allow it at the big-league level. Once people's livelihoods are at stake, and, once again, my job description is figuring out how to defend my guys the best that I can.

It's nice to see that Matheny has enough self-awareness to recognize the hypocrisy that seems to attend his different perspectives. I find some of his explanation nonsensical, though. If it's your livelihood, it's okay to practice violence? The good news is that Davies followed up (not seen here) by questioning Matheny further.

The most striking thing about the interview was the nearly complete absence of any talk about Matheny's Christianity. This interview focuses on Matheny's religious beliefs -- he actually describes being hired by the Cardinals as a "miracle" -- but Davies brings up the subject only while asking Matheny how he gets kicked out of games without swearing.

Not saying it means anything. Just thought it was interesting.