Did Drew Gilbert's grand slam celebration cross the line? It's a fair question
I’ll be honest. I didn’t like it.
I was on the phone, virtually following Tennessee’s comeback attempt vs. Wright State on Friday night. The Vols were down 3, down to their final 2 outs. I’m sure Danny Kanell already had scripted a tweet mocking the mighty SEC and couldn’t wait to hit send.
My phone showed the 3 green dots representing loaded bases. When the score suddenly refreshed from 8-5 to 9-8, I uttered an expletive. I knew exactly what happened.
And I couldn’t wait to see what happened.
I’ll be honest. I didn’t like it.
This isn’t a generational thing. It’s a sportsmanship thing.
Toronto Blue Jays star Joe Carter won the 1993 World Series and jumped so high you might have thought he was Air Canada instead of Vince Carter. But he never turned his back and stared at his opponent.
Watch the video. All of it. His celebration was pure, unplanned, spontaneous celebration — on the biggest stage the sport has.
I’m a lifelong Phillies fan — and, as soul-crushing as that swing was, that moment still is one of the greatest I’ve ever witnessed.
Because it was about the swing. Not the swag.
I can’t say the same thing about Drew Gilbert’s swing Friday night to beat Wright State.
I want to. Man, I want to. I want to remember that swing like I remember Warren Morris’ because playoff walk-offs don’t happen every day.
I want to remember the impact, the arc, the absolute no-doubt outcome as soon as Gilbert’s science-lab Louisville Slugger met leather.
Because there was no doubt. It was majestic. Gilbert destroyed an 0-1 hanging curve, the result so obvious on-deck teammate Luke Lipcius jumped wildly before Gilbert even finished his follow-through.
So did Jake Rucker, the Vols’ runner on first base.
Wright State catcher Konnor Piotto couldn’t even look. He heard all he needed to know. He simply removed his mask and began the slow walk back to the losing team’s dugout before Gilbert even left the batter’s box.
Gilbert knew, too. We all did.
Make no mistake, Gilbert created the moment and earned the right to celebrate.
That’s the rub: I’m not sure that’s what I saw.
— Tennessee Baseball (@Vol_Baseball) June 5, 2021
I saw a guy take 5 slow steps, pause and turn to face Wright State’s dugout and then take 4 more backward while staring them down. If he were a football player, he would have been flagged for unsportsmanlike behavior.
This isn’t football. And this is the bat-flip generation. Let the kids play, MLB insists.
With every bat flip and strikeout stare down, baseball’s unwritten rules are slowly fading away. That’s fine. And you better believe that if Fernando Tatis is going to do it, the kids at every level below will follow. That’s fine, too.
Still, there has to be a line at which point we recognize and differentiate celebration from taunting. Morris won the 1996 College World Series with a line-drive home run into the second row. He celebrated with a raised fist, not a stare toward Miami.
I’m not suggesting Gilbert intended to taunt. But that’s what I saw, almost immediately, at the same time his teammates were celebrating a huge victory.
That’s unfortunate, too. He delivered one of the greatest swings to end a college baseball game in NCAA Tournament history.
And I’ll be honest. I wish I would have only seen the result virtually.