Bucs’ Hurdle walking a fine line

PITTSBURGH — Clint Hurdle has gray hair, two artificial hips and a fondness for 1970s rock anthems like Grand Funk’s “We’re An American Band.”

But he never seemed older than he did the other day when he invoked the unwritten “respect for the game” statute against the Chicago Cubs’ young star, Javier Baez.

Baez flipped his bat high in the air after popping up a pitch against the Pirates last week.

The gesture was his way of saying, “I can’t believe a hitter as good as I am didn’t crush that pitch.”

Hurdle didn’t like it, and he said so.

That set up an interesting divide among those who think athletes should check their emotions and those who believe displays like that add something to the games.

It breaks down mostly along age lines. Hurdle is 60, and grew up idolizing players like Al Kaline, who limited their emotion to a modest fist pump, and only after their team won the World Series.

The opposing view holds that a flamboyant display adds to the presentation when players show how they really feel. We’re people, not robots, is the message.

There are a lot of these conflicts in baseball.

If you’re over 30, you probably loathe the baggy pants over the shoe tops, the designer sunglasses perched on the bill of the cap and the jerseys deliberately unbuttoned to show off the bling.

Insufferable Cubs manager Joe Maddon jumped in to offer counterpoint, but he was just sticking up for his player. (By the way, that’s about as predictable and old school as it gets).

Players used to have their own way to policing things like that. If a pitcher took offense at the way someone behaved, he’d throw at him. Maybe it wasn’t the most civilized approach, but it seemed to work. Most people don’t enjoy being drilled in the hip by a rock-hard baseball.

Message sent. Your receipt was a bruise in the shape of a baseball. Wear it for a while.

Does that code still exist? Players are awfully chummy these days. Then again, nobody likes to feel disrespected. Maybe someone will deliver the message to Baez to tone things down in the next Cubs-Pirates series.

That would definitely win some favor with the manager.

Middle mix

There’s a lot of consternation about the Pirates’ shaky middle relief pitching.

There were three changes made last week, with a bunch of interchangeable pitchers and another group heading out. It will probably be that way all season. Until someone nails down a spot with consistently good work, it will be trial and error. The waiver wire will be required reading at 115 Federal Street.

Keep this in mind, though: If middle relief pitchers were any good, they probably wouldn’t be pitching middle relief.

Censored

The person who has the most interesting job in town is the one who goes over those videos of Penguins games and practices and inserts all the bleeps.

If you’ve watched AT&T Sports Net’s ancillary Penguins programming, you know the drill. They plant microphones along the boards or on players to get the natural sound. It helps make things authentic.

Hockey players are generally genial people, but they also have a habit of inserting (bleep) and (bleep) into the most routine sentences. A hockey player can cheerfully ask “How are ya?” with one of those words stuck in the question.

The person who doles out those bleeps for the finished product has a heavy workload.

Bruno’s ailing

Friends of Bruno Sammartino are concerned about some of the health challenges that have beset the former pro wrestling champion over the past year or so.

Mehno can be reached at johnmehnocolumn@gmail.com

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