Jogging back to the dugout after hitting a titanic home run into the right-field stands Wednesday, Los Angeles Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez lifted his hands to his ears for a Mickey Mouse-style celebration. The pose, which immediately became a viral sensation on social media outlets, was not a nod to the nearby Disneyland theme park, but was an act of defiance toward St. Louis Cardinals players who had complained the Dodgers were celebrating too much during the National League Championship Series (NLCS). Earlier this week, Cardinals ace pitcher Adam Wainwright accused Gonzalez of doing “Mickey Mouse stuff” after he celebrated a hit Tuesday in Game 4 of the NLCS.
“I was just having fun with the comment that was made,” Gonzalez said of his Game 5 antics. “Nothing against them or anything. It was just to have fun.”
Cardinals outfielder Carlos Beltran also complained about the Dodgers’ celebrations after Game 3. Speaking of Dodgers rookie Yasiel Puig, Beltran said, “As a player, I just think he doesn’t know [how to act]. … He really doesn’t know. He must think that he’s still playing somewhere else.”
The verbal sparring between the Dodgers and the Cardinals illustrates a conflict between “old school” and “new school” style of play and a conflict between North American and Latin American baseball cultures. While many North American players are reserved during games, Latin Americans are more willing to express emotion and celebrate victories on the field. The World Baseball Classic games between Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic that took place in March conveyed this idea. Players on both sides celebrated hits, runs, and fielding plays, and yet no one was insulted or complained of being mocked. Players on both sides simply enjoyed the enthusiastic competition.
In baseball, there is a fine line between celebrating one’s own accomplishments and belittling your opponents’ mistakes—although both acts can easily be seen as arrogant. Brawls have broken out over things such as taking too long to run around the bases and stepping on the pitcher’s mound when returning to the dugout. For some, baseball is a job—to be done professionally and respectfully—while to others, it is a game—to be played with enthusiasm. “To me, that’s just baseball. Guys get excited,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said.
Down three games to two, the Dodgers face elimination tonight in Game 6 of the NLCS. With a win, the Cardinals would advance to the World Series for the fourth time in nine years. Maybe that will be worth celebrating.