Of all the stories baseball fans swap back and forth over the course of a season, I doubt that many of them center around the name and person of Jose Constanza. No, his name is held out for brief excretions of adulation or for short bestowals of hateful sarcasm. He’s a polarizing figure among Braves fans only to the extent that he is a figure one remembers for the long stretches he plays in Gwinnett County. Yet, here I type to you, faithful reader, as a man with a Jose Constanza story to tell; one which is brief and quickly aging, but still comes to mind on occasion and plays with my notions of how things work.
My story begins in Turner Field on a typically warm night at something other than a typical baseball game. It was October 5th and the year was 2012. Yes, dear reader, this was the paradoxical one game series–the play-in game of the playoffs. It was the Braves and the Cardinals in a game full of bad memories which I have written about and discussed many times over. However, in all my writing and discussing, I have never told my Jose Constanza story from that night. He embarrassed me, you see. He took my baseball knowledge and grasp of probability, slapped it as hard as he could, and swiftly sneaked a base on me. A few bases, actually. In the bottom of the 7th inning, after a relatively harmless popup to the SS by Andrelton Simmons, Constanza came into the game as a pinch hitter for Jonny Venters. I protested loudly.
I am not a man given to much outward enthusiasm. But after a couple of beers in a tense baseball stadium with everybody else shouting around me, I can show a little emotion. And in the bottom of the 7th inning that night, I showed it by throwing my hands into the air and shouting “Damn it all to hell, if he’s the pinch hitter, then let Venters hit!” Or something to the same salty effect. The man in front of me–the man who would soon look me in the eye and call me an idiot for telling him that the IFR on the outfield scoring screen meant an infield fly had been called–that man took exception to my remarks about little Jose from the Dominican. The man with such little knowledge of score keeping or basic abbreviation turned to me and shouted back, “He’s the hot hand! He’s gonna try harder than anybody on either team to hit that ball.” We argued for only a few seconds, but I managed to insult Constanza’s swing mechanics, plate approach, and the concept of the hot hand. I can be succinct when I need to. And in this case I had to be succinct, because in only 4 pitches Jose Constanza ripped a ball over the left fielder’s head and sped (Editor’s note: #VROOOM’d) all the way into third base. He hit a triple; probably the farthest ball he has or ever will hit in his career (Allegedly, he hit 2 home runs in 2011, but I find that rumor suspect at best).
Oh, did the man in front of me enjoy this. With all of his ignorance to standard umpiring hand signals, he enjoyed it. I did too, to be honest, but differently. Constanza would score on a Michael Bourn grounder just a few pitches later, bringing the Braves within 3 runs in that do or die game. I celebrated in the midst of the foolish man’s mockery. My “friends” joined with him in sending up my tiny tirade. I took it in stride and cracked a joke about being glad I was wrong, but it stung. It stuck with me. I don’t like being wrong. Ever.
I share this story now, because it comes back to my mind each time the the little outfielder that couldn’t gets called back up to the team. I still join in with others and deride his regular inability to hit a ball past the pitcher. I still like to swear when he tries to bunt for a hit. And I still can’t stand when he is in the outfield running the goofiest of routes while giving a starter a “day to rest.” I share this story now, because I still can’t stand Constanza, and the more I think about this story, the more I realize that it has nothing to do with him.
Sure he gave me a little moment of embarrassment that terrible, awful night in 2012. Sure my protests were ultimately justified by the fact that he has not gotten on base nor played very well in the outfield during his subsequent Major League stints. Sure, he still doesn’t belong on the 40 man roster, but really, it’s not his fault that he is. He does not call himself up every season. The 31 year old journeyman is unlikely to be making the solo decision to bunt or hit and run. Jose does not red-ink himself into the lineup nor does he take his child-sized bat to the other pinch hitting options on the bench. No, Jose Constanza just tries as hard as his little, relatively untalented body can try. And the managers general and team like that. They have been the ones to thrust Constanza upon me, though I hate him so.
I share this story now, because I’ve been reading the stories about Fredi Gonzalez and Frank Wren and Greg Walker all week. As I mull them over, I still stand unsure of whether or not they need firing. I’m not ready to make that decision. However, I have come to terms with the fact that they are the ones responsible for my embarrassment by the dope with the stupid fish shirt that night in 2012. I have satisfied my own arrogance by transferring the guilt of sweet, gentle Jose to the goat that is Fredi Gonzalez and his cohorts. He is still a bad baseball player, but I don’t blame him for that anymore. I blame the powers who made the decision to use him out of his element–his element being exactly what, I don’t know, though it is certainly something that is not Major League baseball. The blame for calling him up, for not fixing his swing, for misusing him and mismanaging the lineup on his behalf fall squarely on the shoulders of Fredi Gonzalez, Frank Wren, and Greg Walker, not on the tiny, unmuscled shoulders of Jose Constanza.
I share this story now, 2 years later, because it is currently influencing my opinion of the Braves current leadership. I have never been crazy about Fredi, don’t know enough about Greg Walker to say for sure, and am 60/40 on Frank Wren. But if these men are responsible for the Major League career of Jose Constanza, it is certainly reason to call for an evaluation of their current jobs.
And yet, I’m unsure. Baseball is a strange game, and thus it must be said: were it not for those men whose jobs are in question, Jose Constanza would not have, at the cost of only personal embarrassment, hit that pinch hit triple which brought so many of us a little bit of joy on a terrible, awful night in 2012. And that is my Jose Constanza story.