Culture / Sporting Life

Joe Kelly Trolls Astros, But Head Hunting is No Hero’s Move — Social Media Sheriffs Miss the Real Dangerous Truth

Bench Clearing Incident Between Dodgers and Astros Makes for Great Theater, But Kelly's Reckless Disregard Should Not be Ignored

BY // 07.29.20

Joe Kelly is the new king of LA — and much of the sports loving world outside of the nation’s fourth largest city. He’s being celebrated on social media, lauded by Hollywood columnists and national TV and radios hosts alike for punking the Houston Astros.

Only, Joe Kelly mostly just acted like a punk.

All those saluting the Dodgers’ demonstrative reliever as the rebel sheriff that baseball needed to put the cheating Astros in their place are missing a huge part of what actually transpired at Minute Maid Park on Tuesday night. Kelly — a man with a 97 MPH fastball — threw dangerously close to Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman’s heads.

That’s not valiant. That’s not the stuff of some hero baseball vigilante. That is largely indefensible.

“You going to throw at somebody,’’ Astros manager Dusty Baker says, “you don’t throw at a guy’s head. That’s dirty baseball. Now you’re flirting with ending his career.’’

This is your grand hero?

I know we’ve all been without real sports for a long while and what transpired in downtown Houston during a 5-2 Dodgers win was hellaciously entertaining (as long as it wasn’t your head in the line of fire), but come on. . . we need to be better than this. Dusty Baker is as old school baseball as it comes. He played the bulk of his career in baseball’s Wild West 1970s. If anyone understands baseball payback, it’s Dusty Baker.

If Kelly had thrown in the vicinity of Correa or Bregman’s ribs or plunked them on the rear, Baker likely would have accepted it. He is completely livid because Kelly tried to turn head hunting into a troll job. That is not cool. It’s reckless. Irresponsible. And largely bush league.

“Balls get away sometimes,” Baker says. “But not that many in the Big Leagues.”

This kind of thing is hilarious when Kenny Powers does it in Eastbound & Down. In real life, it’s not so funny to threaten another professional baseball player’s career.

“I mean, my accuracy isn’t the best,” Kelly says in a postgame Zoom video conference with LA reporters. “Broke my window with my newborns coming, two days before they were born.” (That’s a reference to the infamous home video of Kelly shattering his own window while trying to work on a pitch at home — and maybe the greatest bit of advance covering up planning since the One Armed Man.)

Venom was promised — and it arrived at Minute Maid Park with several loud and pointed Kelly fastballs. The new instant LA Dodgers folk hero — and instant Houston Astros super villain — directed a 97 mph fastball just behind Bregman’s back at near head level and several more pitches near Carlos Correa’s head, including an 89 MPH curveball that brought Correa to his butt.

And then, all socially distanced hell broke loose.

What, you thought the Astros and Dodgers were just going to renew their 2017 World Series hatefest with we’re-all-in-this-together pandemic feelings?

More like a UFC event broke out. Oh, no punches are actually thrown. There is not even a good shove. But when Kelly strikes out Correa to end a tension-filled inning on a pitch much closer to the zone, Kelly unleashes a “Nice swing, bitch!” Correa then starts screaming about the earlier Kelly “misses” near his cranium.

Kelly then mocks Correa with a crybaby gesture that includes sticking out his tongue. “Shut the f*** up!” Kelly screams back towards Correa, who is advancing toward him at this point.

“It’s one of those things that I pitch competitively. And with no fans here, it’s easy to hear some stuff,” Kelly tells reporters later.

Soon, all the players on both teams are out of the dugout and screaming at each other as the coaches and managers try to step in-between the two sides. Even Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw, Highland Park’s own mild mannered superstar, is livid and angrily yelling at Correa and the Astros.

It’s quite a scene in this 2020 coronavirus sports world. Actually, it’s more than a little refreshing that some old fashioned sports hate can still endure.

The fact the Dodgers beat the pitching-challenged Astros is very secondary to the main event. ESPN happens to be lucky enough to be televising Round Two on Wednesday night.

Joe Kelly’s World Series Stand?

The Dodgers feel like the Astros cheated them out of a world championship in 2017 with Houston later getting sanctioned for an elaborate electronic sign stealing operation that was in effect during the seven game tilt. Joe Kelly was not even on that Dodgers team, but he quickly endeared himself to an entire fanbase — and much of the baseball world outside of Houston — by making it his fight.

AstrosÕ Carlos Correa is knocked down by Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Joe Kelly in the 6th inning in a rematch of the 2017 World Series at Minute Maid Park.
Astros shortstop Carlos Correa is brought down by Los Angeles Dodgers reliever Joe Kelly in the 6th inning of a rematch of the 2017 World Series at Minute Maid Park. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)

Correa did not speak to reporters after a game in which he had three of the Astros four hits, including a home run. Bregman did, but he said little, repeating “I don’t know” several times in responses to questions about the bench-clearing shouting match.

With the Astros having two of the whopping eight rookies currently in their bullpen pitching after Kelly’s sixth inning sideshow, Baker’s team was hardly in position to do much retaliating on Tuesday night. That could change Wednesday, even though another rookie (Cristian Javier) is starting for Houston.

“We don’t start nothing,” Baker says. “But we don’t take nothing, either, if you know what I mean.”

There may be no fans in the stands to ratchet up the hatred even further, but five games into baseball’s Bizarro World season, the Astros and Dodgers are showing everyone that the intensity remains very real. It is certainly more fun than talking about the mess that the Miami Marlins apparently made of social distancing.

“You know for me, even before the game, there was kind of a quiet focus, determination in the clubhouse. It was different,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts says. “. . . I just really liked the intent behind tonight’s game.”

OK. . . intensity is great. But it does not justify head hunting. A good troll can be very real world dangerous. Much of the American sports world can celebrate Joe Kelly all it wants. But it does not change the truth of what he really did.

Joe Kelly did not stand up t0 the Astros. He didn’t put “cheaters” in their place.

He made it all about himself and recklessly toyed with the careers of two of baseball’s best young players.

Some hero.

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