- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 11, 2006

“There are two kinds of angry people — explosive and implosive,” Dr. Buddy Rydell (Jack Nicholson) tells Dave Buznik (Adam Sandler) in “Anger Management.” “Explosive is the type of individual you see screaming at the cashier for not taking his coupon. Implosive is the cashier who remains quiet day after day and then finally shoots everyone in the store. You’re the cashier.”

“No, no, no,” Dave replies. “I’m the guy in the frozen food section dialin’ 911. I swear.”

And I’m the guy crouched right behind him, hoping one of Delmon Young’s bats doesn’t come whirring my way.

You know the sports world has slipped off its axis when minor leaguers start acting like divas. Usually, a hotshot waits until he gets to the Show before he reveals the true extent of his ego, the boundless depths of his idiocy, but patience isn’t Young’s strong suit. Here he is at 20, still riding buses with the Class AAA Durham Bulls, and he’s already had his first nationally televised hissy fit, drawing a 50-game suspension from the International League for loosing his Louisville Slugger on an umpire.

Obviously, Delmon never learned one of baseball’s cardinal rules: You can hit the cutoff man, but you can’t hit the ump.

Not even a replacement ump, as was the case here. Not even if he calls you out on a pitch that conks the on-deck batter.

“I’m not really such a bad person,” Young said after his penalty, believed to be a league record, was announced. “I may act up a little bit every once in a while, but I’m not really a bad person.”

There’s been way too much of this “acting up” lately, though — not just by him but by other athletes — athletes old enough to know better. And frankly, it’s making me mad. The shrinking space allotted to sports pages is far too precious to be taken up with stories, one after another, about misbehaving jocks.

The NBA playoffs have been a particular embarrassment. This is supposed to be the league’s time to shine, to put on its best possible face; and yet, in the first round alone, five players were suspended for various transgressions — everything from throwing a mouthpiece at an official (Udonis Haslem) to forearming an opponent in the head (Ron Artest) to refusing to play in a game (Kenyon Martin).

You could make the argument, of course, that it’s the leagues and not the players, that have changed. And, indeed, they’ve gotten much less tolerant of this kind of conduct. Raja Bell’s necktie tackle of Kobe Bryant, for instance, really wasn’t much different from Kevin McHale’s horse collaring of Kurt Rambis in the 1984 NBA Finals, and yet Bell had to sit out a game and McHale didn’t.

But there’s a reason leagues have become less tolerant of this kind of stuff: There’s more of it than ever. And in the postseason, especially, the owners want the focus to be on the games, not on Artest’s and Martin’s terminal knuckleheadedness.

Baseball is almost as out of control. If Julian Tavarez isn’t getting a 10-day ban for punching a base runner in an exhibition game, then Jason Kendall is being given a four-game unpaid vacation for charging the mound — or Jose Mesa is being assessed the same penalty for plunking Omar Vizquel. (Tell me, when did pitchers start throwing at singles hitters? Aren’t they supposed to save the beanballs for the sluggers?)

“The game has changed,” Kendall groused. “You can’t even defend yourself.”

As if, in the old days, they used to settle these matters with pistols at 20 paces.

Heck, there are more suspensions being handed out in baseball and basketball than in hockey. The NHL, last I checked, hadn’t suspended a single player in the playoffs — and we’re halfway through the second round. Then again, maybe the players were so impoverished by the lockout that they can’t afford to miss a paycheck. Still, it’s good to know such behavior can be modified.

OK, I’ve done my venting. There are just two more things I want to say to today’s athletes.

First, remember the wise words of the aforementioned Dr. Rydell: “Temper’s the one thing you can’t get rid of by losing it.”

And lastly, anybody got a warm-up jacket they can lend me? It’s getting awfully chilly here by the frozen food section.

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