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Reliever Jorge López embarrassed Mets and himself, but his situation deserves empathy, not scorn

May 30th, 2024

The empty hurt clearly lingered in Jorge López‘s eyes.

The 31-year-old pitcher stood to address the media fresh off the most embarrassing experience of his MLB career: An unhinged, glove-throwing tantrum on the field. An hour after the outburst, López, unshowered and unchanged in his white home Mets uniform, was still very much someone in distress. The raw emotion, a sense of unsteady unease, remained pasted on his face.

Earlier that afternoon, López, pitching for the ever-calamitous New York Mets, surrendered a back-breaking eighth-inning homer to Dodgers designated hitter and two-time MVP Shohei Ohtani. The opposite-field blast gave Los Angeles an insurmountable 9-3 lead and doomed the Mets to their eighth defeat in their past nine games. There is no shame in faltering against the sport’s most talented man, but the instant Ohtani’s blast crested the left-field wall, the nine-year big leaguer lost control.

On a pitch against the next batter, a checked swing ball from Freddie Freeman, López hollered toward third base umpire Ramon De Jesus in frustration. After a brief back-and-forth, De Jesus ejected the right-handed reliever from the contest, eliciting another round of loud ridicule from López. On his slow trot toward the dugout, López, shirt untucked, suddenly hucked his glove over the 20-foot high net separating the seats behind the home dugout from the field. His hat tumbled off his head and came to rest on the dirt track. A handful of his fellow Mets watched from the top railing, shocked and confused, as the hazel-eyed reliever slugged away to the showers.

Things got only uglier once López faced the music.

When asked by SNY’s Steve Gelbs whether he lamented his actions, which Mets manager Carlos Mendoza referred to as “unacceptable,” an unsettled López answered in the negative.

“No. No, I don’t regret it,” López expressed unapologetically. His next words struck a different tone.

“I think I’ve been looking [like] the worst teammate in the whole f***ing MLB.”

Some of the reporters present instead had heard López, a native of Puerto Rico for whom English is a second language, call the Mets “the worst f***ing team in MLB.” When asked later in the interview to clarify whether he’d meant to say “the worst f***ing team in MLB,” López shrugged and said in uneven English “Yeah, probably, it looked like.”

Soon after, the Mets announced López had been designated for assignment.

As to what exactly López said, “worst teammate” or “worst team,” Mets reporter Anthony DiComo reported that “López later explained his comments as a combination of both: the worst teammate on the worst team.” But on Thursday morning, López, by then no longer a member of the organization, challenged that version of events, posting the following to his Instagram story: “Who ever hear me I said teammate and what I said on the situation I been the worst teammate thanks media for make it worse.”

The entire back-and-forth was jumbled and unclear. A thread on X from NJ Advance Media Mets beat reporter Manny Gómez shed some light on the miscommunication.

While this kerfuffle is layered and requires nuance, López’s conduct on the diamond was both objectionable and punishable. An action that, in the Mets’ eyes, needed a consequence.

Part of being a big leaguer, heck, part of being an adult, is handling emotions when things go sideways. When put under pressure, López imploded. This sport has standards. López did not meet them. He embarrassed himself, his teammates and his organization. Thousands of pitchers have struggled on the mound without unleashing such an unprofessional spectacle.

But though López’s on-field behavior warrants consequences, his postgame comments deserve grace, context and empathy.

It is clear that López was not in position to properly convey his thoughts and feelings. The haze of frustration and emotion were still bubbling inside of him. And while sources indicated to Yahoo Sports that López in recent years has typically preferred to engage the media in English, it is blatantly obvious that in this instance, an interpreter would have been beneficial.

The Mets — who had likely already decided to cut López by the time he addressed reporters — did him a disservice by not insisting upon an interpreter. Multiple current and former MLB interpreters indicated to Yahoo Sports that the absence of one during such a volatile scene was regrettable at best and malpractice at worst. This was a situation that required clarity.

Instead, the language barrier created confusion and misunderstanding. Now, the situation is irreparable. A majority of the baseball-watching world believes López blasted the Mets. His reputation is forever, unfairly, stained.

BOSTON, MA - SEPTEMBER 09:   Jorge Lopez #73 of the Baltimore Orioles high-fives James McCann #27 at the end of the eighth inning during the game between the Baltimore Orioles and the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park on Saturday, September 9, 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

Reliever Jorge López, left, pictured high-fiving then-Orioles teammate James McCann in September of 2023, was an All-Star in 2022. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

It’s also important to consider López’s history of mental health issues. In 2023, the Twins placed the hard-throwing reliever on the 15-day injured list after he went through a rough emotional stretch. MLB.com Twins reporter Do-Hyoung Park reported upon his return that “López had previously described being unable to control the negative emotions and frustrations of difficult outings at times, and he said he will continue to see a therapist moving forward.”

During his first, incredibly successful tenure with the Baltimore Orioles, which included an All-Star appearance in 2022, López was generally beloved, though at times erratic after poor performances. Sources told Yahoo Sports that López was often severely critical of himself and would occasionally grant himself extra time to cool down after a bad outing.

But those who spent ample time around López in Baltimore resoundingly adored him, describing him as upbeat and uniquely kind-hearted. After trading him away for prospects at the ’22 deadline, the Orioles brought López back last year after unsuccessful stints with Minnesota and Miami. And while his on-field production didn’t rebound in Baltimore, those who were around the 2023 O’s have nothing but nice things to say about López.

There’s also the matter of López’s son, Mikael, who suffers from a rare disorder called Familial Mediterranean Fever. It’s a condition that causes immense physical discomfort and has required regular hospital visits and multiple transplants. Those who have been around López say that his son’s health issues have, understandably, weighed heavily on his shoulders. Mikael, whose illness restricts him from regularly watching his father pitch, turned 11 on Wednesday, the darkest day of López’s career.

Two years ago, things were brighter.

López was enjoying a breakout season with Baltimore as one of the best closers in baseball. He would be elected to his first All-Star game, as the Orioles’ lone representative, in just over a month. On May 29, 2022, Mikael’s 9th birthday, the Orioles organized a surprise party in the Fenway Park visiting clubhouse in between games of a doubleheader. There was cake. Then, in the nightcap, López notched a save to celebrate his son’s big day.

It was joyful, impeccably human.

Now, López faces an uncertain professional future.

The Mets have 10 days to trade him or have him claimed off waivers. The raw talent portends another chance with another organization, which would be his seventh. But López’s reputation as an emotional character, fair or not, might close some doors. When contacted by Yahoo Sports, López’s representation did not respond to requests for comment.

Those who have engaged with López over the years — former teammates, media presenters, broadcasters, front-office people — paint a picture of a kind soul, overly self-critical, constantly in battle with himself. His outburst was embarrassing, his response uncomfortably raw and misunderstood.

He is, in other words, a human being.

One who had a particularly bad day at work.

This content was originally sourced and posted at Yahoo! Sports – News, Scores, Standings, Rumors, Fantasy Games »
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