OAKLAND -- At the A's game Sunday afternoon, I was fondly recalling the good old days when baseball players barked and insulted each other in person. Then they duked it out in stupid quasi-brawls.
When was that time, anyway? Last year?
In 2013, things are a little different. Players can't be bothered confronting each other face to face. They take their swings with social media instead.
Latest local example: Texas pitcher Matt Garza used his Twitter account over the weekend to vent at A's infielder Eric Sogard and his wife, who happens to be pregnant and apparently said or yelled (or tweeted) something to get under Garza's skin after Oakland's 4-2 victory Saturday -- when Sogard and other A's players kept bunting successfully because Garza is known to have trouble fielding bunts.
"It's a man's game so keep you trap shut!" was one of the milder insults Garza tweeted at Sogard's wife during an 11-minute volley of postings Saturday evening. Garza's other tweets were far more misogynistic and icky, involving certain male body parts.
Garza's icky tweets were met with venomous Twitter responses from upset women -- plus a novel reply from A's reliever Pat Neshek, a former teammate of Garza's in Minnesota. Neshek tweeted out a photo of Garza in drag and asked if he recalled "that night we got crazy & dressed up as ladies & you kept telling me to shut my mouth?"
Sean Doolittle, another A's reliever, issued his own taunting tweet involving Garza and "bunt cake."
Meanwhile, the Texas front office, realizing that females do indeed buy baseball tickets, issued an apology about Garza's tweets and likely forced him to make his own awkward statement Sunday morning. In part, Garza said he had allowed his "competitive spirit to cross outside the lines and that shouldn't happen."
All right, so it shouldn't. But truth be told, in the future, we'll probably see far more such TwitterTussles than we do already.
Think about it. If players and managers can be interviewed live on television during games -- as some networks often do -- then how far are we from live tweeting between innings? Or heck, between pitches? What's to stop that?
Before Sunday's game, Texas manager Ron Washington demonstrated part of the problem: The bosses often don't have a clue how to deal with the wireless component of their players' lives -- or even the mechanics.
"What's Twitter, anyway?" Washington asked.
It was explained to him that the online tool provides the ability for someone to type out immediate and direct communication of his or her thoughts -- so that if Washington hated A's manager Bob Melvin, the world would know it instantly.
"But I love Bob Melvin," Washington said, still a little puzzled.
Upon hearing this, Melvin acknowledged (A) a mild ignorance of Twitter himself and (B) his own affection for Washington.
"I don't think that, even if we both were on Twitter, we would get into a Twitter war," Melvin said, then paused and added: "But at least I know what Twitter is."
Two seconds later, Melvin caught himself.
"Let me rephrase that," he said. "Take 'at least' out of that sentence."
Sorry, too late. Melvin had identified the biggest issue with Twitter and other social-media communication: Once you write or say something and post it, there's no going back. Also, it's addictive. Melvin explained the A's gave him a new cell phone this spring that was equipped with a Twitter app, but that after three days he "took it off" because it was too "exhausting" to maintain and follow.
Every sport is adjusting to the modern online world, but baseball might be having the most trouble. There are so many games. There is so much downtime to fill with tweets. And so far, the game's unwritten "code" has failed to coalesce around proper etiquette.
Sunday morning, Sogard said he and his wife, Kaycee, took Garza's tweets "as a joke and that's how we'll continue to look at it." And it's apparently OK for a baseball player to smack-talk an opponent on Twitter in a good-natured way. But if the player strays over a certain line -- which would definitely include insulting someone's pregnant wife to thousands of followers -- there's going to be big trouble.
Neshek, who began carrying a laptop on the road as long ago as 2003 in the minor leagues, is one of the A's most savvy social media types and once got in trouble as a Minnesota Twin for informing followers that a team doctor had "misdiagnosed" an injury. From this, he learned a lesson.
"I like to keep the baseball stuff out of it," Neshek said. "You just have to have a filter."
Coincidentally, in Sunday's Twitter stream, loudmouth NBA owner Mark Cuban issued the following as his quote of the day: "Those that can, do. Those that can't, tweet about those who do."
That might be the wisest advice of all. Garza, for instance, might want to spend less time on Twitter and more time learning to field bunts.
AL West Standings
After Monday, July 29
A's 63 43 --
Texas 57 49 6
A's 64 47 --
Texas 62 50 2.5
A's (Dan Straily 6-5) at Cincinnati (Mat Latos 10-3), 4:10 p.m. CSNCA
Twitter war between Matt Garza and the Sogards left no lasting damage. www.mercurynews.com/sports