At the risk of diving headfirst into a "He Said, He Said" argument in which no one but the two men involved really knows the truth with absolute certainty ...
Is Brandon Phillips a punk or what?
Phillips is the Cincinnati Reds' star second baseman. He was hit by a pitch from Pirates reliever Jared Hughes in the eighth inning Monday night. Phillips, perhaps thinking it was retaliation for his teammate Aroldis Chapman hitting Pirates star Andrew McCutchen with a 101 mph fastball Aug. 3, didn't like it and tossed the ball back in Hughes' direction. Hughes then yelled at him as he trotted toward first base.
After the game, Phillips tweeted that he heard a racist remark. He didn't mention names, but the implication was that it came from Hughes.
Right there, Phillips lost all respect. He never looked at Hughes even as Hughes was yelling at him. If Hughes slurred him -- using the word "boy," according to Phillips -- shouldn't Phillips have charged the mound and gone after Hughes? Some things are more important than the fear of injury or a suspension or even the impact either would have on your team in the playoffs and World Series. Defending your manhood is one. Phillips came up awfully small there.
Instead, Phillips had Pirates star Andrew McCutchen set up a telephone conversation with Hughes Tuesday afternoon. That Phillips would reach out to someone who allegedly slurred him is impossible to explain. Yet, he did. The talk apparently went so well that Phillips said later, "I respect [Hughes] as a player and a man from the conversation we had. It was just a big misunderstanding ... I love him as a brother."
Then, Phillips did another interview and said again that Hughes had directed a racial comment at him.
Tell me, please, who is the jerk here?
The sequence of events just doesn't make any sense. It makes it impossible to believe Phillips' claim. It also makes you wonder how he is able to sleep at night knowing he has trashed another man's name and reputation.
"I love to compete and I get emotional out there, but this has been emotionally draining," Hughes was saying Thursday after being reached in Chicago on the Pirates' final off day of the season.
Hughes described himself as being "completely distraught."
"I keep asking, 'Why is this happening? What do I do? How do I defend myself over something I didn't say?' "
Hughes said he told McCutchen he would be glad to talk with Phillips. He made the call in Pirates manager Clint Hurdle's office with Hurdle and McCutchen in the room.
"I told him I would never say anything like I was accused of saying," Hughes said. "That's not me. That's not who I am as a man. That's not the type of person I am. I told him, 'If I apologize for anything, it's for swearing at you.' But I didn't say anything that was in any way racial."
Hughes said he thought the incident was over even though he believed that Phillips still thought he used the racial slur. He said he was shocked when Phillips told people that he had apologized for saying it. He said he was more shocked when Phillips made the accusation again in a later interview.
"Anyone who watches the tape can see I didn't say what I've been accused of saying," Hughes said.
You can find it on YouTube.
It's a tape from the Root Sports broadcast.
Hughes, noticing the ball going past him, turns to Phillips and yells, "Hey man, hey throw that ball to the [expletive] dugout, [expletive]."
"I don't think the tape leaves any doubt that I didn't say anything racial," Hughes said.
It's no wonder Hughes is struggling with this. He's a young guy trying to find his way in the big leagues. The last thing he wants to be known as is a racist. His reputation isn't just at stake with the fans. It's at stake with his teammates, some of whom are black.
"We're a close-knit group," Hughes said. "I don't want to speak for anyone, but I believe every one of my teammates believes me. Cutch definitely was there for me. I really appreciate that."
The Hughes-Phillips incident has drawn attention from another Pirates' late-season collapse, their second in two seasons.
They were swept in three games by the Reds this week, have lost six in a row and are 9-23 since Aug. 8. At 72-70 and in a free fall going into their game today against the Chicago Cubs, they don't seem likely to finish with a winning record and end their streak of 19 losing seasons.
But this is one distraction the Pirates wish they didn't have. Certainly, Hughes feels that way.
"This has been awful," he said.
How does Phillips sleep at night?roncook
Ron Cook: firstname.lastname@example.org. Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.