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Tim Benz

Tim Benz: John Tortorella's tirade over Penguins is typical

| Monday, July 2, 2018, 6:54 p.m.
Columbus Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella took exception to comments made by newly signed Penguins player Jack Johnson.
Tribune-Review
Columbus Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella took exception to comments made by newly signed Penguins player Jack Johnson.

In April, Houston Astros pitcher Gerrit Cole tacitly gave a jab to his former team in Pittsburgh by way of attempting to praise his new club. While enjoying a tremendous amount of early success, Cole said, via the Sporting News, he's stopped “trying to nibble, and just trust his stuff.”

He also said, “You don't have to dot up as much (in Houston), so it's freed me up to just attack.”

That very easily could be interpreted as, “I wasn't allowed to approach pitching that way in Pittsburgh, but I am in Houston.”

When presented with those quotes, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said , “I am glad (for Cole). That's the biggest thing. And I didn't take it as he was saying anything derogatory.”

Hurdle even went so far as to quote Ralph Waldo Emerson to rationalize Cole's opinions: “We cannot see things that stare us in the face until the hour comes that the mind is ripened,” he said.

Meanwhile, on Sunday, newly signed Penguins defenseman Jack Johnson did something similar to his old team in Columbus. In talking about coming to Pittsburgh, he said he was excited “to be a part of a winning culture.”

His former coach with the Blue Jackets, John Tortorella, responded with a profanity-laced tirade in The Athletic and made a less-than-veiled suggestion that his former teammates look for a measure of revenge when they play Johnson next year.

There you have it. One guy quotes Emerson. The other guy dropped about a dozen F-bombs. That's Torts being as Tortsy as Torts can be!

To be clear, at least half of those F-bombs were directed at Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford because he said Johnson had been a healthy scratch in the playoffs for reasons other than his performance, almost inferring there was some sort of personality conflict.

Maybe Rutherford shouldn't have said that. Maybe he should have stayed in his lane. To a degree, the wildly popular “unwritten rules of sports” sometimes leak into front office protocol, too. One of those rules is you don't second-guess how another team operates.

But let's be honest here. All three men were trying to accomplish the same goal. They all were catering to their fan bases.

Johnson was trying to win over Penguins fans by praising the team's “winning culture.” Rutherford was trying to quell concerns within his fan base that he had given too much money and term to a flawed player. Tortorella was trying to rally his base by defending the honor of the logo and reminding people his club is a playoff organization as well.

Were Rutherford and Johnson less than diplomatic in their attempts to achieve that goal? Yeah, probably.

Could they have chosen better words? Sure, I guess.

Did their breach of news conference behavior deserve the Vesuvius-esque reaction from Tortorella? No. Not even close.

Johnson quickly apologized for his turn of phrase. Tortorella should, too, because his volley was much harder than Johnson's soft first serve.

Or how about this: Neither should feel the need to apologize because their reactions were just being honest. I keep hearing Tortorella was within his rights to respond the way he did because it came from the heart, and he was sticking up for his team.

Fine. But wasn't Rutherford being honest, too, by giving his interpretation of events in Columbus? Wasn't Johnson speaking from the heart as well?

I guess honesty doesn't matter if you do it first. Initial honesty equals a breach of political correctness. But honesty in responding is defending the house. These are the rules of decorum in sports PR these days, I suppose.

Also, did Tortorella do anything wrong by bringing Johnson's well-documented financial situation into the discussion?

I didn't see Johnson make any backhanded references toward getting back at Tortorella as Tortorella inferred Johnson's former teammates should do to him when he said, “If I'm a (former) teammate of his, and I play against him next year ... my gosh ... ”

Yeah. That dot ... dot ... dot is a lot to fill in for next year's Blue Jackets players, right?

Tortorella's teams usually are defined by his fire-and-brimstone hyperbolic overreactions more than they have been defined by success. Since his Stanley Cup championship season in 2004, Tortorella-coached clubs missed the postseason four times. He has lost in the first round six times.

Maybe Tortorella should worry about cleaning up his own backyard more than what other people are saying about it.

Tim Benz is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at tbenz@tribweb.com or via Twitter @TimBenzPGH.

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