Even in a time of constant uncertainty, with a virus plaguing our country and civil unrest among our population, at least we know can always count on the absurdity of baseball’s unwritten rules.
The unwritten rules and the people who obsess over them like we’re living in some kind of Baseball Pleasantville have come out of hibernation after young San Diego Padres star Fernando Tatís Jr. hit a grand slam Monday night — gasp! — with a seven-run lead — double gasp! — on a 3-0 count.
How dare he!
The opposing Texas Rangers were so mad that they threw behind Manny Machado, and manager Chris Woodward said: “You're up by seven in the eighth inning — it's typically not a good time to swing 3-0. It's kind of the way we were all raised in the game. But, like I said, the norms are being challenged on a daily basis, so just because I don't like it doesn't mean it's not right. I don't think we liked it as a group.”
Down seven runs? 3-0 count? You’d think they were raised in the game to pitch better, but like he said, the norms are being challenged on a daily basis. Why try to be good when you can just be bad and whine about it afterward?
The real issue here is this: Here comes baseball again trying to turn one of its superstars-in-training into a villain is for — *check notes* — being really good at baseball.
We’re a few years into the “Let’s The Kids Play” campaign, in which MLB’s marketing department tries to push young players like Tatis to show their personalities. Yet again we’re faced with the realization that the reason baseball doesn’t have a personality is because the unwritten rules people suck it out of players on their way to stardom.
The “Let the Kids Play” idea will never work if it’s the people inside baseball, and inside the clubhouse, who get their jockstraps in a bunch when a guy hits a homer he’s “not supposed to.”
To prove this, you only need to look at the reaction to the Tatís grand slam from his own team. Eric Hosmer, the well-respected veteran on this young and fun Padres team, took Tatis aside and explained to him what he did was wrong.
Padres manager Jayce Tingler said Tatís missed a take sign — which, hey, you want your players to heed the team’s signs — but then proceeded to talk about it as if Tatís had broken a window or something.
“Just to make sure we get the signs 3-0 in that game,” Tingler said after the game about what he told Tatís. “Just to make sure and he’s young, a free spirit and focused and all those things and that’s the last thing we’ll ever take away. It’s a learning opportunity and that’s it and he’ll grow from it.”
Yes, let’s make sure the MVP candidate that is fueling the Padres’ surprise run at a possible postseason berth learns from his mistake of — *checks notes again* — hitting a grand slam.
(On Tuesday afternoon, Tingler walked that back a bit, telling reporters he was wrong to give him the take sign.)
This isn’t a surprise, though, because we’ve seen baseball do this again and again, and it’s absurd every single time.
As much as this whole thing is plain ol’ stupid from the MLB side, recent history suggests there may be some good to come from it for Tatís. If we’ve learned anything from unwritten rules dust-ups in the recent social media era, it’s that being unjustly painted as a villain here might help Tatis’ Q rating.
Young fans dig this stuff. It’s why Tim Anderson — he of the bat-flip plunkings and controversies — is an emerging face of the sport. Stodgy, stuck-in-their-ways managers can wag their fingers from the opposing dugout, but they can’t control how people are going to react on Twitter.
This why the game won’t grow!! Why the manager don’t have his back through whatever anyway. The Game Wasn’t Over Yet💪🏾 #GoodSwingBra Dont Apologize next time let them sit in it bra💯 https://t.co/RpaFppCUUY— T A 7 (@TimAnderson7) August 18, 2020
That includes other players in the league, many of whom are defending Tatís.
Hey @tatis_jr listen up:— Trevor Bauer (@BauerOutage) August 18, 2020
1) Keep swinging 3-0 if you want to, no matter what the game situation is
2) Keep hitting homers, no matter what the situation is
3) Keep bringing energy and flash to baseball and making it fun
4) The only thing you did wrong was apologize. Stop that.
The upshot here? Even more people are going to be talking about Fernando Tatís Jr.. He’ll get attention in sports circles and on cable segments that would probably be ignoring baseball right now in favor of the NBA playoffs.
They should have been talking about Tatís anyway. At 21, he leads the league in homers and plays with a style and energy that baseball desperately needs. Good news is, he doesn’t seem like the type to be neutered by a flap with the unwritten rules.
Tatís is on the trajectory to become one of the game’s biggest stars — because he hits 3-0 grand slams, not in spite of it. History will probably remember this controversy as one of the bumps on his road to superstardom.
And then unwritten rules people will just get mad about the next inconsequential thing. Because in baseball, some things never change.
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