When the Padres’ budding star Fernando Tatis Jr. hit a grand slam Monday night, it should have been just another standout moment for the 21-year-old shortstop.
Tatis leads Major League Baseball in home runs, RBIs, runs scored and stolen bases entering Wednesday, and is becoming one of the sport’s most entertaining and marketable players.
The conversation the next morning should have read as such: Tatis’ breakout season continues as he mashes this 3-0 pitch into the seats for a grand slam. But that wasn’t the case.
Instead of being a memorable highlight, Tatis’ grand slam was the center of criticism by old school baseball guys.
Rangers manager Chris Woodward got the ball rolling on the criticism.
“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. (But) I don’t think we liked it as a group.”- Chris Woodward.
On the very next pitch, Rangers pitcher Ian Gibaut hurled a fastball behind Manny Machado’s head.
Well because baseball has been caught up on these “unwritten rules” since the games existence.
The code-of-honor says a bat-flip or slow exits from the batter’s box is disrespectful. Bunting for a single to break up a perfect game is a sin. Pitchers throwing temper tantrums when a batter crosses the mound going back to first base from third happens regularly.
All these silly little unwritten rules in place because grown men can’t control their emotions.
The punishment, in complete barbaric fashion was a fastball to the backside or ribs. It has been brushed aside or even encouraged as “competitive nature” for most of the history of the game.
But in recent years the tide has changed, but the old school mentality is still lingering around in heavy doses, as seen by the Rangers actions.
“I love this game, and I respect the game a lot,” Tatis said after Monday’s game. “I feel like every time I go out there, I just wanna feel respect for everybody else. … This game is hard for everyone, so why not just celebrate and have fun the way you wanna have fun?”
Fortunately enough Tatis was not alone as both legends and present players spoke out in support of Tatis.
White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson is familiar with people taking exception to how players might break unwritten rules. He had the bat flip of the year last season, amid a career year, so he relates to Tatis.
“I don’t really care to hear from other people, what they’ve got to really say about the rules because they’re unwritten, you know?” Anderson said. “So I think you can do as you please, as long as you’re doing it with confidence and swagger, it’s only right. I think that what he did, it looked good and I liked it. But he shouldn’t have apologized. He shouldn’t have apologized. No need for that.
“He plays with a lot of energy and I like it, I like to see it. That’s the only way the game’s going to change, allowing them to be themselves. If the pitchers don’t like it, don’t throw it in the zone.”
Reds pitcher Trevor Bauer, who never holds back his opinion, also came out strong in support of Tatis.
“It’s one of the main things that’s wrong with the culture of baseball and why baseball doesn’t seem to be exciting for young people, because you have these unwritten rules,” Bauer said. “No one wants to see a bases-loaded walk. No one wants to see a 3-0 take when you can see a grand slam by one of the hottest players in the game and one of the brightest stars in the game. And if you don’t want to give up a grand slam, then … just be better.
“I hope that Tatis Jr. keeps doing what he does, because he’s great for baseball, and baseball needs personality like that and stars like that,” Bauer continued. “For a long time in baseball, young players have come up and they’ve had their personalities kind of stamped out of them. They’ve been told by the veterans, ‘Hey, shut up and play a role. You don’t have enough time to be talking like that or be doing like that,’ or whatever. But the game needs more of that. And he’s a really exciting player, a flashy player, a really entertaining player, and more than anything, a great player. I hope he just continues to do what he does and have fun playing the game, and a lot of people love him for it.”
“It’s pretty simple for me,” Yankees ace Gerrit Cole said. “I mean, it’s pretty hard to hit a grand slam, so whatever count you want to try to hit one, go for it.”
The support didn’t stop with the present day stars. Legends and Hall of Famers Reggie Jackson and Johnny Bench, also fully backed.
Some Managers gave their input on the situation and gave some answers you wouldn’t expect form rigged baseball lifers. Joe Girardi gave the most in-depth answer.
“I wish that we would just play and you play the whole way through – whatever happens, happens,” Girardi said. “Because there are times that maybe you don’t want to use certain relievers and you know, all of a sudden, a four-run lead turns into a six-run lead or a six-run lead turns into an eight-run lead and you can do some different things. And especially with all the games that we’re playing, I think that I’m OK with managers keeping their foot on the pedal. I’m OK with it. That doesn’t bother me.”
Girardi pointed out that Tatis didn’t injure anyone with a dirty takeout slide or unnecessarily run someone over.
“I just think the focus should be on how good of a player he is at such a young age and what a bright star he is for this game and how much we all enjoy watching him,” Girardi said.
Angels manager Joe Maddon has been a players manager for the better part of a decade. He openly has conversations ranging from stealing a base to social issues. He also gave his opinion on the unwritten rule situation.
“For me, if we’re getting our butts kicked, it’s our fault,” Maddon said. “And it’s not the other team’s fault. And the purpose of the game is to score runs, and I’ve always adhered to that.”
The game has evolved over the past 130 years. Things can change, even for a league rooted in its traditions, and which was segregated until 1947. Yankees Manager Aaron Boone, like Tatis, comes from a baseball family. A third-generation big leaguer, Boone suggested there is a “sportsmanship etiquette element to things” and that some nuance is required.
“That’s an important part of this so I‘m not all the way in the camp of just throw it all out and do whatever you want,” Boone said. “But I do think a lot of it is outdated and really silly when we really think about it.”
To Tatis’ defense he didn’t shy away from playing his way because the Rangers got their feelings hurt. The next game Tatis doubled down on breaking unwritten rules as he stole 3rd base while the Padres had a huge lead late in the game.
So here’s to hoping Tatis continues to play his way. And to Tim Anderson’s bat flips. And to the Yasiel Puig tongue wag, and the Javy Baez no look tags, and yes even the calm demeanor of Mike Trout who just rounding the bases with his head down.
Here’s to letting the kids play.
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