On Monday night, the San Diego Padres were taking on the Texas Rangers in a regular season MLB game.
The Padres were up 10-3 in the eighth inning when Fernando Tatis Jr. stepped to the plate. Tatis is a 21-year-old phenom that now leads the league in home runs. Tatis had already hit one home run in the game and with the bases loaded and a 3-0 count Tatis belted his second home run of the night and extended the Padres lead to 14-3. The pitcher who gave up the home run was replaced, and the very first pitch of the next at bat was thrown behind Manny Machado. The pitch, while it is hard to say whether it was for sure, appeared to be retaliation for Tatis’ grand slam. Why is this a big deal? Well baseball has these things they like to call unwritten rules. No other sport has nearly as many of them, and they cause quite a debate when they are enforced. Let me explain.
The Rangers were mad because the Padres were already up by seven runs with only one inning remaining. The bases were loaded, and most batters are going to take a 3-0 pitch. So by Tatis swinging and then hitting a grand slam the Rangers felt he was showing them up. For one by swinging at a 3-0 pitch and two for hitting a grand slam that brought in four runs to run their deficit to 11 runs. So in response they threw at the next batter to express their frustration.
Rangers manager Chris Woodward even referenced the unwritten rules in his post game press conference. What are these unwritten rules and what do they mean? I actually have a book that I bought many years ago titled ‘The unwritten rules of baseball” so I feel like I am ok to talk about them. I used to be pretty old school with baseball in that I felt many of these rules were fair. Then as I got older I started to see both sides and thought that the rules were dated.
Take Tatis for example, he is a young and up and coming star that is just free spirited and wants to play the game of baseball. He isn’t going up to the plate thinking he is going to show the pitcher or the Rangers up, he just wants to swing the bat. But baseball purists look at it as a sign of disrespect. Well, how about you don’t get down by seven runs and then give up a home run?
I just feel like these rules have run their course, and we are in a new era of baseball. The young stars go all out every game, and they don’t listen to the old school way of doing things as much anymore. The only unwritten rule I wholeheartedly agree with is every pitcher that throws to a Houston Astros batter this year should let them know you are there and throw inside. Why? Because the Astros got caught cheating and not one of their players was disciplined. They used video technology to tip their players off to what pitches are coming so they have a better chance to get a hit. If they were properly disciplined I would accept that, but every one of them is still out there every game, and there has been at least two fights already this year over that situation.
So what are some other unwritten rules? Similar to Monday nights events, don’t steal when you have a big lead. If a pitcher hits one of your teammates, you hit one of theirs back, don’t admire a home run you hit, don’t bunt to break up a no-hitter. Then there are others that are more superstition than rules like don’t talk about a no hitter and don’t step on the foul line. The foul line thing still bothers me to this day. If I am watching a game and see someone step on the foul line I shutter just a bit. I also cringe when an announcer mentions a no-hitter in progress on television. So I am not totally against all of them.
The admiring a home run is complicated. Several years ago in a playoff game the Toronto Blue Jays star Jose Bautista hit a walk off home run to win the game, and he admired it as it left the yard and then promptly threw his bat on his way to first base. Since it was the playoffs the Texas Rangers waited until the following season to get their revenge, and it ended in a literal fistfight at second base after Bautista slid into the bag a little too hard.
We can debate forever about whether these rules help or hurt the game and whether breaking them compromises the integrity of the game. The rules are unwritten because MLB doesn’t feel like they need to be enforced, but there are plenty of players and coaches out there that enforce those rules to the letter. Whether you agree or disagree with them, we can all agree that baseball is more complicated than you see from the outside.