Fernando Tatis Jr.

Padres’ Fernando Tatís Jr. Exposing the Absurdity of Baseball’s “Unwritten Rules”

When Fernando Tatís Jr. promptly delivered a 92 mph, 3-0 fastball from Juan Nicasio over the right-field wall for his second home run in as many innings Monday night, he thought he was doing his team a favor. His 8th-inning grand slam put the San Diego Padres up 14-3 and gave him 7 RBI for the game, meaning he gave extra breathing room to what’s been an extremely shaky bullpen.

What Tatís Jr. thought was a standout performance helping the team, turned into a debacle about baseball’s “unwritten rules.” No talk about his special night. Instead, he was burdened with apologizing for hitting a home run as all the attention turned into a debate about whether he “disrespected” the game or not.

Baseball has long had its own unique culture and traditions specific to the sport. Part of this culture is these “unwritten rules.” Some are simple and easy to follow, such as “Never make the first or last out at third.”

Others, such as “No bunting to break up a no-hitter” are simple, but depending on the situation or yourself as a fan/player, are either okay or not. Up 5-0 in the 7th inning and the hitter drops one down to break up the no-no? Yeah, that could be a bit annoying.

But at the same time, the other dugout is just trying to get something going. And what if it was a 1-0 game in the 8th? At that point, the opposition is doing what they can to scratch out a win, and no one should blame them for that.

Then there are the relatively minuscule ones because they have less to do with baseball and more to do with “carrying yourself the right way.” And these are the ones that always draw the harshest reactions when broken.

If you’ve ever wondered why some players (former and current) and fans don’t like it when hitters bat-flip a home run, it’s because it’s viewed as disrespectful since you’re “showing up the pitcher.” And this, among many other ‘violations,’ leads to the tradition of “players policing their own game” where you’ll see a pitcher purposely throw at or behind hitters to send a message.

When in reality, hitting one over the fence is very, very, very hard to do. So why not let batters celebrate by bringing in some emotion and fun into a sport that can certainly use an injection of it?

And if bat-flips bother you as a pitcher, maybe you should just pitch better? Or you can understand how difficult it is to go yard and let the hitters have their moment? Well, I guess it’s not like pitchers show fierce emotion in certain instances after striking out a batter.

Oh, wait… 

Besides, which is the more impressive feat to accomplish? Turning on a pitch in less than half-a-second of reaction time and sending it 400 feet? Or striking out a batter?

But in Tatís Jr.’s case, Monday night found him in hot water simply because he’s a generational player who only knows one gear.

The Padres were up 10-3 heading into the 8th inning. Up comes the young phenom with the bases loaded and one out. He worked the count to 3-0 before turning the game into a 14-3 route on the next pitch.

But some will tell you he broke the sacred “Don’t swing on a 3-0 count when your team has a comfortable lead,” invoking memories from 2018, when then-Twins second baseman, Brian Dozier, took issue with the Baltimore Orioles’ 23-year-old rookie, Chance Sisco for bunting in a(n) (almost) similar situation, but it was the Twins up seven.

And while the Padres were fine with it and celebrated, the Rangers broadcasters were not, nor was Texas manager, Chris Woodward, who instructed his next reliever, Ian Gibaut, to throw behind the Padres’ next hitter, Manny Machado.

Gibaut ended up being suspended three games while Woodward served his one-day suspension on Tuesday.

Even Padres manager, Jace Tingler, didn’t necessarily appear to have his star player’s back, seemingly throwing the 21-year-old under the bus postgame.

The entire situation turned into something more than it should have. Instead of appreciating Tatís Jr.’s ability as a 21-year-old, he was being questioned as a player/person because of his perceived “lack of respect” for the game, which couldn’t be further from the truth.

During a time when many athletes his age are consistently questioned about their effort, dedication, and overall work ethic to their craft, the Padres shortstop has already squashed any of those worries. He absolutely loves the sport of baseball and gives it his all every day, and does so carrying himself the “right way.”

Besides, isn’t giving your opponent your best effort and performance a sign of respect? And most people will likely tell you that it’s more unprofessional to throw at a person than it is to be good at your job, let alone throw at someone for being good at their job.

It shouldn’t be on the winning team to show mercy to the opposition, just like it shouldn’t be on the hitter to bailout the pitcher for putting himself in a 3-0 count. Don’t throw three-straight balls, let alone serve one up on the fourth.

If a pitcher or coach gets mad at the opposition for “running up the score” then perhaps they should just forfeit. Why should one team stop trying to score while the other side is doing what they can to put runs up on the board?

There’s a reason there is no mercy rule in pro sports. No lead is safe, especially in baseball. There is a long track record of craziness.

As recently as Sunday, the Oakland Athletics were locked in a 2-2 game in the 5th with the San Francisco Giants before exploding for nine runs in the inning. Monday night, the Dodgers had two 5-run innings in their win over the Mariners, who also had their own 5-run inning.

Just last year in April, the Padres’ bullpen blew a late 5-run lead to the Diamondbacks. Two months later, they were down seven to the Rockies heading into the 8th inning and eventually sent the game into extras before winning 16-12.

And of course, we can’t overstate how disappointing San Diego’s relief unit has been in 2020.

These are just some examples of why teams should always keep playing. Anything can happen in baseball. And Woodward should know that, spending three seasons with the Dodgers before accepting the managerial position with Texas.

It was with those Dodger teams where he experienced countless, ridiculous & improbable comebacks of his own, adding a sense of irony to all this.

But it’s good to see that Tatís Jr. won’t let this affect him, as he picked up right where he left off, stealing third base up 6-0, which is also frowned upon. But all he does is just make plays. It’s as simple as that.

And what are the chances that the Padres had to hold on to win 6-4 in the end?

That’s why you’re taught to keep your foot on the pedal. And whether Tatís Jr. was bothered by all this or not, it’s still reassuring when former and current players (particularly notable pitchers), and most of the baseball community, have spoken out in defense of you. But none may be as significant as Hall-of-Fame catcher, Johnny Bench, who played in the “old-school era.”

Change is inevitable, and sometimes change is good. In baseball’s case with these outdated “unwritten rules,” maybe it’s needed, because as ESPN’s Jeff Passan so eloquently put it:

“Unwritten rules are unwritten because when you write them down, it exposes how truly stupid they are.”

https://twitter.com/JeffPassan/status/1295778760910942209?s=20

They are part of the reason that Major League Baseball continues to alienate itself from the younger generation of fans, whom they should be trying to ingratiate themselves with.

If Fernando Tatís Jr.’s combination of talent, energy, excitement, and flair challenges baseball’s sanctity, maybe the problem is with the culture. This young phenom is precisely the type of change MLB needs. Not someone who apologizes for hitting dingers.

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Featured Image via Flickr/Keith Allison

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