A few days ago, Fernando Tatis Jr. became the latest player to be criticised for breaking baseball’s unwritten rules.
Even by baseball’s high standards of absurdity, this one was right up there. Tatis’ San Diego Padres were 7-0 up when the MVP candidate stepped to the plate with the bases loaded. He worked a 3-0 count and crushed a home run.
Young star hitting Grand Slam = awesome. Well, apparently not.
Manny Machado was at the dish next and received a pitch behind him from Ian Gilbaut. Gilbaut, clearly furious that the Padres has the indecency to score runs off him, might want to consider pitching better in future.
Both Gilbaut and Woodward received deserved bans.
Unwritten rules embarrass the league
MLB is constantly altering the game to make it more appealing. Runners-on-base in extra innings, pitch clocks and a whole array of changes to the sport have been implemented or suggested in recent years as baseball looks to retain its market share in the USA and develop new fan bases around the world.
The ridiculousness of this unwritten rule is apparent. If the Rangers are so offended by the Padres thrashing them, they should play better. If they don’t want a young star to hit a Grand Slam, I’d suggest not loading the bases. If you want him to take a walk, intentionally put him on base and walk a run home. Texas obviously did none of these things.
It should go without saying that scoring runs is good. It is quite literally the aim of the game. And from a personal perspective, Tatis’ arbitration and future contracts will be decided by his production. From the position of the game, a seven-run lead is clearly surmountable. In this parallel, peculiar MLB universe of unwritten rules, should every game be stopped when a team builds a five-run lead? Should the Rangers agree not to try and come back?
It’s farcical to even suggest that Tatis was in the wrong.
The result, however, is more damaging than the distaste between the two teams or the pitch thrown at Machado (which fortunately missed him). A young superstar hit a Grand Slam and the conversation was negative. He was trending on Twitter for the wrong reasons, but not of his own doing. Baseball once again had generated a matter of baffling pettiness over something that should be brilliant.
Tatis is the future of the league; he’s an entertainer, he hits dingers, he steals bases, he plays Gold Glove defense. This is anti-marketing. This is exactly the opposite of what MLB needs.
How to improve
Some things that fall under ‘unwritten rules’ are okay. Kicking the ball out of play when a player is injured in soccer is a good thing. For the most part in baseball, though, they are old-fashioned, detrimental nonsense. Most have no reason. It’s just ‘the way it’s always been’.
Baseball’s unwritten rules apparently stop teams scoring when they’re winning by too much. They restrict players from flipping bats, celebrating, or showing any sign of significant emotion. Where the NBA and, to a lesser extent, the NFL have embraced personality, so many involved in MLB continue to want to suppress it.
The fact that even Tatis’ manager was critical shows how deep-rooted this ludicrousness is. Baseball’s culture is holding it back.
Until the unwritten rules are banished, MLB’s hopes of growth are no more than fanciful.