RED SOX INSIDER

Tomase: Criticism of Tatis exposes MLB's stupid unwritten rules... again

RED SOX INSIDER
Padres' Fernando Tatis Jr. hits grand slam against Rangers, Aug. 17, 2020
Padres' Fernando Tatis Jr. hits grand slam against Rangers, Aug. 17, 2020
AP Photo

We interrupt our daily flogging of the Red Sox to take aim at a different deserving target — baseball's unwritten rules that continue ruining a game bent on self-ruination.

The latest example: on Monday night, burgeoning Padres wunderkind Fernando Tatis Jr. launched a grand slam in the eighth inning of a 14-4 blowout of the Rangers. The shot gave him two homers and seven RBIs on the night. Just listen to the excitement in the voice of old friend Don Orsillo as "Nando" does it again:

The blast allowed Tatis to wrest the big-league home run lead from forever MVP Mike Trout, his 11th long ball a 109-mph laser to the opposite field.

Tatis leads a new generation of electrifying superstars who play with personality and joy, joining Washington's Juan Soto, Atlanta's Ronald Acuña Jr., Boston's Rafael Devers (in better times) and Toronto's Bo Bichette, among many others.

So what's not to love, right? The Padres ended a five-game losing streak, Tatis added to his MVP credentials, and baseball had another jaw-dropping highlight to share while marketing a game desperate to generate buzz and relevance.

Well, here's what's not to love, apparently: Pretty much everything, according to both managers, as well as a sport that feels trapped in one of its 1970s cement toilet bowl stadiums.

Tatis's first sin was swinging at a 3-0 pitch with the Padres up seven runs in the eighth inning. His second sin was missing the "take" sign from third base coach Glenn Hoffman. But let's be honest, his real sin was letting everyone see just how much he was having a good time.

 
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Each transgression broke one of baseball's unwritten rules, the draconian code drafted by … Ty Cobb? Kennesaw Mountain Landis? Pinky Higgins? … that serve no purpose except to turn America's most staid sport into something downright funereal.

Padres manager Jayce Tingler may sound like an extra from "Boogie Nights," but he has no problem keeping it in his pants. He castigated Tatis for his breach of decorum (all quotes courtesy of this outstanding recap in The Athletic).

"Just to make sure we get the signs 3-0 in that game," Tingler said. "He's young, a free spirit and focused and all these things, and that's the last thing we'll ever take away. But that's a learning opportunity, that's it and he'll grow from it.

"Just so you know, a lot of our guys have green light 3-0. But in this game in particular, we had a little bit of a comfortable lead, and we're not trying to run up the score or anything like that."

It's one thing for an NBA team to stop bombing 3's up big in the closing minutes, or for an NFL squad to quit throwing skinny posts while running out the clock. There's even a case to be made for not stealing bases in the ninth inning of a blowout.

But now we're not allowed to watch one of baseball's most joyous young stars hit a grand slam? Pitchers are apparently so non-competitive that they must be allowed to throw strikes unchallenged, as if it's Tatis's fault that Rangers reliever Juan Nicasio had walked two batters to load the bases before falling behind 3-0.

Nicasio put himself in that position, and Tatis did the only sensible thing when the right-hander finally put one over the plate. He unloaded.

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Not so fast, said Rangers manager and clench-jawed caricature Chris Woodward, who invoked the tired unwritten rules as if they helped make his case instead of exposing it as dated and hopelessly out of touch.

"I think there's a lot of unwritten rules that are constantly being challenged in today's game. I didn't like it, personally," 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. 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."

There's but one acceptable response to such whining: WHO CARES?

If the Rangers didn't want Tatis to hit a grand slam, they could've intentionally walked him. Or they could've thrown him a quality pitch. Instead, they sulked at his insolence and then expressed their displeasure by throwing behind Manny Machado, which is a form of cowardice unique to baseball.

 

"You just have to pitch better if you don't want that to happen," tweeted Red Sox left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez. "I never see that rule and I take myself as an example, because I'm the king of 3-0 counts."

Making matters worse, Tatis played the role of neutered good soldier by apologizing for his overexuberance, noting that he had missed the sign. This is problematic and incredibly frustrating, because if he dials back his personality even one degree, decreases the toss radius of bat flips by even one inch, cranks back his smile by even one milliwatt, it will be baseball's loss.

And that's the issue we should be bemoaning today, not that one of the game's brightest young stars provided yet another electrifying moment.

"I love this game, and I respect the game a lot," Tatis said. "I feel like every time I go out there, I just want to feel respect for everybody else. This game is hard for everyone, so why not just celebrate and have fun the way you want to have fun?"

Why not? Because baseball won't let you. Someone needs to tear this sport down to the studs and start over, and here's hoping Tatis and Co. swing the first sledgehammer.

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