Juan Soto

Baseball's unwritten rules? Juan Soto grabs his crotch at them, and here's hoping he starts a revolution

Baseball's unwritten rules? Juan Soto grabs his crotch at them, and here's hoping he starts a revolution

Someday, baseball will allow itself to evolve beyond the puritanical Hester Prynne routine that unfolds every time a player exhibits a little personality. Apostates and reprobates are expected to piously denounce their vile sins against The Game, which above all else, must be Respected.

Like Originalists expressing slavish devotion to their interpretations of the Founding Fathers, these self-appointed stewards seem intent on locking the game in the 18th century.

Praise be, then, that baseball's next generation of stars appears determined to shake the shackles of condemnation. One of them just helped the Washington Nationals win the World Series.

If you hadn't heard much about Juan Soto a month ago, the secret's out now. The newly 21-year-old star is a generational talent. Last year, he became the first teenager ever to post a .400 on base percentage. He duplicated the feat at age 20, joining Hall of Famers Ted Williams, Mel Ott, and Al Kaline, as well as the all-time great Alex Rodriguez.

Soto's contributions this October were massive. He homered twice in the NLDS to eliminate the Dodgers, and then added three more bombs in the World Series vs. the Astros, including go-ahead shots in Games 1 and 6.

But I have a feeling that if we're going to remember Soto for anything, it'll be his joyful, I-don't-give-a-bleep demeanor in the batter's box, where individuality typically dons a straitjacket.

The guardians of the game's sacred unwritten rules can't scribble demerits quickly enough to account for Soto's constant transgressions. The slugger doesn't just take pitches — he dismisses them with a cross between the Electric Slide and a New Zealand rugby Haka, deliberately and demonstratively emerging from his crouch with a twitchy shake of the head and leer. In D.C., they've given the move a name — the Soto Shuffle — and he frequently adjusts his cup in the direction of the mound while the gatekeepers shriek.

Against the Cardinals in the NLCS, Soto was particularly expressive, so when St. Louis right-hander Miles Mikolas retired him to escape a bases-loaded threat in Game 1, he made sure to grab his crotch in Soto's direction. The benches didn't empty, because everyone in the park understood: if Soto could dish it out, he needed to take it. Not surprisingly, he could.

"I've just got to laugh about it," he told reporters, while Mikolas, for his part, described the confrontation as "good-natured."

That was nothing compared to the brouhaha that erupted during the World Series, however. In Game 6, Astros star Alex Bregman — himself an enthusiastic young standout who has been known to rub opponents the wrong way — earned criticism from every musty corner of the game for carrying his bat to first base after homering.

This was apparently disrespectful to the pitcher, and Bregman apologized profusely, because god forbid he let his excitement get the best of him in a potential clincher. Manager A.J. Hinch made sure to let the world know that he spoke to Bregman three times lest baseball perpetuate some myth that it's actually fun.

You know who made no apologies? Soto. Following his go-ahead homer in the fifth, he mimicked Bregman by taking his bat with him. He tossed it in the direction of first base coach Tim Bogar, who fielded it like a radioactive isotope. Nationals manager Dave Martinez admitted he disapproved of the display, but Soto cast the act in terms of joy, not vengeance.

"I just saw Bregman doing it, and I wanted to do the same thing," he told reporters. "I was like, 'Oh, that's really cool.' I wanted to do it, too."

Like Red Sox star Rafael Devers, Toronto slugger Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor, and potential NL MVP Ronald Acuña Jr. of the Braves, Soto unapologetically plays with a smile instead of a sneer. It's no coincidence that the loosening of baseball's stodgy culture — if it ever happens — will probably fall to the next generation of Latin stars, who play with a festive exuberance that's notable in an oft-dour sport. Acuva Jr., in particular, is a frequent target of the scolds.

Anyway, back to the bat-carrying imbroglio. Lost in the hysteria was a particularly bad-ass moment. Facing former (and maybe future) Cy Young award winner Justin Verlander, Soto took a 2-1 fastball just above the letters for ball three. Verlander is as old-school-respect-the-game as a wool uniform, and he did not take kindly when Soto shuffled in his direction, wagged his tongue, and shook his head. "Not here," Verlander mouthed at him. "Not here."

Was Soto intimidated? Nope. As he stepped back in for the 3-1 pitch, he shook his head emphatically and reiterated to catcher Robinson Chirinos, "Ball." Verlander followed with another 96-mph fastball that barely clipped the upper inside corner of the zone. Most guys would've swung through it or popped it up. Soto launched it 413 feet into the upper deck.

He then danced around the bases, his bat accompanying him for the first 88 feet. By the time he touched home plate and pointed to the sky, there was nothing anyone could say except maybe, "Whoa."

Juan Soto is writing his own rules. Here's hoping the rest of baseball follows his lead.

MORE TOMASE: Five pressing Sox issues for Chaim Bloom to address>>>>>

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Eduardo Rodriguez shares thoughts on Alex Bregman, Juan Soto HR celebrations in World Series

Eduardo Rodriguez shares thoughts on Alex Bregman, Juan Soto HR celebrations in World Series

If you're a fan of MLB's new "let the kids play" mantra, Game 6 of the 2019 World Series was for you.

Houston Astros third baseman Alex Bregman started the party with a solo home run in the first inning and carried his bat all the way to first base as part of his celebration.

In the fifth inning, Washington Nationals slugger Juan Soto had a fitting response. The 21-year-old crushed a go-ahead homer and made sure to bring his bat with him to first base too.

As exciting as these moments were on baseball's biggest stage, Boston Red Sox pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez wasn't exactly impressed. The left-hander wrote on Twitter about the double standard he believes exists when it comes to hitters celebrating vs. pitchers.

E-Rod has a point as hitters definitely can be sensitive about pitchers celebrating, but the opposite occurs just as often.

Our thoughts? Let all the kids play whether it be on the mound, at the plate, or in the field. The more emotion, the better. Especially when a World Series title is on the line.

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Ranking Rafael Devers, Ronald Acuna among MLB's best young hitters

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NBC Sports Boston Illustration

Ranking Rafael Devers, Ronald Acuna among MLB's best young hitters

There's a youth movement in baseball.

Everywhere you look, young players are having breakout seasons at the plate. There's a good chance that four players age 22 or younger could break the 30-home run mark in 2019.

From second generation talents like Bo Bichette, Fernando Tatis Jr., and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. to a former Rookie of the Year who's improved in his second season (Ronald Acuna Jr.) to a player who can't even legally drink yet (Juan Soto), young bats are excelling like never before.

How stacked is the competition for baseball's best young bat? Rafael Devers is leading the AL in hits, doubles, RBIs, and total bases... and he can't even crack the Top-2 in our rankings.

Here's John Tomase's list of the best young hitters in baseball.>>>>>

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