By Ryan Mayer
Another baseball season and another benches-clearing brawl precipitated by the following of baseball’s musty, out-dated, and potentially dangerous “unwritten” code of conduct.
For those of you that missed it yesterday, the Texas Rangers and Toronto Blue Jays got into a full scale brawl in the 8th inning of the final game of their three-game set in Texas. The Rangers, still pissed about Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista’s bat flip in last year’s ALDS, decided to have rookie pitcher Matt Bush hit Bautista in the ribs. Bautista took his base, but was clearly steamed (understandably) about being hit by a 90 mph fastball. So, following a Edwin Encarnacion fly-out, when Justin Smoak grounded into what looked to be a double play ball, Bautista went hard (and illegally under MLB’s new rules) into second baseman Rougned Odor. That led to the following.
A couple of things to unpack here. Yes, what Bautista did was wrong, and currently not legal under the new slide rule implemented this year. Two, Odor was clearly unhappy with it and hit him with one of the cleanest punches I’ve ever seen, that was also wrong. Three, this all would have been avoided if the “unwritten” rules hadn’t dictated hitting Bautista in the first place.
The fact that the Rangers hit Bautista a full seven months after the ALDS bat flip is dumb. That the team was even mad at all is also dumb. Yes, old-school ballplayers have weighed in saying that the “bat flip” was excessive and a disgrace and they’ll now say he got what he deserved and EVERYBODY GET OFF MY LAWN. Sorry. Got carried away by the inner crotchety old man in me. The point is, this incident once again highlights the dangers of Major League Baseball’s unwritten code.
Forget Bryce Harper’s campaign to “make baseball fun again”. This isn’t a referendum on whether players should be allowed to celebrate or not. Rather, we need to realize just how idiotic it is to continue to defend actions that involve a grown man intentionally throwing a projectile 90+ mph at another grown man to “send a message”.
I’ve written about this before, but that’s not okay. We laugh and point to Odor’s punch and say “sign him up for MMA” while brushing off the fact that the jumping off point was Bautista being hit by a pitch because the code dictates it. Sure, it’s fun and entertaining now when everybody is okay and the biggest injury is Bautista’s jaw/pride after being wobbled by the punch. But, when the day comes that a pitcher loses control of that fastball trying to hit somebody and hits him in a spot where it leaves more lasting damage than a bruise, then maybe we’ll wake up.
In a day and age in which sports continue to evolve to try and protect the players from themselves and look out for their health, we still allow this. How is that possible? How is it that we can be so vociferously concerned (rightfully) about how the NFL handles concussions and yet at the same time allow this kind of behavior?
Maybe I’m just another young, dumb, millennial who doesn’t “get it,” but that seems inconsistent. Just because something has been done one way for a long time doesn’t mean it needs to continue. Some baseball players, writers, and analysts will continue to defend the practice and likely nothing will change. That’s a shame. Because it just shows how little we actually care about player safety.
Ryan Mayer is an Associate Producer for CBS Local Sports. Ryan lives in NY but comes from Philly and life as a Philly sports fan has made him cynical. Anywhere sports are being discussed, that’s where you’ll find him.