This past Tuesday, one scenario dominated the conversation in Major League Baseball. In the eighth inning of the San Diego Padres and Texas Rangers game, Padres shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. came to the plate with the bases loaded. When the count went to 3-0, Tatis missed the call from his base coach to take the next pitch, and when it was delivered Tatis crushed it into the outfield bleachers for a grand slam. What came afterward proves that one of baseball’s unwritten rules — not swinging on a 3-0 pitch — is in serious need of being re-evaluated.
The very next inning, Rangers pitcher Ian Gibaut retaliated against Tatis’s decision to swing on that pitch by immediately throwing at Manny Machado. Rangers Manager Chris Woodward expressed his frustration post game.
“I’m not pounding my fist on the table saying this was absolutely horrendous,” Woodward said to ESPN. “I just thought it went just past the line,”
Due to the backlash, Tatis addressed the media with an apology.
“I’ve been in this game since I was a kid,” Tatis told ESPN. “I know a lot of unwritten rules. I was kind of lost on this. Those experiences, you have to learn. Probably next time, I’ll take a pitch.”
This has to be the first time I have seen a professional baseball player apologize for what would normally be applauded.
The unwritten rules of baseball are based on respect that some players and managers choose to follow. Moves that are considered unnecessary or too flashy are discouraged. I’m not saying that all of these rules are irrational. But Tatis’ intentions were not disrespectful. He missed his sign. What is your job when you step up to the plate? To drive in runs.
Unwritten rules have been put into question a lot in the past couple of years. Many consider it disrespectful when a batter flips his bat after hitting a home run. It can be deemed disrespectful to bunt a runner on to disrupt a no-hitter. However, players need to use better discretion about when, and whether, to retaliate when they believe an opponent has ignored one of these rules. Some players made the same point in responding to Gibaut’s bean ball.
Cincinnati Reds pitcher Trevor Bauer encouraged Tatis, and said the 21-year-old shortstop’s only mistake was to apologize.
Tampa Bay Rays reliever Colin Poche said that if you allow a home run on a 3-0 pitch, you need to pitch better.
Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson encouraged Tatis to keep playing hard and said he enjoys watching him play.
The overwhelming support for Tatis tells me this was a case of miscommunication — Tatis missed the sign — rather than an intentional act of disrespect.
We need to hit the refresh button on these unwritten rules, so we aren’t arguing about whether someone should swing at a 3-0 pitch.
So Fernando Tatis Jr., don’t worry about what is proper etiquette, if that pitch is too good to pass on, keep swinging, man.
Corey Kirk is sports editor for the Baker City Herald.