Considering they’ve been playing some form of pro baseball since the late 19th century, it really is time for the game to grow up.
The league and most players are working on it. So, credit where it’s deserved.
Major League Baseball has instituted rules intended to logically and practically supersede those unwritten rules that have hung around the game since the days of Ty Cobb’s hard slides and flying spikes.
The problem is a lingering subculture that considers acts of physical retribution the obligation of all manly men, when, actually, it’s embarrassingly juvenile.
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These are a sad vestigial remnant, like an appendix that goes unnoticed until it dramatically ruptures. The most dangerous is the eye-for-an-eye pattern of retribution that unfolded Sunday in a game between the Toronto Blue Jays and Texas Rangers.
Cutting through degrees of interim escalation, the essence of this brawl is that Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista was the victim of assault and battery via Rangers infielder Rougned Odor partially as payback for a celebratory bat-flip Bautista made during a playoff game last fall.
Bautista’s flip of the stick was a celebration that would be conservative compared to those seen in a junior-high football game, or a JV basketball contest.
I mean, Bautista was far less offensive in his taunting than any NFL receiver who gives the first-down signal after a catch. What if Kam Chancellor felt compelled to walk up and punch a guy every time that happened?
The rich legacy and honor of Major League Baseball should not have been threatened by Bautista’s display. So what is it that makes baseball players so sensitive?
Somewhere back in time, minor slights on the field were deemed insults worthy of corporal retribution. From then on, many players saw fit to ignore the rules of baseball and follow the Code of Hammurabi.
There are layers to this specific case. Bautista was plunked on his last at-bat of the game on Sunday. It was a shot that appeared intentional.
Bautista wasn’t happy as he went to first, and came in hard to second on a ground ball. When he saw Odor moving to the bag to turn a double play, he made a very aggressive slide.
When they rose to engage, Odor gave Bautista a double handed shove on the chest, and then closed in for a devastating right cross to the jaw. Bautista had slid hard (the kind of thing the new rules are trying to eliminate), but after all, he’d just been plunked at the plate, too.
Odor seemed to rise with mayhem on his mind. This was not one of those baseball fights where guys are stalling until somebody shows up to “hold them back.”
He will be suspended. Hopefully for a long time, reminding players that punching people can’t be tolerated, regardless of the level of personal insult they may feel.
Paybacks for dirty hits are common in all sports, and when they’re in return for a hit that injures a teammate, well, I get that.
But for a small celebration? Please, children, recess is over.
Once the field cleared and the game resumed, and on the first pitch, Blue Jays reliever Jesse Chavez fired one into the ample thigh of Prince Fielder. Fielder is of sufficient girth and displacement that he could have strolled to the mound and done considerable damage had he seen fit.
But here’s how he reacted: He calmly pointed to the Toronto dugout, where Chavez was sent for the retaliatory pitch, and walked to first base with a smile on his face.
I applaud Prince Fielder: a peacemaker, a man of perspective and proportional response.
A hero for new millennial baseball.