This is a bit of old news at this point, though seeing that Rougned Odor got his suspension for punching Jose Bautista reduced by a game perhaps puts this story back on the front burner.
We heard an awful lot of comment in the wake of that May 15 brawl, which you’d expect considering it was a rather flamboyant display of things going terribly wrong on the diamond. Much of that comment centered around baseball’s “unwritten rules,” with quite a bit of the hoohaw protesting that those invisible statutes caused much of the animus, that the knee-jerk need to retaliate for Bautista’s missile-launch bat flip during last fall’s playoffs demonstrated the foolishness of those antiquated, arcane codes of conduct.
The problem is, that take is entirely off base (pun intended). And the really weird thing is, nobody brought up Bryce Harper when discussing the whole thing.
What the hell does Harper have to do with a brawl between the Rangers and Blue Jays? I’m glad you asked.
The failure to connect that most commentators made when analyzing the Texas dust-up is this: Harper’s “make baseball fun again” campaign, as noted in this space before, comes with a great deal of potential for just the sort of thing you saw in Arlington a couple of weekends ago.
Baseball’s “unwritten rules” may seem to be at fault when beanballs start flying and retaliatory slides into second base quickly follow, but that code of conduct has existed throughout the game’s history in large part to prevent episodes like the Odor-Bautista slugfest.
The retaliatory aspects of baseball’s unwritten legal code are secondary; the primary motivation of the game’s strict guides for acceptable behavior is to keep things from getting out of hand by not having someone step out of line in the first place.
Bautista’s grand bat flip led to a lot of hard feelings, but it should be noted that it happened in a playoff game after a lot of things had already happened in that contest, including a contentious reversal of an umpire’s ruling which allowed the Rangers to take the lead in the game (a run scored by Odor, no less) and left the Blue Jays feeling like they were getting jobbed. Bautista may not have been entirely justified in sending his lumber soaring through the air in a graceful arc, but it did not happen out of a mere desire to make a spectacle out of himself.
And yet, look how the Rangers reacted to that act: they nursed a grudge for half a year and wound up drilling Bautista (though not at the next opportunity; they waited until the end of their series to throw at him). And then all hell broke loose.
All that, after what one might argue was a justifiable display of emotion in a tense, important contest. How might other players take it when the guy tossing his bat, in some random April contest after a relatively meaningless home run, is doing so just to satisfy a whim to call attention to himself?
As I indicated in the previous post, one man’s “fun” can be another man’s slap in the face, and “fun” is often the justification for bullying. Every time someone wants to engage in behaviors that can be misinterpreted at best, or cause rage at worst, someone getting slugged in the face is a potential outcome. This is why campaigns to loosen up codes of conduct on the field are so misguided: you can’t know how your opponent is going to react to whatever you do that steps over the admittedly blurry lines. Any action which could be considered doubtful, if you really want to keep the peace, should simply be avoided. Just be satisfied that you hit the home run and helped your team, and leave it at that.
Maybe you won’t have as much “fun” if you just put your head down and run the bases, but it sure beats getting slugged in the face.