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The wrongheaded persecution of Fernando Tatis, Jr.

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Baseball once again is going out of its way to stifle a young star.

MLB: San Diego Padres at Texas Rangers Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Unwritten rules stink.

Most baseball fans are well aware of this fact, and the sport is full of them.

You’re not supposed to steal bases when your team has a big lead. You don’t use your closer in a tie game on the road. You don’t stand at the plate and admire a long home run. You don’t flip your bat in the air after said dinger, you don’t talk publicly about a no-hitter in progress, and you don’t bunt in order to try and break up a no-no.

Last night, San Diego Padres superstar-in-the-making Fernando Tatis, Jr. violated another one of baseball’s many unwritten rules when, with his team leading 10-3 over the Texas Rangers in the 8th inning, he smoked a grand slam to the opposite field on a 3-0 count.

It was Tatis’ second home run of the game and his MLB-leading 11th of the season. The 21-year-old is off to a phenomenal start in his second big league season, with a league-best 1.8 fWAR and a slash line of .305/.383/.726.

Tatis’ multi-homer game should have been the talk of baseball the morning after, and it was, only for the wrong reason. Instead of gaining universal praise for his heroics, he was instead criticized after the game not only by Rangers manager Chris Woodward but also his own manager Jayce Tingler for daring to swing while ahead 3-0 in the count with an seven-run lead.

And instead of basking in the afterglow of his 7-RBI performance last night, Tatis himself apologized for hitting a grand slam.

Missing a sign from his third base coach certainly warrants a private discussion after the game to be more aware of signals coming from the coaching staff. However, the coaches should have never given him a “take” sign in the first place, and for his own manager to criticize his decision to swing in that situation is wrong-headed for any number of reasons.

The beauty of baseball is that there is no running clock. A team must record 27 outs in order to complete a nine-inning game, and until a team does that, no lead should be considered “safe.” Last week, the Phillies held a 13-1 lead in the 9th inning and had to warm up their closer after the Braves scored seven times and rattled everyone’s nerves. One of the greatest comebacks in Phils history happened in Los Angeles in 1991 when, trailing 11-3 in the 9th, the team came roaring back to win 12-11.

No one got mad when, ahead 11-1, Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda sent starting pitcher Fernando Valenzuela up to the plate to get an at-bat.

Pitchers should be required to compete and make good pitches even when they trail by a significant margin, and a manager should want his hitter to work for every advantage. If Tingler had wanted to make things easier on the Rangers, he should have taken his young stud out of the game.

The criticism of Tatis is also hypocritical. Suppose no one had been on base and he had hit an infield pop-up, or a lazy fly ball to the outfield that was misplayed and fell in for a hit or error. Imagine Tatis hadn’t run hard out of the box and, instead of standing on second or third base, had to stop on first because he wasn’t hustling. Suppose he didn’t run out a grounder to shortstop and was out on a play he otherwise would have been safe. The same people who are criticizing Tatis for violating this unwritten rule would be the same ones pounding him over the head for being “lazy.”

If players are required to hustle until the last out is recorded, then they should try to hit home runs when they’re ahead in the count late in a game with a big lead.

Major League Baseball has had a rough year. The pandemic hit just as the season was about to start, protracted labor battles dominated the headlines throughout the spring and, once the season did begin, COVID-19 outbreaks brought fears the season would have to be cancelled. Tatis Jr. is the leader of a young and up-and-coming San Diego team that is one of the few good stories to come out of the 2020 season so far and yet, his own manager seems to believe it’s a better idea to criticize him.

It’s almost as if the league goes out of its way to tell young fans, “This game isn’t for you, check back in with us when you’re 55.” Woodward and Tingler’s antiquated view of how this game is supposed to be played needs to be wiped out of existence.

Tingler and Woodward should be the ones apologizing, not Fernando Tatis, Jr.

Poll

Were Jayce Tingler and Chris Woodward correct in being upset with Fernando Tatis Jr.’s decision to swing ahead 3-0 while up by 7 runs in the 8th inning?

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  • 5%
    Yes
    (18 votes)
  • 94%
    No
    (321 votes)
339 votes total Vote Now