To proclaim that the NFL and NBA have surpassed Major League Baseball in terms of national popularity would be to state the obvious at this point. Yet, this fact is not one that MLB should accept; baseball should be working tirelessly to launch its sport into the national spotlight and to recapture some of the glory of its storied past. Yet, baseball has proven time after time that the game is quite determined to shoot itself in the foot.

The baseball year began with the gut-wrenching realization that the sport would not begin its season as planned due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. Most fans understood the situation and just about nobody blamed MLB for halting its season. The animosity of the collective fanbase of Major League Baseball began to build when it became clear that neither the league itself nor its players were intent on returning as soon as possible; instead, the Opening Day was pushed back even further due to a vicious and ugly labor war.

In late July, baseball finally made its return. So far, the actual games have been competitive and entertaining. Despite numerous cancellations due COVID outbreaks that necessitated tactful schedule maneuvering, baseball has handled this chaotic and impossible situation fairly well; the fact of the matter is that if MLB can get through a “full” sixty-game season and name a World Series champion, the 2020 campaign will be remembered as a success.

Yet, while baseball has so far managed to piece together a meaningful season, the game proves that with every step forward in popularity that it takes, two steps are taken backward. The events of night’s contest between the San Diego Padres and Texas Rangers should not have been headline news; if anything, baseball fans should be raving about and drooling over the young and electric superstar that is Padres’ shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. Instead, the baseball world has again thrust itself into the tired and pointless debate over what are known as its “unwritten rules”.

Last night, Tatis Jr. stepped to the plate with the bases loaded in the eighth inning versus Texas, with his team on top 10-3. With the count at 3-0, the twenty-year-old swung at a Juan Nicasio fastball and launched it deep into the right-field seats for a grand slam. The only story that should have come from these events should have been the fact that Tatis’ slam was his MLB-leading eleventh homer, even more than the ten of red-hot reigning AL MVP Mike Trout. Perhaps the discussion after the game’s conclusion should have been about appreciating Tatis’ rapid ascension into stardom, or even laughing at the stupidity of the Chicago White Sox for trading him away for virtually nothing back in 2016.

But alas, the baseball community was forced to ignore Tatis’ greatness due to the fact that his own manager bashed him for hitting a grand slam. As truly preposterous as that sounds, Padres’ manager Jayce Tingler was quoted after the game as saying that Tatis “need[s] to make sure we get the signs 3-0 in that game.”, and that Tatis is “young, a free spirit [and is] focused and all these things, and that’s the last thing we’ll ever take away. But that’s a learning opportunity, that’s it and he’ll grow from it.”

Tingler’s words are laced with hypocrisy and stupidity that should make the common baseball fan cringe. By making these statements, “taking away” Tatis’ freedom and flair is precisely what Tingler is doing, intentionally or not. Even worse, to call the moment where Tatis mashed a grand slam (which also happened to be his second homer in as many innings) a “learning experience” is utterly baffling; a twenty-one year old shortstop blasting an opposite field slam is truly one of the most praise-worthy occurrences imaginable for a young team. 

Tingler did not stop there. He went on to state that “we had a little bit of a comfortable lead, and we’re not trying to run up the score or anything like that.”

Remarkably, this last sentiment is likely the most bizarre and stupid of all that Tingler made. The indication that his club should ever let off the gas pedal and turn down the intensity of their at bats will likely be incredibly detrimental to the morale of the team. A winning ballclub is one that never worries about “running up the score”; in fact, this should be their goal, in this age of blown leads and a juiced ball that could fly out of the ballpark at any given moment. A championship team is one that looks to get on base and drive the ball in every at bat and every situation, with no regard of what the score may be. This indisputable truth is one that Tingler so clearly is out of touch with, and he will be lucky to ever carry his team to the postseason with such a misguided mindset.

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In a time when team unity is so deeply vital to the success of both the team and the league as a whole, the situation that Tingler and the Padres manufactured could have a devastating ripple effect on the San Diego clubhouse. Supposed team leader and veteran first-baseman Eric Hosmer was seen talking to Tatis after his grand slam, and the incredulous and annoyed expression of Tatis sums of the situation perfectly.

To make matters even worse, the Rangers threw behind the Padres’ Manny Machado following Tatis’ homer. Texas manager Chris Woodward, who more-than-likely orchestrated the assault on Machado, was quoted after the game as saying that “You’re up by seven in the eighth inning; it’s typically not a good time to swing 3-0 … I don’t think we liked it as a group.” It was announced today that both Woodward and Ian Gibaut (the Rangers pitcher who threw at Machado), would each receive suspensions of one game and three games, respectively.

This is not, by any means, the first time the antics of Tatis have come under fire. Even his own father, Fernando Tatis Sr., has been quoted as saying that his son’s bat flip was “crap”, because “I’m old-school, and I don’t like it at all. All my career, I tried to play this game the right way, always respecting everyone, every pitcher.”

The very essence of sports revolves around the excitement of competition. Oftentimes, this excitement comes with the dramatic flair that the greats like Tatis bring, and to criticize a player for expressing these powerful feelings is inconceivably ridiculous and quite frankly demeaning to both the player and the sport as whole. 

“Respect” is so massively overrated and overvalued in sports. The VAST majority of fans would say they could care less about whether two teams “respect” each other. Which would draw more TV ratings and excitement: a courteous handshake line between two clubs, or an assortment of bat flips after a critical homer or a pitcher’s victorious strut after a huge strikeout? The answer is so plainly and undeniably clear.

In a series of statements and tweets that will hopefully salvage some of baseball’s image and reputation after the Tatis fiasco, many players voiced their support of the young star’s actions. Boston Red Sox pitcher Collin McHugh explained his perspective by saying that “swinging in a 3-0 count should not be against any rules, no matter the score … before a game I would always look to see what % a guy swings 3-0. If it’s over 20%, it means I can’t just groove one.” Quite simply, McHugh is elaborating on the point that if a team does not want to give up a grand slam, maybe they should not throw a very hittable fastball to an elite hitter in a favorable count. Clearly, the Rangers do not understand the concept of not allowing a boatload of runs, as their team ERA for the season sits at 4.81, which ranks twenty-first in MLB.

The always-vocal Trevor Bauer, who is a starting pitcher for the Cincinnati Reds, chimed in on Twitter by saying that “the only thing [Tatis] did wrong was apologize. Stop that.”

Chicago White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson, who has also endured his fair share of backlash for pimping homers, made a powerful and damning statement that [the criticism Tatis has received] “is why the game won’t grow”.

Baseball must wake up. The sport must realize that the year is 2020, not 1890, and that nobody gives a damn who respects who. A failure to ingrain this mindset into the game could very well prove to be fatal in the years and decades to come, as the sport strives to maintain whatever relevance and national standing that it has left.

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