Stop blaming Fernando Tatis for being really good at his job

Fernando Tatis caught a lot of flak for hitting a grand slam while up by 7-runs, but does he deserve the heat? 

Baseball’s unwritten rules were made to be broken.

The lens through which many view baseball, however, is so saturated in romanticism that when these unwritten rules are broken it borders on unforgivable sin. Some of them make sense, such as not being petty and bunting to break up a no-hitter or keeping your cool when a teammate makes an error. Others are more wishy-washy, like not swinging at the first pitch after a pitcher has given up back-to-back home runs or getting caught assisting a member of the opposing team. Bat flips and admiring home runs are frowned upon to the extent that brawls have ignited when such instances popup during a game.

Mostly, the rules serve to placate testosterone levels and to keep the old guys happy. So when Fernando Tatis hit a grand slam on a 3-0 count while the Padres were in the process of stuffing the Rangers into a body bag, you can imagine what the reaction was.

Padres star Fernando Tatis hit a grand slam while winning 10-3 TheAthleticMLB/status/ 1295699975331090433

The real eye roll to the reaction wasn’t that the Rangers were universally peeved about the situation, it’s that Tatis’ manager sold him down the river as a means of posturing. Rangers manager Chris Woodward said the unwritten rules of baseball are “constantly being challenged in today’s game,” which is such an Okay, Boomer response but one we can dismiss as something he had to say given which side of this the Rangers ended up on.

But Padres manager Jayce Tingler called out Tatis after the game, chalking up his breaking of the unwritten rules to free-spiritedness.

“He’s young, a free spirit and focused and all those things,” Tingler said. “That’s the last thing that we’ll ever take away. It’s a learning opportunity and that’s it. He’ll grow from it.”

He shouldn’t have to, though.

Baseball’s unwritten rules are scrolls of a bygone era that doesn’t exist anymore. Trying to honor them is a means of clinging to a past that doesn’t function in the future; it stifles evolution.

Rather than proverbially hitting Tatis on the nose with a rolled-up newspaper for being really good at his job, how about begging the question of why the grand slam was hit in the first place. Tatis saw a pitch he could hit and did exactly that; if pitchers don’t want to get dunked on for giving up home runs then maybe they should throw better pitches. If Tatis needs to respect the competitiveness of the game, then the same should be expected of pitchers who are in the middle of a blowout loss.

If you don’t want to give up a home run, don’t throw a bad pitch. This is not Tatis’ fault.

Baseball has long had a problem with being fun. It’s a league full of personalities that are smothered to ensure a sense of conformity. There’s a reason NBA bench players have league-wide cult followings where even top-tier baseball stars struggle to gain a national following.

Breaking a stupid unwritten rule of baseball is not as big of a sin as the game relegating Mike Trout to late-night leisure viewing. We have a modern-day Micky Mantle playing in a digital age where information is disseminated at an incomprehensible rate, yet Trout is just a Reall Good Ballplayer and not marketed as the legend he will be remembered as.

It feels like the only time we ever talk about exciting players like Tatis is when they do something wrong and upset traditionalist values.

Then again, baseball is obsessed with its own history and living in things that have already happened rather than enjoying things in the moment. There’s a reason the most interesting thing that has happened to baseball in the last 30 years is a 10-hour Ken Burns documentary waxing poetic about its past.

Fernando Tatis hitting a grand slam with a 7-run lead is not going to ruin baseball. But acting like such a thing is a stain on the sport is exactly why baseball is stuck in the past.