What led to Rougned Odor’s right fist making Jose Bautista’s face quiver like a Jell-O mold Sunday? Was it Bautista’s flamboyant, insulting bat flip after hitting a home run against the Rangers in the playoffs last season? Or was it baseball’s stupid unwritten rules?
It’s not too strong to say that the soul of the game is at stake here.
I didn’t mind Bautista’s exuberant display for the Blue Jays last season, but I also knew the Rangers were going to exact some payback eventually. I like that about the game, not out of some testosterone-driven impulse but because it’s different. Not every sport has to celebrate excessively. Baseball is rooted in 19th century rural America, and tradition is one of the things that makes it stand out.
The Rangers hit Bautista with a pitch Sunday, almost surely a response to his bat flip last season. He clearly had violated one of the written rules: Don’t show up the other team. It’s grounded in respect.
Bautista’s hard slide into second base (and Odor) while trying to break up a double play Sunday led to the punch and an ensuing brawl.
So what was the root cause of that punch? A dumb code anchored in a distant past? Or a hitter showing off too much?
In the end, Bautista was to blame. He had enjoyed his moment in the sun. ESPN hasn’t stopped showing the bat flip after his go-ahead, three-run homer in Game 5 of an American League Division Series last season. It was a one-handed catch in the end zone for a touchdown.
One problem: This isn’t football.
This is baseball. This is how it has been played for more than a century. You know what’s going to happen to you if you celebrate excessively. Act accordingly. You can go eight m.p.h. over the speed limit without getting a ticket, but if you go 20 m.p.h. over it, you’ll get pulled over. If you choose to speed, you know the risks.
If Bautista or anyone else wants to flip his bat, he should. But he should also know the price that comes with it. Baseball doesn’t want to be like all the other look-at-me sports, and that’s a good thing.