It’s hard to move forward in life when you’re so focused on the past.
With that said, it’s surprising to see Major League Baseball, a league that saw a rise in younger viewers in 2020, remain so committed to ideas created before that new fanbase was even born.
Numerous incidents over the last few years have been instigated by the concept of “unwritten rules,” which come from a made-up rulebook hoping to keep traits like honor and respect in areas of the game where official rules may create grey areas.
San Diego Padres superstar Fernando Tatis Jr. smashed the first grand slam of his career early in the 2020 season. What should’ve been a great moment in his career was instead met with backlash and calls to “apologize” because his team was up by seven runs in the eighth inning and he had hit the homer on a 3-0 count.
A slew of players, Tatis included, have celebrated after crushing home runs, either throwing their bats, dancing, or making certain movements while rounding the bases.
Instead of letting those players have fun, they deal with critics who say it’s all disrespectful.
Unfortunately, none of this is new. However, one incident early in the 2021 season was still able to put a fresh spin on an old conversation.
Late in a game against the Minnesota Twins on May 17, Chicago White Sox catcher Yermin Mercedes found himself at the plate squaring off against Twins utility player Willians Astudillo, rather than a Twins pitcher.
The White Sox held a massive lead, and the Twins put a position player on the mound as the baseball equivalent to quitting during a game.
Instead of viewing that as a lack of respect for the sport, those in Major League Baseball side with the team that’s getting blown out. They prefer for the opposing team to follow suit, basically opting to waste time until the game is over.
Mercedes wasn’t a fan of that mindset. So, with a 3-0 count against a player throwing him some of the slowest pitches someone could possibly throw, he decided to give the fans what they visit stadiums to see: the long ball.
Mercedes toasted a 47 MPH pitch, rounded the bases, and added on to what was already a 15-4 lead in the ninth inning.
As expected, the move didn’t please the proponents of the league’s “unwritten rules.”
The Twins were upset with the situation, along with the team’s broadcast team during the game. Even White Sox manager Tony La Russa, a 76-year-old with loads of MLB experience, went after his own player to defend the “unwritten rules.”
“He made a mistake,” La Russa said a day later. “There will be a consequence he has to endure here within our family.”
In the next game of the series, Twins pitcher Tyler Duffey was ejected after throwing the first pitch of an at-bat behind Mercedes. Even then, La Russa didn’t stand up for his player.
“I wasn’t that suspicious. I’m suspicious when someone throws at someone’s head,” La Russa said, citing how the ball was aimed behind Mercedes’ lower half. “I didn’t have a problem with how the Twins handled that.”
Meanwhile, as faces around the league shared their anger with the situation, other prominent names came to Mercedes’ defense.
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“Dear hitters: If you hit a 3-0 homer off me, I will not consider it a crime,” Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Trevor Bauer wrote on Twitter. “Dear people who are still mad about a hitter hitting: kindly get out of the game. Can’t believe we’re still talking about 3-0 swings. If you don’t like it, managers or pitchers, just be better.”
White Sox star Tim Anderson joined the fray on social media, as well, siding with his teammate in the roster’s apparent internal war against their manager.
“The game wasn’t over!” Anderson wrote. “Keep doing you big daddy.”
Anderson had a great argument, which serves as the perfect counterpoint to those who view the moment as something that goes against the sport’s morals.
For people who are evidently so focused on “integrity” and “respect,” opting to side with the team that gave up in a game that wasn’t over seems like an odd move.
Fans knock players for not running out ground balls or refusing to dive for flyballs. But, when effort is finally shown late in a game, it’s viewed as a negative.
At the same time, the “unwritten rules” are contradictory based on the situation.
When Chicago Cubs star Anthony Rizzo, a position player, was on the mound in a game against the Atlanta Braves and struck out reigning National League MVP Freddie Freeman, it was viewed as a fun moment.
If Freeman had launched a homer on Rizzo in that scenario, regardless of the count, it would’ve been promoted all over the place.
That’s the problem with “unwritten rules.” There’s no rulebook. There’s no universal way to regulate anything. Most importantly, there’s never going to be a consensus on what’s viewed as being okay or being disrespectful.
Instead, people following the sport get upset about things that are completely opinion-based, and Major League Baseball winds up with its version of two political parties.
If the league truly wants its players’ personalities to show, and if the league wants to move forward rather than backward, the “unwritten rulebook” needs to be thrown out sooner rather than later.