MLB’s “Unwritten Rules” Debate Is Baseball’s Problem


Fernando Tatis Jr. (above) leads the MLB in home runs this year.

Ryan Jones, Managing Editor

Fernando Tatis Jr. has become one of baseball’s most exciting players to watch through the start of this year’s shortened MLB season. The 21-year-old San Diego Padres shortstop has done nothing but mash against opposing pitchers, leading the Majors with 12 home runs on the year. The excitement that he brings every at bat has also brought one of baseball’s dumbest arguments back to the forefront: the “unwritten rules” of the game.

During the Padres rout of the Texas Rangers last week, Tatis Jr. smacked a grand slam off of pitcher Juan Nicasio, extending the Padres lead to 11. The grand slam is one of baseball’s most electric moments; a batter clearing the bases and putting four runs on the board with only one swing of the bat.

Could there ever possibly be a bad time to hit a grand slam? Apparently so, at least according to some baseball purists.

After the game, Rangers’ manager Chris Woodward cited the “unwritten rules” of baseball when voicing his disdain for Tatis Jr.’s decision to swing.

“There’s a lot of unwritten rules that are constantly being challenged in today’s game,” Woodward said. “I didn’t like it, personally. You’re up by seven [runs] in the eighth inning; it’s typically not a good time to swing 3-0. It’s kind of the way we were all raised in the game. But, like I said, the norms are being challenged on a daily basis, so just because I don’t like it doesn’t mean it’s not right.”

These rules and norms Woodward refers to are as ancient as the game itself. They are mostly based on sportsmanship, like not showboating after home runs or not running up the score when you already have the lead.

But this is professional baseball we’re talking about, not little league, and players are paid to go out every game and win. There are no awards in baseball for “best sportsmanship,” as far as I know.

Look across sports at some of the most heralded figures. Bill Belichick and Tom Brady were famous for never taking their foot off the gas in games, no matter the score. As for the teams that did…(See Super Bowl LI. Sorry Falcons fans).

When it’s contract time, players are not showing clips of them respecting the pitcher when they’re asking for more money. They’re showing the grand slams baby!

Lastly, let’s pretend Tatis Jr. never hits the grand slam. The Padres still have a strong lead, but then the Rangers come out the next inning and score four. Now, the Padres have to use their bullpen arms (a luxury in the age of COVID-19 baseball) to close out the game when they could have been rested for a more close match.

The big debate revolving around baseball today is how to market the game to younger demographics. The answer, in plain terms, is more highlight type of plays. Fans want home runs and slam dunks in their sports, not walks and free throws.

Players like Tatis Jr. should be celebrated, but instead fans and analysts critique his game for something to argue about.

Hating on instant offense and exciting at bats further perpetuates baseball’s boring reputation. Anyone trying to argue otherwise comes off as a grumpy old man shouting at the sky, which they might be.

The “Slam” Diego Padres are only a sample of what baseball is becoming. You can not change the direction the game is heading, you can only learn to love it. Come to the dark side, there’s much better baseball to be played.