Fernando Tatis Jr. vs. The Unwritten Rules of Baseball

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Issue 1, Volume 111

By Sam Levine, Maya Brosnick 

When Padres shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. stepped up to the plate with the bases loaded on Monday, August 17, there was no bad blood between the San Diego Padres and the Texas Rangers. The Padres were just beating the Rangers 10-3 in a game that seemed over. Rangers pitcher Juan Nicasio threw three straight balls, and then, with nowhere to put Tatis, threw a fastball that Tatis deposited into the right field for a grand slam that gave San Diego a 14-3 lead. The Rangers then brought in a new pitcher, who, on his first pitch, threw behind Padres third baseman Manny Machado’s head, clearly intentionally. Why? Because they believed that Tatis had broken an “unwritten rule” of baseball.

Baseball has a series of unwritten rules, mostly centered around respect for the opposing team. For example, players should not steal bases or score extra runs when ahead by a lot. It was these “rules” that led the managers of both the Rangers and the Padres to shame Tatis for his choice to swing 3-0 and add to his team’s run count.

"I didn't like it, personally. You're up by seven in the eighth inning; it's typically not a good time to swing 3-0,” Rangers manager Chris Woodward told reporters after the game. “It's kind of the way we were all raised in the game.”

Instead of enjoying himself after his first career grand slam, Tatis spent his evening apologizing for doing his job. “I know a lot of unwritten rules, but I was kinda lost on this one,” he said in a postgame interview. “Probably next time, I’ll take a pitch now that I learned from it.”

After Tatis apologized for scoring runs, which ironically is what he gets paid to do, other players supported him on social media.

"He did exactly what he was supposed to do swinging at a 3-0 pitch, and that's hit a grand slam. I don't know if you can be that ticked off about it,” Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo told ESPN. "Our job is to get a hit every single time we go to the plate."

Pitchers as well as hitters are on Tatis’s side. “Don’t like it…don’t fall behind 3-0,” Cardinals starter Jack Flaherty tweeted. “It’s pretty simple.”

Reds pitcher Trevor Bauer chimed in as well, telling Tatis, “The only thing you did wrong was apologize. Stop that.”

Unwritten rules have been an uncomfortable barrier between current and past players for years. Older, retired players seem to be sticking to tradition, while younger stars like Tatis are changing the way baseball is played.

There’s a reason Tatis was unclear about the unwritten rule that he “broke,” and that’s because it has become a relic of the past. These “rules” of baseball have been in place for a long time, but baseball has changed a lot since then. For instance, bat flips that were once deemed disrespectful are now a huge aspect of the game’s culture. Additionally, the average number of home runs per has ballooned from 0.26 to 1.3 in the last century, and the average speed of a fastball has gone up three miles per hour in the last decade alone. It’s natural that the game evolves and it makes sense that the rules do too.

The Blue Jays proved that no lead is safe just three days after Tatis’s grand slam by rallying from down five in the sixth inning of a seven-inning game against the Phillies, gaining the lead in a game they were thought to be way out of. The Phillies had a 98 percent win probability in the middle of the sixth, and the Padres had a 99.6 percent win probability when Tatis came up to the plate. But 99.6 is not 100.

This scenario between the Blue Jays and the Phillies, all too reminiscent of the showdown between the Rangers and Padres, serves as a reminder that the game is not over until the final out is recorded. Tatis actually proved this point while hitting his grand slam; if a single swing can put four runs on the board, then why should a seven run lead be enough to stop trying?

So what did Tatis do after his apology? He stole third base with a six run lead the very next day—against the pitcher who threw behind Machado no less, suggesting that despite the backlash, some unwritten rules may not be around for much longer.