By Steven Urena
Joon Lee, Staff Writer for ESPN, wrote an article on April 8, 2020, about “unwritten baseball rules.” His first goal of the article persuaded the reader to accept things in baseball that used to be somewhat taboo. Examples are bat flips, untraditional attire, excessive celebration, etc.
So what is acceptable in today’s game? What’s going too far? What’s just right? There’s a lot of folks out there that will say, “let the kids play,” or “so baseball is not supposed to be fun?” or “why can’t players show emotion?”
At times it may seem like I am splitting hairs or even comparing apples to oranges. Baseball is very layered and deeply rooted in tradition. It’s hard for people that did not play baseball to understand why some actions are justified, and some are downright wrong.
I am fully aware that baseball is changing. Things that were a no-no 20 or 30 years ago are now acceptable. However, baseball should not be the Wild West. Have you seen a Little League game lately? More and more kids are emulating what they see on TV. Amateurs have no business bat flipping, walking down to first on home runs, or doing any other crazy nonsense than just having fun and showing raw emotion.
There’s nothing wrong with being excited about hitting a home run or making a diving catch. However, there is a fine line. If your son or daughter were on the mound and gave up a home run and the kid that hit the ball bat flipped, walked to first, popped their chain, and started jogging, you would not like it one bit. I know you Little League parents. Baseball should teach kids respect, not arrogance.
Let’s look back at some of the most recent and most controversial celebrations in the MLB. I attached YouTube links so you can see for yourself. Let me know in the comments how much of a Dodger homer I am or how much I hate the Astros!
Dodgers vs. Padres (2020 NLDS)
Fernando Tatis Jr. hits a missile to deep centerfield, and Cody Bellinger robs him of a home run. The catch ends the inning instead of putting the Padres up by one. The Dodgers and Brusdar Graterol are pumped. Words are exchanged, benches clear (sort of), and it ends with Graterol blowing kisses to Manny Machado, who then tells Graterol a four-letter word followed by “you.”
Was this bush league by Graterol? No. Why? The Padres had it coming. They Slam Diegoed their way through most of the season and upset just about everyone in their path. If you’re going to dish it out, then make sure you can take it. I lost a lot of respect for the Padres that night. The Dodger gave them a taste of their own medicine, and they could not take it.
Jose Bautista’s Bat Flip in the 2015 ALDS
Top 2 most iconic bat flips of the last six years. Playoffs, huge moment, go-ahead bomb. He stared a little, paused, and chucked the bat, but, honestly, it was not that bad. Given the magnitude of the moment, I would say this is NOT bush league. A go-ahead home run in the playoffs gives you some leeway.
Alex Bregman in the 2019 World Series
Bregman hits a home run off Stephen Strasburg in the first inning, and he carries the bat down to first base with him. When his teammate, Jose Altuve, saw this, he made the “uh-oh” face. This was definitely bush league. It’s the first inning, and there is plenty of ball game left. To make things worse, the first base coach drops the bat, and it’s lying on the ground. Bush league!!!
Juan Soto in the 2019 World Series
After Bregman’s antics, Soto had his chance for a little payback. Justin Verlander throws one up and in. Soto does his little Soto shimmy/shuffle, and Verlander barks back at him. Soto smiled and nodded his head. Soto hit the next fastball into the upper deck and carried his bat down to first base. Classic revenge.
Was this bush league? Nope! It was payback for Bregman’s actions. Verlander needs to relax and worry about pitching (plenty there to keep him busy). There’s no need for him to bark at Soto in that situation. You don’t like it, then strike him out and then say something.
Fernando Tatis Jr. in the 2020 Playoffs vs. The Cardinals
This one sits with Bautista’s bat flip as the best in the last six years. It was so good it’s on the cover of a video game. Any playoff game is going to be high intensity. This one was no different. The bat flip itself was not bush league, but, in my opinion, there is no need to walk halfway to first and then start running. Flip it and jog. I know it sounds like I’m nitpicking here, but you do certain things and certain things you don’t do. Any time you walk halfway to first, it’s disrespectful.
Max Muncy vs. Madison Bumgarner
Go get it out of the ocean!!!! Dodger fans remember this one really well. Muncy hit a rocket into McCovey’s Cove against Bumgarner. He watched it for a quick second, took maybe two steps, and started jogging. I saw nothing wrong with what Muncy did. Bumgarner took it very personally for no reason at all.
Carlos Gomez vs. the Atlanta Braves
The last time Gomez faced Paul Maholm, he may or may not have been hit intentionally. Gomez took it like a champ and walked down to first. The next time he faced Maholm, Gomez took him downtown. He admired his shot, did a little walking, and started jogging. Half the Braves team jawed at him as he rounded the bases, and Brian McCann stood on the baseline and did not let Gomez cross home plate. Benches cleared, a punch was thrown (at Gomez), and tempers flared. Any time you get hit intentionally and come back and hit a home run, you get a free one. The pitcher had his shot at you, and you got him back—sweet, sweet revenge. The Braves needed to put their heads down and accept it. This move was totally bush league by McCann. He looked like a whiny little baby. Braves got him, Gomez got you back. Suck it up.
Tim Anderson (White Sox) vs. Brad Keller (Royals)
Anderson hit a bomb off Keller in the second inning of a meaningless game and “shot putted” his bat almost back to his dugout. The next time he batted, Keller drilled him. What Anderson did was bush league. No need for that in the 2nd inning of a meaningless game. Keller did not like it and hit him right on the fanny. That’s the best place to intentionally hit someone. Excessive celebrations for no reason are grounds for getting hit.
Bottom line on bat flips…If a hitter is going to bat flip, then it should be in a big game and big moment. Hitters just need a little flip to get their point across. The bat does not need to go farther than the ball. Walking is usually not cool. Take a few steps, then start jogging. Every situation is different, and a hitter usually knows when he’s disrespectful. Stay classy!
Other Unwritten Baseball Rules
Chase Utley vs. The NY Mets in the 2015 NLDS
Dodgers vs. Mets in the NLDS. Dodgers are down one in the 7th—runners on first and third. A double play ends the inning. The rule is, DO NOT let them turn two. Utley is a ballplayer. He’s a gamer and knows this very well. It’s the playoffs and a huge moment in the game. Utley knew what he had to do. If you look at the slide, you’ll see that it was a hard-nosed play but not dirty (unless you ask Mets fans). From my angle, it looks like Tejada was upended and ultimately injured because he did a little spin. Had he not spun, Utley would have ended up in his way, not colliding with him. There was an uproar because of the injury. The slide was legal that year, next year, it was changed.
Fernando Tatis Jr.’s 3-0 Count
Swing away. These guys are trying to make a living, and making an out is detrimental to their pockets. This is the Major Leagues, not Little League.
The Nationals did the speed racer in their 2019 playoff run, and the Padres did the salsa dancing in 2020. As long as it’s in the dugout, almost anything goes.
Trevor Bauer’s Strut
If hitters have the green light to bat flip, pitchers are allowed some forms of celebrations. They are allowed the occasional antics and chest pump from time to time.
There is a right and wrong way to steal signs. MLB has rules in place that state technology cannot be used to steal signs. Astros used technology to steal signs. At times, the runner on second base can see the catcher’s signs and signal the hitter. This is not using technology, so it is not illegal. It can be frowned upon but not illegal. The runner on second can also look inside the pitcher’s glove to possibly pick signs.
Another “ethical” method of stealing signs is to look at the coach’s signals to the catcher or the coach’s signals to the batter. Players not in the game will attempt to decode the coach’s movements. If signs are picked, players use words or phrases to let the batter know what is coming.
Teams also try to pick up the pitcher’s tells. When the pitcher is holding his glove right in front of him with his palm facing his chest, he throws a fastball. If the glove is slightly tilted, it’s a breaking ball. If the glove is open more than usual, it is a change-up. Hitters also try to see how much the pitcher digs into his glove or look to see how much the index finger on his glove hand moves. If he digs in and throws offspeed, you got him. No technology, no biggie. Someone might get drilled, but that’s part of the game. Change up your signs, then move on.
Bunt to break up a no-no
You only bunt to break up a no-hitter if the game is within reach. I’ve seen players bunt to break up a no-no down 5 or 6 runs. It’s not over until it’s over, but at that point, defeat seems inevitable. If you are down 1 or 2 runs, you could see how a batter is trying to get on to win the game. Bunting just to break up the no-no and not to win the game is bush.
Sliding or Running Over Other Players
The general rule is you try not to injure anyone. A runner cannot deviate from his path to the base to run someone over. The fielder cannot block a base if he does not have the ball. If the fielder (most likely catcher) blocks the path with the ball in their mitt, game on.
Never ask for Manny Machado’s advice. That guy’s as dirty as a pair of gym socks.
Steal bases or bunt with big leads
Usually, when a team has a big lead, they should not attempt to steal, bunt, or put on any other types of plays. A team should attempt not to run it up. It cuts both ways. A team down by a ton of runs should also refrain from putting on any plays.
Never jinx ANYTHING!
This one is important, folks. Do not, I repeat, do not ever play around with jinxes. It goes straight from your lips to the ears of the baseball gods. Do not talk about a no-hitter when in progress, do not claim victory when the game is still going on, do not say someone is automatic, do not try to “call” a home run, do not speak about the game. They can hear you. The second you mention it is the second it gets taken away. Please, folks, the baseball gods do not play around. They will strike you down.
This one is easy. Keep everything the same after you win. That means wear dirty socks, dirty jocks, eat the same food, sit in the same seats, rally caps, don’t drink Jobu’s rum, repetitive body movements, and slump busters (you’ll have to look this one up on your own kids). Never mess with a winning streak. They don’t happen often.
If the powers that be decide someone needs to be humbled with a little chin music, then make sure it is from the neck down. The best place is their rear end.
Don’t step on the baseline
DO NOT step on the baselines. They are always watching. Trust me, they know.
Times have changed. Anything goes. It’s not my money. Keep spending a fortune on your cleats!
The Urena Express appears every Wednesday at JoeTorosian.com
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