he sporting world seemingly came to a screeching halt last week when Texas Ranger Rougned Odor landed a pretty solid right to the jaw of Toront’s Jose Bautista after the Blue Jays’ slugger slid a little too hard into second base for Odor’s liking.
Seriously, everywhere you looked over the past few days you were certain to see coverage of this one punch eventually leading to what baseball commentators call a “bench clearing brawl.” I think that is a funny description for what happens when baseball players come out of their dugouts because they are angry at the other team. I mean, mostly these guys just stand around. Or they grab some guy from the other team and pull him away from the larger group of guys who are mostly just standing around. In all seriousness, I have never really seen a true brawl in a major league baseball game. That does not stop it from capturing the imagination of baseball fans who, clearly, are just biding their time until football season starts.
What I really wonder is, why does all other sports’ news fall to the wayside when one baseball player punches another? I mean, it is not really that big a deal, right? Or, maybe it is. Baseball is a game steeped in tradition and this tradition typically leads to a fairly emotionless effort from the guys on the field. Pitchers aren’t supposed to show up hitters when they strike them out. Hitters are expected to do the same.
This means they should not spend too much time watching their home runs or flip their bats after hitting a bomb. It was, in fact, this latter sin that Bautista committed against the Rangers in last year’s playoffs that led to Sunday’s dustup. Memories are long in baseball, the Rangers eventually retaliated against him by drilling him with a pitch in Sunday’s contest. As you probably know, this is another old baseball tradition. If you do something to show up the other team, then you are probably going to get hit by a pitch. Eventually.
Bautista, obviously not a follower of baseball’s unwritten rules (remember that bat flip), took umbrage at being plunked and so he decided to try and take Odor out when sliding into second base. It was a clean play, but the Rangers were already mad and so their young second baseman did something he shouldn’t have and the world watched in blood-thirsty excitement.
You see what I’m getting at? People generally think baseball is boring, so when the players decide to show some emotion and have a fight, it is a big deal. My daughter perfectly summed up the general populace’s feelings towards baseball when she asked me the other day why I watch it every day. I told her it was because I enjoyed the games. She responded by telling me she didn’t know what I enjoyed about watching guys stand around for three hours. But, I bet if those guys were fighting for three hours, she would change her tune. In fact, I am sure of it.
Baseball history is full of long-remembered fights. Pedro Martinez throwing ancient Don Zimmer to the ground, Nolan Ryan putting Robin Ventura in a headlock, Pete Rose and Bud Harrelson going at it in the 1973 NLCS. There are entire web sites devoted to nothing but baseball fights. So the fighting is nothing new, and neither is the fascination with it when it happens.
All of the attention certainly raises questions about the future of the game though. The best player in the National League, Bryce Harper, has already said that he wants to bring ‘fun’ back to baseball. By this, he means he wants players to be able to show as much emotion as they like. Does this include fist pumps, bat flips, possibly dancing? I’m not sure about the last part. But it will be interesting to see where this movement goes as we move further way from the staid past of the game into the brave new world populated by young players who did not grow up being taught the unwritten rules, or those who just chose to ignore them.
One thing is for sure, as the game experiences these growing pains, there will be more incidents like what happened Sunday. And I am almost positive people will continue to be transfixed whenever one baseball player decides to punch another one.