The Punch

Last October, Jose Bautista hit a monster home run to help the Toronto Blue Jays win a playoff series against the Texas Rangers. He celebrated thusly

Bautista's bat flip sparked absurd conversation about "the right way to play the game" which, according to some, is to not celebrate doing something awesome in a massively important moment. Most people had no problem with it, but clearly the Rangers weren't pleased to be on the receiving end.

Yesterday, in the final game the two teams played this season, Bautista got hit in the 7th inning. He then slid hard into second base at Rougned Odor. The Texas 2nd baseman was none to pleased, confronted Bautista and then...kaboom.

Odor punch.gif

The punch again sparked debate, this time more validly, about a number of topics. So let's address them.

The Unwritten Rules

Baseball's rules about retribution are as much bologna as they are unwritten. For the record, they're not written anywhere. What is a valid reason for retribution, when that retribution is served and how are all agreed upon by no one. A bat flip after a massive home run is not a reason to throw at some one. That is absurd. However if you're going to throw at someone, it's generally thought of that it will be done well below the shoulders and at the first chance the next time you see them.

The Rangers waited until the last chance they had at Bautista this season to get their revenge for his appalling display of showmanship (read the previous phrase with as much sarcasm as you can muster and then borrow some from a friend for good measure). While many in baseball think that's chicken(bleep), I say why not? Why don't the Rangers get to decide when they want their revenge? It's all made up anyway! 

However if Odor's right hand was landed in response to Bautista's slide, and not the bat flip, I'm okay with it. Would I encourage it? No. Am I going to celebrate it? Nah. But I'm okay with it.

Bautista came in hard at Odor's legs. Slides like this can easily result in catastrophic injuries from torn ligaments to broken legs. While the bat flip and the Rangers general disdain for Bautista probably contributed, if Odor didn't like how late and hard Bautista slid and decided to defend himself, I'm not going to be up in arms about it.

The next time a player is barreling down on Odor, don't you think he'll think twice about trying to take him out? I would. Baseball fights never include landed punches. Odor's proven he's not your average baseball player in that department (and he's landed bombs before in the minor leagues).

Yep. Pretty much.

The retribution for retribution

What's next? The two teams don't play each other again until next season, unless they meet again in October. The Blue Jays hit Prince Fielder the next inning and Fielder laughed and walked to first base. Is that enough, or does Toronto feel the need to hit Odor? Will they throw at his head? If they do, that's garbage. You don't throw at guys' heads. Ever.

If Odor gets hit, what's his reaction? Does he charge the mound or just trot down to first because he knew it was coming? That's the ridiculous part about baseball feuds. Just like there's no concrete rule of how they start, there's not a concrete rule about how they end. When is justice served? Depends on who you ask.

The one entity that does have some amount of final say on closure for this particular incident is the commissioner's office, who will dish out suspensions today for all involved. While I have no problem with Odor defending himself, he doesn't get to do it for free. He should be suspended significantly, although not more than others who throw punches just because his landed. Bautista should be suspended for instigating the fight with the slide and then confronting Odor. I know that Odor approached Bautista, shoved him first and landed the first punch, but Bautista didn't exactly de-escalate the situation with a "hey man, I'm sorry, just playing hard" demeanor. Maybe just a game for him, but he'll get something.

The managers and maybe a few others who were involved in the fracas will see some pine time as well, but really the only thing that separates this from most other baseball brawls is someone actually landed a punch. Should the commissioner really send a stronger message because all the haymakers weren't whiffs? No thanks.

Fighting in sports

What place does fighting have in sports in general? It obviously depends on the sport. In hockey, it's seen as a necessary part of the physicality of the sport. In football, it happens and is often deemed necessary among teammates to keep an edge in practice. In baseball, it seems a necessary evil in a sport that prides itself on "self-policing" despite an asinine amount of unwritten rules that no one agrees upon. What about basketball?

It's sad and true, but I'm not sure to what degree. There's a definitive racial element to that. There's also a racial element to the initial bat flip that started all this. American born, predominantly white players define "the way the game is supposed to be played" and completely ignore the latin culture where celebrating is an accepted part of the game.

How stupid is that last sentence? "Where celebrating is part of the game." The fact that some people, who consider themselves protectors of the game, think sports shouldn't be fun drives me insane. Can't you tell?!

Anyway, if a player got undercut on a fast break, got up and landed a bomb resulting in a brawl broke, I'd be really curious to see the reaction. I think it would depend on the players involved, but largely I think the reaction would be similar to what's happened with a few more blasts from the hot take cannon. Some of those would be high profile and so it would feel very different, but I'm not sure how much different it would actually be.

In Summary

This is sports. Highly competitive people are completely charged on testosterone and stuff happens. There's no need for outrage. There's not need for a reexamination of our collective moral compass. It's interesting and worthy of discussion, but unless it starts happening every day there's no reason to worry about the example this is setting for our children. It's sports. Stuff happens. We talk about it. Tomorrow we'll talk about something else.

Specifically here tomorrow,, the podcast returns to discuss the NBA playoffs with Ian Eagle. I'll also discuss the Syracuse Athletic Director situation with Brent Axe and Russell Wilson's rather remarkable (in ways good and bad) commencement speech. 

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