All the joy of a grand slam hit by an emerging superstar was muted because – horrors – it ran afoul of baseball’s unwritten rules.
Fernando Tatis Jr. swung at a 3-0 count, either missing or ignoring a coach’s sign with his San Diego Padres up 10-3 in the eighth inning against the Texas Rangers. He sent a blast into the stands and cleared the bases, but that was just the beginning of the conversation about the home run, which irritated even his own manager.
“He’s young, a free spirit and focused and all those things,” Padres Manager Jayce Tingler said after his team went on to win, 14-4, in Arlington, Texas. “That’s the last thing that we’ll ever take away. It’s a learning opportunity and that’s it. He’ll grow from it. . . . Just so you know, a lot of our guys have [a] green light 3-0. But in this game in particular, we had a little bit of a comfortable lead. We’re not trying to run up the score or anything like that.”
Ah, those pesky unwritten rules. They range from the superstitious (in the dugout, do NOT talk to a pitcher who has a no-hitter going; do NOT step on the foul line while going to and from the dugout) to issues of respect (do NOT admire a home run, do NOT indulge in “poor bat behavior”) to being smart (do NOT make the first or third out of an inning at third base).
Tatis’s first career grand slam was also his homer of the game and increased his major league-leading total to 11. He had seven RBI on Monday, becoming the first 21-year-old player since Hall of Famer Ron Santo in 1961 with a seven-RBI game. The San Diego Union-Tribune’s Kevin Acee reported that the first homer, a line drive, went 405 feet to left-center, the second 407 feet to right field.
Tatis can’t claim ignorance of unwritten rules or inexperience because his father played in the majors for 11 years (fun fact: Dad once hit two grand slams in one inning). “That was on me,” he said of not obeying the sign.
“I’ve been in this game since I was a kid,” he explained. “I know a lot of unwritten rules. I was kind of lost on this. . . . Those experiences, you’ve got to learn from it. Probably next time, I’ll take a pitch.”
Speaking of unwritten rules, when Ian Gibaut replaced Juan Nicasio, he immediately sent a pitch behind batter Manny Machado’s back.
“I think there’s a lot of unwritten rules that are constantly being challenged in today’s game,” Rangers Manager Chris Woodward said. “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.
“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. I don’t think we liked it as a group.”
Woodward planned to speak with Tingler, who formerly was a coach with the Rangers. “I think we’ll definitely have some discussion with it,” Woodward said. “I know Manny Machado really well, so we’ll have some dialogue about it. If they don’t think it was right, then I’m sure they’re going talk to him.”
Tatis found plenty of support outside his own clubhouse, with, among others, Trevor Bauer, Reggie Jackson and Johnny Bench coming to his defense and saying Tatis shouldn’t have to apologize for hitting a home run, unwritten rules be damned.”Fernando Tatis keep playing hard and playing great,” Jackson tweeted. “It’s a pleasure to watch you play, love your success and the Padres’ rise to be a winner. Keep leading the way. It ain’t easy to hit HRs. Keep bringing energy you have to the game. We need players like you.”
Bench came down squarely in favor of grand slams. “So you take a pitch…now you’re 3-1. Then the pitcher comes back with a great setup pitch…3-2,” he tweeted. “Now you’re ready to ground out into a double play. Everyone should hit 3-0. Grand Slams are a huge stat.”
Bauer, the Cincinnati Reds’ pitcher, offered succinct advice to Tatis, with four “written” rules for him.”1) Keep swinging 3-0 if you want to, no matter what the game situation is. 2) Keep hitting homers, no matter what the situation is. 3) Keep bringing energy and flash to baseball and making it fun. 4) The only thing you did wrong was apologize. Stop that.”