Fernando Tatis Jr. did nothing wrong

Fernando Tatis Jr. in 2017. Photo by Marshall Dunlap via Flickr.

Major League Baseball has a marketing problem. They seemingly just can’t figure out how to successfully attract a younger generation of fans. Want proof? Just look at the follower counts of the major sports leagues on social media. On Twitter, the NBA has 30.9 million followers, the NFL has 25.3 million followers and the MLB has 8.6 million followers. The numbers are 49.6 million, 18.3 million and 6.6 million on Instagram respectively.

Once America’s Pastime, baseball clearly is in the No. 3 spot for sports popularity in the United States.

So, as a result of this, over the past couple of seasons Major League Baseball has been pushing its “let the kids play” marketing campaign. They’ve put out a couple of videos filled with MLB stars where they encourage individuality, emotion and going against the status quo.

The first one, released at the start of the 2018 Postseason, focuses on “rewriting the rules,” refrenced the numerous unwritten rules in baseball like not showing emotion or doing things like flipping your bat after a home run. Not only that, but they even got The Kid himself to narrate. Give it a watch.

Then, before the start of the 2019 season they released another video that featured a bunch of MLB stars all talking about their goals for the upcoming season. While yes, the parts with Alex Bregman and Carlos Correa have aged poorly, the message still holds up.

Let. The. Kids. Play.

It’s a good slogan. It’s a really solid attempt to get younger fans more into the sport. Overall, it’s a step in the right direction for a league that has had such a hard time taking that step.

But apparently, that’s all a front. People in baseball don’t mean that. If they do, then tell me why Fernando Tatis Jr. was essentially forced to apologize for hitting a grand slam on Monday.

Because baseball hasn’t evolved with the times. There’s still a surprisingly large number of people who refuse to let go of some of the most pointless and unfun unwritten rules in the fake book. Rules like don’t get excited when you get a big clutch hit. Don’t show emotion after you strike someone out after a hard-fought at-bat. And, in this case, don’t swing at a 3-0 pitch with the bases loaded late in the game with a seven-run lead. Apparently that’s a thing people care about.

By the time Tatis came to the plate in the 8th inning, he already had one home run on the night — a three-run shot in the 7th that put the Padres up 10-3. After Rangers pitcher Juan Nicasio gave up a leadoff single to Jurickson Profar, who entered the night hitting .185, and walking two of the next three batters, El Niño strolled to the plate with a chance to put the game away for good. Sure, seven runs is a lot, but the game is by no means in the books already.

In 2001, the Seattle Mariners were up 14-2 after five innings, so the M’s started pulling some of their starters. They actually even started doing so in the fifth inning when they pinch hit for John Olerud. They replaced Ichiro defensively in the top of the 6th and pinch-hit for Edgar Martinez in the bottom half, but then the Indians bats woke up. They put up three in the 7th, four in the 8th and five in the 9th to tie it up and then one in the 11th to win it. Ichiro and Edgar sat on the bench for 6th innings, helpless, watching their team blow a game in historic fashion and weren’t able to do anything about it.

The Mariners won 116 games in 2001, tying the MLB record. This could have been No. 117 (well actually, it would have been No. 81, but you know what I mean).

Sure, they came back from a 12-run deficit over the course of three innings, but the Rangers still had two innings to come back from a deficit five runs smaller.

Just look at last year, on Sept. 4, the New York Mets were up 5-4 on the Washington Nationals going into the 9th inning. The Mets scored five runs in the top half of the inning, seemingly locking the game up. There’s no way the Nationals could come back from that in one inning, right? Well, wrong. The Nats scored seven runs in the bottom half of the inning to walk it off, coming back from a six-run deficit while only recording one out.

Coming back from a seven-run deficit late in games happens. As the great Yogi Berra said, it ain’t over till it’s over.

That’s one of the things that makes baseball, in my opinion, the greatest sport there is. To quote Earl Weaver:

“You can’t sit on a lead and run a few plays into the line and just kill the clock. You’ve got to throw the ball over the damn plate and give the other man his chance. That’s why baseball is the greatest game of them all.”

Nothing is insurmountable in baseball. Certainly not a seven-run deficit with six outs to go.

So now, and I know it’s been a while, but back to the game.

Top of the 8th. 10-3 Padres. Bases juiced for Fernando Tatis Jr. 3-0 count. Juan Nicasio tries to throw a 92 mph fastball past Tatis to get a strike, and El Niño took him deep. Opposite field too, it was a very impressive blast.

The Game is now 14-3 Padres, Nicasio is taken out of the game and replaced by Ian Gibaut who now has mop-up duty, and the first pitch he throws is a fastball behind Manny Machado, who was up after Tatis.

Clearly a reaction to the imagined slight of giving up a grand slam on a 3-0 pitch in a game that was well within reach. What else did you want Tatis to do there? He saw a pitch he could crush and he did just that. Was he supposed to roll over and cede his at-bat because they were up seven? If so, then where’s the line? Is it fine to swing at a 3-0 pitch when the lead is only six, but not when it’s seven? Are you not supposed to swing at a 3-0 pitch ever when you have a lead, no matter how small? Is it fine to swing at the 3-1 pitch, and if so, then why is it an issue to swing at the 3-0 pitch?

There are two options. Either it’s never okay to swing the bat when you have a sizeable lead, no matter the count, or you can swing the bat whenever you want.

I prefer the option where they actually play the game.

Putting aside the fact that seven runs in baseball shouldn’t even qualify as a blowout and this game was more than within reach, both managers handled the situation incredibly poorly.

Rangers manager Chris Woodward, when asked about it, had this to say about Tatis after the game.

“I think there’s a lot of unwritten rules that are constantly being challenged in today’s game, Woodward said. “I didn’t like it personally. You’re up by seven in the eighth inning; it’s typically not a good time 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.”

Well, for one, Fernando Tatis Jr. is the son of — you guessed it — Fernando Tatis, who spent parts of 11 seasons in the MLB, so El Niño was quite literally raised in the game.

Not only that though, but this is coming from the same manager who was completely fine with his team intentionally dropping a pop up last season Mike Minor could try for his 200th strikeout on the season. That seems like a bigger violation of an unwritten rule to me.

Where was his outrage over the unwritten rules then?

In fact, he was quoted in an ESPN article after the game defending it.

“I didn’t love the idea that we dropped the popup at the end,” Woodward said. “But on the other side of that, they swung at three pitches in a row in the eighth inning down by two. If they have any beef with that, obviously I’m pretty sure [Red Sox manager Alex] Cora did, they chose to not try and win the game as well. They were trying to keep him from striking a guy out.”

Let me amend that quote for you to fit Monday’s incident.

“I didn’t love the idea of swinging 3-0 up seven in the eighth,” Woodward (should have) said. “But on the other side of that, we walked two guys to load the bases in the eighth inning … we chose the deficit was too big to try and win the game and gave up mentally. They wanted to keep playing though and there’s no problem with that.”

The internet never forgets.

And as if Woodward’s comments weren’t bad enough, Padres manager Jayce Tingler threw Tatis under the bus and said he should have taken a strike in that scenario.

Those comments look so much worse considering Tingler was a coach in the Rangers system for the past decade and a half. While I don’t think he was choosing his former team over his current team and franchise cornerstone, the fact it can even be construed that way means it probably shouldn’t have been said.

You have to stand by your players, especially when they did nothing wrong. I don’t want to say this is a firable offense, but he’s sure not making any friends in the locker room.

The criticism of Tatis for hitting a grand slam on a 3-0 count is just simply a bad look for baseball. For a sport that has a very hard time marketing itself, this is clearly one of the reasons why. Whenever a player is a bit too flashy, whenever they show a bit of emotion or whenever they arbitrarily do their job too much, they’re criticized. They’re told off by their teammates and coaches. They’re forced to apologize.

There’s absolutely no reason Tatis should have had to sit there and say next time he’ll do something different. 

Fernando Tatis Jr. did nothing wrong.

If you’re going to say “let the kids play,” then actually let them play.


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