Vero Beach, Florida – As if the colossal divide in American politics between the Clinton and Trump camps wasn’t enough, there now exists a humongous chasm in MLB circles as well.
It revealed itself after the recent Jose Bautista/Toronto Blue Jays vs. Rougned Odor/Texas Rangers brouhaha.
This is one on-field rumble that has come to represent much more than the usual hit-by-pitch anger and retribution scenario.
(And by the way, in that Blue Jays-Rangers dust-up, for once, an actual punch was landed — the best MAS has ever seen in a basebrawl — instead of the normal activity involving a lot of pushing and shoving, stepping on feet and “Don’t hold me back, let me at ‘im” nonsense.)
But the flush-on-the-jaw shot Odor laid on Bautista, which sent both Jose’s hat and sunglasses flying, is beside the point. It is the ramifications stemming from his Gennady “Triple G” Golovkin-type right hand that make this event very, very noteworthy.
Perhaps some backtracking is first necessary to fully understand the totality of what happened and how it may turn out to be a watershed moment in baseball.
It all started in the American League playoffs last fall.
After clouting what would turn out to be a game- and series-winning homer versus the Rangers, Bautista executed perhaps the most flamboyant bat flip in baseball history. (The Jays, led by Bautista and fellow slugger Edwin Encarnacion, are well known for their, um, plate panache after homers).
Bautista claims it was a happy celebration of a clutch hit.
The Rangers, though, bristled at the act, feeling Bautista was guilty of showboating in an “I’m a bad ass” manner, which they felt violated the time-honored “baseball code,” one that emphasizes humility.
After it happened, many fans, even the commissioner, were fine with Bautista’s actions and felt the act represented putting more “fun” in the game.
But, as it turns out, there is also still a very significant silent opposition, a MUCH greater number than MAS thought existed, who found Jose’s antics repugnant.
More on this in a bit.
For now, let’s move on to the next link in the chain of events that climaxed in Odor’s beaut of a right cross (which earned him a seven-game suspension; Bautista was given a one day vacay).
Right after that Bautista playoff homer bat flip, there was a mini flare-up. But you just knew the matter would not end there, that, sooner or later, Bautista would have to pay the Rangers’ price.
And his ticket would be literally and figuratively punched this season, in the last inning of the last regular-season game the two teams will play this year.
Bautista was drilled in the ribs with a Matt Bush fastball.
Jose was upset because the pitch was above the belt and decided to take that perceived indiscretion out on the next Ranger he could, second sacker Odor.
On a potential double-play ground ball to the shortstop, Bautista slid into second base very late, a la Chase Utley, as Odor made his pivot and throw to first base.
Luckily, Odor, sensing trouble, was able to leap over Jose and avoid a hit that almost certainly would have resulted in a severe knee or leg injury, like those sustained by New York Met Ruben Tejada (on Utley’s slide) and Pittsburgh’s Kang Jung-ho last season.
Incensed, Odor then shoved Bautista and yelled at him.
As Bautista moved toward him, Odor landed the punch heard ’round the baseball world.
And as it turns out, it is a VERY divided one.
Reading and hearing Internet and media comments on the incident, it became very evident that this incident represented much more than just a plunking/late slide controversy.
The responses clearly weren’t just the usual Ranger fan vs. Blue Jay fan favoritism of their guy and team.
It was much more involved than that.
First, there was the expected “the Rangers need to get over what happened last season” sentiment expressed by the “More Fun” aficionados.
The Texas ballclub’s silly adherence to a worn-out axiom is what precipitated this whole incident, they claimed.
With the growing number of fans who complain the players fail to exhibit enough excitement and don’t inject any fun into the game, I expected this incident to fan those flames even further.
And it certainly did.
What MAS did NOT anticipate, however, was the absolutely HUGE number of heretofore closeted, anti-excessive showboating denizens that also emerged to make their voices heard on the situation.
Silent majority or not, they came through loud and clear on the matter.
You would not believe how many folks were extremely happy that Bautista got plunked and then clocked because they felt it represented delayed justice and well-deserved comeuppance.
“Punk” and “jerk” were the most common and print-worthy terms their side used to describe Jose.
Legions, it seems, are determined not to cave in and join “The bat flip is hip” movement.
So, where do we go from here?
It is now obvious there are large numbers and strong sentiment on each side regarding the issue.
It is also evident that this is a situation that will likely NOT resolve itself organically, as in baseball gradually evolving to point where asinine, self-celebratory antics represent the norm, as is presently the case in the NFL and NBA.
A lot of teams, players and fans have apparently drawn a line in the sand and are digging in their heels, determined to NOT let baseball deteriorate beyond the point they feel it has already.
If you ask MAS, both sides have some valid points.
Could players show more NATURAL excitement?
But NOT the lame, preprogrammed variety now so rampant in the NFL and NBA as well as college football and hoops.
MAS is all for, say, Joe Carter leaping for joy as he did after his World Series-winning walk-off homer.
Or a Kirk Gibson “guts pose” after his Fall Classic dinger.
No one on either side is against that sort of celebration.
MAS can still recall the dour “I’m doing a double life sentence” home run trot of San Francisco Giant Jeffrey “Penitentiary Face” (his actual nickname) Leonard a while back.
MAS is also fine with pitchers doing a mini-fist pump after a big strikeout or even a bow and arrow-shooting shtick at the end of a game that isn’t aimed at foes and doesn’t cross the line of good taste.
But MAS is also in agreement with those who feel baseball is the last bastion of proper athlete deportment, and that fact is owed to MLB’s time-honored tradition of policing its own.
And he agrees that just because the rest of the sports world has drunk from the poisoned well, that doesn’t mean baseball has to follow suit.
This will be an interesting battle to watch as it unfolds in the future.
It is one that promises to drag on well past the merciful Hillary-Donald ending in November.
Contact MAS at firstname.lastname@example.org.