Oakland A’s Clinch the West While the Tampa Bay Rays are One Win Away from Clinching the East

The shortened 2020 Major League Baseball (MLB) regular season is heading into the final innings.

This means teams are jockeying for postseason positioning in the expanded playoffs that promise to look like nothing that has been witnessed before; based on among other things neutral site fan free bubble games played in the middle of a global COVID-19 pandemic that has killed over 200,000 Americans.

From the beginning, I have held firm that I do not believe that a 2020 MLB season has any business occurring during a global COVID-19 pandemic. Nothing that could happen this season will change that opinion.

However, since a 2020 MLB season is being played, there are some things that have made me smile during the 2020 COVID-19 season.

During this year of pandemics, wildfires, hurricanes, murder hornets, rare mosquito borne illnesses, coin shortages, and rudderless federal leadership, it is important to remember to smile now and then and enjoy the sweet, sweet irony when it rolls around.

Such was the case when I read that the Oakland A’s captured the American League West Division title and the Tampa Bay Rays are a win away from capturing the American East Division title.

While I am more excited about the prospect of the Rays winning a World Series, I have to admit the A’s taking the division title away from the Houston Astros sounded about as sweet as a Louisville Slugger playing a dugout trash can like an 808 drum in the club.

While I am more excited about the prospect of the Rays winning a World Series, I have to admit the A’s taking the division title away from the Houston Astros sounded about as sweet as a Louisville Slugger playing a dugout trash can like an 808 drum in the club.

Although the Astros will likely still make the playoffs, I take great solace that in a season where their cheating was revealed, they did not capture a division title.

For anyone who may have forgotten, right before the start of Spring Training 1.0, the MLB Commissioner’s office announced that the Astros had been caught cheating during the 2017 season. The cheating scheme came to light when former player, Mike Fiers, outlined the plan to a pair of journalists after leaving the Astros.

Watergate had Woodward, Bernstein and Deep Throat. Trashcangate had Rosenthal, Drelich, and Fiers.

The fact that the person who blew the trash can lid off of the cheating happens to play for the Oakland A’s makes the situation even sweeter.

Although three managers and a general manager were fired, many people, including myself, feel that the Houston Astros players got off too lightly for their roles in the cheating that occurred during the 2017 season. So, since no players were suspended or fined, the next best punishment would be for the Astros season to end as quickly as possible and without any postseason victories.

In another sweet dose of irony, Minute Maid Park was chosen as one of the four neutral site bubbles for the postseason and will host two of the four National League Division Series. The World Series will take place in the Texas Rangers brand new Ballpark in Arlington, TX.

Assuming the Astros make the playoffs, they will play in either San Diego or Los Angeles. Fingers crossed that they play in Los Angeles and some snarky clubhouse manager leaves them some welcoming messages in their lockers from the Dodgers.

Assuming the Astros make the playoffs, they will play in either San Diego or Los Angeles. Fingers crossed that they play in Los Angeles and some snarky clubhouse manager leaves them some welcoming messages from the Dodgers.
Photo R. Anderson

The Dodgers were most likely cheated out of a World Series title against the Astros in 2017. Based on the bad blood that has boiled during the match ups between the teams this year I am sure any messages left in the clubhouse would be illuminating.

Now, some people may think that I am being too harsh on the Astros. Perhaps 2019 me would have agreed with that statement. But, 2020 me has no patience for rewarding cheaters like the Astros.

That is not to say that the Oakland A’s are totally in the clear in terms of cheating in their history. One need only look at the Bash Brothers of Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire who were teammates on the Athletics for seven seasons; which included a World Series title in 1989.

Both McGwire and Canseco were tied to statistic enhancing steroid use that has kept them out of the Baseball Hall of Fame; along with many other players tied to the MLB steroid era.

As I have noted before, although a player enhanced with steroids is likely to hit more home runs, they still have to be able to recognize the pitch and know when to swing at the ball. A player who is tipped off on what pitch is coming, is a whole other level of cheating, especially when an entire lineup is taking part.

So, I contend that the team that brought the baseball world sabermetrics, Moneyball, and the Bash Brothers is not without their own past controversies. However, I will take the Oakland Athletics alleged indiscretions and crimes against baseball over the acts of the 2017 Houston Astros any day of the week.

Austin Meadows started the 2020 season in COVID-19 quarantine. He may end the season on the injured list. While Meadows may not be in the lineup, the Rays have the roster that could lead them deep into the postseason.
Photo R. Anderson

But enough about the American League West and the Astros. I grew up a fan of the American League East and that is where my true allegiance resides.

The Tampa Bay Rays have done what the Tampa Bay Rays do. Not only have the Rays survived one of the toughest divisions in baseball, they have thrived with the best record in the American League.

I would love to see the Rays return to the World Series for the first time since 2008 and finally be able to hang a World Series Championship banner along the catwalks of Tropicana Field.

Hopefully if the Rays do end up winning it all this year the world will open in time for me to travel to the Trop next season to watch the celebration as they kick off the defense of their title.

Back to back wins by the Washington Nationals and the Tampa Bay Rays would certainly make this Maryland born, and Florida raised writer extra happy.

Watching the Astros implode down the stretch would be another source of happiness. There may come a day when I cheer for the Astros again but that day will not be in 2020, nor do I think that day will be in 2021.

I would love to see the Rays return to the World Series for the first time since 2008 and finally be able to hang a World Series Championship banner along the catwalks of Tropicana Field.
Photo R. Anderson

The sad fact is the Astros would have been a good team even if they hadn’t cheated, but they got greedy and took shortcuts to be even better.

There are no shortcuts in life, baseball, or pandemic responses.

Anyone who tells you otherwise is likely in denial, or running for reelection from an echo chamber in a bunker beneath a large white house near the Potomac River.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some Rays playoff baseball to prepare for.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

COVID-19 Outbreaks at Colleges Nationwide Should Surprise Absolutely No One

It has been said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

Perhaps nowhere is that statement truer in 2020 than in the world of college football.

Consider if you will, the University of Houston Cougars. The Cougars were set to kick off the 2020 season with a game against the Memphis Tigers, but the Tigers had a COVID-19 outbreak and had to cancel the battle of the big cats on the gridiron.

Never fear thought the intrepid Cougars, we will just schedule a game against the Baylor Bears to fill the slot left open by Memphis canceling. Come hell or high water we are going to play football this year the Cougars shouted confidently to their fans.

While the Cougars had managed to dodge one COVID-19 outbreak and find a new opponent, the other shoe dropped the day before kickoff when it was announced that the Baylor Bears also had to cancel the game since, like the Memphis Tigers before them, the Bears were also dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak within their ranks.

Cougars and Tigers and Bears, oh my!

So, while some teams have managed to cobble together enough healthy players to field a somewhat competitive team, other schools are yet to kickoff the season either due to their own outbreaks of COVID-19, or outbreaks on their opponent’s roster. The list of teams canceling games continues to grow as COVID-19 case counts rise from the east coast to the west coast and all points in between.

While the University of Houston Cougars had managed to dodge one COVID-19 outbreak and find a new opponent, the other shoe dropped the day before kickoff when it was announced that the Baylor Bears also had to cancel the game since, like the Memphis Tigers before them, they also were dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak within their ranks.
Photo R. Anderson

To think that there wouldn’t be outbreaks of COVID-19 on college campuses is completely idiotic, or if one prefers, insane.

From coast to coast colleges are having to place students on lock down as they try to get a handle on the virus that is sweeping the nation like an ear worm song of summer.

The reason for the outbreaks on college campuses can best be summed up as college kids being college kids. While some students are socially distancing and wearing masks, others are having large parties and foregoing the masks and social distancing. Apparently not even a global pandemic can stop the party for some students.

The reaction to COVID-19 on college campuses mirrors the overall reaction within American society. Some people are heeding the warnings and trying to stop the spread of the virus, and others just want to party like the virus does not exist and pack hangers at airports shoulder to shoulder.

This just in, COVID-19 doesn’t care if you don’t care about it. The virus will infect you whether you think it is a hoax or not.

And, it is not like college athletes are being sequestered from the regular student population on campus, so any outbreak on campus puts the athletes at risk. One could even go a step further and say that the fact that athletes are traveling from city to city to play games means that they could be bringing COVID-19 back to their campuses.

But, by all means, play that college football to earn those lucrative television dollars. For those who question whether money is the real reason behind the push to play college football in the middle of a global pandemic, I submit to you the Big 10 Conference.

The fact that college football games are being played in 2020 proves that not even a global pandemic can stop the quest to win the National Championship trophy. That statement is not a compliment.
Photo R. Anderson

The Big 10 Conference was one of the first leagues to say, “you know what? We care more about our students as human beings than we do about them as commodities. As such, we do not feel it is safe to play sports this year.”

I applauded the Big 10 when they made that decision. Unfortunately, soon after they announced they weren’t going to play, the bullies started harassing them and calling them wimps and losers. Parents threatened to sue if their kids couldn’t play. It quickly went downhill from there.

Instead of standing their ground against the bullying that reached all the way to the oval office in Washington D.C., the Big 10 reversed course and decided that they would play football after all to get their slice of the pie.

The bully in chief did a victory lap and claimed responsibility for bringing football back to the huddled masses of the Big 10 by shaming the schools into playing. I suppose people demanding the return of Big 10 football were afraid that they might actually have to talk to their families on Saturdays if there wasn’t any football to watch.

Don’t get me wrong, as I have said many times, I love watching college football and would like nothing more than to watch games in packed stadiums from the time I wake up until the time I go to bed each Saturday in the fall.

But this is not a normal fall, and pretending that it is a huge slap in the face to the friends and families of the 200,000 Americans who have died from COVID-19. It is also a slap in the face to the people who are still battling symptoms of the disease months after being deemed “cured.”

I love watching college football and would like nothing more than to watch games in packed stadiums from the time I wake up until the time I go to bed each Saturday in the fall. However, this is not the year for such things.
Photo R. Anderson

Finally, it is a slap in the face to the millions of front-line essential workers who are risking their lives every day to take care of the people with COVID-19, while also providing services like grocery pickup for people to help them avoid catching COVID-19.

Insisting on playing football in the middle of a pandemic is a lot like someone who insists on keeping a tee time at the golf course in the middle of a hurricane.

Much like our imaginary golfer who has to hit the links, the people determined to play football in the middle of a pandemic are hoping that they can stay in the eye of the storm where it is nice and calm while the rest of the world deals with the devastating wind and storm surge.

Hurricanes don’t work that way, and COVID-19 doesn’t work that way. In hurricanes and pandemics, things get worse before they get better and how much they impact people depends an awful lot on the steps they take before the storm hits. In short, neither disaster cares that you have a tee time.

College football is certainly not alone in the desire to bring live sports to the masses.

After insisting that teams be allowed to play in their own Ballparks for the regular season, I applauded Major League Baseball (MLB) for finally seeing the need to use bubbles for the postseason. With the expanded MLB playoffs taking place in four Ballparks in two states MLB finally is making wise decisions, even if they are coming a few months late.

Of course, football is not using bubbles, unless you are referring to a bubble screen pass to a tight end. Instead, football says, let some fans come and watch us play and we will entertain you like there isn’t a pandemic, five named storms in the Atlantic Ocean and wild fires raging uncontrolled in much of the west.

Speaking of those fires, the smoke and air quality in Seattle is so bad that the Mariners cannot even play in their home Ballpark and are being forced to have “home” series in other team’s Ballparks.

But go ahead and ignore the science related to how viruses are transmitted and how global warming is real. Saying a lie over and over again like “nobody could have reacted better,” and “it will cool down someday,” doesn’t make it real.

Yes, insanity definitely is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. You know what is not insane? Not playing sports in the middle of a pandemic and actually having a centralized plan for how to get a handle on the disease.

Instead of being so focused on the economy, elected officials should be doing everything in their power to end the disease by listening to the science and not the stock market.

What good is an economy if no one is alive to spend any money in it, or there are no workers left to do those essential jobs that keep the wheels of the country spinning.

There will be a time when sports can return. This is not that time.

Despite science and common sense telling them that playing sports during a pandemic is not wise, teams will continue to battle outbreaks as they hobble down the path to crown champions; because apparently that is what some leaders think the people want.

This is truly a let them eat cake moment, or in this case, a let them eat nachos as the world around them burns, floods, and gasps for air on ventilators.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am off to place my guess in the office pool for what team the University of Houston tries to schedule next to start their ill-advised season.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

 

Way Back Wednesday: Remembering Watching the Blue Wahoos while Pensacola Recovers from Hurricane Sally

Editor’s Note: When I turned on the television on September 16, 2020, and saw the flooding in downtown Pensacola, FL, my heart sank. Streets had turned into white capped canals filled with flooded cars. The reason behind the flooded streets was Hurricane Sally.

Sally’s storm surge turned one of my favorite towns into a soggy mess. While I wish the people of Pensacola a speedy recovery, and cannot wait to return to my favorite beach, favorite ballpark, favorite lighthouse and favorite aviation museum, I know that the City of Five Flags will bounce back stronger than ever.

In the meantime, please enjoy this column from April 8, 2013 about a visit to my absolute favorite Minor League Baseball Ballpark, Blue Wahoos Stadium in Pensacola, as part of our occasional Way Back Wednesday feature.

This past weekend I took my first baseball road trip of the 2013 season to book end the opening week of the baseball season.

After starting the week at the home opener for the Houston Astros, the week was rounded out with a trip to Blue Wahoos Stadium in Pensacola, FL for a Southern League game between the home standing Blue Wahoos and the visiting Tennessee Smokies.

Prior to moving to Texas, the bulk of my non-Spring Training in person baseball watching was through Southern League games at Tinker Field in Orlando FL.

Despite moving about 800 miles away from the borders of the Southern League, to this day I still try to catch Southern League games whenever I can.

I am sure this is partially due to history and familiarity with the league and the various teams. However, a lot of it is also based on the fact that there is some good baseball being played on the farm teams of the Southern League.

Such was the case on this colder than normal April night at the stadium on the bay.

Pensacola’s Blue Wahoos Stadium is a true gem among Ballparks and boosts a bay side view that can often include spotting the Blue Angels returning home from an Air Show.
Photo R. Anderson

More on the game in a bit. I feel it is important to stop and mention the weather at game time and throughout the festivities.

Anyone who knows me well, most likely knows the following two things about me. First, I check the weather constantly before a trip to make sure that I am properly prepared for the conditions.

Second, it takes in awful lot for me to be cold. I am the type who has a fan going year-round and I have not turned the heater on in my house in over 8 years.

So, after checking the forecast before heading to the game, I was fairly satisfied with my no jacket required assessment. Unfortunately, while the temperature was within a good short sleeve window, in my haste to make it to the game after a nine-hour drive to the ballpark I forgot to account for the wind chill and feels like factor.

To say it was cold with the wind coming in off the bay would be an understatement. How cold did it feel?

It felt cold enough that I was seriously considering buying a $100 jacket in the gift shop, or at the very least a $60 sweatshirt to try to stay warm. How a jacket and sweatshirt can cost that much is certainly another story for another day.

It was clear skies at game time but as the flags indicate there was a stiff wind blowing.
Photo R. Anderson

At least I was not alone in my frigid feelings. Apparently, the guy sitting to my right had also made the same error in judgment as we were the only two people in the ballpark wearing short sleeves.

As the innings wore on, we became very close as we tried to block the wind and stay warm. Not a word was spoken but a knowing nod was all that was required to show that the contest was one to see who could last the longest.

He ended up leaving in the bottom of the sixth inning which meant I just had to make it to the seventh inning stretch to get the victory in the two cold guys challenge. Yes, boys and girls this is what men do, we turn everything into a contest.

So, I made it an extra half inning and then packed up my bobble head, souvenir cup and other assorted stadium items and walked the 10 blocks back to the car.

Although the game was a very lopsided affair and included a Man versus Wild like survival challenge in the stands, there were several items of note that occurred.

Billy Hamilton stole a record number of bases during the 2012 season and became immortalized as a bobble head during the 2013 season.
Photo R. Anderson

It was Billy Hamilton bobble head giveaway night. For those who are unfamiliar with Billy Hamilton he set the single season stolen base record with 146 stolen bases in 2012.

I met Billy last season when he was about four steals away from the record and although he has moved on to the Triple-A affiliate of the Reds it was nice to be there for the bobble head night and close the circle as it were.

I have little doubt that after one more season of seasoning in the Minors Billy Hamilton will make the Reds roster and show his speed in front of the larger audience.

I have always enjoyed the art of the stolen base. Major League Baseball’s all-time stolen base leader Rickey Henderson was always a favorite player of mine. When everyone in the stands knows that you are going to try to steal the base and you still manage to do it, that is some serious talent and is something to be respected.

Billy Hamilton has a very good chance to be a Rickey Henderson like player and set the base paths on fire. And when he does, I will be one of the people who gets to say I knew him when.

While Billy Hamilton was not in attendance for his bobble head night there was another player who was certainly worth paying attention to.

Ludovicus Jacobus Maria Van Mil, or the more sportswriter friendly Loek Van Mil, is the tallest pitcher in Professional Baseball topping out at 7’1”.

At 7’1″, Ludovicus Jacobus Maria Van Mil of the Blue Wahoos is the tallest pitcher in baseball.
Photo R. Anderson

During his warm-up pitches it became very clear that he was a very tall man. Van Mil is currently being targeted as a relief pitcher but time will tell whether he can find the right balance between control and velocity to make it to the Big Leagues.

As with my previous visit to the ballpark there was a lot of opportunity to people watch. Being seated directly behind the all you can eat party deck provided ample amounts of entertainment.

One fun game was the how many trips through the hot dog and hamburger line will particular people make game. Of course, the rush of steam when the hot dog tray was opened provided a little bit of warmth for me as well so I was certainly counting on people making as many trips as possible.

But despite a losing effort by the home team, cold temperatures, and certain annoying fans, my first road trip of the 2013 baseball season was certainly enjoyable. I came, I cheered, I left and I have the bobble head to prove it.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I think it is time to plan another road trip.

Copyright 2020 R Anderson

Foot Note: Billy Hamilton made his MLB debut with the Cincinnati Reds in 2014 where he remained for several seasons. In 2018, Hamilton played for the Kansas City Royals. In 2019, Hamilton was a member of the Atlanta Braves. So far in the shortened 2020 season, Hamilton has been a member of the San Francisco Giants, New York Mets, and Chicago Cubs.

Sadly, Loek Van Mil, died on July 28, 2019 after sustaining head injuries during a December 2018 hiking accident in Australia. He was 34-years-old.

In the time since my last visit in 2018, the Blue Wahoos changed their MLB affiliation from the Cincinnati Red to the Minnesota Twins.

Remembering Milo Hamilton Five Years After His Death

Thursday, September 17th marks the fifth anniversary of the passing of Hall of Fame Broadcaster Milo Hamilton, the long-time radio announcer for the Houston Astros.

While I no longer support the Houston Astros, I have fond memories of the years I spent listening to Milo Hamilton back when I did root root root for the Astros. Whether it was listening to games from home, or listening to the last innings of a game while driving home from the Ballpark, Milo Hamilton was as much a part of my Houston Astros traditions, as buying cotton candy from my favorite Ballpark vendor.

It is fair to say that I am not the only one who felt that the world of baseball grew a little dimmer with the passing of Milo Hamilton. His calls of “Holy Toledo” echoed from a record 59 Major League Baseball Ballparks during a nearly six-decade career.

Although he is gone, Milo Hamilton, shown in bobblehead form will live on in the memories of generations of fans and in the archives of the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Photo R. Anderson

As one of the last of the golden era of announcers, Milo Hamilton worked for the St. Louis Browns (1953), St. Louis Cardinals (1954), Chicago Cubs (1956-57, 1980-84), Chicago White Sox (1962-65), Atlanta Braves (1966-75), Pittsburgh Pirates (1976-79) and the Houston Astros (1985-2012).

Milo’s 60 years broadcasting Major League Baseball games is second only to Los Angeles Dodgers’ broadcaster Vin Scully who finished his career with 67 years in the booth.

Although retiring from full time broadcast work in 2012, Milo remained a special ambassador for the Astros and made several on field appearances up until June of 2015.

While Milo’s career encompassed half of the 20th Century, and 12 years of the 21st Century, I did not discover him until 2000 when I moved to Houston, and listened to him regularly until his last broadcast in 2012.

Those 12 seasons of listening to Milo helped me feel a connection to a forgotten era of broadcasting. Milo had a relaxed style that captured the action on the field with a conversational ease that few broadcasters can get right.

One of Milo Hamilton’s final appearances at Minute Maid Park occurred om April 18, 2015 when he honored the 50th Anniversary of the Astros partnering with NASA.
Photo R. Anderson

Although I read many books on Red Barber, Vin Scully and other great baseball broadcasters of the Golden Age, until listening to Milo, I never had the opportunity to hear one of them live.

Milo Hamilton was the first of the old-school broadcasters I heard call a game live, but he was not the only one. I had the chance to listen to Vin Scully call a few games before he retired. During a trip to Dodgers stadium in Vin Scully’s final year before he retired I even caught a glimpse of him in the press box. There will likely never be a pair of announcers like Milo Hamilton and Vin Scully again.

With his Blue Star light shining brightly from the press box whenever a player did something spectacular, Milo was Houston’s version of Vin Scully. Like Scully, Milo was an announcer who had seen decades of changes within the game of baseball from behind his microphone and had entertained generation upon generation of fans.

Although Milo Hamilton was known by generations of fans in Houston, one of his most famous calls took place in Atlanta. That memorable moment, which is forever housed in the Baseball Hall of Fame archives, is the radio call of Henry “Hank” Aaron’s record-breaking 715th home run in 1974.

The call by Milo Hamilton of Hank Aaron’s home run goes as such, “Here’s the pitch by Downing. Swinging. There’s a drive into left-center field. That ball is going to be … out of here! It’s gone! It’s 715! There’s a new home run champion of all-time! And it’s Henry Aaron!”

Milo Hamilton signs an autograph during the 2014 Astros Fan Fest.
Photo R. Anderson

Ironically Milo Hamilton was behind the microphone capturing history in Houston when Barry Bonds tied Hank Aaron’s record in 2001.

As noted before, that record tying night by Barry Bonds also marked my first trip to see an Astros game in person. Although the night later became tainted by the drama surrounding Bonds’ alleged steroid use, it was definitely a fun way to visit a new Ballpark.

Other memorable calls made by Milo Hamilton include calling 11 no hitters as well as being on the call for Nolan Ryan’s 4,000th strike out in 1985.

Milo Hamilton was also there to cover the first trip the Houston Astros made to the World Series in 2005. When the Astros won the World Series in 2017, I thought of how much Milo Hamilton would have loved to have experienced that.

Later, when the Astros were busted for cheating during the 2017 season, I once again thought of Milo Hamilton and wondered how he would have addressed both the cheating, and the upside down 2020 MLB season.

With so many changes to how the game is being played in 2020, it would be interesting to have had the opportunity to hear Milo Hamilton’s take on things like fan free Ballparks, the universal DH, playoffs in a bubble, and pretty much everything else that has made 2020 a season like no other.

While Milo Hamilton was not around to see the Astros defeat Vin Scully’s Dodgers in 2017, one has to wonder whether he had a view with his trusty blue star from a heavenly sky box.

It is inevitable that the game of baseball continues to move on. As such, it is important to take time to remember those shoulders that the game is built upon.

Old baseball announcers are a lot like World War II veterans. There aren’t too many of them left, and we owe them all a debt of gratitude for the ways that they made our lives better through hard work and sacrifice.

If only that spirit of sacrifice and determination was more wide spread today. If it were, we would likely have a better handle on COVID-19 and all of the other issues that are plaguing us in 2020. We might even be worthy of a blue star shining brightly from a press box if we had had a clear national strategy, or coordinated response, to a virus that has killed nearly 200,000 Americans with no sign of stopping.

Earlier this year, I said that COVID-19 was spreading coast to coast like a wildfire. Now, we have real wildfires plaguing the western United States, hurricanes plaguing the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, as well as COVID-19 to form a terrible triple play of death and destruction.

The year 2020 has definitely been a handful to deal with, but reflecting on the fond memories of listening to Milo Hamilton provides some brief distraction from our infected, flammable dumpster fire of a year.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I feel like rereading Milo Hamilton’s autobiography and remembering a simpler time when the Houston Astros weren’t considered cheaters, and food poisoning was the only thing I had to worry about catching when eating inside a restaurant.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

Tatis, Jr. Slammed for Breaking an Unwritten Rule by Hitting a Grand Slam During a Blowout

A few weeks back, one of the unwritten rules of baseball came into play when Fernando Tatis Jr. ignored a take sign and converted a 3-0 pitch in the eighth inning into his first career grand slam with his San Diego Padres up 10-3 over the Texas Rangers.

Instead of celebrating Tatis hitting the first grand slam of his career, Padres manager Jayce Tingler, issued an apology to the Rangers for Tatis swinging on a take sign. The grand slam also resulted in condemnation from the Texas Rangers.

Rangers manager Chris Woodward, as quoted in a USA Today article, stated that, “There’s a lot of unwritten rules that are constantly being challenged in today’s game. 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.”

The Rangers showed just how much they didn’t like the grand slam during the next at bat when Rangers relief pitcher Ian Gibaut intentionally threw behind Manny Machado enacting another of baseball’s unwritten rules. For his actions of perceived retaliation, Gibaut was suspended three games and Woodward was suspended for one game..

With so many unwritten rules to remember, one has to wonder whether it is time to either write them all down to help players keep track of them, or if it is time to build a proverbial snowman and as the song says, “let it go.”

The Texas Rangers responded to an unwritten rule being broken by intentionally throwing behind Manny Machado enacting another of baseball’s unwritten rules.
Photo R. Anderson

For Tatis’ part, he noted that, “I’ve been in this game since I was a kid. I know a lot of unwritten rules. I was kind of lost on this. Those experiences you have to learn. Probably next time, I’ll take a pitch.”

And therein lies the rub, an unwritten rule is only good if those asked to live by it are aware of it. At the heart of the condemnation of Tatis for hitting the grand slam is the notion of not running up the score on an opponent when the outcome of a game is well in hand.

This is where the debate really come in. Even without unwritten rules explicitly stated, athletes are often programmed to try not to run up scores against opponents. The reasoning being similar to the Golden Rule, where they are doing unto others as they would hope others do unto them.

After all, on any given day depending on which way the ball bounces a team can be on either side of a lopsided game. But, this “golden rule” of athletics goes against the try your best to win philosophy that is instilled in athletes from an early age.

While professional athletes are given some leeway to police themselves when it comes to the so-called unwritten “mercy rules,” many youth athletics enforce mercy rules to the point of ending a game once the margin of score reaches a certain point

While professional athletes are given some leeway to police themselves when it comes to the so-called unwritten “mercy rules,” many youth athletics enforce mercy rules to the point of ending a game once the margin of score reaches a certain point.
Photo R. Anderson

Is showing mercy during an athletic competition mercy, or is it patronizing and outside the realm of sportsmanship and fair play? That question is at the heart of many debates related to mercy rules in many youth sports leagues.

Back when I covered high school sports as a reporter, I loved the mercy rule because, lopsided games are no fun to write about, and the earlier a game finished, the quicker I could rush back to the newsroom to write my story. Baseball games would be called if a team was up by 10 or more runs at the end of the fifth inning based on the assumption that the losing team would not be able to score 10 or more runs in two innings.

In other cases, where a game clock is involved, a running clock is utilized in an effort to end the game as quickly as possible to shorten the time a team has to run up the score against an over matched opponent.

Despite the selfish benefit I received at the time in terms of having more time to write my articles, in my mind I was the only one receiving mercy from a mercy rule. Despite gaining the benefit of more time to write before deadline, I always felt bad for the teams that were getting trounced.

Plus, it was newspaper policy to state that the game ended early due to a mercy rule which further showed how off a particular team was. Calling attention to the mercy rule added another degree of shame to their bad night.

One season while covering high school soccer, one of the teams I covered was so over matched that 90 percent of their games were called by the mercy rule before halftime. Late in the season when they actually got to play a full game it was like a victory for them.

While that particular high school had a football and basketball team that routinely won state championships, soccer was an afterthought.

Of course, this self-policing of trying to show sportsmanship by not running up a score can lead to cases of football players falling down at the 1-yard line to not score, versus running into the wide open endzone as their normal instincts would tell them to do.

With so many unwritten rules to remember, one has to wonder whether it is time to either write them all down to help players keep track of them, or if it is time to build a proverbial snowman and as the song says, “let it go.”
Photo R. Anderson

While well intentioned, and certainly a sports writer’s best friend in terms of making it an early night, it can be argued that mercy rules tarnish the spirit of sportsmanship and take away an opportunity for teams to rally and unite through shared adversity.

It also can lead to a patronizing effect where the team on the winning side of the equation is acting superior or starts to consider the other team has something to pity or despise. Another downside of mercy rules is that the team on the winning side can be shamed for being that much better than their opponent.

The issue of showing mercy in lopsided games is certainly tricky. In my opinion, games should be played in their entirety regardless of the score. Players should also try their best on every play. Asking a player to go against that instinct is asking them to be less than who they are and tarnishes the leave it all out on the field approach of competitive sport.

Yes, lopsided games are painful to watch, and even more painful to write about, but if a team can take their foot off of the accelerator in a lopsided game, what is to prevent them from doing so in other instances? Players should use lopsided games to try new things that can help them in future games versus heading to the locker room early.

Players owe it to themselves, and everyone else, to play their best on every play regardless of what the scoreboard says. Sportsmanship is shown through being gracious in both victory and defeat. Athletes need to go all out on every play knowing that some days they will be on the winning side, and some days they might suffer a terrible lopsided loss.

Those traits are learned in youth sports and carried throughout a person’s life. As such, youth sports need to go the distance and fight through adversity both on the field and off.

While well intended, mercy rules, and the other unwritten rules for lopsided games, have no place in athletics, even if that means that reporters have to work a little later into the night.

In the example of that Padres game against the Rangers, it was the job of the Texas pitcher to keep the ball out of the reach of Tatis’ bat to prevent the grand slam. It was not Tatis’ job to lay off of the pitch and take a walk, or strike out.

Let the players play, and keep the unwritten rules of the game to a minimum when it comes to asking players to forego their competitive instincts at the plate.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some unwritten rules to jot down.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson