MLB players police unwritten rules for acceptable conduct
NEW YORK — Hall of Famer Joe Morgan knows that for more than a century, baseball players have policed themselves.
Like it or not.
Seven months after Jose Bautista's famous bat flip against Texas in the AL playoffs, he got hit by the Rangers and responded with a hard takeout slide that led to a brawl Sunday.
"If you were willing to show the other team up and to do that, then you've got to be willing to take what goes with it," Morgan said Monday.
Baseball is likely to issue discipline on Tuesday for the weekend fight, which led to six of the eight ejections in Toronto's 7-6 loss.
It was the last meeting of the regular season between the teams, and Bautista was facing the Rangers for the final time when rookie Matt Bush opened the eighth inning with a 96 mph fastball that hit the slugger on the left arm and ricocheted off a thigh.
Plate umpire Dan Iassogna warned both benches, and Justin Smoak bounced to third with one out. Bautista slid hard and late into the right leg of second baseman Rougned Odor and 8 feet past second base. Odor shoved Bautista with both hands, then threw a punch to his jaw that made Bautista's head snap back, causing his sunglasses and helmet to fly off. Dugouts and bullpens emptied.
Fans chanted "U-S-A! U-S-A!" and "Let's Go Rangers!" while also maligning the Blue Jays. By the time the game resumed nine minutes later, Smoak was called out for an inning-ending double play, Bautista, Odor, Toronto third baseman Josh Donaldson and Texas bench coach Steve Buechele were ejected. Jesse Chavez hit Prince Fielder on the right thigh with the next pitch, causing the ejections of the reliever and another coach.
Tension stemmed from Oct. 14, when Bautista hit a tiebreaking three-run homer against Sam Dyson in the seventh inning of Game 5 of the AL Division Series, admired the ball for a couple seconds until it glanced off the front of the second deck in left and then flipped his bat dramatically. After the home run trot, Edwin Encarnacion raised both arms — one holding a bat — in an effort to calm people in the crowd who were throwing objects on the field. Dyson took the gestures the wrong way, and dugouts and bullpens emptied as players gathered and shoved one another.
"The players set the tempo for that kind of stuff," former big league manager Jim Leyland said. "So where do the players draw the line? Did Bautista go over the line? I don't know."
Leyland thought back to a different era.
"I've seen black-and-white films, and I saw Babe Ruth rounding second base, taking his hat off, waving his hat to the crowd and everything. Well, was that offensive?" Leyland said. "So it's not like this stuff just started."
Texas did not retaliate until the seventh meeting between the teams this season.
"I thought it was pretty cowardly of them too to wait until my last at-bat to do that in the whole series," Bautista said. "They could have come out and done it, if they wanted to send a message. Again, it shows a little bit more of their colors."
The brawl triggered debate throughout baseball.
"Odor also dropped his arm on that play to possible hit @JoeyBats19 in the face," retired All-Star outfielder Torii Hunter tweeted.
"You know you're taught to throw low to prevent a guy from coming in high," Detroit pitcher Justin Verlander responded on Twitter.
Hall of Fame pitcher Goose Gossage criticized Bautista during spring training for the flip. Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred responded by saying "our younger players taking control of the definition of those unwritten rules is a lot better than some guy who's 67 years saying I did it that way and you do it the same way." But Manfred also said "the various groups that participate on the field are going to have to work through a middle ground."
Many complain that having umpires issue warnings — which lead to automatic ejections for subsequent hit batters — complicate policing the game.
"In my era, in the '80s and even before that, players took care of the business on the field — they just did," Kansas City manager Ned Yost said. "They did it in a lot of different ways — they did it sliding hard into second base; they did it by drilling guys — but when it was done, it was always done. But that's not the world we live in now. You just do what the rules say we do."
MLB Senior Vice President Joe Garagiola likely will issue suspensions after consulting with Chief Baseball Officer Joe Torre.
Morgan said he didn't have a problem with the bat flip. And he also took no issue with the Rangers' response. And with Bautista's reaction.
"I've seen guys flip bats, not like these guys do now, but I've seen guys flip bats and they get hit and everybody moves on," he said. "But also we see what happens. And then when Bautista gets to first base, it's just normal human nature. I guarantee you his arm was still hurting, wherever it hit him. The guy throws pretty hard, so wherever he hit him, it was still hurting, and he said I'm going to get me somebody at second base."