Fernando Tatis Jr. was apologetic after hitting a grand slam that gave the San Diego Padres shortstop a career-high seven RBI against the Texas Rangers. The second-year infielder hammered an opposite-field home run after swinging on a 3-0 count with one out in the eighth inning, despite his Padres commanding a seven-run lead late in the game.
Tatis’ decision to swing on 3-0 drew the ire of both Padres manager Jayce Tingler and Ranger manager Chris Woodward:
Fernando Tatis Jr. smacked a grand slam on a 3-0 count with a big lead, leading to criticism from both managers.
What do you think about this unwritten rule in baseball?
— The Athletic MLB (@TheAthleticMLB) August 18, 2020
Tatis admitted he missed a take sign from the dugout, resulting in a home run (11) that gave him the lead over Los Angeles Angels center fielder Mike Trout (10):
“I’ve been in this game since I was a kid,” said Tatis after the game, according to The Associated Press. “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.”
The apology, however, seemed unnecessary, even with the context missing out of it. The announcers were also blissfully unaware of said context and rightfully celebrated the 21-year-old’s round-tripper, which extended the lead to a whopping 11 runs.
Tingler was less than pleased when Fernando Tatis Jr. returned to the dugout, letting him know he had missed the take sign. Tingler spoke about the miscommunication after the game:
“He’s young, a free spirit and focused and all those things,” said Tingler. “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 green light 3-0,” Tingler said. “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.”
Tingler is not trying to get on anyone’s bad side, considering this is his first stint as a manager in the major leagues and this was his return to his native Texas. But it was too little, too late, as the Rangers thew behind Manny Machado on the very next pitch.
Woodward also expressed his displeasure:
Rangers manager Chris Woodward on Fernando Tatis Jr. swinging 3-0 on his grand slam: "I didn't like it personally. You're up by 7 in the 8th inning, it's typically not a good time 3-0. It's kind of the way we were all raised in the game. But … the norms are being challenged."
— Sam Blum (@SamBlum3) August 18, 2020
The absurdity of this criticism is reaching astronomical levels. A quick look at the video shows reliever Juan Nicasio was not throwing to walk him; he actually threw the pitch down and away in the strike zone. Tatis just hammered it at the bottom of the strike zone and sent it to the opposite field.
Padres starting pitcher Zach Davies shared this view in his postgame comments, even if they vastly differed from Tingler’s criticism:
“A lot of guys talk about unwritten rules of baseball, but you’re in the heat of the moment, you’re gonna try to get your pitch as a hitter and he didn’t miss,” said Davies after the game, according to The Athletic. “So you can’t really fault him for that, in my opinion. Some guys feel differently, but everybody has their own opinion on it. Make sure your 3-0 pitch is a little bit better.
“I’ve been hit on 3-0 and homers have been hit off me, maybe not in the same situation, but that’s something that everybody kind of has a little bit different opinion on.”
ESPN MLB breaking news extraordinaire Jeff Passan shared his insight as well:
If you don't want someone to swing on a 3-0 pitch, don't start a plate appearance with three balls.
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) August 18, 2020
These are my unwritten rules.
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) August 18, 2020
This was Tatis’ first grand slam of his career, but it’s now muddied due to handwringing over baseball’s unwritten rules. At an unprecedented time in which the sport is struggling to survive amid a worldwide pandemic, this is the same exact behavior that is killing the game right before our eyes.
These unwritten, made-up rules are false concepts of dignity and honor that simply don’t exist on paper. Fernando Tatis Jr. played the game he loves the way he has always known it to be, and having him apologize for his greatness is yet another reason why baseball is stuck in a pointless rut.