Occasionally, Let the Kids Play can be as simple as actually letting the kids play. Fernando Tatis Jr. doing heroics for the Padres is a perfect example of this. Who among mainstream viewers cares what the count was when he swung?
Yesterday gave us another homer-hitting Padre with his own dose of controversy, and in so doing presented reason to explore some depths of baseball’s unwritten rules.
The Padre in question is Trent Grisham, and the homer in question came off of LA’s Clayton Kershaw, and tied the game in the sixth inning. The behavior in question was a pretty profound pimp job, which led to significant jawing between Grisham and the Dodgers bench while Grisham was still rounding the bases.
First, some scene setting. The Padres are chasing LA in the National League West, having won 11 of their last 13 to reduce a six-game deficit to 2.5 going into last night. Also, the Dodgers are really good. While they’ve been winning the last seven NL West titles, the Padres have finished last three times and next-to-last twice over the past five years, finishing an average of 27 games back.
So yeah, they’re excited.
And yeah, when they tie a game with a huge homer against a future Hall of Famer, they’re excited.
And yeah, when it’s a 23-year-old who has never in his life had so monumental a hit, he’s excited.
And he’s allowed to be.
Based on how Grisham exhibited that excitement, however, the Dodgers thought otherwise.
After his swing, Grisham stood near the batter’s box (as home run hitters will do), but instead of admiring his handiwork he turned toward the home dugout and exulted with his teammates. It took him nearly 10 seconds to reach first base.
Some Dodgers took exception to this, raising enough ruckus in their own dugout that Grisham acknowledged it as he rounded third. Perhaps in response, he bounded atop home plate with both feet, raising the temperature to the point that plate ump Mark Ripperger warned the Dodgers to remain in their dugout.
”They wanted me to run and that was really about it,” Grisham said after the game in the San Diego Union-Tribune. “They told me to get going a little sooner. That was it.”
Except that wasn’t it.
After the game, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said this: ”I don’t mind guys admiring a homer. Certainly it’s a big game, big hit. Really like the player. But I just felt that to kind of overstay at home, certainly against a guy like Clayton, who’s got the respect of everyone in the big leagues and what he’s done in this game, I just took exception to that. I think there’s a certain respect you give a guy if you homer against him.”
Once again, we’re faced with dissonance from an old-school sport being forced into a new-school box. Roberts has plenty of ground on which to base his argument. Throughout baseball history, respect is an earned commodity, achieved over time through one’s play, behavior and character. By that measure, there’s nobody more respected in the modern game than Kershaw. For a second-year player—who was 12 years old when Kershaw made his big league debut, it should be pointed out—to style in the batter’s box after besting so venerated an opponent is, in many eyes, wrong.
An example of this mentality was recounted in The Baseball Codes:
Admiring one’s own longball isn’t all that sets pitchers off. When Phillies rookie Jimmy Rollins ﬂipped his bat after hitting a home run off St. Louis reliever Steve Kline in 2001, the Cardinals pitcher went ballistic, screaming as he followed Rollins around the bases. “I called him every name in the book, tried to get him to ﬁght,” said Kline. The pitcher stopped only upon reaching Philadelphia third baseman Scott Rolen, who was moving into the on-deck circle and alleviated the situation by assuring him that members of the Phillies would take care of it internally.
“That’s fucking Little League shit,” said Kline after the game. “If you’re going to ﬂip the bat, I’m going to ﬂip your helmet next time. You’re a rookie, you respect this game for a while. . . . There’s a code. He should know better than that.”
Hell, it can even happen within the fabric of one’s own team. Take a story former AL MVP Al Rosen told me:
“I played behind Kenny Keltner, and when I went to spring training, the only time in the batting cage I got good pitches to hit was if there were other rookies there. The older guys were protecting Keltner. You had 10 swings or five swings—set by whoever was head cheese on the ballclub—and if you had five swings you didn’t get a good ball to hit. None of those older pitchers were going to get the ball in there so you could hit one hard. So you would struggle. All of a sudden a guy decides he’s going to start working on a split-finger or he’s going to start working on his slider. …
“You’d have to ask one of the coaches to hit you ground balls, and every time I walked out there, Keltner would show up and he would want to take ground balls. So I would go to the outfield and shag. It was a message: “Don’t mess with my position.”
Rosen’s solution was not to knock Keltner down a notch, but to show up hours early with other young players and run their own BP sessions.
For his part, Kershaw held no public animosity against Grisham, saying in an MLB.com report: “I’m not going to worry about their team. Let him do what he wants.”
This is what it’s come down to, then. In civil society, we expect youngsters to defer to their elders. The intern in an office does not speak to the CEO as if he or she were a peer. Baseball once hewed tightly to this norm, but, as with many areas of the American landscape, norms are falling away in increasingly rapid fashion.
Baseball, though, has long held itself as different than other sports—slower, more deliberate. Behavior that would fly elsewhere had no place on a ballfield.
That, though, is changing, spurred no doubt by the rapidity with which baseball’s popularity has been surpassed by the NFL and NBA. Let the Kids Play is a direct result, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
But for those like Dave Roberts—hardly a hard-liner about anything, but with a firm sense of right and wrong—yielding their position is a difficult task. They’re going to have to, though, and soon. This is the new face of baseball—hopefully, say the folks in the marketing department, for the better.