During the 7th inning of the ALDS between the Toronto Blue Jays and Texas Rangers, things got weird. Like, weirder than almost anything that baseball has offered us before, weirder than the infamous Bill Buckner error or the Cubs’ World Series drought. The 7th inning also called into question the role of race and culture in baseball.
Let’s start with some context: it’s Game 5 in Toronto, the winner-take-all pinnacle of a grueling series. The Blue Jays, after losing the first two games of the series, rumbled back with two wins of their own down in Arlington and entered the game hoping to complete the comeback.
The Rangers had their newest pitching ace – a face we all know rather well–in Cole Hamels on the hill, who did a magnificent job navigating the Blue Jays stacked lineup all night. Through six innings of work, Hamels accrued 8 K’s with 111 pitches while only allowing two runs on four hits, including an Edwin Encarnacion bomb in the sixth. Heading into the 7th, the game was deadlocked at 2-2 and it appeared that Hamels was relatively cruising.
However, then the game got obscenely strange – it started in the top half of the inning with a man on third and Shin-Soo Choo at the plate for the Rangers. After a 1-2 pitch was called a ball high, Jays catcher Russell Martin made one of the strangest throwing errors in the history of postseason baseball. When he tried to throw the ball back to the pitcher, the ball ricocheted off of Shin-Soo’s bat and rolled up the third baseline, and Rougned Odor ran from third to score. After a review, the umpires determined that the play was legal because Shin-Soo was in the box and did not attempt to interfere with the throw, and that is when fans began throwing everything they could get their hands on into the field of play. The Blue Jays declared a protest for the rest of the game, as the chincy run put the Rangers ahead 3-2 heading into the bottom half of the 7th.
In the next half of the frame, one of the best shortstops in all of the MLB, Elvis Andrus, had the worst inning of his career as he was involved with three back-to-back-to-back errors that loaded the bases. A few batters later, Jose Bautista capitalized on the mistakes as he sent a 3-run moonshot into the Rogers Centre stands, cementing his bomb with a bat flip for the ages. That moment of Bautista making contact, watching the ball fly, staring down Ranger’s reliever Sam Dyson, and finally flinging his bat fifteen feet into the air will forever be talked about in baseball lore. It was a timeless hit and reaction by one of the best batters in modern baseball, and the Blue Jays emphatically carried the lead to win the game and the series, 6-3.
Now, Bautista’s bat flip would be viewed as “gaudy” and “disrespectful” by most baseball pundits, and I agree with that sentiment. However, in his defense, Bautista had also just hit the series clinching homer, and in a moment of emotion he did not care what he did. He hit the ball out, the runs were scored, and he was excited–all of which is perfectly understandable. He might want to be careful the next time he steps in the box against a Rangers’ pitcher, but for all intents and purposes the bat flip means nothing: no harm and no foul. Or, at least, so it appeared.
A scrum formed out on the field as the next batter came up to the plate, as Dyson felt that after hitting a home run Bautista should not act so childish and “respect the game”. The scene is really a common one in modern ball, as there is a split between the new school players who like to celebrate and be emotional and old school players who believe in the unspoken rules of respect and dignity upheld since baseball’s inception. Over the past season, a lot of sports coverage was devoted to how the landscape of baseball was changing. As more young players from South America and the Caribbean join the MLB, more bat flipping and more excited celebration is sure to follow by the likes of Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Yoenis Cespedes, Yasiel Puig, Odubel Herrera and others. Again, no harm and no foul, until the race card is tossed into the mix by certain “objective reporters.”
Take, for example, Dan Le Batard’s tirade on his ESPN radio show today. Le Batard ranted about how playing the game the “right way” has become synonymous with the “white way,” stating that – outside of Bryce Harper – “it’s usually not the white guy” doing bat flips, and the whole situation “harkens back to the time when the black people had to sit in the back of the bus.”
So, let’s set the record straight here. Baseball is not without its racial clouts over the last century, with the Negro Leagues and the abuse of Jackie Robinson and what have you. At the same time, pro baseball is designed to be played a certain way, a way that indoctrinates respect and professionalism into the toolkits of its biggest stars. It is not that traditional, old school, unwritten rules are the “white way” of doing things, but more that it is how the game has always been played. If new players want to revolutionize that and make the game feel less rigid and calculated by expressing sheer jubilance at performing well, than more power to them. Where I find fault here is in the major sports media covering these games allowing for angles such as the one Le Batard expressed on the airwaves, to suggest that the integrity of the game is somehow strictly enforced by the white man.
I suppose I take offense when America’s pastime is drugged into the victimhood culture of the rest of the country. It seems that, as a society, we always need to have a narrative involving some group fulfilling the role of bully, and another group fulfilling the role of mincemeat, and I just feel as if the sport of baseball is not the place for such politics. At the end of the day, Bautista had a great hit that won his team a pivotal game and series, and to anyone lined up with Le Batard’s way of thinking, that should be the end of it.
Scott Vogel is a first-year student majoring in English. He can be reached at SV845618@wcupa.edu