Minnesota Twins
Image Credit: Keith Allison

Welcome to Overreaction Of The Week, my over the top, uninhibited, Baltimore sports-fan takes on this week’s Orioles activity.

What Happened?

On Sunday April 1st, 2018, the Baltimore Orioles lost to the Minnesota Twins, 7-0. It was a well-rounded, comprehensive beatdown of the Orioles. The Twins swatted four home runs and starting pitcher, Jose Berrios, threw a complete-game, three-hit shutout. One of those hits stood out from the others, and drew some ire from the Twins clubhouse. Orioles’ rookie catcher, Chance Sisco, came up to bat in the 9th inning down by seven runs. Against a defensive shift, Sisco dropped a bunt down the 3rd base line and reached first base, just the Orioles’ second hit of the afternoon. After the game, 2nd baseman Brian Dozier, Berrios, and left fielder Eddie Rosario took exception to the bunt, claiming that play was bad for the game.

The Twins never admitted this was an April Fool’s joke, so they are taking quite a beating for this. They seem to be the only ones who have a problem with Sisco’s bunt. The Twins sentiment and other unwritten rules in baseball lead me to my overreaction of the week.

My Take

There are some unwritten rules in baseball that have their place, such as never stepping on the foul line, not holding runners or stealing bases in blowouts, and generally showing good sportsmanship.

The majority of unwritten rules are bad for the evolution of baseball. I think unwritten rules are kept relevant by people who call themselves baseball purists and traditionalists to make them feel like they’re better fans than everyone else. Unwritten rules are often contradictory to pure baseball and they haven’t let baseball grow along with the fan base and the players especially in the social media era.

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Sisco’s Bunt heard ’round the league

Let’s look at this Sisco situation in particular. From the first time a boy or girl takes the field, quitting is not an option. We are all taught to stay focused and play hard until the last out. “It ain’t over till it’s over” is one of the most popular phrases in all of sports, originally stated by Hall of Fame catcher, Yogi Berra. To criticize a player for taking what he is given, having his head in the game even in a blowout, and executing a well-placed bunt down the third base line is absolutely ludicrous. The Twins continued to apply the shift late in the game, and then were incredulous that Sisco took advantage and broke up the one-hitter. If that last part sounds weird, that’s because there is no such thing as breaking up a one-hitter.

Sisco tried to get a rally going for his team that had been stifled all game, because crazier things than a seven run comeback in the ninth inning have happened. Sisco did what he has been taught his whole life: play hard until they tell you to stop playing. Maybe this is more on Paul Molitor, he shouldn’t have shifted if his team was going to be upset by a bunt. Maybe what they were most upset about, is that it almost of worked. Two more base runners reached after Sisco, and for the first time all afternoon, the pressure was on Berrios.

To me, bunting to get a base runner late in a game that isn’t close, is not bad for baseball. In fact, young fans and players should duly note Sisco’s bunt and employ the same tenacity in their own games. A player quitting or complaining about another guy playing the game hard is what is bad for baseball.

Unwritten rules: Bat Flips and Pitcher Celebrations

One of the most controversial moments in baseball is the post-home run bat flip. The unwritten rule here is to hit the ball, put your head down, and start your reasonably paced trot around the bases. Yawn. I don’t find anything wrong with tasteful bat flip and brief admiration of your handiwork. Of course tasteful is up for interpretation, but I’d like to think most big leaguers know what is appropriate and what isn’t. I think back to Sammy Sosa‘s skip or Ken Griffey Jr.‘s strut as some of the acceptable ones, for a frame of reference.

Manny Machado led the Orioles in home runs last year, with 33 in 690 plate appearances. That’s one home run every 19.09 At Bats, which is certainly a lot, but it’s equivalent to just 4.78% of his total plate appearances on the season. If I’m a Major League pitcher and Machado hits a home run off of me, I either made a bad pitch or he hit a good pitch. Either way, he bested me. If he wants to celebrate something that happens less than 5 percent of his entire season’s worth of plate appearances, go ahead.

Bat flips can create a certain flare and drama that allow batters to show an on-field personality, much like basketball and football players do on nearly every play. This deeper look into a player’s mindset is something many fans have been looking for, especially as numbers and analytics have taken some of the ‘baseball guy’ factor away. I want to see players who love the game and show their passion for the game I love too.

Another unwritten rule is on the other side of bat flips, a pitcher getting excited about getting a big out. “Act like you’ve been there before” is an old adage that has it’s merits, but I don’t think it fully applies to every given situation. Earlier this year on Barstool Radio, former pitcher Dallas Braden went on an incredible, not safe for work rant about proposed extra innings rules, but I think it applies here as well. He talks about how clubs and affiliates are built and maintained that a certain result you’re aiming for could be two seasons down the line. He is absolutely spot on.

There is so much that goes into being a successful player and a successful team, that sometimes no amount of development can prepare you to act like you’ve been there before. There are so many circumstances in a baseball game, that make each situation strategically and emotionally different. Sometimes, no matter how long you’ve been in the league or how many big games you’ve been in, you haven’t been there before. It’s OK to show some some fire, especially if the batters get to. I encourage you to listen to Braden’s segment, it is a unique, powerful perspective.

The Overreaction

The way I see it, Chance Sisco played the game the right way. He was heads up, played hard, and tried to give his team a chance to win. To shame him for that is sending the wrong message to the fans and young players. The unwritten rules that limit the way someone wants to play the game hold baseball back from continuing to compete for fans with the NFL and NBA.

In the era of social media, fans want more insight into the players they love. They want to see their favorite players play the game hard and the right way, but fans also want to get to know the players on a different level. Showing some emotions and personality on the field gives some insight into who these guys are in a way that Twitter and Instagram can’t. And that would be good for baseball.

Reach out to me on Twitter: @itssocontejus if you want to talk unwritten rules or Orioles baseball.

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