I was up late last night researching an entirely different piece when I saw a strange story developing on my MLB app and Twitter. It seemed like the Padres’ phenom shortstop Fernando Tatís Jr. had ignored a sign of some sort and was apologizing for his lapse after his manager Jayce Tingler expressed disappointment at the oversight. I decided to look up what happened and found this [VIDEO].
That’s right, Fernando Tatís Jr. was apologizing for...hitting a grand slam.
Everything about this is problematic, but before I get into that let me show you the post game comments from Padres manager Tingler, Rangers manager Chris Woodward and Tatís. First up Woodward:
Okay. Let’s start with the obvious, Woodward didn’t like losing by a more embarrassing score, so of course he would be in favor of Tatís not hitting a grand slam on a 3-0 mistake. But despite seven-inning doubleheaders, this is not American Legion baseball and no one is here to help the Rangers save face. Plus the Padres blew a 6-2 lead two weeks ago, I wouldn’t take my foot off the gas if I were them.
But let’s just put aside the fact that the Rangers manager is sad his team gave up a grand slam when they were losing by a lot. Surely, the Padres manager Jayce Tingler will have a reasonable take on all of this and defend his young star. Right?
Jayce Tingler was asked about the expectations on a 3-0 count and what he thought Fernando Tatis should have done in that situation: pic.twitter.com/i3aDbopdU3— 97.3 The Fan (@973TheFanSD) August 18, 2020
“We’re not trying to run up the score.” Wait, I’m sorry, Jayce. What league do you think you are managing in? There are no mercy rules in MLB and I doubt that if the Rangers put up a crooked number they would pay you the same courtesy. But the comment that really got to me was it’s a “learning experience.”
What, like a learning experience that if one of your best hitters gets a pitch to hit on 3-0 they should hit it to the moon? What other possible learning experience could it be other than you want your phenom hitter to play worse in order to follow some unwritten rules?
I almost lost it when Fernando Tatís Jr. apologized:
Fernando Tatis was asked how difficult it is to not swing at a good pitch on 3-0: pic.twitter.com/pAn5TCoxiW— 97.3 The Fan (@973TheFanSD) August 18, 2020
It is worth being explicit there is no way for Tatís to win here, as Marc Carig noted this morning:
Fernando Tatis Jr. get reprimanded for trying, even in a blowout. Yet, if in that exact same context he were to hit a routine grounder and then jog out of the box to first base, would it be OK for him to say "ah screw it, we were up big, i didn't feel like running"?— Marc Carig (@MarcCarig) August 18, 2020
It reminded me of one of my favorite pieces of baseball writing about the greatest home run you’ve probably never heard of — I say probably because I’ve written about it before, but it’s worth returning to today. It’s about the day that Roberto Clemente hit the only walkoff inside the park grand slam in baseball history:
Fifty-seven years ago, however, this baseball miracle took place before a sparse crowd in Pittsburgh, including one disgruntled manager/third base coach and one outraged opposing pitcher.
Bobby Bragan’s stop sign was understandable. After all, Clemente would have represented the winning run on third with none out in the bottom of the ninth. Bragan was an old-school baseball man, and this was the old-school baseball move.
Bragan was one in a seemingly endless conga line of mediocre big league players who become mediocre big league managers. A lifetime .240 hitter who hit a grand total of 15 home runs in eight seasons, Bragan was a rookie manager with the Pirates in 1956, leading the team to a 66-88 record and a seventh-place finish in the National League.
Perhaps the manager simply could not conceive of a walk-off, inside-the-park grand slam, given that it had never been accomplished before. Perhaps he underestimated the player hurtling in his direction, seeing him as ordinary: Clemente batted only .255 in 1955, though he would rebound to hit .311 in 1956.
In the end, though, Bragan was wrong and Clemente was right. Clemente had baseball instincts and intelligence beyond the grasp of his manager. Considering the tendency of Bragan’s Pirates to lose far more often than they won, this was a manager and a team that needed to take chances, to play proudly and aggressively, to act as if they could win by believing in themselves.
The piece continues in ways that blow my mind every time I read it. How Clemente’s manager graciously decided not to fine his young star $25. How Cubs pitcher Jim Brosnan spent years taking a signature achievement of Clemente’s and trashing it as an act that should be shunned for violating decorum:
Brosnan’s reaction—that he was “shocked” and his team “disgusted”—is key to understanding why Clemente’s amazing accomplishment has been diminished and even forgotten. First of all, consider the fact that this quote comes from an article published in 1960—four years after Clemente slid past home and slapped the plate with his hand. It is distinctly possible that tiptoeing up behind Jim Brosnan and whispering “Roberto Clemente” in his ear was enough to send him into a babbling fury for the rest of his life.
Brosnan responded as if Clemente had not only violated baseball decorum, but descended to a state of savagery, the equivalent of sacrificing a live chicken at home plate during the national anthem. The fact that Clemente broke the rule against running through a sign at third base, by itself, however, does not explain the pitcher’s rancor.
I cannot go back in time and undo the damage that Brosnan did to this unique moment in baseball history. A moment we should all know and celebrate as one of Clemente’s feats is instead lost and forgotten. However, I will not sit silently while another exciting young player is railroaded for the sake of ridiculous unwritten rules. Here’s a good summary of the entire thing:
This is a great point too. Takes aren't fun. Massive dingers are fun.https://t.co/gXgMaJBDYP— Mike Petriello (@mike_petriello) August 18, 2020
I hope Fernando Tatís Jr. never stops swinging at fat pitches on a 3-0 count, and so help me if the Rangers throw at him the next time they face him.