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Jose Bautista, Rougned Odor, and the written rules of punching each other in the face

The Rangers and Blue Jays had a bit of a fracas on Sunday. Let's investigate how awful everyone was.

Some well-known players can go through their entire careers without being a part of an iconic, nationally recognized moment. Take Barry Larkin, for example. The dude played 19 seasons and made the Hall of Fame, and there's no doubt that Reds fans have hundreds of great memories of him. But he never hit a walk-off homer to win a World Series, never pitched in the 19th inning of a tie game, never was caught pulling a sandwich from his back pocket between batters. He played a lot of excellent baseball over two decades, and that's about all you need to know.

Jose Bautista has two iconic moments in less than a year. Lucky him! Kind of. And, apparently, the two moments are related.

Bautista will be remembered for exulting to the heavens after his ALDS home run last year, helpfully providing his bat to the heavens, too, in case they wanted it. Bautista will be remembered for getting his face in the way of Rougned Odor's fist. Both things can be true. Robin Ventura kind of wishes he threw his bat into the stands after his grand slam single, just to give people that kind of option.

There are no unwritten rules to talk about, here. Just a bunch of written ones. Don't throw at people intentionally. Don't try to break legs with your slide. Don't try to break brains with your fist. They're all written down. Technically, if the intent is there, they're all written down in big, fat law books and civil code. Let's say I'm jealous because two of my peers wrote an excellent book. And let's say because I'm jealous, I show up at a book reading and do any of these ...

  • throw a rock at Sam
  • dive at Ben's legs, right at the knees
  • punch the clerk trying to separate us

... I would be arrested. There would be no joshing with the judge about unwritten rules. My punishment wouldn't be to have a rock thrown at me. I'd go to jail.

And yet because it happens in a baseball game, with 40,000 people watching, it's almost normal, and we have to wonder if there are unwritten rules at stake. There were not. Here's a rundown of the official rules that were violated on Sunday:

The pitch

Clearly intentional. That's not a two-seamer that got away from Matt Bush, who's shown excellent command in his limited time in the minors. So, whose bright idea was the pitch? Did it come from the bench?

If it was Matt Bush's idea -- a way to ingratiate himself to his new teammates, who were probably quite vocal all series about their thoughts on Jose Bautista's face -- it was a silly idea. It was a one-run game. Putting the leadoff hitter on for free, because of a bat flip from last year when you weren't even a part of the organization? The HBP earned him immediate bro points. With his 10th bro point, he got a free sandwich and/or a long, meaningful hug from his new teammates.

But imagine if that was Bush's idea and the deciding run in the game. If the Rangers came back in the ninth, only to have had the free baserunner be the difference, those bro points would have been revoked. There is nothing that humans are better at than forming opinions with the benefit of hindsight. If that was the deciding run, there would have been some grumbles about the rook who was trying too hard.

If the plunking came from the bench, what a dippy temper tantrum that was. Hitting a guy at the very end of a series, where all the caveats about a close game still apply, because of a bat flip from a year ago? That's some thin-skinned stuff right there. We've talked about the bat flip in great detail, determining that a) the Rangers had a right to be annoyed, and b) Bautista didn't especially care if he hit that home run against the Rangers, Dodgers, Flyers, or Really Rottens.

If the Rangers still care that much about the bat flip, enough to plunk a guy in the last at-bat of a three-game series, they're woefully overestimating their part in that particular piece of baseball history. It took a second to remember it was the Rangers who gave it up, and remembering that stuff is my job. The Rangers were a footnote to Bautista's bat flip, and there's no amount of retaliation that's going to make us forget that. Or remember them. They should probably get over it.

That's if it came from the bench. I'm guessing Bush came up with the idea on his own. At least it was a clean plunking, though. Well executed. Good form.

The slide

Let's discuss the hidden beauty of this slide. It was a beautiful slide. It was also, without question, a dirty, dumb slide, the kind of slide that could ruin a season. But it was also beautiful, and here's why:

Those people in the middle ... gosh, they're magnificent. Because it was a late slide and a potentially harmful one. It was also totally legal just a few months ago. Here's a completely random player who made an even worse slide without receiving any sort of punishment.

Gotta hear both slides. But even though I'll take Bautista's slide over that one from the past, both slides are trash. Baseball is better without those slides, which is why the rules changed this offseason. There have been some growing pains with the rules, certainly, but the people in charge got together and decided that everything would be better if slides were used only to get into a base quickly and stop forward momentum, not as dangerous subterfuge that's allowed only because it isn't explicitly disallowed.

The big difference between Bautista's slide or Odor's up there (or Chase Utley's, or ...) is that Bautista probably wasn't thinking about the double play so much. He was using his entire body as a middle finger, diving in at 18 miles per hour and 200 pounds, trying to make a point. Hey, I'd be mad at the Bush-league fastball, too, but using your body as a weapon isn't what grown-ups do, Jose. Two wrongs don't make a right, et cetera, et cetera.

Odor was right to get in Bautista's face. That could have screwed his entire career up. Not that it justifies ...

The punch

Oh, dear. There's a reason why baseball fights are usually a bunch of men in pajamas standing around, pushing each other. It's because no one really wants to throw a punch. Because punching other human beings is wrong. It's, like, one of the first 10 things you're supposed to learn as a human being. We shouldn't celebrate punches.

(But did you see that punch?)

It's impossible not to look. Because there wasn't a clear, immediate injury, because Bautista's nose wasn't pushed back into his brain, because his jaw wasn't shattered in a million pieces, and because the rivers didn't run red with his bat-flipping blood, this punch will become an inescapable highlight for the next few decades.

(Goodness, it connected so cleanly. What a baseball punch!)

Bautista was clearly wobbly because his brain sloshed around in his skull, bouncing around several times in a split-second, which can lead to serious, long-lasting health problems. Yeah, ha ha, that will happen. There are occasionally side effects from a punch like that, such as memory loss, injury, or death, and yet we're out here celebrating it, but that's a small price to pay, apparently.

(Because it was such a clean shot. That never happens!)

I so want to take the high road. Don't hit other human beings. It shouldn't be that hard. And yet my childhood is richer because Will Clark fought off three Cardinals players before Candy Maldonado came in with a flying burrito. It's one of my earliest Giants memories. Then there was the time Michael Barrett punched A.J. Pierzynski and made him look like a nauseous Paul McCartney:

Heck, yes, I celebrated that moment. And there's no difference, ethically. Odor's punch just connected better, which shouldn't make it worse. At least, not in spirit.

Yet, there will be a punch that ruins a career. It might not be next year or it might not be for 100 years, but there will eventually be a Rudy Tomjanovich moment in baseball. The players are too strong not to cause serious damage with the right punch. It might have been this punch, really. We don't know if Bautista woke up with a headache and blurred vision this morning.

It's the uncomfortable bargain we have with the suspension of reality. Because this happened between people in a uniform in front of 40,000 people, we get to be completely agog at the success of the punch. If it happened at, say, a Guitar Center, we would be horrified. Unless the guy just would not keep playing the same scale and pretending he was Yngwie Malmsteen, in which case, well, we're off track. It was violence, the kind of violence that can get you arrested in the real world. Instead, because it happened in the middle of a sports-ball game, it's a video that will live for a century, with Rangers fans completely giddy about it. There are already shirts for sale, you know.

The other part of this bargain is that we have to accept whatever awful happens later. Can't have one without the other, and we're all guilty. We're all watching the video over and over and making this a bigger story than the typical scrum would have been. How can we not? And yet we're just making it easier to have the Tomjanovich moment in the future. There's nothing we can do, other than draconian suspensions for baseball fights, which aren't going to happen.

No, we'll get to enjoy this -- what a right hook! -- with the compound interest accumulating until someone's career and/or life is eventually ruined. Not saying it's anything other than human to look, but baseball, much like life, would be better off if people didn't punch each other in the face.

To recap:

  • The pitch was intentional, and it was kind of weak, unless it was ordered by someone in the dugout, in which case it would be super weak.

  • The slide was dirty, and it was basically a full-body punch that didn't connect that cleanly. Just because Bautista wasn't as successful using his body as a weapon, it doesn't mean that it wasn't the moral equivalent of what Odor did.

  • Don't punch people.

The only unwritten rule of note is that you shouldn't flip your bat when you hit a long, long postseason home run after falling behind in a completely bizarre way at home in front of fans who haven't watched a postseason game in decades. And we've already been over that. Flip your bat in that situation. Flip it to the sun. It's not like it was the seventh inning of a regular-season game.


No one looked good, here. The Rangers didn't need to use baseballs to prove a point. Bautista didn't need to use his body. Odor didn't need to use his fists. The main takeaway is that people shouldn't use their bodies as weapons. That's kind of a written rule. And it's a pretty good one.

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Brad Ausmus throws a weird tantrum