As clear-cut as the Fernando Tatis Jr. thing may be to most people, life is never as simple as it appears on first blush. So while 98 percent of your Twitter timeline is repeatedly making the same points today (1. Cool baseball things are cool, 2. Unwritten rules are bad), full context for what happened last night in the Padres-Rangers game is a bit more complicated. There are shades of gray.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, baseball is not unique in the fact that different upbringings result in differing perspectives on how the sport is played. It is unique, however, in the rigidity in accepting other interpretations are valid. Therein lies the friction, which, it should be noted, is reflective of some larger societal schisms that manifest in troubling real-world ways.
We can leave the heavy stuff alone for now but let's consider this fact. Unwritten rules are inherently unclear because they aren't written down. Jeff Passan makes a fair point by saying that they aren't written down because they'd look ridiculous on the page. But that's not the full picture.
Some unwritten rules are fine. They are part of the game. They serve a purpose and are there for a reason. Most of them have to do with the collegial nature of being professionals. Long ago, baseball players came to a consensus and codified some best practices to ensure the game was being respected and the product didn't suffer any dilution.
Two things to remember here: Baseball is a business and sportsmanship has its value. Anyone advocating for the Wild West and a complete dissolution of the connective fabric held together by professional respect isn't taking the issues as seriously as they could. They can argue that most — if not an overwhelming majority — of the code is outdated. They can argue that adhering to it is detrimental to the bottom line of growing baseball and selling it to a younger audience with unprecedented entertainment choices.
Again, very fair stances.
The real problem here is that everyone is operating with their own set of rules. There is constant disagreement. One player's standard for what's acceptable doesn't mesh with his neighbor's. Or, what I believe is even more common, is that one player's standard doesn't meet these nebulous ideals others believe they need to uphold.
There are a tremendous amount of people out there trying to police the game because they were taught that they had to police the game. As youngsters they were told this is the way it's done and they've adopted that mentality. Not always because they believe in it, but going along to get along is a powerful drug. And baseball has always tended to hammer down the nails that stick out.
Only over the past few years has that cycle begun to break. It will be obsolete and broken forever in a decade or so. Old habits die hard yet momentum has a funny way of accelerating change.
In the present, though, it feels as though no one can reasonably know where the lines are. Take the recent punishment handed down to Texas pitcher Ian Gibaut and manager Chris Woodward.
Should Gibaut have thrown behind Manny Machado to send a message? Probably not. Is bending to public pressure to suspend him for a pitch that wasn't dangerous at all helpful or fair? Tough to know.
As it pertains to Woodward, unless MLB has hard and fast proof that he dictated the brushback pitch, we're left to wonder if he's being disciplined for having a Caveman-ish opinion about swinging 3-0 with a big lead. Are we doing that now?
Just an hour or so, former general manager Jim Bowden was on CBS Sports, coming in from the clouds somehow to usurp the most maddening take of the day in which he suggested Padres manager Jayce Tinger should be fined for having the temerity to agree with Woodward following the game.
This is patently absurd. You can't wave a wand and erase the entire foundation of generation after generation who grew and aged with the game a certain way overnight. It's not that simple. Forget if it should be.
Changing baseball will take some time. It will also take some more clarity and communication on what is and isn't acceptable. One shudders at the thought of the Players Association having a candid conversation about what should be part of the game and what shouldn't. That might be too productive and alleviate some of that stuff.
Getting everyone on the same page — players, managers, and fans — would go a long way. Tailored behavior for a more appealing product seems like a no-brainer. But until then, it's a gray world. Apparently with some freehand painting when it comes to both the adjudication and meting out of punishment.