By Jason Keidel
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So the sequel to the Shot Heard ‘Round the World has been parsed and placed on eternal loop.
And since several boxing pundits have applied their pugilistic metrics, this analyst agrees that it was a punch of perfect, Tysonesque contours.
But folks who don’t adore baseball see this incident as part of an absurd continuum, where the idea of keeping family squabbles “in house” is an archaic coda. No doubt many a millennial wants to jam the reboot button on our pastime.
No sport is more tethered to its traditions than baseball, from stats to curses to rituals. We actually believed the Red Sox went 86 years sans a World Series title because a long-dead dummy of an owner sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees. Likewise, the Cubs are cursed by black cats and billy goats.
Baseball also takes great pride in monitoring itself. It doesn’t need excessive regulations because all spats are adjudicated on the field, where judge, jury and executioner all dwell between the lines.
If that’s the case, then Major League Baseball is about to send a rather conflicted message. While the sport stands on its prerogative for policing itself, it’s doubling down on the diamond justice we saw between the Toronto Blue Jays and Texas Rangers.
Baseball players have endless memories, so it’s no shock that seven months after Jose Bautista’s epic bat flip in last year’s playoffs, the issue found its way into an outdoor, Canadian courtroom.
You know how it went, of course, with Rougned Odor whipping a hard right hand over Bautista’s lowered left arm, clocking Bautista so hard his helmet, glasses and pride went flying. There seems to be little doubt that it’s among the best shots fired outside a boxing ring in sports history, and certainly the best punch our pastime has seen, supplanting Nolan Ryan’s headlock and chopping shots on Robin Ventura’s dome.
Now we hear that MLB will mete out some serious justice, as much as a 10-game suspension for Odor. (Insert “Odorous” puns here.)
Maybe it’s the right thing. For we can’t contaminate our kids! Letting the Liston-ian shot pass sans punishment would send biblical ripples out to the world, more proof of America’s imperialism and wanton hubris.
But baseball needs to arrive at a position. Is it the game of our fathers and grandfathers, the only sport that needs no clock, played on verdant pastures to an orchestra of organ music and the pop of Cracker Jacks?
Or is it the game that has surrendered and joined other team sports in terms of public relations and public perceptions, and is now guided by new-world sensibilities? Either side is fine. Just pick one.
Jokes aside, you can’t have players slugging each other on a daily basis. Overall, violence isn’t a solution to almost any problem. Indeed, if Bautista had a glass jaw and dropped like a cinder block, his orbital bones broken and his jaw wired shut for a month, then Odor may have found himself in an authentic courtroom.
Baseball doesn’t want to be tossed into the bucket of barbarism, like hockey, where the fights are an essential and ancestral adjunct of the game. Baseball is a game of spatial harmony. So any fisticuffs should be kept to a bare minimum.
Our pastime isn’t suffering from a nationwide identity crisis. Indeed, Gotham, the biggest and best city in the union, is still a baseball town. Despite the NFL wave crashing across the map, taking ratings and dollars from MLB, baseball is still hearty and healthy. Revenues are in the robust billions. But it could use a more definable disciplinary tableau.
So, it says here, either baseball handles its business or it doesn’t. Either punches in fair territory are fair game or they’re not.
It’s too hard to play with these implicit rules. If baseball wants to be seen as contemporary, riding shotgun in a trendy car with the NBA and NFL, then Joey Bats gets tossed for the hard slide, or the pitcher who decorated his ribs gets tossed. Or both. You cut the fuse at the base. You don’t wait for it to explode and then admire the carnage. Right or wrong, the rule book has to be legible.
Frankly, many of us are cool with the baseball undercard of Odor vs. Bautista. Two grown men who settled a squabble. Or at least Odor did. But if you want the game to be less odorous, then it has to be homogenous.
Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel