On Jan. 13, 1967, Bob Dylan released his album “The Times They Are a-Changin.” The album, released during a time of high tension in the United States of America, discussed said tensions and how the country as a whole was changing before her citizen’s very eyes.
Now, in the year 2020, a full 53 years after the release of Dylan’s album, Major League Baseball is starting to see itself change.
Players are starting to celebrate after hitting home runs, dancing in the dugout, and engineering intricate handshakes with their fellow teammates. Batters gaze in admiration after hitting a ball over the center-field fence.
Pitchers are not innocent either, as they pump themselves up by letting out a yell when escaping a bases-loaded situation by striking out a batter on a 3-2 count.
In years past, such acts on the baseball diamond were virtually non-existent. Those who performed said actions were seen as heretics to the game.
Baseball’s long history has included a set of “unwritten rules” per see. The unwritten rules of baseball are a stigma that has followed the sport since it’s inception. Now that the game has survived to the modern era, baseball has seen a pseudo civil war brewing between its fans.
On one side, the old guard. Fans who have grown up with the game and have been instilled with an “old school” mentality while sticking true to the unwritten rules of the game.
On the other, the younger generation. These younger fans, seeing the fast-paced action and panache of the NBA and NFL, desire to see the MLB replicate that style of play.
Unfortunately, neither side will truly back down from their position, and, in short, baseball will continue to suffer from it.
A prime example is Fernando Tatis Jr. For those who have been living under a rock, the 21-year-old has quickly become one of the game’s brightest young stars. On Monday’s game against the Texas Rangers and with San Diego up by seven runs, Tatis stared down Juan Nicasio, a ten-year veteran.
On a 3-0 count, Tatis was given the sign to take a pitch. By the unwritten rules of the game, it is considered to be the “right” thing to do. However, Tatis missed the sign and swung away.
The result? A grand slam to right field, the first of his career. Now, the Padres were up by 11 runs, a fact that rubbed Texas manager Chris Woodward the wrong way.
FERNANDO TATIS JR. GRAND SLAM!!!!!!!!!
— FOX Sports San Diego (@FOXSportsSD) August 18, 2020
Woodward proceeded to give the go-ahead to Ian Gibuat (who replaced Nicasio) to throw a pitch behind the next batter, Manny Machado. After the pitch, the umpires decided not to eject Gibuat and allow him to stay in the game.
After the game, Woodward had some strong opinions on the matter.
“I didn’t like it, personally,” Rangers manager Chris Woodward yelped. “You’re up by seven in the eighth inning; it’s typically not a good time to swing 3-0. It’s kind of the way we were all raised in the game.”
Unwritten rules, meet the ecstatic young superstar. As a result, Tatis apologized for swinging at the 3-0 pitch instead of celebrating his first career grand slam.
Even those who have celebrated home runs have seen themselves getting targeted due to the unwritten rules of baseball.
On an Apr. 17, 2019 game between the Chicago White Sox and the Kansas City Royals, White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson hit a two-run home run against Royals starter Brad Keller to give his team the lead.
Anderson watched the pitch sail out of the box and celebrated by flipping his bat, an act that has become more commonplace in today’s game.
In his next at-bat, Anderson was drilled in the back, sparking a benches-clearing brawl and suspensions. All because the unwritten rules of baseball deemed Anderson in the wrong for celebrating a home run.
In the NFL, players never complained when Rob Gronkowski spiked a football or when players celebrate a touchdown with a dance. In the NBA, basketball players don’t get their feelings twisted after Stephen Curry drains a three-pointer and celebrates with his teammates.
In MLB? Celebrate a home run, and the unwritten rules deem you guilty of crimes against baseball. The sentence is usually carried out with a 95 MPH fastball to the back.
There is a reason that baseball is falling behind its other counterparts in the sports world. It’s not because of the invisible clock, but because players seemingly get punished for breaking a set of imaginary rules.
If baseball wants to truly grow and attract new fans to their product, embrace the youth movement and the celebrations. Branch away from the unwritten rules that are so desperately hung onto.
Because, as Dylan said, “the times, they are a-changing”.