By Chris Pennant (@kwandarykitten)
Wednesday afternoon, the Kansas City Royals and Chicago White Sox got into a typical baseball scrap during the sixth inning of their game.
I say “typical baseball scrap” because it began over something fairly insignificant, didn’t involve actual fists flying, and ended with unnecessary ejections.
Sox shortstop Tim Anderson homered earlier in the game and, as he has done since last season, celebrated his long ball with some extra emotion. In this case, it was a bat flip and a shout back toward his mates in the home dugout.
It was clear from the reactions of Royals pitcher Brad Keller and catcher Martin Maldonado that they were perturbed by Anderson’s ebullience, and decided to respond the only way baseball knows how: by striking Anderson out on three pitches in his next at-bat.
Hah! Just kidding. Keller hit Tim in the backside with his first pitch.
As you can see from the video, Anderson did not go after Keller or get into it with Maldonado, aside from a conversation the two had while walking up the baseline. Informal Sox captain Jose Abreu then held Anderson away from the fracas, initially at first base, then near the camera well when tempers flared further. Anderson was caught on camera in an exchange with Royals reliever Heath Fillmyer, but the two were never closer than six feet.
Things appeared to be calming down when White Sox manager Rick Renteria apparently shouted for the Royals to get back in their dugout, at which point his counterpart Ned Yost yelled back and tensions tightened once again. After this, crew chief Joe West decided to eject Renteria, Anderson, Keller and Royals coach Dale Sveum from the game.
It should be noted both Keller and Yost said afterward that the pitch that hit Anderson was not intentional. If you believe that, I have a bridge over the Chicago River to sell you.
1000 words is too many to tell you how stupid this all is, but I’m going to do so anyway. Just know this altercation had less to do with maintaining the supposed integrity of baseball and more with hurt feelings.
The unwritten rules of combat
First off, let’s go over the unwritten rules of baseball, in case anyone is unfamiliar. As they are unwritten, they tend to morph and change a bit, but I’ll try my best to enumerate them here. In no specific order of importance, they are:
- Do not, under any circumstances, celebrate after hitting a home run, whether it is in the regular season, the playoffs, or World Series. Immediately run at an acceptable speed (as determined by Abner Doubleday, Brian McCann and Dallas Braden) around the bases, otherwise you are “showing up” the pitcher who just threw the bad–apologies, the mistaken pitch.
- Bat flips are a separate subsection of celebrations and are tacitly allowed only for players of east Asian origin. Any players of color must read the exhaustive “Playing the Game The Right Way” manual that is issued on the first day of spring training each season.
- Do not run over the pitcher’s mound on your way back to the dugout at any time. That, as elucidated by Braden in 2014, is “his mound” and should not be inhabited by anyone else but him. And the other pitcher. And the pitching coach, manager, infield, umpire or anyone else who might happen to be there.
- Pitchers should not celebrate after strikeouts. (Wait, I’m sorry, this is apparently allowed. This rule should have been deleted 25 years ago.)
- If a pitcher or pitchers hit more than one batter on the opposing team with pitches, the other team is within their rights to hit the best player of the opponent. This is fair, because…
There are some others, but they either only come up once every few years or were lost entirely when John Lackey retired.
If that all sounds like nonsense…
It is. Baseball is a game steeped in tradition, which is a nice way of saying outdated. Players still wear belts and managers still wear full or partial uniforms (personally, I think skippers should wear suits in the dugout like Connie Mack.) The unwritten rules of baseball are part of this tradition and thus, take much too long to change.
It shouldn’t be forgotten that the real genesis of these unwritten rules, the ban on Black and Latino players, was a “gentleman’s agreement,” not a formal MLB policy.
However, the vestiges of the rule against showing up pitchers persists in today’s game. This was on display with Jose Bautista and the Texas Rangers two seasons ago, after Bautista’s thunderous caber toss in the preceding year’s ALDS. The Nationals and Giants fought after Hunter Strickland purposely hit Bryce Harper, simply because Harper hit two mammoth home runs off Strickland in the playoffs the year before.
Hell, current Cubs starter Cole Hamels hit Harper with a pitch in his rookie season when Hamels was a member of the Phillies as a way to “welcome” the much-hyped rookie to the realities of pro baseball. His explanation at the time? He thought “the league [was] protecting certain players and not making it not that old-school prestigious way of baseball.”
Royals color announcer Rex Hudler appears to be a similar arbiter of baseball’s inscrutable doctrines, going to so far as to describe Anderson’s actions as “flagrant” and saying “he has to be accountable.” As off-base as it is, thanks to Hudler, we can sum up the viewpoint of these rules: jubilation on a baseball field must be held accountable. That is why these rules are outdated.
Sox-Royals has meaning again
Long into the night, Twitter was alight with reactions to the disagreement between the two teams, and Anderson did not shy away from it at all. He posted a tweet with an edited clip of the bat flip and responded to Blue Jays outfielder Randal Grichuk, who appeared to be subtweeting him.
Many White Sox fans and impartial baseball observers alike appeared to support the idea that the unwritten rules were outdated, as evidenced by the tweets on the trending topic. Sox play-by-play announcer Jason Benetti was incensed, saying “fun in baseball is not allowed” and calling Anderson’s ejection “insane.”
A silver lining to this whole thing? Games between the White Sox and Royals will have meaning again. Granted, this isn’t the first time the two clubs have joined in a battle over perceived disrespect — Adam Eaton got into it with Yordano Ventura in 2015 and Salvador Perez confronted Anderson early last season after a long home run trot – but these two clubs were afterthoughts in terms of contention this year.
Now, those Memorial Day games in Chicago at the end of May are sure to have fans of both sides supporting their clubs with extra fervor, and while players won’t admit it, they might have a little extra edge to their play as well.
As for Anderson, he’s having a superb start to the season, and will be flipping more bats in the near future. Someday soon, pitchers will retaliate by being better at their jobs instead of doing worse.
Chris Pennant covers professional basketball for WARR Media