The Punch and The Code

OdorPunch

I am still baffled by the events of the eighth inning of Sunday’s game between the Blue Jays and Rangers in Arlington. Baffled. I am confounded by the punch, by the slide, by all the decisions made by managers and players, and by the power of the code.

While a lot of you are praising Rougned Odor and taking great joy in his haymaker to Joey Bautista’s jaw and vilifying Bautista as an arrogant such-and-such who got what he had coming, allow me to note that if the tables were turned, you’d be feeling just the opposite. I’ve never seen a punch like that in a baseball game. Never. Not like that. Wow. And, yes, as a Rangers fan, I really dislike Bautista. But if Odor were a Blue Jay and Bautista were a Ranger? Come on. As Seinfeld once famously observed, we’re all just rooting for laundry. Odor is more regularly criticized by baseball people as a dirty player than Bautista.

And please stop comparing this to Nolan Ryan’s handling of Robin Ventura in 1993. Nolan was a universally revered legend and hall of famer and widely-acclaimed good guy. Ventura was a young kid, a good kid, who made a terrible one-time mistake. This thing Sunday was between a couple of guys with shaky reputations and histories of being punks.

But, this post is about the power of the code, not the character of the two players or the violence in our popular sports that we Christians cheer and/or ignore.

In my rational brain, I want to believe Bush’s pitch that nailed Bautista in the side to start the eighth inning was an accident. My head keeps telling me there’s no way they put the tying run on base in the eighth inning. It was a bad pitch that got away from a nervous pitcher in a pressure situation in only his second MLB appearance. But my gut keeps saying it was a pitch with a purpose. It was intentional all the way. Bautista had upstaged the Rangers in that playoff game seven months ago, he had over-celebrated that three-run, series-clinching homer, and he still needed to pay. In front of the home fans. And this was the last chance.

That’s the power of the code.

You’ll go insane trying to figure out the code. The code in baseball says it’s not OK for you to flip a bat after a dramatic home run, but it’s quite fine and even expected that you’ll slide cleats up into a second baseman in retaliation for a supposed slight. It’s not cool to trot around the bases to show up a pitcher. It’s disrespectful. But it’s good and even expected that you’ll drill him with a 97-miles-per-hour fastball the next time he’s at the plate. It’s kooky, this code.

But that code is what compelled Rangers manager Jeff Banister to order the beaning and put the tying run on base in the eighth inning. The code is what prompted him to risk the win in order to send a message.

The code is also what caused Bautista to illegally slide into Odor.

Bautista knew that if he came in on Odor at second base with a slide that has been made illegal this year by Major League Baseball, it would result in an automatic double play and the inning and the scoring threat would be over. But he did it anyway. He was willing to risk the win in order to send a message. He knew what he was doing. Several times this year, games have ended on these automatic double plays after an illegal slide into second. It’s happened to the Astros twice. It’s been much debated and publicized. It’s already happened to Bautista this year in a game against Tampa Bay. He cost Toronto the game with an illegal slide. But he went ahead with it Sunday, knowing he would end the inning, in order to uphold the code.

This code is more important than the game. That baffles me.

I remember one night in ’02 or ’03 sitting next to Steve Busby in the Ballpark press box. He asked me if I was ready for Jay Gibbons to get it. Gibbons was an outfielder for the Orioles who had hit a homerun against Texas the year before and over-celebrated. Both dugouts cleared and exchanged the typical pushing and shoving and tough words. This night was the first game between the opponents since that dust-up the season before and Busby was preparing to talk about it during the post game show. He said both teams were anticipating it. It was going to happen.

Nothing happened that night. But it happened the following night. Gibbons got plunked. I can’t remember who did it. There was some pushing and chirping and then it was over. Score settled. Everybody was good.

That really opened my eyes to the power of the code. It’s weird. But it’s real and everybody understands the deal.

Odor took things to the next level in dramatic fashion Sunday. Bautista was planning to come hard at second base, exchange in one more round of pushes and shoves, both dugouts would clear, and it would be over. The scores would be settled. Everybody would be good. Well, it’s a little tricky sometimes deciding just when things are even.

The code is enforced within the rules during play in a football game; violence and retaliation are part of the game’s DNA. The code is enforced immediately on the very next face-off in hockey; nobody waits until the next period, much less the following season. There is no known code in basketball, no understood avenue for settling scores there. That’s why brawls in basketball games are viewed as horrible harbingers of the apocalypse. But in baseball, it’s there. It can take months, but it’s there. And managers and players will risk a win in an important game against a league rival in order to enforce it.

Peace,

Allan

9 Comments

  1. Jordan Hubbard

    This one had my head spinning. I’m glad you posted this piece because you are right. Bannister chose an odd time to even out the score. I honestly thought the HBP would happen in a non-critical time at home.
    Imagine if this had worked out differently. Bush puts the tying run on 1st and the next batter homers. Or they tie the game and go to extra innings, forcing Bannister to chew more bullpen arms in the process. The narrative about this whole thing would be a lot different. Dallas papers would be calling for the Rangers and Bannister to “grow up” and “walk the walk.”
    As it is, the Rangers are facing some series against Oakland, Seattle, and Houston. Who will be suspended and for how long? The Rangers are going to have to call up guys and perhaps lose their manager for some of these games against division opponents.
    It didn’t have to be like this.

  2. Allan

    Thank you for that point about these upcoming games against division opponents. Three years ago I would have told you I’d rather have Profar at 2B than Odor for these games. Not now.

  3. Dusty Cooper

    I don’t think Bannister ordered it. I think it either came from Beltre or one of the other ranking veterans, the bullpen guys, or Bush himself.

  4. Dusty Cooper

    Levi Weaver had a good article about who made the decision to bean Bautista. Here’s a link:
    http://www.wfaa.com/sports/mlb/rangers/the-curious-case-of-the-beanball-who-made-the-decision-to-plunk-bautista/196849238

  5. Allan

    It wasn’t Bush. Making only his second MLB appearance, no MLB experience, no real clout with the team, not even a member of the organization during that playoff series, he didn’t order anything.
    Another bullpen pitcher also seems far-fetched to me. I don’t think they carry near the respect nor authority as the everyday veterans.
    I wouldn’t think it’s Beltre because he would seem to have a better grasp of the bigger picture(s). Of course, I recognize even with that statement, I’m underestimating the power of the code of which I write.
    I’m curious: Why wouldn’t you think it’s the manager?
    He certainly seems to be a “players coach,” and maybe he would give a veteran he trusted the freedom to order a bop on Bautista. But I also see him as a bit of a control freak that is completely in charge of every tiny little thing that happens.

  6. Dusty Cooper

    Not saying it wasn’t Bannister, but the article I linked did get me thinking about it differently. Here’s an exerpt:

    “Here’s the thing, though: If there’s one thing Jeff Banister loves more than shaking his head and finger at opposing managers, it’s beating them at baseball games. He’s a leader of men, sure, but he’s also an intelligent and considerate strategist. And even if he weren’t, it wouldn’t take Joe Maddon to explain why putting the tying run on in the 8th inning of a one-run game is a tactically disastrous idea, especially with a chance to re-take first place with a win…Jeff Banister is an intense competitor, but he’s not a hothead with no common sense.”

    I’m just saying that I think there’s a strong possibility that Banny didn’t make that call, not that there’s zero chance he didn’t make it. And if your reasoning against Beltre making the call is because he has a better grasp of the bigger picture, isn’t that even more so the manager’s ideal perspective?

    I really liked your thoughts on the code, Allan. I enjoyed reading your article.

  7. Allan

    Yes, thank you for the link to the Weaver column. I like the way he broke down all the possibilities. I agree with what Weaver says about Bannister and I would also apply it to Beltre: “intense competitor, but he’s not a hothead with no common sense.” To my point, that makes the decision to nail Bautista with the pitch, whether it was made by Bannister or Beltre, all the more baffling.
    The power of the code.

  8. Allan

    DMN is reporting Odor suspended for 8 games; he will appeal. Andrus out for one game and will serve it tonight.

  9. Rob's Dad

    Check out Evan Grant’s take and Ritchie Whitt for some good points. Also heard HOF Eric Nadel on with the Hardline yesterday and he had some good points.

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