Fernando Tatis Jr. is an MVP candidate at the age of 21, leading the National League in home runs nearly halfway through this abbreviated season while sparking the San Diego Padres into contention for what would be their first playoff appearance since 2006.
Tatis, the son of a former major leaguer, has been known in baseball as one of the game’s top prospects for a couple of years. He finished third in last year’s National League Rookie of the Year vote only because he missed nearly half the season through injury, and if he doesn’t win this year’s MVP, it’s hard to see how he wouldn’t win one in the near future.
Stylish, energetic, and galactically talented, Tatis is a budding superstar. And the reason that Tatis has gotten closer this week to being a household name is that baseball is a sport full of stupid traditions and institutional racism whose purpose is to protect fragile white men.
In no other sport would someone be criticized for making the best play they could possibly make, but that’s what happened when Tatis hit a grand slam on Monday night in Texas. The Rangers were angry because Tatis swung at a 3-0 pitch with his team ahead by seven runs. And Padres manager Jayce Tingler criticized Tatis for ignoring the take sign, because he was more concerned with the unwritten rule about not hurting your opponents’ delicate feelings than he was with the one where hitting a home run gets you off the hook for having missed a sign, because you hit a home run and there is nothing better you can do as a hitter.
Weirdly, swinging at a 3-0 pitch for a team already in the lead and hitting a grand slam did not spark a controversy when Evan Gattis did it in 2013, nor when Jason Lane did it in 2006, nor when Damian Miller did it in 2002, nor when Mike Piazza did it in 1998. Nobody got a pitch thrown at them, like Manny Machado did on Monday night, resulting in suspensions for Rangers pitcher Ian Gibaut and manager Chris Woodward. It was simply accepted that those guys hit grand slams, which, again, is the best thing a hitter can do: four runs with one swing of the bat.
Guess what everyone mentioned so far other than Tatis and Machado have in common.
It’s a trait they share with Royals pitcher Brad Keller, but not White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson, who embarrassed Keller last year with a bat toss on a home run, then got drilled by Keller in retribution.
No one captured the spirit of this low-melanin group quite like the late John McCain, who whined about the Dodgers in 2013, “No-class act by a bunch of overpaid, immature, arrogant, spoiled brats!”
What did the Dodgers do that was so terrible? They celebrated clinching the National League West by playing in the swimming pool in right field at Arizona’s ballpark. Particularly notable was Yasiel Puig doing a bellyflop.
Puig also has found himself in multiple flaps with Madison Bumgarner over the years, with the former Giants lefty serving as a one-man cavalry fighting for the rule of unwritten law. Bumgarner has had occasion to clash with a white player, too — witness last year’s incident with Max Muncy — but a lot of Bumgarner’s beefs have been with non-white players because that’s what the unwritten rules are about: protecting fragile white men.
The color line was an unwritten rule, too. Major League Baseball never had an expressly written policy of segregation, just a “gentlemen’s agreement” that the whole operation would be whites-only.
When Tatis, Anderson, Puig, and others smash these unwritten rules like a hanging curveball, it’s what they become known for. They should be household names because of how good they are at baseball, but this is a league that hasn’t been able to make a real star out of Mike Trout, the best player of his generation.
Baseball’s unwritten rules are stupid, antiquated, and tools of a white supremacist system. But their continued persistence in existing is bizarrely good for the game as some of the game’s top young non-white stars get their chance to become folk heroes in a way that baseball alone does not provide an opportunity for.