In the sport of baseball there is an unofficial set of rules known as “the unwritten rules of baseball”. A sort of manifesto or protocol created in the early years of the sport that deem certain acts ethically wrong in regards to giving respect to your opponent, and the game itself. The rules were not written by a certain person or group, they simply arose as the game evolved and certain acts were deemed inappropriate or dishonourable to the game. Acts like a pitcher throwing the ball at the batters head when the pitcher is intentionally trying to hit the batter, or sliding into an opponent with the metal spikes of his cleats facing up to harm the opponent. More examples can be found here. These guidelines are not part of Major League Baseballs’s official set of rules, yet to some they are more important than the official rules because they maintain through the years the characteristics of a proper baseball game. Keeping the “old school” characteristics of the sport such as blue-collar work ethic and honour are believed to be kept if the unwritten rules are followed. Baseball players hold each other accountable to maintain these unwritten rules.
The unwritten rules are understood then as an attempt to keep the “good” of the game intact. Canadian philosopher Thomas Hurka has summarized certain theories of the good such as Aristotle’s as “what is good, ultimately, is the development of human nature” (Hurka). Using this idea that developing human nature is a characteristic of the good life, we should then be challenging ourselves to grow in all aspects of life, even in sports. Baseball has recently being going through changes in how people approach the game form an ethical standpoint, the do’s and dont’s. To some, it is time to develop the nature of the game, and to possibly re-think these unwritten rules. Just as Aristotle urges us to develop our human nature, we should also develop our perception of some acts in sports.
On October 14th, 2015, in game 5 of the American League Divisional Series between the Toronto Blue Jays and the Texas Rangers, the unwritten rules of the game became the centre of discussion in baseball circles. Jose Bautista of the Blue Jays hit a go ahead 3-run home run in the 7th inning to give the Blue Jays a lead that would eventually win them the series, the furthest into the playoffs the Blue Jays had made it in 21 years. After the the explosive reaction from the fans at the Rogers Centre and across the nation, after the all the highlights shown on sports networks across the globe had been replayed ten times over, the days following the moment seemed to shift the discussion from the enormity of the home run, to something else; the way Bautista flipped his bat.
The Blue Jays success this year created a ton of new baseball fandom in Canada. To these new fans or the average Blue Jay fan that watches maybe 30 games a year, the bat flip was the coolest moment they have seen in a baseball game. It was electric, tenacious, it brought out emotion in witnesses and gave the game a feeling of excitement that most people didn’t think was possible to achieve while watching a baseball game. What was being viewed in this moment was the future of baseball, the “new school” of the way the game is starting to be played. Younger players in the MLB are beginning to bring an energy and style that does not have boundaries. They are loud, they show emotion, they put on a show. To the “old school” baseball fans and players, the bat flip was pathetic. It was seen as Bautista disrespecting the other team and ultimately the game itself. Texas Rangers pitcher Sam Dyson was quoted after the game saying “Bautista needs to respect the game a little more” and “he’s a huge role model for the younger generation thats coming up playing this game”, as if Bautista had committed an act so disrespectful he should be shunned from the game. In reality, the home run was the most iconic moment for the Blue Jays in two decades, it gave the organization a new identity, grew the fan base to dimensions not previously thought possible, and oh yeah, it won the game.
Why is throwing a piece of wood 20 feet in the air given more attention than any of those outcomes? The reality that “old school” baseball fans and players need to face is that the game is evolving. Yes, it is important we still keep the characteristics of respect and honour in the game, but make sure when questioning an act like the bat flip you decide whether or not the positives outweigh the negatives. If hitting a home run and flipping a bat creates more fans in the game and the game is more exciting, then there is no reason it should be held back and given negative attention. As for Dyson’s comments about the younger generation looking up to Bautista, i’m not sure what effect he thinks that moment had on younger people. Kids watched that game and wanted to get a bat and glove and go play baseball, parents watching probably had the thought of enrolling their children in baseball. The moment grew the game, period. Just as Aristotle says developing human nature is good, Bautista’s bat flip showed that there is need for change in how we perceive human nature in baseball, it should be welcomed. If the “old school” unwritten rules of baseball deemed that moment unethical, then its time to re-write some of the rules and think more about the outcome of the acts so that the game of baseball can continue to grow and evolve in the right direction. Saying that the bat flip was wrong is taking away from the importance of the moment and giving attention to unimportant matters.
Butcher and Schneider argue that “seeing fair play as “respect for the game” provides philosophical grounding”(Butcher, Schneider). Meaning playing the game by the rules is what denotes respecting the game. When analyzing Bautista’s bat flip from this perspective one could argue that Bautista did nothing to disrespect the game. Yes some of the opponents took it as a disrespectful act, but that is to be expected by any losing team in a game of that magnitude. They find something in their opponent to try and exploit as wrong. Its an emotional situation. The main point is that Bautista did nothing to disrespect the game, he only enraged a few people with old mindsets.
“It wasn’t out of contempt for the pitcher. It wasn’t because I don’t disrespect the unwritten rules of the game. I was caught up in the emotion of the moment”- Bautista , Players Tribune
After the Blue Jays playoff run had ended Bautista finally gave his thoughts in an article he wrote for the Players Tribune where he says “it wasn’t out of contempt for the pitcher, it wasn’t because I disrespect the game, I was caught up in the emotion of the moment”. This is exactly what the unwritten rules of baseball don’t account for; human moments. If the “old school” way of playing the game is being a robot and not being able to express yourself then its time is limited. The “new school” way of playing baseball will lead the game in the right direction, a direction that will grow the game and slowly take pointless negative criticisms out of our conversations.
Butcher, Robert. Schneider, Angela. Fair Play as Respect for the Game. Journal of Philosophy and Sport.
Hurka, Thomas. Perectionism. 1993.