Rougned Odor’s punch landing flush on Jose Bautista’s face comes about as common for baseball as hitting for the cycle does for boxing. Not since Nolan Ryan placed Robin Ventura in a headlock and slugged him has a punch in a sport not known for them sparked so many conversations.
The ensuing debate, like that masterful overhand right, stems only in part from the play in question, which witnessed Bautista break up a double play with a hard slide into second in the eighth inning. That’s old school. Last postseason, the Blue Jay went new school with his bat flip after a dramatic home run during Game 5 of the ALDS.
You can be the former. You can be the latter. You can’t be both. That’s the message Odor’s right hand delivered to Bautista’s jaw.
Bautista tried and failed to switch between old school and new school. Conceding Odor “got me pretty good,” Bautista maintains of the hard slide: “I tried to send a message that I didn’t appreciate getting hit.” But he got nailed in the ribs by a 98 mph Matt Bush fastball because did the equivalent of a sack dance on the field in a sport that has no equivalent. Baseball regulates when its stars imagine they play in another sport.
Antics like Bautista’s bat flip outrage traditionalists from Mike Schmidt to Mike Trout. Upstart stars such as Bryce Harper and Jose Altuve applaud the showboating. The debate rages this season, and Rougned Odor just delivered a forceful counterpoint likely persuading a few partisans of new-school baseball not to make a demonstration of their beliefs on the field.
The Rangers remembered the bat flip like Texans remember the Alamo. New call up Matt Bush, accustomed to assaulting other human beings, plunked Bautista before Odor pummeled him (the Rangers, incidentally, won 7-6 after the eighth-inning incident overshadowed the game). Baseball, a game of tradition, plays essentially the same way it did a century ago. Football added the forward pass, and guards no longer protect the rim in basketball. But baseball remains baseball. High heat near the head, or a Rocky Colavito morphing into Rocky Marciano when the moment demands it, intends to keep it that way.
Baseball’s written rules forbid the retributive actions of Bush and Odor. But its unwritten rules prohibit bat flips. Here, like everywhere, custom trumps law.