Strong ruling against Rangers could help ‘make baseball fun again’

MLB insider Shi Davidi speculates on how the league will handle the Rangers-Jays brawl discipline, but is scratching his head over whether Jose Bautista deserves anymore?

TORONTO – Let’s remember, once again, that the catalyst for Rougned Odor’s shot at Jose Bautista and subsequent Toronto Blue JaysTexas Rangers brawl that kept the baseball world captivated Monday was a celebratory bat flip. Sure, it was a spectacular toss, one already embedded into post-season lore, but if the sport’s etiquette means Bautista can’t strut a little after that series-clinching homer in Game 5 of last fall’s ALDS, well then, the game’s got problems.

The message superstar Bryce Harper was sending by recently wearing a hat that reads, “Make Baseball Fun Again,” wasn’t aimed at the Rangers, but it’s one Jeff Banister and his holier-than-thou band of vengeance-seekers should certainly heed. Yes, losing sucks, and it hurts, but enjoying success at a peak emotional moment isn’t disrespectful to the game or a player’s opponents. The risk of defeat’s agony is part of what every athlete signs up for.

And, to loosely borrow from David Price’s mantra, if you don’t like it, don’t give the other team six outs by kicking the ball around, play better. Given their antics, the Rangers remain unable or are unwilling to accept that responsibility for the post-season loss to the Blue Jays belongs to them. If Elvis Andrus doesn’t have perhaps the worst defensive inning in playoff history, Bautista doesn’t get to the plate.

That’s why Major League Baseball has some important decisions to make in handing down discipline for Sunday’s melee.

If the Rangers aren’t punished adequately, then the commissioner’s office will be leaving any player who dares to commit the heinous act of flipping a bat subject to the kind of vigilante justice appallingly celebrated by Texas media. Slaps on the wrist for Banister (who behaved more like a WWE jabroni than a big-league manager), Matt Bush and Rougned Odor – who’s doled out more than his fair share of dirty slides and always seems primed to pick a fight – will only invite more retribution in the future, and stifle the personalities of some of the game’s most exciting players.

Whether someone is loved or loathed, sour grapes over a loss isn’t an excuse to drill a player, it’s an invitation for trouble.

Once that happens outside the context of baseball’s you-hit-us, we-hit-you conventions, you end up with a situation that can quickly escalate out of control, the way it did in Sunday’s melee.

“I don’t know what the repercussions are going to be, they’ve got a lot to deal with now,” said Blue Jays manager John Gibbons. “You kind of always anticipated something might happen going in, that was the talk, [media] talked about it a lot, everybody did, we did. Players talk, you know? You hear things, you can even get disgruntled players on other teams that talk, who knows.

“It didn’t happen the first six games. My only complaint was normally the way it’s handled if you got an issue with something, we get that, everybody views things differently, and you’re going to do something, hey that’s part of it. But I figure you might do it right away, and then you’ve got six more games to let it play out the way they’re going to play out. That was my feeling on it.”

Worth noting, too, is that before the first of the season’s seven games between the teams, Adrian Beltre essentially quashed the revenge narrative. Speaking to Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News, the highly respected Rangers third baseman said, “That happened and it’s in the past. Did the other team beat us in the playoffs last year? Yes. Besides that, I’m not going to start looking too deep into it. That’s stuff that happened last year; I’ve got too much positive stuff to focus on now.”

Obviously not all the Rangers felt that way.

The Blue Jays are going to get their share of discipline for the brawl, too. Gibbons is likely facing a suspension for returning to the field after being ejected, while Jesse Chavez gets one too for hitting Prince Fielder intentionally in retaliation for Bautista’s plunking. More intriguing is whether Bautista gets any punishment for his aggressive slide into Odor, leading the volatile second baseman to sock him with a right, and bringing about the chaos. Josh Donaldson and Kevin Pillar may face some discipline for jumping into the scrum, while bullpen catcher Jason Phillips was right in the middle of things.

But violence begets violence.

“When a guy gets a clean shot like [Odor on Bautista] most of us, our only thought process was getting one back, an eye-for-an-eye, that’s how a lot of us approached it,” said Pillar. “I think this will bring us closer together, not that this team needed it. But any time you go out there and something like that happens, there’s no doubt you get closer as a team, hopefully that’s a spark this team needed to start playing better, to start playing better together.

“We’re just looking forward to hopefully turning the page and not letting this be something that defines us a team, but maybe motivated us and sparks us to go on and play the way we’re capable of playing.”

A 13-2 pounding from the Tampa Bay Rays on Monday night that marked a third straight loss only added to the urgency on that front for the Blue Jays. First, they’ll have to pay for a mess created by the Rangers’ petty lingering ill-will, a tab no team that gets to celebrate a homer like Bautista’s should ever be stuck with.

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