Fernando Tatis Jr. has become one of the best stories in a shortened baseball season that’s in desperate need of positives. This is a sport that came close to not getting off the ground for 2020 because of financial greed during a pandemic and one in which two teams, the Marlins and Cardinals, have been shut down for extended periods because of the coronavirus.
So when a 21-year-old potential superstar like Tatis emerges for the San Diego Padres, it’s reason to celebrate each and every one of his accomplishments. There was plenty to celebrate on Monday night in Texas as Tatis hit two home runs, increasing his total to a major league-leading 11, and drove in seven runs.
That performance did land Tatis national headlines — something that isn’t easy to come by when you play for the Padres — but it wasn’t because of his successes. Instead, Tatis ended up being criticized for hitting a 3-0 pitch for a home run in the eighth inning with the Padres already up by seven runs. Tatis had committed one of the great sins in baseball: Violating an unwritten rule.
Tatis’ own manager, Jayce Tingler, was quick to point out that he did not want to run up the score against his former ballclub, the Rangers, and that Tatis had missed a take sign. The Rangers showed their unahappiness by throwing the next pitch behind Manny Machado after Ian Gibaut had replaced Juan Nicasio on the mound.
All of this led to Tatis feeling he had to apologize. “I’ve been in this game since I was a kid,” he told reporters. “I know a lot of unwritten rules. I was kind of lost on this. Those experiences, you have to learn. Probably next time, I’ll take a pitch.”
MLB launched an ad campaign before the 2018 postseason that simply stated: Let The Kids Play.
It was one of the best things the sport has done, encouraging enthusiasm while telling the old-school baseball folks that they had lost the fight to keep their sport boring as possible. You want to flip your bat after a home run, pump your fist going around the bases, or swing at 3-0 pitch up by seven runs? Go ahead and do it.
Tatis Jr., whose father played in the big leagues from 1997 to 2010, shouldn’t have been apologizing to anyone for his actions on Monday night. In fact, MLB should be apologizing to him for not being more proactive in making him a household name, even if he does play in San Diego. Obtained from the White Sox in the James Shields trade — the Twins caught a break on that one — Tatis Jr., is slashing .305/.383/.726 with 11 homers and 28 RBIs in 23 games. His home run and RBI totals lead the big leagues.
This is the exact type of player MLB should be selling to younger fans. He’s the future. And, nobody wants to see the future get a take sign on a 3-0 count with the bases loaded.
MLB commissioner Rob Manfred hasn’t done much right during his tenure but he’s got a chance here to send a message that the “Let The Kids Play” theme was more than a cute commercial and slogan. Rangers manager Chris Woodward and Gibaut should draw 10-game suspensions in this 60-game regular season. There is absolutely no excuse for throwing behind Machado because an unwritten rule was broken and that message needs to be sent to everyone. (After this column was published it was announced that Gibaut had been suspended for three games and Woodward for one game.)
Then launch another ad campaign. This time show Tatis Jr.’s home run against the Rangers, along with a bunch of other highlights from one of the most exciting young players in baseball, and put this tag on it: “Never Apologize For Excellence.”