Time sure does fly when you’re having fun. Here we are a quarter of the way through the 2016 baseball season and it’s been nothing short of exciting. On Sunday, we got more excitement than bargained for, in the form of an ALDS rematch between the Toronto Blue Jays and the Texas Rangers.
We know how the scene is set: last year in the win-or-go-home ALDS game five, Jose Bautista hammered a go-ahead home run and hurled his bat. No one, especially not the Rangers, has forgotten this moment so in the top of the 8th inning, seven months after the bat flip – conveniently Jose Bautista’s last time at the dish against Texas this season – Joey Bats was plunked in the ribs. Justin Smoak was up next and with Bautista on first he grounded into a double play.
Here’s where things got hairy: From the moment of contact, there was no doubt that Bautista was going to be out at second, but to exact some revenge for the HBP, he slid hard and late, past the bag and into the path of Texas’ second baseman, Rougned Odor. In Bautistas’s own words, this slide was intentional, but he “could have injured [Odor] and chose not to.” Odor, unhappy with a slide that last year would have just been considered aggressive but under new rules is illegal, proceeded to punch Bautista square in the jaw.
The punch – while unnecessarily violent – was actually gorgeously executed; some are even calling it the best punch in baseball history. Now, if you’ve read my baseball writing before, you know that I am a vocal Red Sox fan, so maybe I’m just longing for the days of Jason Varitek taking down Alex Rodriguez, but man I loved this Jays/Rangers on-field brawl.
I’ve been a vocal supporter of batflips (and I wrote about it here)and the whole “Make Baseball Fun Again” mentality generally, so to a certain extent I think that Sunday’s brawl is part of how we make baseball fun again. Kevin Millar (cowboy up!) echoed this opinion on Intentional Talk, saying that this fight “shows you the passion that grown men have playing a kid’s game.” Millar couldn’t be more right. We obviously don’t want to watch players intentionally injure each other, but we do want to see them exude passion. What this amounts to is the desire to watch bitter rivalries play out, especially when we can bank on the occasional fist being thrown.
Why else would ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball early season schedule of 12 games include three Red Sox/ Yankees games, two Giants/Dodgers games and a Royals/Mets World Series rematch if for no reason other than more people will tune in to watch rivalries. It’s simple math that brawls like what transpired Sunday lend well to viewership numbers.
The Bautista bat flip last October sparked a competitiveness between two teams that would otherwise just exist concurrently in the American League; the Odor punch solidified it. We’re seeing a new generation of baseball and it’s going to be really hard for viewers to not tune in when we’re getting can’t miss baseball moments like this.