The Prize Pupil

June-Speaking-of-Sports1465572149


Every school here in Arlington

is governed by a set of rules. The rules are clearly spelled out in the student handbook, and violators will be disciplined accordingly. Actually, there is one school where the rules are not clearly spelled out; in fact, they are not even written down. The school does not even have a name, although it is always referred to as Old School. Where is this nameless school of unwritten rules? It meets at Globe Life Park in Arlington anytime more than one retired baseball player gathers.

My day job allows me the opportunity to hang around a bunch of these Old School baseball types. They range in age from much younger than me to much older than me, but they share an Old School philosophy that has allowed baseball to police itself for generations. The rules of this Old School are complex and sacred and, of course, unwritten.

So when considering the events of last month when Rougned Odor punched his way into baseball immortality, realize that as blunt as that act was, it was steeped in complexity and nuance.

It all started when

one of the unwritten rules was violated last October – to wit, Jose Bautista flipped his bat in the face of the entire Rangers team.

The unwritten rules clearly state that you are not allowed to show up a pitcher or another team. This was a clear violation of the rule.

If Bautista had celebrated with his team, that would have been acceptable. But by throwing the bat toward the Rangers’ dugout and then “staring down” Rangers relief pitcher Sam Dyson after he belted the game-changing home run, Bautista broke two rules. It was the equivalent of yelling “fire” in a movie theater. It was a clear and complete violation of Old School rules. As is the case with any school, a rule violator must be punished.

The punishment phase is where things get more complex;

after all, corporal punishment is no longer allowed. Since the rule was violated late in the final game of a playoff series, there was no real opportunity for the Rangers to retaliate last season. Do the unwritten rules allow for the punishment phase to carry over to the next season? Who knows? The rules are unwritten. Still, one of the questions that I asked every player on the Rangers during spring training was, “Do you know when you play the Blue Jays this year?” Everyone of them did.

The first game against the now-hated Blue Jays this season was May 2nd in Toronto. As one of the reporters on the road with the team, I was ready, even eager, for retaliation. But game one came and went with nothing. Dyson even pitched to Bautista again, but none of his pitches “got away from him.” The next morning I called the Principal of the Old School to find out why. “You can’t retaliate in Toronto,” he said. “We saw what the fans there did last year.”

The Principal made a good point, and I then knew there would be no retaliation north of the border. Still, I was anxious to see what would happen during game one of the series in Texas. It was scheduled to start just eight days after the series in Toronto ended. On Friday the 13th, no less.

This had to be the day when the Rangers

exacted their revenge, right? Wrong! I happened to bump into the Principal that night at Globe Life Park in Arlington, and he said, “Nothing happens until Sunday.” I wanted to ask why, but he is the principal, and the unwritten rules suggest that you don’t talk back to him.

So I waited patiently until Sunday. We all know what happened on Sunday. A pitch got away from a guy making his second appearance in the big leagues, and that Joey Bats jerk over-reacted. That is the Old School narrative, and I have always been a good student, so that is my story, and I am sticking to it.

There are young players who feel like Old School rules are barbaric and archaic and stupid. Then again, Rougned Odor is only 22 years old, and he has already graduated to Old School status. He is years, maybe decades, away from pulling up a rocking chair on the Old School porch, but when he does, he has a story to tell.