The World Baseball Classic (WBC) finally got interesting yesterday when the ninth inning of the game between Canada and Mexico erupted into a brawl. No one got hurt or punished, and some fans threw stuff at players who got really angry. It was entertaining, if not at all wholesome. The only problem was that there was really no reason for the brawl to happen. Not that sports brawls ever need to happen, but this one was particularly pointless.
5 Reasons Why the Canada-Mexico Brawl at the WBC was really dumb
1. It was started by a bunt.
Canada’s Craig Robinson started the ninth inning, by bunting to third base for a hit. Offended by this act of trying to succeed during a baseball game, Mexico’s third baseman Luis Cruz told pitcher Arnold Leon to hit the next batter. Leon did and a brawl erupted. Wtf, you ask? Good question. Canada was up 9-3, and old-timey baseball etiquette dictates that if you are up by a lot at the end of the game, you shouldn’t try too hard. Yes, that’s as stupid as it sounds.
2. Teams come back from six runs down
The “unwritten rule” of not trying too hard when you are up by a lot late in the game likely came from old baseball times when a great team might be much much better than a bad team and player salaries were low. If a team was up by a lot late in the game, it was likely because they were much better than the other team, and playing like it was close would just prolong the pain for the bad team. Stats weren’t closely scrutinized, and for a while there wasn’t even free agency. There was little to gain from running up the score.
Now, it is unusual, but far from unheard of for a team to score six runs in an inning. WBC glory and, in the long-term, player salaries are at stake. This particular tradition has run its course.
3. Runs matter in the World Baseball Classic.
The World Baseball Classic, for better or worse (there’s some debate over that) uses run-differential as a tie-breaker for teams with identical records, something that could mean advancing to the next round for a bubble team like Canada. So, scrounging out every run you can is absolutely what every team should do. Robinson did come around to score, and there are plausible universes where that run allows Canada to win the WBC.
4. It’s not like bunts are guaranteed hits
The entire premise of Robinson coming up to bat was that he is trying to get on base. Bunting is one of the ways he might do that. Bunts are relatively uncommon compared to swinging or trying to draw a walk because they are usually unsuccessful. The idea that Robinson’s bunt was a punishable offense rests on many wrong assumptions, but the silliest one might be that he was much more likely to get on base by bunting than by swinging the bat. Besides, Canada had already scored 9 runs. It’s not like they had been all that unsuccessful with their swings.
5. That people are using the brawl as evidence that players care about the WBC
Quoth Canadian slugger Justin Morneau: "Whoever says that we're just here as an extra spring training game or we're just here to say we represented our country and then go home obviously didn't see how intense that game was and what it means to everybody that was involved." Maybe we’re missing the full context—an interviewer question perhaps—but it seems a little odd to emerge from a brawl and say “see how much we care about this baseball game?” More accurate would be “see how much Mexico forgot that runs are a tiebreaker in the WBC?” To be fair, caring was a motivating factor—there was a reason Mexico was pissed to be losing in the first place, but Morneau sounds like he’s half-trying to convince himself here.