Short answer: Never.
Long answer: Still never, but of course it’s more complicated. Often it’s what happens after the punch that matters.
Sports are this strange world where violence in the heat of the moment is fairly easily forgiven (and in the case of hockey, expected and celebrated). The issue was thrust into the spotlight again last week with a play during a game between the Texas Rangers and the Toronto Blue Jays. During the play, Toronto’s Jose Bautista (he of bat flipping infamy, against, who else, The Rangers) slides through second base and Rangers second baseman Rougned Odor (quick note to expectant parents: let’s get “Rougned” into the top 10 for baby names this year, we have enough Masons in this world) to try and break up the double play. After the slide, Bautista and Odor come face to face behind the base, Bautista appears to say something, and Odor slugs him. Better you see for yourself if you haven’t already:
First, a note on the punch. Many times in sports you see a glancing blow and that’s the hardest hit landed before the combatants get mobbed and things turn into a tangled mess of shoving. Not the case here. Odor really socks Bautista. Perhaps that’s an indicator of how unexpected the punch was, perhaps Odor just has a quick delivery. But as solid as the first punch was, the follow-up glove slap is pretty lame.
So once again, is it OK that a grown man just punched another on live television because of something that happened in a game? No, it’s not. But it happens, and will continue to happen. But for how unprofessional the on-field incident was, the aftermath was handled pretty well by everyone involved. In total, 14 players and coaches were disciplined with Odor receiving an 8-game suspension, pending an appeal. Which seems about right. And Texas manager Jeff Bannister agrees: “The rules are fair for punishment. They are in place for a reason. We’ll live by them and move on.”
And Odor agrees too, or is at least realistic about the situation: “I knew I was going to be suspended. I have to follow the rules, and I’m just waiting for the appeal. I want to be with my team all year. I don’t want to be out eight games.”
And you know what, that’s a completely rational response to the situation. He got caught up in the moment, did something rash, and seems to be expressing regret at letting things get out of hand. He wants to keep playing as much as possible, so the appeal is reasonable (and really just standard protocol). I’m sure Odor doesn’t expect the suspension to be dropped completely, but perhaps upon further review they change the length. Either way, it seems safe to say he will act responsibly and quietly serve his time, so to speak. Usually in these situations an apology is not offered, nor is it demanded. Which, in a way, is a sign that all involved are ready to move past it and recognize it for what it is: an altercation.
An 8-game suspension and a small fine ($5,000) is a steal compared to what someone might face for the same punch outside of the sports world. Hard to imagine someone decking their co-worker because they cut in line in the cafeteria and keeping their job. Can you picture a hockey style, drawn out slugfest out on the sidewalk somewhere not ending up with both guys in handcuffs, as opposed to in hockey where they would spend a whole 5 minutes in a little room before being cut loose? As a society we seem to have come to the understanding that sports come with heated moments, and heated moments can lead to bad decisions. Throwing a punch because of something that happens on the baseball field is about the most unprofessional thing a player could do. But it’s what happens after the punch that establishes these athletes and coaches as professionals.
So when is it ok to punch someone in baseball? Still never. But if you do. Do the right thing after that and take your punishment.
Oh, and if you were wondering. This is the closest it has been to being OK to punch someone in baseball.