This article originally appeared in Sports on Earth, which publishes daily thought and opinion on the day's sporting news.
Never before in the history of baseball have Latino players been so emboldened. Years of success for Latino players have caused a new generation, who grew up watching Latino stars, to demand a larger place in the game. This group believes they deserve to have a say in how the game is played. It is as much their game as it is anybody else's.
Not satisfied to be meek bystanders, modern Latino players have begun to impose their own attitudes on a game that, in previous years, had asked them to curtail their behavior to appease a mostly white power structure. But no more. Latinos have become an integral part of the game, and their presence, once under constant threat, now is assured. Baseball needs Latino players not only to improve the talent pool, but also to appeal to a growing Latino audience.
Several years ago Sandy Alderson, then Major League Baseball's liaison to the Dominican Republic, threatened a group of coaches, trainers, and scouts in Santo Domingo that if they did not adhere to a new set of rules and regulations for signing amateur players, then MLB's presence on the island would disappear. It was an empty threat then. It's more of an empty threat now. Baseball is not leaving Latin America, period.
Such an environment is the backdrop to the start of the Division Series pitting the pool-jumping, Yasiel-Puig-bat-tossing Los Angeles Dodgers against the Atlanta Braves, who have become the de facto guardians of the game, America's team, protectors of everything that is perceived to be good about the sport.
In two well-publicized incidents this season, the Braves were applauded for playing the game the "right way" after lashing out on the field against two overzealous Latino players who had celebrated hitting home runs. (It's worth noting the Braves' policing hasn't been entirely limited to Latinos—earlier this year, they plunked Bryce Harper twice, after they deemed he had not rounded the bases quickly enough after a home run.) Most recently, Braves catcher Brian McCann was so appalled by Milwaukee Brewers' center fielder Carlos Gomez's behavior after hitting a homer against Paul Maholm that McCann impeded Gomez's path to home plate. Gomez never touched home, although he was eventually credited with a home run, soon after being ejected from the game for starting a melee.
Gomez's behavior was undoubtedly over the top—he yelled at Braves players all the way around the bases—but his reaction was precipitated by having been thrown at twice in the last few years by Maholm, for previously having flipped his bat after a couple successful at-bats.
The other incident occurred when the Braves were angered that Marlins rookie Jose Fernandez had been visibly frustrated on the mound after allowing several base hits in a game against Atlanta. Braves players yelled back at Fernandez, which angered him even more. Fernandez eventually hit a home run in that game and celebrated all the way around the bases, which almost started a full-out brawl.
Fernandez apologized after the game for his behavior, although I'm not quite certain why he had to do so. He hadn't hurt anyone. His only crime was to exhibit a passionate reaction, which itself hardly seems like much of a crime.
The underlying question in the reaction to these incidents—and several similar other ones this year involving Latino players, including Puig—seemed to be why these players couldn't simply behave like they are supposed to? Why couldn't these guys play the game the "right way"?
The framing of the incidents in this manner is ignorant and prejudicial. What exactly is the "right way" to play the game? Who decides what the "right way" is? And why can't bat flips and celebrations be considered the "right way"?