To celebrate or not? Tatis Jr. adds new fire to old controversy

Jay Busbee
·5-min read

To celebrate, or not to celebrate? That’s the question. Whether it’s nobler to Do Your Job with stoic dispassion, or to gloat in victory like you just won the lottery on Christmas Day, it’s a choice that faces every ballplayer, every day. And it’s a debate that fuels a thousand sports talk radio segments, blog post comment sections and sports bar arguments … back when, you know, we could gather in sports bars.

The latest to relight the celebration-debate fire is the San Diego Padres' brilliant Fernando Tatis Jr., who also ignited a team and a sport when he went deep again, again and again against the Los Angeles Dodgers this past weekend. This was an April series that, improbably enough, felt like October, and Tatis celebrated like it, pounding titanic homers and then exulting in the glory.

Dodgers-Padres ‘21 is shaping up to be a season-long brawl, Mortal Kombat in the batter’s box. The Padres won this round, taking three of four from Los Angeles and, just as crucially, working their way under the Dodgers’ skin.

This series was an epic poem all by itself, a four-game story of home runs, bat flips, grudges, sign-stealing allegations, bad Photoshops, pitchers out of position, position players pitching, swordplay and Twitter beef, and it's all glorious and ridiculous in a sport in real need of a sense of humor. (You can catch up on the whole saga here.)

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For now, Dodgers-Padres pivots on Tatis, specifically on the ways in which he’s setting up camp in the Dodgers’ heads with his many celebrations. Which is where we bring you, the fan, into the picture. Where do you stand on athlete celebrations in moments of triumph? Are you a disciple of the Church of Act Like You've Been There Before, or do you enjoy little mini-Broadway performances at every home run, dunk and touchdown?‌

This whole Tatis-vs.-everybody deal is the kind of thing that upsets baseball's (sigh) traditionalists, who complain that it's (louder sigh) disrespectful to the pitcher and the game, and moreover that it's a violation of (sigh so loud that the neighbors complain) baseball's unwritten rules. Never mind that Tatis is an incredibly exciting young star in a sport that has had precious few exciting young stars since Ken Griffey Jr. in 19-freaking-90, decorum must be maintained.

That's ridiculous. Me, I love celebrations. Love 'em. Give me choreographed end zone dances, bat flips to Saturn, fist pumps after long putts and rhythmic gymnastic routines after long three-point shots. Sports are supposed to be fun — something I think we could all agree has been a little lacking of late, for reasons I will not be touching on in this particular column — and watching someone who's among the best in the world at what they do celebrating that fact is, yes, fun.

I do have a couple caveats. You've got to do something worth celebrating, and you've got to read the room vis-à-vis the overall game. Tackle a guy after he's just picked up seven yards? Hustle back to the huddle, slick; that's not an accomplishment worth celebrating. Hit a home run when your team's down 11 runs? Keep your head down and round those bases, chief, you didn't erase your team's shame with that swing.

Beyond that, though, knock yourself out. I can tell you this: if I managed to hit a home run off a major league pitcher, I'd be staging a production of "Hamilton" right there at home plate. I'd be mocking the pitcher and his family on Twitter. And I'd get a fastball to the teeth the next time up, and I'd absolutely deserve it, but still.

Granted, there's a very thin line between exulting in a moment of triumph and just being a cocky [expletive]. We all recognize when a celebration becomes a taunt, generally after it’s already happened … and that’s when it can turn ugly. (Hence, why the NFL is cracking down on taunting this year.)

Plus, although “think of the children!” is generally a terrible way to frame any debate about what adults do, there really is a legitimate are-we-setting-a-bad-example question surrounding athlete celebrations. A dance like, say, that old Sam Cassell big-huevos celebration loses a whole lot of its charm when it’s done by an 8-year-old in a church league.

But here's the thing about celebrations: there's a really easy way to make sure they never happen. If you didn't do your job, don't get mad at the player who's celebrating doing theirs.

Trevor Bauer, the pitcher who surrendered two of Tatis' celebratory dingers, said something along those lines Saturday night

"I think that pitchers that have that [celebration] done to them and react by throwing at people, or get upset and [hit] people or whatever, I think it's pretty soft. If you give up a homer, a guy should celebrate it. It's hard to hit in the big leagues." 

Tatis' Padres and Bauer's Dodgers play approximately 700 more times this season, so there will be ample opportunity for revenge and counter-revenge. I'll be watching, and maybe some lapsed baseball fans will be too. Nothing like a little bit of spice to kick a budding rivalry to the next level.

For now, though, I'm going to go do the Dirty Bird to celebrate finishing this column. Feel free to celebrate as you see fit. Just don’t spike your phone.

Fernando Tatis Jr. in celebration mode. (Harry How/Getty Images)
Fernando Tatis Jr. in celebration mode. (Harry How/Getty Images)

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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee and contact him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com.

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