As the drama between the Blue Jays and Yankees continues to stew, it’s time to pause and take stock of all we’ve seen here so far. Seem familiar? It should. It’s been something right out of reality television. The memes? The dugout quips? The pettiness over base coach positioning? The Bachelor’s producers can only wish they had this kind of material.
Now for a rundown of the relevant tropes:
1. Something Innocuous Blows Up
The central drama cannot be anything too serious; putting real stakes to it will undermine the whole thing. It has to be a little bit silly. Or more specifically, it has to sound a little bit silly, even if it’s based on a somewhat valid concern. This is all the better: One party is legitimately frustrated, the other can focus only on how stupid their frustration sounds, and it sends the fight spiraling into something far more tenuous and ridiculous. Good! That’s classic reality TV. But it has to start in the right place. It has to start with something like, “But he looked over there weirdly!”
Enter Aaron Judge, glancing toward his dugout before hitting a home run in the eighth inning on Monday. It’s a bit weird! But it certainly doesn’t indicate something like illegal sign stealing. (Just to be clear: What sense would it make for a team to engineer a sign-stealing scheme that, (a) exists at all in a world where signs can be transmitted electronically by PitchCom, and (b) requires the hitter to look away from the pitcher in such a conspicuous way?)
It stood to reason that the situation was something more like the Blue Jays tipping their pitches in a way that a member of the Yankees had figured out. (It’s perfectly legal for players and coaches on the field to relay information like that to a hitter.) And that seems to be exactly what happened: Blue Jays reliever Jay Jackson told Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic that he had been tipping his slider, and the tell was reportedly visible to Yankees first base coach Travis Chapman.
This was normal baseball fare: Guys tip pitches, teams catch on and share that information amongst themselves—that’s how the game works. Judge’s home run wasn’t even close to decisive. (It made the score Yankees 7, Blue Jays 0. Again, the stakes can’t be too high, or the whole thing gets too serious for this realm of petty drama.) But the way in which it unfolded here is perfectly reality TV. There is no reasonable way for anyone to say, “But he looked at the dugout!” It’s a fundamentally silly, paranoid sentence; even in a sport with more than a century of angst over stealing signs, both valid and not, this just sounds foolish. Which is absolutely perfect for our purposes here.
2. The Silly Maneuvering
The Blue Jays could not do too much with, “But he looked at the dugout!” So they turned to the rulebook. They wondered if Chapman had been positioned improperly on Monday—allowing him to more easily relay the info to Judge—which set the scene for bickering over coach positioning on Tuesday. This, too, is another classic move from reality TV: When you cannot really fight about the core subject, you grab onto something, anything else, preferably as weird and flimsy as possible. This certainly qualifies!
Yes, technically, there is a rule about base coaches standing in the box. (It’s 5.03(c): “Base coaches must remain within the coach’s box consistent with this Rule, except that a coach who has a play at his base may leave the coach’s box to signal the player to slide, advance or return to a base if the coach does not interfere with the play in any manner.”) But you could be forgiven for not realizing the rule exists. Plenty of first- and third-base coaches go an entire game without ever being firmly planted in the box. And umpires almost never tell them to do otherwise! (Here, the crew chief ultimately told both managers to stop pointing it out and let him take care of coach positioning.) It’s simply accepted as common practice. Which makes it the perfect kind of nit-picky, minor item to seize on for continued drama.
This is arguing about who sits where at the dinner scheduled for the characters to put their differences aside and move on. You could have just kept going! You could have just played another game and forgotten all about this! Instead, you’re here, arguing about something even sillier.
3. A Fight with a Perfectly Stupid Sound Bite
The petty maneuvering around base coaches is a great proxy battle: It works in new characters, it’s something present on every single pitch, it’s all just so dumb. But to really escalate the situation? You need both sides arguing. You need some good dialogue. You need Blue Jays manager John Schneider yelling, “Shut up, fat boy, shut up!”
A manager saying “shut up fat boy” is hilarious. pic.twitter.com/LyWQ3Yc1vF— Steve Perrault (@Steve_Perrault) May 17, 2023
There are a couple of things working here. First, it’s just delightfully silly. It’s easily memed. And it creates intrigue. Who is Fat Boy? Will we ever know?
4. Some Actual Drama
In the middle of all this, Yankees starter Domingo Germán became the second pitcher ejected for use of illegal substances this season when the umpire determined his hand was too sticky during a routine check in the fourth inning. This could have easily been the centerpiece of separate drama unto itself. Here? It was just a subplot. Not enough spiciness to compete with the main event. But it did come with one great line from home plate umpire James Hoye:
“It was extremely shiny and extremely sticky. It was the stickiest hand I’ve ever felt.”
Which, of course, just sets up for more drama next time on Yankees-Blue Jays.