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A Brief Primer on Baseball’s Unwritten Rules

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With baseball’s opening day less than 48 short hours away my excitement and anticipation levels are approaching levels only equaled by Bartolo Colon’s weight. Tomorrow I will post my predictions for the season, but today is a public service announcement to any new baseball fans that may not be well versed in the game behind the game…or Alex Rodriguez. Either way knowing the rules of the game is one thing, but knowing and following the unwritten rules is an entirely different animal. Failing to comply with what has been laid forth by generations of ballplayers before you may very well get you a fastball to the earhole, or worse, a trade to the Pirates. There are far more unwritten rules than I will be listing, but knowing and following the ten laid out below will make you a better fan, player, and overall human being.

Part 1: Superstitions

Dodgers Hall of Fame catcher Roy Campanella once remarked: “You gotta be a man to play baseball for a living, but you gotta have a lot of little boy in you too.” That how baseball works, it’s a kids game played by grown men. In order to succeed you have to be great, but you also have to channel the child in your soul and respect the ghosts of baseball past.

Unwritten Rule 1: Don’t Mess With a Hot Streak.

Eat a chicken salad sandwich washed down with a Tahitian Treat before last night’s game? Did you get 3 knocks? If both answers are “Yes,” then you had better be planning a chicken salad sandwich and Tahitian Treat before you head to the ballpark. Plain and simple, if you are on a roll don’t change anything. Don’t wash your jersey, don’t switch hats or gloves, and don’t decide on a whim to try something new. Hot streaks are the white whales of baseball, you never know when one will start, but you do know that anything can end them. On the other hand, if every at-bat seems to start 0-2 and every ball hit on the screws is right at someone, you need to change everything. Something you are doing is not sitting well with the baseball gods and you are being punished. The first step is to find a slumpbuster. Unfamiliar with the term? Let’s just say you need to take a fall on a grenade for the good of the team.

Unwritten Rule 2: Don’t Discuss a No-Hitter as it’s Happening.

No-hitters aren’t supposed to happen; they just aren’t logical. For one to occur, it takes equal parts excellent pitching, good fortune, and for the baseball gods to be channeling Ken Griffey Jr. and sleeping through the game. The only thing that wakes up the baseball gods faster than the words “no-hitter” are the words “perfect game,” but you get the picture. Remember Armando Galarraga’s near-perfecto last year? As Jason Donald approached the plate in 9th inning, the announcer remarked: “Here it is folks, he’s one out away from a perfect game.” What happened next? Donald was clearly beaten to the bag on the play, but inexplicably something inside umpire Jim Joyce made him proclaim that Donald was safe. A clear and obvious blown call, one he will regret for the rest of his life. What made him do it? Someone woke up the baseball gods and they made sure that history was not made on that warm June evening in Detroit.

Part 2: Actions That Should Never Be Done

Unwritten Rule 3: Don’t Bunt After the 5th Inning to Break Up a No-Hitter.

As I laid out, no-hitters are sacred. It takes a perfect storm for one to happen, respect it. I don’t care if you are down 1-0 in the 9th inning with Usain Bolt at the plate, under no circumstances do you ever attempt a bunt in order to try and break up a no-hitter. Some people mock this rule in saying: “the goal of the game is to win it and if you have to bunt to win, then do it.” These are people that you want to disassociate from as soon as possible. They are the type of people that will hit on your wife, tell your boss when you show up late, and worst of all, look at your controller when you pick your play in Tecmo Super Bowl. Bunting to break up a no-hitter is a cowardly act and one that will not be forgotten nor go unpunished.

Unwritten Rule 4: Don’t Walk Across the Pitcher’s Mound.

Unless you are a pitcher or a catcher, the pitcher’s mound is sacred. Whether or not the pitcher is Cy Young or Oliver Perez the mound remains the same. It’s not a place for you to disrespect and it’s certainly not a place for you to lollygag across on your way back to the dugout. Pitchers are unique individuals that put themselves out there each and every pitch. The pitcher’s mound is their territory and theirs alone, so stay off it it… Got it A-Rod?

Unwritten Rule 5: Don’t Take Extra Bases in a Blowout.

The most important rule of baseball is to respect the game at all times. No matter who you are, you aren’t the first person to play the game and you certainly won’t be the last. If you happen to reach base with a 6 run lead in the 8th, your run doesn’t matter so stay put unless you are moved. Stealing a base is not only disrespectful to the team getting drilled, but also to the game itself. It’s almost certainly a surefire way to guarantee that you will catch a fastball with your back the next time you are at the plate.

Unwritten Rule 6: Don’t Pimp Your Home Run.

Generally speaking there are no exceptions to any of these rules, but if there were to be one it would be this one and the exception is for Manny Ramirez. Ramirez pimps fly outs to short so it goes without saying that he’s going to pimp his home runs. Even better is when he stands at home plate watching his ball two-hop the wall and nearly get thrown out at first. However, unless you are Manny Ramirez never show up the pitcher. Stats say he will get you out seven times out of ten, so if you actually do your job and get a hit you have no grounds for celebration. Respect the pitcher and respect the game.

Unwritten Rule 7: Keep Your Spikes Down.

Hard sliding in order to break up a double play is more than acceptable, sliding with the purpose of planting your size 12’s with sharpened cleats into someone’s tibia is not. Some believe there is a fine line between playing hard and playing dirty. I disagree; playing hard is giving it your all on each and every pitch. Playing dirty on the other hand is deliberately trying to debilitate your opponent or yelling when an opposing fielder is attempting to make a play. Hard blue-collar work will earn you the respect of your teammates and the league. Dirty play on the other hand will leave you in the same light as AJ Pierzynski or A-Rod.

Part 3: Actions that Must Be Done

Unwritten Rule 8: Protect Your Hitters With the Beanball.

Accidents happen. Even the best pitchers uncork a wild one from time to time. Despite that fact, everyone who has ever even sniffed a baseball field understands that if you as a pitcher hit a batter, one of yours will soon get plunked. Umpires know and fully understand both the rule and the dynamic. Pitchers also realize the stature of the hit batsman and retaliate accordingly and always below the shoulders. If Joba Chamberlain hits Albert Pujols, Derek Jeter can expect to need a massage after the game. Similarly if Chamberlain instead hit Skip Schumaker, retaliating against Jeter is bad form; instead a guy like Brett Gardener should be the marked man.

Unwritten Rule 9: If the Benches Clear You Had Better Not Be On It.

During the course of a baseball game tempers may flair for one reason or another. Maybe a team isn’t respecting the unwritten rules; maybe they are just a bunch of bush leaguers. Whatever the case, now and then the levy breaks and there is a bench-clearing brawl. In nearly every case the word “brawl” is a gross overstatement for the proceedings (unless you have a “likes to fight guy” like Jonny Gomes on your squad). More often than not, the “brawl” is two angry guys jawing at each other with 50 onlookers pseudo-manhugging. One thing remains constant though and whether or not it’s a docile kumbaya session isn’t the issue. Even if it’s an all-out knife fight, you had better grab your trident and be out there backing up your teammates.

Unwritten Rule 10: Holy is the Clubhouse.

With the instant and all-encompassing media presence that exists today athletes have very little privacy. One place that should always remain sacred is the clubhouse. Anything that goes on or any information shared between those walls should be treated in the same manner as nuclear bomb codes. Regardless of his ability, if a player cannot be trusted, he has no place on the team. He who dishes gossip on his teammates will also soon be he who needs a job. In the words of the always eloquent Delonte West: “snitches get stitches.”

For the sake of ending on a round number I stopped at ten. There are undoubtedly more unwritten rules and even a greater number of a more strategic nature never such as: never make the first or third out at 3rd base or never put the tying run on base. Those rules are a story for another day and violating them will certainly draw the ire of your manager, violations of these on the other hand could leave you severely injured or out of a job. Take heed before stepping out on the field. You’ve been warned.


One Response to “A Brief Primer on Baseball’s Unwritten Rules”

  1. “Unwritten Rule 3: Don’t Bunt After the 5th Inning to Break Up a No-Hitter.”

    Wrong. Wrong…..and….WRONG AGAIN.

    To say this should NEVER happen, I totally couldn’t disagree more.
    1-0 in the 9th, speedster at the plate, and bunting for hits IS his game, you best believe as the manager, i’m telling him GET ON BASE, no matter what, No-No, or P-G or not.

    I couldn’t hit a lick. I could run very fast and was a terrific bunter. One season I probably had more bunt hits than swinging hits…but enough about me…

    I’ll agree that there are circumstances it should not be happening. 5-0 game. 7-0 game. 13-0 game. Sure. The baseball purists say, and history has shown, no lead is insurrmountable, but I agree, down multiple runs, the Bunt used to get a hit is wrong.

    But, if your in a Pennant hunt, last game of the season, playoffs, which ever, and that 1-0 game in the 8th or 9th, and that player’s game steadily involves bunting for hits, even if everyone in the world knows it’s coming, you do it. PERIOD.

    Agreed, 7th inning of a Perfect Game, someone with a little speed, say Chase Utley comes up, and he lays one down (which, he’d never do), I agree, you don’t do that.
    Bottom of the ninth, 0 outs, 1 out…maybe even with 2-0….Victorino is up, and he needs to get on base…DO IT, FLY’N HAWAIIAN!

    I applaud all the others.

    Posted by Bobby Digital | March 30, 2011, 12:49 pm

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