The Unwritten Canon, Revealed

Baseball's unwritten rules quietly took form in part to reprimand a player for running too slowly around the bases, celebrating as he goes, after a home run in the eighth inning of a 10-1 game, and, in a development of the past 10 years, flipping his bat as he stands at the plate to admire his feat. The unwritten rules were built to penalize a player who stole a base when his team was ahead by 10 runs, or swung as hard as he could at a 3-0 pitch when up by 12, or dropped a bunt in the ninth inning to break up a no-hitter.

And those are just a few of them.

"THERE ARE SO MANY UNWRITTEN rules in baseball because you can't fight, and you can't tackle people," says Cubs catcher John Baker. "In hockey, you throw down your gloves and fight. In football, you're allowed to tackle a guy. In baseball, there is so much separating opposing teams. You can go hard into second base and [you] might run over a catcher, but you can't run over the pitcher. There's not a platform for retaliation when you're frustrated or upset."

Angels pitcher C.J. Wilson says, "There are so many unwritten rules because it's such an old game. It's such a technical game. There are so many opportunities for gamesmanship. It creates such drama. It's such a game of respect. It's a game that punishes those who are selfish."

Diamondbacks pitcher Brandon McCarthy asks, "But aren't there unwritten rules in every industry? In journalism, you can't steal sources, right? In hockey, guys don't take their skates off and slash an opponent's throat with the blade. In football, you never see a guy take off his helmet and just bludgeon an opponent. We've been playing baseball since the 1800s. We just have more unwritten rules."

And every one of them is debatable and fluid and arbitrary.

To some, it's an unwritten rule that a hitter shouldn't dawdle before he gets into the batter's box.

"I've yelled at hitters, 'Let's go! Get in the box!'" Baker says. "But they have a certain walk-up song. They have to mimic a certain part of it, so they wait until that part of it plays. It's like they're on a runway getting into the box, instead of just playing the game."

McCarthy says, "That pisses me off, too. The rhythm of the game stops when that happens. Baseball becomes bad entertainment. The same thing applies with a pitcher that doodles around out there. That drives me just as nuts. Clay Buchholz is a really good pitcher. I love his stuff, but I can't watch him because he takes so damn long between his pitches."

Wilson says, "It's ridiculous how long it takes guys to get in the box, or pitchers to throw the ball. Guys on their own team yell at them, in very colorful language. 'Get in the box! Throw the ball!' Some guys are serial line-steppers; they are habitual line-steppers. That's how they get the reputation as a rain delay. What I love is the pitcher who has two pitches, and he shakes off the catcher five times. We yell, 'Pick one!' But really, the guy at the plate digs a hole, adjusts his helmet, wiggles his butt, swings the bat, adjusts his wristbands? You wonder, 'What were you doing all that time in the on-deck circle?'"

And to others, a new unwritten rule was established a few years ago when the Yankees' Alex Rodriguez ran across the mound after making an out, infuriating A's pitcher Dallas Braden, who claimed that the mound belongs only to the pitcher, and that no runner shall cross it.

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