The Unwritten Canon, Revealed

Says Gomes, "So many rules and regulations have prevented the players from policing our game. Now, a young guy hits a home run, he cruises around the bases, and then you hit him with a pitch to teach him a lesson and you get suspended six games. Is it worth it to make a point? No. The rules have been altered. You have a better opportunity to go out in the parking lot and fight a guy after a game than throwing at him. If you fight in the parking lot, you might not get suspended. But if you hit a guy, you are going to get suspended."

Parking lot? Pirates catcher Russell Martin is considering something much bigger and more public. Soon after the brawl with the Brewers this year, he challenged -- somewhat playfully -- Maldonado to a fight in the offseason.

"We could do it for charity, him against me," Martin said with a half-smile. "He got away with one."

And that rarely happens in baseball.

Wilson laughs and says, "The ultimate irony is that Joe Torre and Frank Robinson are legislating these things. They played against Drysdale and Gibson and Ryan. And now they're telling me that I can't make a guy's feet move. They're taking that tool away. There are guys who are diving out over the plate. If I can't take the inside part of the plate, I will lose my job."

McCarthy shakes his head with regret.

"I don't know if it's a good thing. I don't know if it's a bad thing," he says. "We romanticize so much about the past in baseball that we get into patterns about how things are supposed to be done. It is so important to keep the traditions. But the game is getting so boring to the fans. We need to keep working to change the game. And this [taking away the policing of the game by the players] is taking away from that.

"I miss the nasty-ass pitchers who would throw at you for just digging in, or taking a big swing. There's not as much personality in the game today. The viewer has a hard time differentiating between the players, one from another. We have become so homogenized today. There should be villains in baseball. You should see a guy on TV and say, 'I really hate that guy.'"

In the second game of the 1984 season, the Indians, who had great speed and little else offensively, stole eight bases against the Rangers. And the Indians kept on running in the final two innings of the game, even with a four-run lead. Cleveland manager Pat Corrales responded to critics, saying, "Look, when they stop hitting home runs, we'll stop running."

It is an unwritten rule: At some point, usually when the other team's first baseman is no longer holding a runner on base, it's time to stop stealing bases.

"You get a feel for how things are going in a game," Reynolds says. "You know what's going on in the heads of the other team."

That "feel" apparently wasn't being felt last weekend in St. Petersburg. With the Rays leading Boston 8-3, Yunel Escobar doubled, and then took third on defensive indifference -- a move that engendered a shouting match between players from the Red Sox dugout and Escobar. Gomes ran in from left field and shoved Escobar as both benches emptied. Eventually, Gomes, Escobar and the Rays' Sean Rodriguez were ejected.

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