I won’t be the first person to rail on baseball’s unwritten rules. I won’t even be the first person to present my railing as a top five list; Jason Foster of Sporting News did that in 2015.
That said, a couple weeks back, I was basically dared on Twitter to write about baseball’s unwritten rules, which I interpret to mean that I have to do it.
I’m going to use this 2012 Bleacher Report post from Dan Tylicki on 25 of baseball’s unwritten rules as my source. Many of the “rules” therein are pretty standard baseball strategies and tactics. But some of them are dumb strategies and tactics. So my list won’t necessarily consist only of the obvious, player-vs.-player unwritten rules that Foster talked about. (Although it will.)
Here are, in my opinion, the five worst of BR’s 25 unwritten rules of baseball.
5. Don’t Talk About a No-Hitter in Progress
This one is pretty innocuous, but it’s also pretty dumb. Only a few people have control over what happens in a baseball game on any given pitch or play: the pitcher and hitter every time, and the umpire, catcher, fielders, and Lady Luck much of the time as well. Fans, announcers, teammates in the dugout or bullpen can say or not say what they want and have no effect on the game.
All of baseball’s superstitions are silly, but this is the only one Tylicki included in his article, so it’s the one I’ll mention too. At any rate, it is also probably the most conspicuous of the game’s superstitions.
4. Follow the Umpire’s Code
Tylicki speaks of a general code, which might be harmless enough, but when I think of an umpire having a code, it’s not quite like that.
I would guess that only some umpires really have a “code”–and I’m probably pondering what you’re pondering, but isn’t Angel Hernandez too stereotypical to be his real name?
If an umpire has a code, this rule can just lead to ejections, #umpshow hashtags, and general dissatisfaction as soon as the umpire makes a bad call and takes it out on the disadvantaged team. The umpires should follow the “Players’ Code” and the “Fans’ Code” before enforcing their own, and leave the entertainment to the players.
I guess the stupid part of this rule isn’t as much that the players sometimes follow it, but that they sometimes have to.
3. Don’t Step on the Pitcher’s Mound/Don’t Step in Front of Umpire or Catcher on Way to Batter’s Box
I’ll put these two together. I’m not sure why it matters where you walk. I didn’t realize pitchers were this sensitive, although I suppose throughout the years there has been plenty of circumstantial evidence that should have tipped us off.
I know that these are pretty minor rules. You hear about them only rarely; Tylicki points out perhaps the most famous incident, involving A-Rod and Dallas Braden. I was with A-Rod on that one.
If this list were about a combination of the rules’ stupidity and their prevalence, this wouldn’t rate. But when discussing only the former as someone who always prefers the quickest way from Point A to Point B, I will put this rule here.
2. Unwritten Rules Themselves
Yes, this is somewhat of a cop-out. But is there any other sport where you could make an article about 25 unwritten rules? Imagine such a thing as tackling too hard in footb–okay, maybe that’s not the best example. But still.
All of these things are just more trouble than they’re worth. This sounds almost libertarian, but players should play the game the way they want to, as long as it doesn’t infringe on other players doing the same. And no, walking on the mound does not infringe on anyone’s ability to play the game; getting mad at someone for walking on the mound comes much closer to doing that.
Basically, I’m just saying anything that is, a) within the written rules and b) doesn’t threaten another player, is fine to do on a baseball field. Which reminds me…
1. If a Pitcher Hits a Teammate, Hit One of Theirs
Or, as Foster put it, “Retaliate! Retaliate! Retaliate!” I’m going to broaden this one to including hitting a player for any reason, not just as a hit-back.
Five years ago, I probably thought any kind of retaliation was part of the game. Actually, that’s probably not quite true, but if there was a turning point, it came in 2012 during the Hamels-Harper episode. (Although Hamels wasn’t even retaliating for anything–which makes it waaay dumber, but not technically a violation of the rule, I suppose.)
Now, I consider the bluntness and density of a baseball to preclude any other use for it besides the intended one. This year’s Strickland-Harper incident only confirmed to me the stupidity of retaliation. Although, as with Hamels, that was a particularly ridiculous situation. But maybe being a Nationals fan civilized me in this aspect.
It’s a little cliche to say that intentional beanings would be assault in any other context, but that doesn’t make it untrue. Teams should play baseball, not kill-the-other-guy-because-he-made-me-mad.
I suppose this rule perpetuates because too many teams are worried that they’ll be the only ones disengaged and thus sitting ducks.
But retaliation for getting beat is a different animal than hit-me-hit-you, eye-for-an-eye mentality. I understand the latter at a base level; the former is just stupid. And even the latter is dumb if the HBP you’re reacting to was accidental. And, of course, there’s often no way to know for sure.
Just, this idea of increasing the odds that you severely injure or kill someone–leave it alone.
A Couple Other Rules
You may be wondering what I think of the “rules” regarding home run admiration and bunting to break up a no-hitter. (You probably aren’t.) I agree that both are dumb, but both also have mitigating circumstances.
I hate when a player gets a single instead of a double because he thought he had a home run. That’s especially annoying when he ends up stranded on third at the end of the inning. So I’d want my players running out of the box as just a precaution. But after the ball is over the fence? Do what you want to celebrate; you just hit a home run in Major League Baseball, and you may never get the chance again.
As for bunting to break up a no-hitter, yeah, this is probably a dumb rule…but as a fan, I don’t want no-hitters being broken up by a bunt either. I got mad enough at Jose Tabata leaning into an HBP against Max Scherzer in 2015.
Anyway, there you have it: a thousand words on baseball’s unwritten rules.