Baseball has a lot of rules. A LOT of rules. Somewhere between 70 and 110 depending on how you count them. Whilst many people will not be fully aware of rule 7.03 (c) whereby
‘a game shall be forfeited to the visiting team if, after it has been suspended, the order of the umpire to groundskeepers respecting preparation of the field for resumption of play intentionally or willfully is not complied with’
most people will be aware that the unwritten rules include not overly admiring your home run or stealing bases with a big lead.
As the game and society moves on, many of these rules remain. Should they? Maybe.
Firstly, let’s consider base stealing. The fact that it’s called ‘stealing’ rather than ‘running bonuses’ or ‘base additions’ or something like that hints towards it being an underhanded or at least sneaky practice. The unwritten rules of the game would have a team not steal any bases with a large lead or indeed with a large deficit. There’s a practical element of common sense to this, as the art of base stealing is part of the game that’s played full bore right on the ragged edge; and this extreme running, sliding, throwing and tagging makes injuries more likely. When a game is a blowout win or loss, risking injury on an extreme play could well be considered foolhardy.
The other element to this way of thinking is the sportsmanship element. If a team’s on its knees, 8-0 down in the 7th inning and considering letting their backup catcher pitch a couple of innings, is it right to steal a base? There are a lot of times that these rules are draconian, fun-stopping and overly serious, but I can at least sympathise with this one. I’m sure examples can be found when a huge deficit was overturned partly in thanks to a stolen base, but this one small concession to the opposition on this occasion can probably be overlooked as a gentlemanly mark of respect to fellow players. This is a British take on baseball after-all, so I think it’s fair to say that rubbing your opponent’s nose in his huge defeat just isn’t cricket.
Overall, considering the very small advantage to stealing a single base with a huge lead and the risk of injury from playing to the limits, this is one unwritten rule that I can make peace with.
Don’t steal bases during a blow-out: Fair enough
At the very other end of the scale, is the rule that you’ll struggle to find anyone who agrees with, yet keeps getting used and that ‘rule’ is the concept of revenge plunkings. The Orioles and the Red Sox went at it earlier this year and nobody enjoyed it. Also well publicised was when Hunter Strickland threw at Bryce Harper for something that happened months ago and whilst we enjoyed the display of hair in the resulting fracas, it was almost universally agreed that the plunking was stupid. Some might argue that this practice allows Baseball to self-police; I struggle with this reasoning as firstly this is what the umpires are for, and secondly, one grown man deliberately throwing a rock-hard projectile at another grown man is dangerous, irresponsible and puerile.
Revenge plunkings: Utterly ridiculous
The above written rules are regarding actions by players during a game, but there are other rules which involve fans and commentary teams too. The holy grail of starting pitcher performance is the perfect game allowing none of the opposition to reach base. Only slightly less impressive than that is the no hitter. Once one of these games has lasted to the 5th or 6th inning it starts to become obvious to everyone watching that it could be on. Moving into the 7th and 8th it’s getting very serious and if it’s still intact in the 9th it’s edge of the seat time. Whist everyone knows what’s going on, the only sign may be a momentary locking of eyes, a jiggling knee or some chewed nails; conversation will more likely be about the batter’s record, the weather, the state of the Mongolian economy; anything that isn’t the potential no-hitter. It’s clearly a rule born of superstition rather than having any actual effect on the outcome and that superstition could be accused of prohibiting fans and commentary teams alike from discussing the game in full. If you come to the game late, or are a new viewer without a full understanding of the situation you might not even know it’s on; on the other hand, we may not say it out loud but we all have an internal superstition or two, it’s part of sport and it’s not hurting anyone.
Don’t talk about a no-hitter: Each to their own, live and let live, don’t try and enforce your opinion on others.
Continuing to consider the no-hitter for a moment, how about bunting during a no-no? The unwritten rules of the game consider this an underhanded and vindictive way of ruining a pitcher’s day. Recently, Seattle’s Jarrod Dyson broke up a perfect game in the bottom of the 6th inning with a bunt single off of Detroit’s Justin Verlander who was protecting a 4-0 lead. Despite having just a 6.8% chance of winning the game at that point, Dyson’s bunt was the beginning of a rally that ended in a Mariners victory.
The fact that it led to a win aside, bunting is a valid and difficult skill used in baseball games. If it was easy everyone would be doing it all of the time. No-one would have criticised Nelson Cruz for breaking it up with a 400 ft home run, such are his skills. Dyson doesn’t hit home runs very often, Cruz doesn’t get on with a bunts. The Tigers would have known that Dyson had the bunt in his arsenal and could have taken further measures to defend against it. Verlander himself later commented that he wasn’t upset about the bunt (the defeat says otherwise).
Don’t bunt during a no-hitter: Balderdash
Hard as nails, being macho, earning man-points, saying it didn’t hurt with tears in your eyes. However you want to look at it, rubbing the spot that gets hit by a pitch isn’t done. Obviously sometimes it’s unavoidable such as when a ball catches fingers, but if it hits arms, legs, ribs or rumps it’s customary to act as if nothing has happened and to stare ahead emotionless whilst you take your base. We’ve all walked into the corner of a table and instinctively reached down to the point of pain, I’d wager that the majority of us have lashed out at said table or insulted it’s formaica mother; think for a moment about Cleveland’s Brandon Guyer who last year took that pain 31 times and remained stony faced each time.
If you’ve been hit for a pitch, the pitcher has given you the base and has had to come to terms with the fact that they’ve either made a mistake or broken the rules; giving him the consolation prize of knowing he caused you pain isn’t necessary.
It’s part of the mental game, and if you’re the sort of player who needs to be the alpha male and show no weakness then this makes sense. I for one would probably cry.
Don’t rub where you’ve been plunked: Sure, if you follow the ‘bro-code’
A long home run at a crucial moment is one of sport’s most beautiful sights. It sends the supporters into raptures and silences the opposition as it arcs into the stands, yet the player who created this moment is expected to calmly drop his bat and trot round the bases with a face like a long wet weekend. Footballers scream with their arms aloft and jump all over each other, Rugby players roar like wild beasts, even snooker players pump a fist. Where’s the joy in baseball? If someone flips a bat and enjoys his trot he’s called out by the opposition and in extreme cases ends up in a brawl. I’m not suggesting that a player should be bouncing around the bases as he blasts home the 18th run of a blowout, the gentlemanly factor comes into play here too, but if he’s done something great, or roughed up a pitcher who hit him earlier in the game why not flip his bat and show some emotion?
Don’t admire your work or flip your bat: Sod off
Some of these rules have softened in recent times. We’re starting to see a bit more emotion after great plays and home runs, and deliberate plunkings are more universally being condemned, but there’s no need to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Baseball is tradition almost as much as it is sport and it’s my opinion that some of the unwritten rules that protect this tradition are worth holding on to…not this one though…