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Baseball’s Unwritten Rules in question Again


The nasty WBC brawl resulted from several breaches of “Baseball Etiquitte.” PHoto

We all by now have heard about the Mexico-Canada brawl over breaches of  “Unwritten Rules” of the game.   This brought back into play a post I wrote mostly in May of 2011 on the same topic.

Now, the WBC’s pool play requires Run Differential to be brought into play, so you can kind of understand the “bunting with a huge lead” breach that led to the brawl.  But that fight was simmering all game as one small situation after another (mostly involving the Canadian catcher Chris Robinson, a career minor leaguer in the Baltimore organization) kept raising the level of irritation on the behalf of the Mexican team.  It had all the classic signs of a brawl-to-be: the “better” team (Mexico) was losing while not trying as hard, and was getting more and more irritated with the scrappy team taking the game too seriously and playing too hard.  Take out slides at 2nd base, bunting in non-bunt situations.  Eventually a guy gets hit and a very serious fight takes place.  You had a player in Robinson taking the game too seriously versus a bunch of MLBers for Mexico perhaps not taking the game as seriously.

What did I think of the bunt?  I thought it was in bad form frankly.  Yes the run differential counts … but I don’t believe Canada was in a situation where things would have come down to run differential.  I think Robinson had been “over-playing” the whole game and wanted to get one last dig in.

Back to my original May 2011 article on the topic; ESPN has a feature called “Player X,” wherein an anonymous professional athlete in one of the major sports pens an article from time to time writes an article about topics that may not otherwise be written about.  Because of his anonymity, he can name names and call out fellow professionals without the normal press-overreaction.

In May of 2011, a post was written about “Baseball’s Unwritten Rules” (it may be insider-only, I’m sorry).  Being that this is a topic I’ve written about in the past (see this June 2009 post on my previous blog), I found it relatively interesting.  I wrote the June 2009 post right after a very infamous “unwritten rule” was broken, specifically bunting to break up a no-hitter/perfect-game.  In fact Player X recounts another such situation where Curt Schilling had a perfect game broken up by a bunt single.

Years ago, after a long back-and-forth email conversation related to this same topic with a friend of mine (who wasn’t necessarily a baseball aficionado but did have some thoughts on the issue) I came up with this list of “unwritten rules.”

Unwritten professional Etiquitte rules of baseball

  • Don’t bunt to breakup a no-hitter or perfect game in the later innings
  • Don’t ever peek at the catcher’s sign or position
  • Don’t dive after an outside pitch when ahead by a sufficient amount
  • Don’t steal catchers signs overtly from 2nd base.
  • Don’t show up the pitcher after hitting a HR (standing there, bat twirl, etc)
  • Don’t overly try to break up a double play in a regular season/non-pressure situation
  • Don’t purposely turn a double into a single if you are close to a cycle.
  • Don’t try to show up a slower player by attempting to throw him out at first on a sharp single to right.

With a comfortable lead (a sliding scale; 10 runs or more at anytime, perhaps 7 runs in the late innings, fewer runs in the Majors):

  • Don’t bunt for a hit
  • Don’t steal
  • Don’t attempt to break up a double play
  • Don’t advance on a passed ball
  • Don’t take any extra bases that you can’t jog to.
  • Don’t swing for the fences on a 3-0 pitch
  • Don’t swing for the fences generally

Apri 2018 Update: after a curious complaint from the Minnesota Twins about a bunt attempt against their shift while down 7 runs, former Oriole’s closer Gregg Olsen had a great set of tweets about his interpretation of the unwritten rules of the game.  Going through them one by one, here they are (with duplicates of those above noted).  Olsen keeps adding more throughout the month  via his twitter account.

  1. There is no bunting for a hit in the 9th inning (only 9th). If the shift is deployed, then this rule is void.
  2. Thou shall not say “No hitter” in the midst of a no hitter. Really becomes taboo after the 5th inn., when you start to see teammates avoiding said pitcher like the plague.
  3. If you hit one of mine, I hit an equal or greater one of yours.
  4. Unless you are the pitcher, do not set foot on the mound.
  5. Do not make the first or third out at 3rd. Yer already in scoring position, don’t be greedy.
  6. If you are hit intentionally, after your pitcher hit 1 of theirs OR you have an idiot who showboats a HR, don’t start a fight. Just run down to 1st base, take 1 for the team
  7. Do not run up the score on an opponent. This means halting all stolen bases, it does not mean to stop hitting/pitching/playing defense. “Calling off the dogs” happens at the manager’s discretion. EVERYONE has a different threshold.
  8. Stealing signs is OK, just don’t get caught. Some books say sign stealing is taboo but it’s not. If your signs are easy enuf to steal, it’s YOUR fault.  If you get caught sign stealing, someone gets hit. If you get caught, it’s YOUR fault.
  9. Do NOT stand in the home plate circle (Dirt area surrounding home plate) when a pitcher is warming up! Do not even get w/in 10 feet of said circle.  You may get hit during warmups if you are on the dirt
  10. Nothing that happens in the clubhouse, leaves the clubhouse. These signs are posted in every clubhouse.  “What you see here, what you hear here, what happens here, STAYS HERE!”
  11. Do not show up the other team or a player. This means admiring HR’s, doing happy dances after K’s.  “Act like you’ve done it before”.
  12. If your pitcher gives up a bomb (long HR), make an effort to appear like you are trying to chase it down. Don’t just stand there and watch it fly over your head.
  13. Don’t touch other people’s stuff. Do not try on someone else’s glove. Do not mess with people’s personal clothes, game spikes etc.
  14. Do not eat or drink (alcohol) during the game. The alcohol part seems obvious. That’s a big NO-NO.  Don’t eat during the game – take care of your business before the game. No one wants to see you eating a sandwich in the 5th inn (snacks OK).
  15. Under no circumstances are you to ever try to injure an opponent. No matter what has happened, NOTHING is worth jeopardizing another player’s career.
  16. Honor other’s superstitions. Do not mess with peoples superstitions. You don’t have to agree with them but don’t mess with them.
  17. Do not play catch on the infield, any part of it. Warmups or catch is done in the OF or near the dugout. This one is truly unwritten. You will never hear it discussed but all baseball people know it.
  18. Do not peek in to the catcher’s signs if you are hitting. Do not even try to see where he is set up.  This will result in an immediate HBP.
  19. Always take a strike in the 9th inning until the tying run comes to the plate.
  20. There is no stealing on 3-0 counts.
  21. Rookies are to be seen, not heard. This game owes you nothing. Don’t act like you’ve been there cuz you haven’t. No one is entitled to be a Big Leaguer.
  22. Rookies don’t pay for anything. No one wants to hear them but like them or not, some vet took care of you. Pass it on.
  23. As a pitcher that is getting pulled from the game, always HAND the ball to your manager while you wait for him ON the mound.
  24. As a coach that has to cross the field to get to his coaches box, please don’t run across the field to get to your position. Run behind the catcher and umpire. And DON’T hold up the inning because you’re late.
  25. Don’t not swing so hard that you fall down (literally) or fall across home plate.
  26. Do not look at the umpire for an explanation of a ball or strike.  Bad things happen, man. Bad things.
  27. Do not step on the chalk. You will see all kinds of non chalk steppers; the stride overs, the hop overs and the defiers. The Defiers step on the chalk just to freak everyone out.
  28. No matter how bad you pitched, a pitcher MUST stay in the dugout until the inning ends. You have to wait to snap.
  29. Respect the game. Respect your elders. Respect your coaches. Respect your opponents.  Bottom line is, this game has been played for 140 years (Let that sink in). The game will be played with or w/out you tomorrow.

Most of these “unwritten rules” fall into two main categories:

  1. Don’t embarrass the other team if you already have a big lead.
  2. Don’t embarrass another professional at any point.

In the Canada-Mexico game, we saw several of these rules being broached.  But would you classify a WBC game in the same manner as a playoff game?  If so, then hard take out slides at 2nd and catcher-collisions at home ARE warranted.  But I get the impression that these MLB-heavy teams are still struggling whether to treat WBC games as exhibitions (it is Spring Training after all) or as serious competitions.  Certainly nobody wants to get hurt and cost themselves a roster spot or significant time off the season.  Meanwhile for a team of lesser players/career minor leaguers, the WBC is their shot at the title, their chance to face Major leaguers for perhaps the first, last and only time.  Guys for spain who have never pitched about AA suddenly are throwing to MVP-calibre stars.  That has to be a rush … and leads to situations where more “unwritten rules” may be broached.

By the way, Baseball isn’t the only sport with “unwritten rules.”  Think about an NBA player purposely trying to get a triple-double when his team is up by 20 late in a game.  Or an NFL team going for two points in the fourth quarter with a 4 touch down lead.  Or a soccer player trying a “Paneka” penalty while already leading by 3 goals.  All of these are broaches of each sports’ etiquitte and may end up causing repercussions.

What do you think?  About the Canada-Mexico situation, about unwritten rules in general?  I know many people are flat out against them, others think they’re completely understandible.  Did I miss any “rules” in my list above?

Written by Todd Boss

March 12th, 2013 at 9:52 am

6 Responses to 'Baseball’s Unwritten Rules in question Again'

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  1. You just highlighted why the WBC is such a preposterous event. To the career minor league guys and the national team players not affiliated with MLB it very much is the real deal, while it remainins a glorified exhibition to the fat cat major leaguers who if given a choice would rather lose than risk getting hurt. You just simply cannot have a situation where some players are treating the games as subject to those unwritten rules and others are acting as if they are playing in the World Series.

    Maybe the solution is to have the tournment during the offseason and for the U.S. team to recruit those players who REALLY want to be there, regardless of whether the are major leaguers or not.


    12 Mar 13 at 12:55 pm

  2. I think having the WBC during spring training is the “preposterous” part. I’m stealing from a future post, but there is a way to make the WBC a great, awesome popular event going forward. And it is as you say; have the event AFTER the season is over so that players aren’t in “spring training” mode and feel like they can play all-out and if they suffer a minor injury as a result, they have the whole off-season to recover. This is precisely what Soccer does with its major tournaments (World cup and the European Championships): they occur in June every 4 years, after the European season is over.

    The downsides to having the WBC in November would be competition with the NFL and interruption of the Nippon Pro league (which runs from April to December). I’ve seen other proposals that talk about having the WBC at the All-star break of MLB and once every 4 years just extending the all-star break a few days to encompass it. I really like this idea frankly; you roll the whole tournament into this time period, surround it with the all-star games and home run derbies and make them international in nature (imagine that! A home run derby with reps from other nations), and make it a massive showcase to baseball that culminates with the WBC championship game. Who wouldn’t like that?

    Coincidentally … while the WBC may not draw that much here, Ken Rosenthal tweeted this stat: the Japanese TV ratings for the Japan games were greater than those for the Summer Olympics. And, having teams like Brazil and China in emerging nations not really represented in the baseball landscape over here is nothing but a positive for the game’s growth. That is the real reason to keep moving forward with the classic. European leagues are all over western europe and there’s even enough teams in some of the countries to have two leagues, an upper and lower. Maybe in 20 years we’re talking about a european star coming to the US.

    Todd Boss

    12 Mar 13 at 2:01 pm

  3. You forgot the unwritten rule that a position player should never cross the mound! I recall A-rod catching hell for that.

    Holding the WBC after the regular season makes perfect sense. I love the WBC. It’s like spring training, the whole point of attending is to see players that you may never see otherwise although, when it comes to Dominican Republic, you’re better off watching winter ball on if you want to see something besides MLB players.

    The fight…it was, for lack of a more accurate term, retarded. The unwritten rules are what they are but the WBC specifically counters one of them and since the WBC rules are what count in the WBC, the 3rd baseman for Mexico was clearly wrong to order a hit on the Canada batter. Sure, he shouldn’t have rushed the mound but I’m not sure I’d have been any more gentlemanly, given he was hit on the 3rd try and the blind guy outside on the street corner knew it was coming. The on field fracas brought out the worst in a few fans and once that started, I hoped the game would be ended and the win handed to Canada but it was not to be. To their credit, I didn’t see many (if any) inside pitches from Mexico after the right. Hopefully WBC comes up with a better way to resolve ties, avoiding this mess in the future and I saw the Mexico pitcher who hit the batter was demoted to triple-A specifically for his action on the field.


    By the way, the hockey cretins who were babbling something about not messing with Canada can go crawl back under the rocks from which they came. Baseball doesn’t need to be associated with the sport where fights have become so much of the game that, by and large, they’re staged just to sell more tickets.


    14 Mar 13 at 8:08 pm

  4. I’ve been playing baseball since I was 6. I’ve never heard anyone else bitch about “crossing the mound.” I mean seriously, how often does that situation even happen? I think that was a convenient excuse to start a brawl with one of the more unlikeable players in the game.

    I completely understood the issue that Mexico had with the bunt. There was also a situation where someone slid hard into Cano at 2nd and clipped his legs .. he was NOT happy about it. The event is in a weird no-man’s land right now … its clearly evolved up from “pure exhibition” but sits below “playoff game” in terms of intensity. Some teams (Canada, the lesser countries) are treating it like the World Series, others (Mexico, DR to a certain extent) are still treating the games like exhibitions. I say “DR to a certain extent” because last night’s game was no exhibition to them.

    I think the next iteration is going to see some serious changes, especially when it comes to the talent that participates. No idea how to fix the run differential issue though.

    Todd Boss

    15 Mar 13 at 9:53 am

  5. If you’d enjoy a novel that involves the unwritten rules in the context of a murder indictment,
    A Pitch for Justice (Kindle Edition)
    I watched a Phillies and Mets game in 2010 and saw the Mets reaction to a take-out slide by Chase Utley of the Phillies towards Rueben Tejada the Mets shorstop. There had been bad blood between the two teams since 2007. I began to fear for Utley and the genesis for my novel soon followed.
    What would happen in today’s society if a manager ordered his pitcher to intentionally try to disable an opposing batter with a pitch? What if the pitch turned into a lethal bean ball?
    Would the victim’s family or the press demand a criminal investigation? If so, what would be the appropriate charge?
    If there were criminal charges, what impact would that have for the way the game of baseball is played?
    Would pitchers be fearful of throwing high and inside pitches? Would they fear that a prosecutor would be watching over their shoulder? Would baseball fans believe it was just part of the game or would the public see the bean ball as retaliation and different from the motive in any criminal case?
    These questions are debated and vetted in my novel A Pitch for Justice

    harold kasselman

    22 Mar 13 at 8:25 am

  6. Sounds like a very cool premise. We talked about this briefly in the comments section of a previous post but not nearly to the depths you’ve taken the issues.

    Todd Boss

    22 Mar 13 at 8:47 am

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