Let a play that happened Monday at Angel Stadium serve as an example.
With Milwaukee’s Casey McGehee on first, Carlos Gomez hit a grounder to first baseman Kevin Frandsen, who threw to shortstop Erick Aybar for the force at second. The throw, however, was well to the third-base side of the bag, forcing Aybar to stretch wide to field it, leaving him vulnerable to a takeout slide from McGehee. (Watch it here.)
In most situations, McGehee’s play would be entirely appropriate. It’s the job of the runner at first to prevent a double play, usually by taking out the covering infielder with a slide.
(Slide type is also governed by the unwritten rules. Barrel rolls and high spikes are not tolerated; flying through both base and fielder feet first and spikes down is expected.)
There were, however, other factors to consider. First, McGehee could well have been letting out some frustration; that he was at first base to begin with was because Angels reliever Trevor Bell had just drilled him in the ribs.
Moreover, Aybar was in no position to complete the play, even without interference. It was all he could do to merely record the out at second, and Gomez, was far too fast to be doubled up. Aybar was exposed—a fact that McGehee exploited to relatively disastrous results, hyperextending the shortstop’s left knee when he took him out with a slide slightly to the inside part of the bag, aimed directly at Aybar’s leg.
Aybar was removed from the game and hasn’t played since.
All of this when Milwaukee held a 9-2 lead.
It all goes to show, however, that even a seemingly clear-cut case of a Code violation might not be so. Two guys with a firm understanding of the unwritten rules dismissed any notion of impropriety—and they were in Aybar’s dugout.
“I thought it was a clean slide . . .” said Angels manager Mike Scioscia in the Los Angeles Times. “The slide was right over the bag, so I can’t find much fault with it.”
Angels center fielder Torii Hunter shared his manager’s sentiment in an ESPN Los Angeles report, calling that type of slide a “lost art,” and saying, “I like the way (McGehee) is playing the game.”
“Was I going in extra hard because I got hit?” asked McGehee. “No. Unfortunately, the guy was in an awkward position. Look at the video. I didn’t try to pop up on him or roll him. Unfortunately, he got hurt. . . . They’re known for playing hard-nosed, aggressive baseball, so hopefully they understand where I’m coming from. I play the game right.”
A compelling argument can be made that McGehee was in the wrong. Scioscia and Hunter, however, backed up their words with actions: McGehee came to bat 10 more times in the series, and was not drilled once.
When in doubt, defer to the experts.