Category Archives: Unwritten Rules

On the Importance of Baseball’s Unwritten Rules, or: Why So Much Fuss Over a Li’l Old Code?

rocking chairThe Code has taken a drubbing over recent days, thanks to Gerrit Cole and his sense of propriety. All because he called out Carlos Gomez for overacting on the field.

Primary among the critics is Fox Sports’ John Paul Morosi, who, after labeling Cole a “Special Baseball Ethics Instructor” yesterday, wrote:

Gomez needs to be celebrated — not discouraged – for what he brings to major league baseball. At a time when the sport’s message on instant replay and home-plate collisions has become muddled, Gomez illuminates an even greater concern: Why do major league players take exception to peers who have the audacity to enjoy themselves on a baseball field?

He then went cultural, wondering why Gomez—or Yasiel Puig or Jose Fernandez—shouldn’t be allowed to celebrate success the way they learned growing up in their various countries of origin.

Over at Hardball Talk, Craig Calcaterra, in agreement with Morosi, says to “ask yourself—honestly—why it’s so important to retain some century-old code of on-field stoicism and stifling of exuberance, style and—dare I say it—swag.”

At Deadspin, under the headline “Down With Baseball’s Fun Police,” a galled Barry Petchesky wrote that “Carlos Gomez [took his] time to admire what he thought was a home run. Words were exchanged, punches thrown, all over a little showmanship.”

Well, no. Punches were thrown because Gomez started throwing them. Cole did nothing more than verbally indicate that he did not appreciate Gomez’s act.

And I have asked myself—honestly—why baseball’s unwritten rules are important. I’ve also come up with some answers.

They’re important because playing sports the right way—with the understanding that my definition of “the right way” is not the only acceptable interpretation of the term—is important. I coach my daughter’s softball team and my son’s T-ball team, and I expect every player under my watch to be respectful of the opposition. I love celebrating great plays and victories, but it rubs me wrong when professional players treat commonplace success as if they’ve accomplished something remarkable. I am drawn to those who embrace the concept of team—an idea that is, by its very nature, subsumed by the look-at-me mentality of showboating.

I get that the game is changing, and support much of that change. (Hell, I all but cried uncle last year in the face of Puigmania.) After all, as standards change and celebrations become commonplace, they grow increasingly less about showing up the opposition and more about the simple act of beating one’s own chest. Fine.

No matter where one draws the line, however, there is still a line, and it behooves everybody to not just understand where it is, but why it exists. (To address Morosi’s point, this is especially true for players who are singled out for having come up in a Latin American system that has far looser controls on its expressions of exuberance than the professional game in the U.S.)

Gerrit Cole is not exactly a crusty veteran—he’s 23 years old and in his third year of pro ball—but he does have a sense of how the game should be played. Even if he doesn’t take personal offense to Gomez’s antics, he has every right to view them negatively in a larger context, and to comment in response.

I won’t try to explain Cole’s thinking, but I can tell you my own motivation had I been in his shoes:

I don’t want baseball to end up like football, where mediocre first-down runs are celebrated as if they were touchdowns.

I don’t want to see baseball players popping their jerseys or pointing backward with their thumbs to the name between their shoulderblades.

I don’t want to see professional players dogging it, even if they’re on the opposing team, because they drag the entire sport down with them.

Baseball is individual enough as it is. I have come to accept increasing levels of showmanship every year. I largely agree with those who decry intentionally hitting batters as a form of outdated brutality. I do believe there are those who take the unwritten rules—and themselves—far too seriously.

But to call Code proponents “the fun police” is to miss the point. I believe that sport and team—any sport and any team—hold far more importance than the individual players on the rosters. I appreciate humility in a highlight-driven world. I want to know players for doing their jobs, not for how they respond to doing their jobs.

So bring on new methods of celebration. But be neither surprised nor offended when some people recoil in response.

 

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Brave New World, Courtesy of an Exuberant 22-Year-Old

Puig celebratesIt’s been a long week of Dodgers-inspired discussion of the unwritten rules. This is what happens when the team with a laid-back attitude toward the Code butts heads with the direct heir to Tony La Russa. Comparisons are bound to be drawn, and opinions will fly:

The Dodgers’ approach is shameful. Let boys be boys. Celebration is fine. Celebration is disrespectful. Yasiel Puig is precisely what a stodgy game needs—unless he should instead grow up and shape up.

There is little question that the game’s acceptance of on-field merriment has grown more lenient. The celebratory scrum that is now de facto after walk-off wins was, only recently, limited to games in which a team clinched a playoff series. Hand gestures that have become common— Texas’ antlers, Milwaukee’s beast mode, Hanley Ramirez’ goggles—that once they inspired discussions about propriety now barely make a ripple.

Once these things become integrated into baseball culture, after all, they become just another means of celebration. And when something becomes institutionalized, it becomes a whole lot harder for the opposition to take it personally.

That said, these Dodgers seem hell bent on pushing the boundaries. Racing across the diamond at Chase Field to frolic in the pool upon clinching the National League West. Going so far, according to reports, to treat it like a urinal.

Puig’s arms-raised celebratory home run pimp on a ball that didn’t leave the park in Game 3 was all the more amusing because he still ended up with a stand-up triple. Whereupon he did an arms-raised celebratory triple pimp.

Carlos Beltran had an opinion on this, saying “As a player, I just think [Puig] doesn’t know [how to act]. That’s what I think. He really doesn’t know. He must think that he’s still playing somewhere else. He has a lot of passion, no doubt about that—great ability, great talent. I think with time he’ll learn that you’ve got to act with a little bit more calm.”

Adam Wainright said that in Game 3 of the NLCS, Adrian Gonzalez was heckling him from third base as he tried to pitch. He called it “Mickey Mouse stuff.” Gonzalez at first denied it, then offered the most Dodger response possible, making Mickey Mouse ears when returning to the dugout after a Game 5 home run.

To those who took offense, the counterpoint offered by bloggers and columnists everywhere held opinions along the line of “baseball can learn a thing or two,” and that it’s just jealousy” and “shut up.”

Ultimately, it comes to this: Baseball changes very slowly, but it does change. Puig is the youngest, freshest face that the sport has, and he does not have to be universally loved to affect change. Few transformative figures do.

The idea of the Code—an enforced system of respect, displayed through proscribed on-field behavior—becomes more difficult to maintain every year, as old-school adherents retire and are replaced by those who never cared much for it in the first place. Enter the attention given somebody like Puig—who does not disdain the Code so much as revel in the fact that he never learned it in the first place—and we’re looking at a sea change.

Celebrations—be they directed at seasons, games or individual feats—are now commonplace. Puig may represent the crass end of that spectrum, but he is on the spectrum nonetheless, and is pushing the window of what is acceptable toward a place that makes purists howl.

Then again, howling is what purists tend to do when their reality changes from beneath them.

The Dodgers running roughshod as a team over the Arizona ballpark was simply a bad idea, but it shouldn’t distract from the rest of this conversation. Love it or hate it, the game’s unwritten rules have taken a body blow this month. Get used to it: We’re looking at less of an outlier and more of the norm.

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A Final Thought on the Shenanigans in Cincinnati … For Now

Reds logoI’ve spent the past couple days discussing head-high fastballs served up by Reds pitchers, and their opponents’ various responses. Before letting go of the topic, however, it’s worth one more post to point out the excellent take of Cincinnati Enquirer writer C. Trent Rosecrans.

For all the attention paid to Johnny Cueto and Aroldis Chapman, Rosecrans took the time to compare the reactions of the aggrieved—those players whose heads were at the wrong end of said pitchers’ respective fastballs—and what it says about them as players.

On one hand are the Cubs: pitcher Matt Garza (who started opposite Cueto on Sunday), as well as David DeJesus (who had to duck under a Cueto fastball) and Alfonso Soriano (who chimed in later).

On the other are Nick Swisher (who had to avoid a Champman fastball on Monday) and Jason Giambi (who stood up for Swisher afterward).

From Rosecrans’ blog post on Tuesday:

Measure Garza’s reaction and grandstanding to how Swisher and Giambi handled the situation. Let’s just say there’s a reason Garza has the reputation he has and Giambi and Swisher are nearly universally respected.

Also see how the Cubs’ David DeJesus and Alfonso Soriano responded on Monday. Both took the high road while still backing their own guy. There’s a lot to be learned there about how you react and what you do in public.

As for [Dusty] Baker, well, he successfully took the spotlight off of Cueto and put it on himself — that’s something that gets respect from players. … I wouldn’t be surprised if Giambi and Swisher talked to Joey Votto or Jay Bruce today, or maybe even Chapman. They won’t make a show of it, they’ll do it properly, out of sight and out of the media eye. That’s the way the unwritten rules are passed along, as they should be.

Which cuts exactly to the point. The basis of the Code is not grandstanding or violence or intimidation. It’s respect, earned through one’s actions. Handle your business properly, and good things will follow.

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To Bunt or Not to Bunt, That is the Question—Even if it Doesn’t Make Much Sense

Kyle LohseWe may have found a new unwritten rule in Busch Stadium on Sunday. Either that, or Kyle Lohse is completely off his rocker.

Lohse allowed six singles to the first seven batters he faced in the fourth inning (including a bases-loaded squeeze beaten out by Pete Kozma), during which time he allowed four runs. That left runners at first and second, with one out, for pitcher John Gast.

Gast squared to bunt, but pulled the bat back at the last moment to swing away. This is not an unusual baseball move, especially for a pitcher, when the opposing third baseman is charging hard. Lohse, however, was irate, and threw three consecutive pitches high and inside. Gass eventually bunted into an out.

The act might have been explainable as an anti-bunt strategy had Lohse not immediately thereafter shared some heated thoughts with Cardinals third base coach Jose Oquendo, then continued the conversation with catcher Yadier Molina when he came to the plate the following inning.

“They know what I had to say,” Lohse said in an MLB.com report. “It had nothing to do with the squeeze or anything like that. It was something that happened after that. … I’ll leave it at that. They know.”

Ultimately, St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bernie Miklasz may have offered the clearest-eyed viewpoint, speculating that Lohse was ticked that after five seasons in St. Louis A) the Cards didn’t keep him on their roster in favor of going with young pitchers, which B) left him first in free-agent purgatory and C) then with the last-place Brewers. There’s also D) the notion that Lohse is 1-5, despite pitching well this season, and that E) three of those losses have come at the hands of two of the young pitchers chosen by St. Louis to take his place—Shelby Miller and, last night, Gast. With that in mind, it makes sense that the pitcher’s fuse is a bit short. (Miller also did the square-to-bunt-and-pull-the-bat-back move against Lohse earlier in the season.)

On strictly baseball terms, given the information that’s currently available, Lohse doesn’t have a leg to stand on. (He also positioned himself as the anti-Nolan Ryan, who was known for drilling guys who tried to bunt on him. Lohse, it seems, was perturbed that a guy tried to not bunt on him.)

Lohse didn’t hit Gast, so no harm was actually done, but he was clearly pitching angry. It does not appear to be a retaliation-worthy offense, but stay tuned—these teams play each other nine more times this year.

(H/T Bill Ivie of I-70 Baseball.)

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Pete Rose: ‘[The Unwritten Rules] Are Stupid’

Pete RoseSo the Hit King isn’t a fan of baseball’s unwritten rules. The first topic covered in the wide-ranging interview Pete Rose did with Grantland’s Jonah Keri last week cut right to the point:

I used to get screwed when we had a seven- or eight-run lead, because I couldn’t bunt for a single or I’m “showing up the opposition.” … Guys that are home run hitters can continuously just swing from their ass and trot around the bases. I remember one time we had a 7-1 lead in the sixth inning in Houston, and J.R. Richard was pitching. I hit a single to right-center and I went to second. He threw at the next two hitters because I was showing the team up! What am I supposed to do when I got a 10-run lead, just go up there and strike out?

Well, no. There are valid arguments to be made against expecting a player to dial back his intensity when a blowout reaches a certain point, but opting against aggressively taking an extra base while holding a six-run lead is not quite the same as going up there to strike out.

Love it or hate it, the Code is generally fair to hitters’ stat lines. Hit all you want, it says. Drive doubles and triples and home runs with impunity. Just don’t take advantage of a reeling opponent by doing things like bunting for hits, say, or stretching a single into a double while holding a 7-1 lead in the sixth against J.R. Richard.

Speaking of bunting for hits, Rose also had this to say about Ben Davis’ bunt to break up Curt Schilling’s perfect game in 2001:

[The unwritten rules] are stupid. Who cares if you bunt for a base hit? The only guys who criticize him on that are losers. Now if it had been 10-1, maybe. But down 2-0? I’d bunt, too.

Which is precisely the point. Rose selectively bemoans the unwritten rules, knowing as well as anybody that the Code is, in virtually every circumstance, overridden by the mandate to win. Any reasonable proponent of the unwritten rules will admit as much—even Schilling, who in The Baseball Codes said about Davis’ bunt that “if it’s 9-0, yeah, I think it’s a horseshit thing to do. But it was a 2-0 game and the bottom line is, unwritten rules or not, you’re paid to win games.”

It is the same reason that Rose’s decision to take out Ray Fosse in the 1970 All-Star Game continues to be questioned. Were it a regular-season contest, even a meaningless one, the play wouldn’t have so much as raised an eyebrow. It was clean and it was effective. But because it was an exhibition, because the win didn’t count in the standings, Rose’s crash-and-burn mentality came up for scrutiny, especially in light of the fact that the hit affected Fosse for the remainder of his career.

What Rose’s argument fails to recognize is that baseball’s Code sets it apart from other sports. It serves as institutional recognition that, over a 162-game season, every team will have a day in which it runs roughshod over its opponent, and that equanimity is hardly too much to ask in such a situation—especially in light of the fact that the roles could easily be reversed a day later. It is a gentlemanly aspect of an intensely competitive sport, a continuous reminder that, like life, the outcome of a play is not all there is—that motivation plays a part, as well.

Rose’s drive to play hard all the time is undeniably admirable. What he seems to be missing is that there is a marked difference between his success and his opponent’s failure. The recognition of such is part of what makes baseball great.

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Ron Roenicke and the Unwritten Rules

With Brewers manager Ron Roenicke in the news recently for inserting Carlos Gomez as a pinch-runner while holding a 5-0, eighth-inning lead over the Cubs, it seems an appropriate time to run the bulk of an interview we did with him in June 2006, for the Baseball Codes.

Many of Roenicke’s answers echo precisely what he said in the wake of the Gomez incident. I’m including the rest of the conversation because it’s so wide ranging, and because Roenicke has such clear opinions on the subject.

Roenicke was a coach on Mike Scioscia’s staff with the Angels at the time of the interview.

On the difference between the unwritten rules in the minor leagues and the major leagues:

It’s different when you talk about the minor leagues and the major leagues, because in the major leagues you’re there to win games. Yes, you don’t want to show anybody up, but your first responsibility is to your team. In the minor leagues—and here we’re talking about the stealing, not so much the 3-0 swinging—you’re trying to develop people.

Say you’re trying to develop a base stealer. Say he hasn’t gotten an opportunity to steal a base in a week. Now, the one time he gets on, you are up 8-0 in the sixth inning. Well, here’s his opportunity to practice, to learn how to steal a base, and yet you’re up by a lead where you usually wouldn’t run.

I tried to talk to the other manager before we played and tell them how I felt, so if that situation came up they knew, hey, I’m not stealing this to try to show you up. I’m not trying to increase the score of the game, or see how many runs we can score. I’m trying to develop these players; that’s our goal in the minor leagues.

In my second year managing I was in the California League, and we were playing the Padres’ A-Ball team, Rancho Cucamonga. Marty Barrett was managing them. I introduced myself to Marty before the game and said, “Hey, Marty, I’ve got some guys who need to learn how to steal. If we’re up by a lot of runs early in the game we’re going to keep going. I don’t know how you feel, but I won’t be offended or take it personally if you steal some guys who need to work on it, too.” He says, “Oh yeah, no problem.”

Well, we’re bashing the ball. We’re up 9-2 in the second inning, we get a guy on and we steal him. Marty goes bananas—he’s all ticked off at me. That stuff happens in the game.

The score ended up being 9-8, and Derek Lee was at the plate with two guys on, and he flew out to the fence. So that wasn’t a comfort zone for us. If you’ve been to Rancho Cucamonga, you know can score some runs in that ballpark.

What’s the ultimate yardstick for knowing when to back off?

It comes down to your responsibility. How many runs do you know that you need to win that ballgame that night?

When I came up (to the big leagues, with the Dodgers in 1981) they always told me, eighth or ninth inning, if you’re up by five runs you don’t steal any more. That was the unwritten rule. But today’s games have changed that. There weren’t the run totals we have now. I came up with the Dodgers, which was a hard park to hit in, and our pitching staff was so good, rarely did you score five runs in a game. Now, five runs in an inning happens almost every night in some ballpark.

Any individual night may be different from the night before. Maybe your stopper’s been in three games in a row and can’t pitch that night, so you don’t have that sure guy you can go to in the last inning. You want more runs.

Now the opposing team may not know that, so there comes the battle where they get ticked off about something you do, and maybe you’re doing it just because you know you’ve got a couple of guys you really can’t bring into the ball game.

Do you ever have to explain to the opposition why you did something the way you did?

Once in a while there’s a phone call made between managers. It doesn’t happen often, but once or twice a year you get a call, or you call the other side and say, “Hey, listen, I’m not trying to show anybody up, but this was our situation, this is why it happened.”

You do this because something happens during the game where you see their whole staff standing up and the players are ticked off and yelling something. Sometimes you need to explain that.

How do you deal with it when it makes sense for you—your pen is gassed, you want the extra run and they’re yelling? Do you feel the need to get them back for something you felt was justified?

If they retaliate, I’m mad. I’m going to talk to that manager. I don’t know anybody managing the game in the big leagues that would try to purposely show up the other team. I really don’t. If that guy is stealing, I think there’s a reason he’s stealing.

Now sometimes a player doesn’t know, and he just takes off, but that doesn’t come from the manager. But if it’s the manager, I don’t believe there’s anybody saying, “We’re going to abuse these guys, let’s score as many runs as we can.” I’ve never been around anybody like that. So, if somebody is doing it, and we’re on the other side, I rarely see Mike (Scioscia) that upset about when they do something that maybe we think they should not be doing.

If it’s stealing, we’re looking at it and saying, “They’re not comfortable with the lead they have; they think they need more runs.” That’s saying a lot for our team—they’re saying they think we’ve got a pretty good offense.

People who get mad about stuff, I don’t understand it. There’s no way Mike is ever going to show up somebody. If he runs, it’s because he knows we need more runs on the board to win the ball game.

Have you ever had to take one of your own guys aside and tell him to cool it?

Sure. Bunting for a base hit when you’re up by a lot of runs and you aren’t a bunter. If you’re Chone Figgins, it depends on the score, but if it’s five or six runs up I’m OK with Figgins bunting. But if Garret Anderson or Vladdy (Guerrero) is in a slump and guys are way back on the grass and they bunt for a hit, I don’t like that.

I thought Figgins would bunt last night. [In the eighth inning of a game against Matt Cain of the Giants, Figgins singled to center for his team’s first hit in a game the Giants led 2-1.]

You mean, when he got the hit to break up the no-hitter? That’s another unwritten rule—do you bunt to break up a no-hitter?

If you’re Chone Figgins and it’s a one-run game, I think you do.

Well, that’s the thing—are we trying to win this game, or are we trying to ignore the unwritten rule to bunt and break up a no-hitter?

It’s not your job to preserve it.

It isn’t, but that’s another one of the rules. If we’re in the fifth or sixth inning and he bunts, that’s fine, but if you get to the eighth or ninth, most people would say he’s not supposed to bunt for a base hit. But for me, that’s part of his game, and it’s OK. You talk to a lot of managers who say it’s not.

It’s different if it’s San Diego [a reference to Ben Davis breaking up Curt Schilling’s perfect game in 2001].

Yeah, bunting isn’t part of his game, and I don’t know if I like that.

Why, if you have one hit and it’s 2-1 in the eighth, would it conceivably be no problem for Figgins to bunt in an effort to be the tying run, but not when it’s 1-0 and you have no hits?

You’re right. I’m not saying it’s wrong to do it—it’s just one of those unwritten rules. You have to hit the ball to break up a no-hitter late in the game.

Do you recall, from playing days, having anyone on your team or the other team so blatantly violate a unwritten rule that either your manager or pitching staff decided it required retaliation?

It happened more when I played. Most of the time when somebody was thrown at it was because of what they did at the plate, maybe on a long home run. Now everybody (watches home runs) so nobody seems to care, but back then if you hit a home run, you didn’t stand there and watch it. It was that or breaking up two, going in cleats high. Those were the things that people got hit for.

On bunting against Nolan Ryan:

I bunted one time against Nolan Ryan. Now, I didn’t know. It was my second year in the big leagues, and I didn’t know. I didn’t get a hit, although I was bunting for a hit. I came back to the bench, and Mark Belanger was with us that one year, his final year, playing with the Dodgers. He said “Ron, just so you know, Nolan, when he was in the American League, if you bunted on him, the next time he threw at you.”

So I’m like, “Oh, great.” We played him three weeks later, and I’m worried about that first pitch, and he just threw a fastball right down the middle. He probably didn’t know who I was, and it didn’t matter to him.

Any other guys have private rules?

You didn’t dig in against anybody back then. The way guys dig in now, they’d be hit automatically by 90 percent of the pitchers back then. Same thing with home runs.

If you got hit and you were at fault, you just put your head down and went to first. If your teammates saw you hit a home run and watch it, your own teammates were mad because they knew somebody was going to get hit, and there were eight of them hitting before you got up. Sometimes they waited until you hit again, sometimes they hit the next guy. It depended on who the pitcher was.

Nolan, obviously, had a reputation. Pedro Martinez—I was just starting to coach when he came up. Before me, obviously, Gibson and Drysdale were the worst.

How about Steve Carlton?

I played with him. Now, Lefty was mean. If you hit a home run and you looked at it, then yeah, you were gonna get it. Most guys were like that, and Lefty didn’t care who it was.

Lefty was kind of a stickler for the unwritten rules. Yeah, he was a mean competitor. There were certain guys that you just knew you couldn’t get away with stuff that you might get away with elsewhere. When you got into the box, you knew who was pitching, and you’d better do the right thing. They had that reputation. You didn’t mess around and get them mad at you.

My brother (former big leaguer Gary Roenicke) got hit in the mouth by Lerin LaGrow, and Lerin was known to hit people. He got hit opening day in Oakland.

My brother didn’t do anything to precipitate it; it was out of the blue. I’m not saying it was on purpose—it was out of the shadows and Gary said he never saw it coming. He wore a face mask the rest of the year, and he got drilled all the time. Pitchers tried to intimidate him.

I can remember some teammates, if they were thrown at during a game, that was it. They were done. They weren’t going to get a hit that game. And, I can remember other guys—you throw at Steve Garvey, I guarantee he was going to hit a bullet somewhere. He would grab that helmet, throw it on his head, get back in there and have a great at-bat.

Not too many guys can last in the major leagues if they can’t handle being thrown at, but some guys just didn’t know—they’d face one team and get throw at, but other teams didn’t try it. Guys didn’t talk that much back then. If you knew something about a guy, you’d keep it to yourself and have the advantage.

On learning the Code:

It was the veteran players who took you aside. When I first came up I can remember Rick Monday telling me, “Just keep your mouth shut and learn how to play the game.” He was right. I sat there. He knew I wasn’t a starter, and he wasn’t anymore, either. He took care of me more than anybody—him and Terry Forster. They took care of the young guys. Not just telling them what to do, but taking them out to dinner and teaching them how to be professional—really helping their careers.

Youth and money can be a volatile mix.

I think it’s gotten to the point where you can’t do it anymore (teach kids how to act on the road, and etc.). We’ve created a monster. The way things have evolved, it’s not just when you get to the big leagues, now—it’s also the minor league stuff. It’s the huge bonuses. The game has really changed.

The first time I saw it was with Steve Sax. He was the first rookie that stepped into the big leagues and got away with the stuff he got away with, with a sense of entitlement. I was waiting for Reggie (Smith) and Dusty (Baker) and (Ron) Cey and (Steve) Garvey to just grab him by the throat and put him up against the wall. For some reason, he got away with it.

He was making fun of the old guys, not paying attention during the ballgame, goofing around somewhere. Now he played a lot, but at the very beginning, maybe when he wasn’t in there every day, they told me, “You’re on the bench, you’re watching what’s going on, you’re talking to other veterans—you are at work.”

Now, Saxy, it’s his personality—he couldn’t sit still that long. He was off screwing around, playing practical jokes on the veterans—which you just did not do—and he got away with it. He was one funny guy, and I don’t know if it was because the guys liked that humor around, or what. He was the first guy I saw get away with it.

It gradually changed, and now a rookie steps into the big leagues and can do whatever he wants. There’s no, “Hey, that’s my seat,” or, “Rook, you sit in the front of the bus.” Now, you do whatever you want to do.

Players respected the game more back when we played, and probably 20 years before we played they respected it more than we did. I don’t know.

I think the money has really changed how people inside the game view the game. Now it’s a vehicle to wealth. There aren’t too many guys who play just for the love of the game. That’s a shame, but it’s true.

That’s why, when you have those (David) Ecksteins and (Darin) Erstads, they’re so rare. Vladimir, too. Vladimir absolutely loves to play baseball. I don’t think it would matter what he’s getting paid. He loves to play, and you can see it. You can see it in the dugout, you can see it in the locker room, you can see it out there in front of people.

So there are still a few—not many—that do play that way.

Are the guys who love the game the ones who automatically live by these rules?

A lot more so. Not always, not everything, but a lot more. As a staff, that’s what you want from everybody—you want everybody to feel that same way. Because it has changed so much, it has to be harder to be a coach now than it was before, with players and what their priorities are.

- Jason

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Sanchez Steamed at Utley’s Toss; Affeldt Stays Put During Fight

There was finally some Code-based action in the post-season Saturday, in San Francisco’s Game 6 clincher over the Phillies. It’s about time; these playoffs had been entirely too sedate.

It started when Giants lefty Jonathan Sanchez drilled Chase Utley in the shoulder blade. It was clearly unintentional—there was already a man on first and nobody out in a 2-2 game—but that wasn’t the issue.

The ball bounced off Utley and up the line toward first base. The hitter, moving in that direction, caught in on a hop and tossed it back to the mound.

This did not sit well with Sanchez. He yelled, “That’s bullshit,” at the startled runner, to which Utley quizzically replied, “What’s bullshit?”

Within moments, both benches had emptied. (Watch it here.)

At issue for Sanchez:  disrespect from Utley.

“You don’t throw the ball back to the pitcher,” he said in an ESPN report. “You’re a professional. You don’t do that. And when he did it, he had this smile on his face, this look that said, ‘You’re nothing.’ And I didn’t like that at all. So I told him.”

There is, of course, the fact that Sanchez was struggling and clearly frustrated, and, if not looking for a confrontation, at least prone to embracing one.

Utley might have been telling Sanchez, “You can’t hurt me.” He might have been saying, “Here’s what I think about you and your tactics.” He might not have intended anything at all, and was simply returning the baseball he unexpectedly held to its place of origin. Not only did he not attempt to stare down the pitcher as he tossed the ball, he barely looked in his direction.

We don’t know what he meant, because he isn’t talking. “It’s just part of the game,” he told Jeff Fletcher of FanHouse. “You’ll have to ask (Sanchez).”

No matter the answer, there’s little doubt that Sanchez over-reacted. His was the response of a pitcher clearly on the ropes, with little left to lose. Although it’s improbable, the notion arose that he might be trying to get both himself and Utley tossed from the game, because he wasn’t going to last long, anyway. (Although Sanchez didn’t know it at the time, Bruce Bochy had already started toward the mound to remove the pitcher when the bad blood started to go down.)

Should Utley have reacted as he did? Probably not. Were his actions meritorious of the response they received? Absolutely not. The pitcher, in that situation, should have without question risen above such a level of perceived slight.

Clearly, Sanchez was not on his game, in pretty much any capacity.

* * *

As Sanchez was having his mini-meltdown on the mound, another suspect Code violation took place on the opposite side of the field.

As the benches emptied to surround the would-be combatants, the bullpens followed. The Giants’ pen, a level above Philadelphia’s, put San Francisco’s relievers a few steps behind their counterparts in the race to the field. One of them never made it at all.

Jeremy Affeldt, who had begun warming up moments earlier, made a move to join his teammates. Instead, bullpen coach Mark Gardner grabbed him, and issued an order.

“He said, ‘You stay here. You need to lock it in right now,’ ” Affeldt told the San Francisco Chronicle. ” ‘We’ve got a long game ahead of us, and you need to stay focused.’ “

So the lefty stayed put, much to the delight of Phillies fans, who derided him for his failure to join the on-field scrum. He entered the game when the field cleared, and threw two scoreless innings—including working out of the two-on, no-out jam he inherited from Sanchez.

This is the only instance on record I’ve encountered of a player able to avoid any negative clubhouse repercussions for failing to join his teammates in an altercation.

It couldn’t have been more appropriate.

- Jason

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Filed under Chase Utley, Everybody Joins a Fight, Jeremy Affeldt, Jonathan Sanchez, Unwritten Rules

Kershaw Upholds Unwritten Rule While Mattingly Breaks Written One

A nearly unprecedented comingling of rules both written and unwritten descended upon Dodger Stadium on Tuesday, as inside pitches inspired retaliatory strikes, one pitcher was ejected for drilling an opponent and another was tossed because his manager mucked up the rulebook.

It all might have started in April, at least according to Dodgers manager Joe Torre. That was when Los Angeles head-hunter Vicente Padilla broke Aaron Rowand’s cheek with a fastball, knocking him out of action for more than two weeks.

Thus, when Tim Lincecum knocked Matt Kemp down with an inside pitch on Tuesday, and followed that up by drilling him, it was easy to draw conclusions about retaliation. (Kemp certainly did, taking several steps toward the mound before being redirected by umpire Adrian Johnson.)

Never mind that Lincecum had a chance to respond as the Giants starter the day after Padilla’s deed, more than three months ago, or that the Giants have faced the Dodgers six times since the incident without drilling anybody.

There’s also the fact that Lincecum was unusually terrible, lasting just 4 2/3 innings, missing the strike zone on seven of his first eight pitches, giving up five runs and throwing about the worst pitch humanly possible.

Still, when Giants reliever Denny Bautista twice came well inside to Russell Martin in the sixth, the Dodgers took it extremely personally. (Bench coach Bob Schaefer was ejected for the vociferous nature of his protestations.)

Despite a warning leveled by Johnson after Lincecum plunked Kemp, Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw drilled the next batter he faced, Rowand, in the hip, earning ejections for himself and Torre. (Watch the chain of events here.)

“When Kemp took a few steps toward Timmy, that made no sense because obviously Tim was struggling and wasn’t trying to hit him,” wrote Giants outfielder Aubrey Huff on his blog. “We were all a little jumpy right there, waiting to see what was going to happen. And Bautista definitely wasn’t trying to hit Russell Martin. . . . Now, I imagine, it’s all over and done with. They got their retaliation shot in, and that’s it.”

(Kershaw received a five-game suspension for his actions, while Torre and Schaefer were docked a game each.)

This left Dodgers coach Don Mattingly in charge of the team.

Los Angeles closer Jonathan Broxton came on in the ninth to protect a 5-4 lead, and promptly loaded the bases with one out. Mattingly visited the mound to inform members of the infield where he wanted them positioned. After he turned to leave, however, first baseman James Loney asked another question. Mattingly returned to address it, before heading to the dugout. (Watch it here.)

The issue: This constituted two visits, something not allowed in the same inning under rule 8.06 of the Official Baseball Rules, which stipulates that a mound visit begins when a manager or coach crosses the foul line, and ends when he departs from the 18-foot diameter of the mound.

“I really just went out to let the infield know we were going to play back,” said Mattingly in the Los Angeles Times. “[Hitter Andres] Torres could run. And the corners were basically pretty much going home. After I did that, I turned to walk away and James [Loney] said something, and I kind of turned around. I didn’t realize I was even off the dirt, but obviously I was.’’

Umpire Johnson shouted, “No, no, no. You can’t go back,” and Giants manager Bruce Bochy pounced. The umpires informed Mattingly that according to the rulebook, Broxton would have to leave the game. That left George Sherrill, having not received adequate time to warm up, to enter the game virtually cold.

He promptly gave up a two-run double to Torres that proved to be the difference in the game.

The umpires could have afforded Sherrill as many warm-up tosses as he wanted, but had the power to cut him off after eight—which they did. It was a detrimental decision from the Dodgers’ point of view, but at least it hewed to the rulebook.

Ejecting Broxton: not so much.

Rule 8.06 was codified in 1967, in an effort to minimize mound visits and speed up games. Because relief pitchers must face at least one hitter per appearance, an adjunct to the rule keeps managers from circumventing it by using back-to-back mound visits to remove a pitcher and improve matchup possibilities. It does this by stating that the manager will be ejected for the action, as will the pitcher, but only after he faces the guy at the plate.

(The umps should not even have ejected Mattingly, writes Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle, because they didn’t adequately warn him against a second visit, as stipulated by the rules.)

Bochy knew about all of this, having invoked the rule in 2006 as manager of the Padres (also against Los Angeles). That time it was properly carried out, with Dodgers pitcher Brad Penny remaining in the game to face the hitter.

“I think that’s the craziest win we’ve had all season,” said Giants reliever Jeremy Affeldt, who picked up the save, in the San Francisco Chronicle. “I’m sure we’ll put our heads on our pillows and smile.”

As will those of us who pay attention to this kind of thing. The written rules managed to bite the Dodgers on Tuesday; the teams next meet in San Francisco on July 30, at which point we’ll see if there’s a need for rules of the unwritten variety.

- Jason

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Filed under Clayton Kershaw, Don Mattingly, Mound Conference Etiquette, Retaliation, Unwritten Rules

Tour de France Brings Unwritten Rules into the International Spotlight

Today’s primary unwritten rules-related chatter comes to us from the Continent, where defending champion Alberto Contador did the ungentlemanly thing in the Tour de France by pressing ahead after stage leader Andy Schleck’s chain popped off.

Bicycling’s code mandates that a rider slows to wait should a rival be beset by technical misfortune.

Contador’s maneuver allowed him to gain 39 seconds—enough to surpass Schleck for the overall lead, but at considerable cost to his good P.R. Like baseball’s unwritten rules, however, prominent names defend both sides of every argument.

“You can’t say to Contador, ‘Hey, wait for Andy,’ ” said Lance Armstrong’s team director Johan Bruyneel in the Christian Science Monitor. “There’s no gifts in this race.”

Also quoted in the Monitor was Cervelo TestTeam owner Gerard Vroomen, who tweeted the opposite sentiment: “Contador just gained a great chance to win, but he lost the chance to win greatly.”

The fact that Contador and Schleck are good friends only leads to the intrigue.

“I would not like to take the yellow like that,” said Schleck in the Wall Street Journal. “I will take my revenge.”

There are subtleties here about which a bicycle-racing neophyte like myself has little idea, including the notion (according to Vroomen, anyway) that Contador’s action might have itself been revenge for an earlier slight by Schleck.

However this threatened revenge plays out, however, it’s a fair certainty that it won’t come via an inside fastball.

- Jason

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Welcome to the Hot Seat, Gibby

In honor of Kirk Gibson’s ascension to the Diamondbacks’ managerial office, I offer two tales of the unwritten rules, featuring the former All-Star at their center.

The first spans the borderline between respect and superstition, mandating that players refrain from bragging about any success they might be having against a particular opponent. After all, the jinx factor is always at play, and one never knows when things might turn sour.

During Game 5 of the 1984 World Series, with Detroit leading three games to one, Goose Gossage got into a discussion with fellow Padres reliever Tim Lollar about his track record against Gibson, dating back to Gossage’s years in the American League. “I think he has one hit off me lifetime,” Gossage said, according to Buddy Bell’s Smart Baseball. “He’s lucky to have that one. It was a broken bat single. I own the guy.”

It doesn’t take much imagination to guess what happened next. In the eighth inning, Gibson came up with two on with his team leading 5-4, and Gossage on the mound, trying to keep things close. San Diego manager Dick Williams ordered Gibson intentionally walked, a decision that spurred Gossage to wave Williams out for a meeting, during which he pleaded his case for facing the slugger. Williams eventually acquiesced.

Gibson hit Gossage’s second pitch into the upper deck for an 8-4 lead. The Tigers won the championship minutes later.

The second incident has to do with keeping things loose. Most teams boast a balance of clubhouse personalities, ranging from clubhouse jokers to battlers with tunnel-vision, who have no time for anything but preparation for victory.

Not to say that Gibson was no fun to be around, but he was closer to the latter category than the former.

Don Drysdale describes a moment in Once a Bum, Always a Dodger, shortly after Gibson had joined Los Angeles.

Jesse Orosco, a relief pitcher for the Dodgers, put some eye-black in the sweatband of Gibson’s cap before an exhibition game. It was a harmless prank, but when Gibson put his hat on, he just came apart. It didn’t fit into his game plan or his sense of humor, and he just took off. He left the ballpark. Gibson was in effect saying, “If that’s the way this team operates, then maybe the Dodgers made a mistake signing me.”

It might be just the type of focus the Diamondbacks need.

- Jason

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