Unwritten Rules Not Just for Players

As is discussed in this space every day, baseball players have certain expectations placed upon their actions, and face consequences for failing to meet those expectations. They are not, however, the only people in the ballpark who play according to unwritten rules.

Umpires have their own Code, and not just as it pertains to interacting with players during the course of discussion. Former amateur ump Chris Conley recently detailed a variety of the unwritten rules he had to face. It’s a given that expectations at the amateur levels can be wildly different than those in the professional ranks, but several of his points ring true:

  • Regarding the “in the neighborhood” play at second base: “When turning a double-play, the second baseman gets to take his foot off the base a few moments before the ball arrives,” he wrote. “It keeps him from getting spiked by the base runner. It makes it less likely the base runner will get hit by the throw. Technically the runner shouldn’t be out . . . but he is.”
  • Catcher’s framing: Should a catcher be forced to move his glove to catch a pitch—meaning the pitcher missed his spot—it’s a ball. This isn’t universally true with major league umpires, but a catcher who can successfully make it seem as if he caught a pitch where it was intended to be thrown can earn his staff a lot of strike calls.
  • Conversely, should the catcher’s glove not move when catching a pitch that’s lined up slightly off the plate, he’s far more likely to get a strike than had he been forced to reach for it.

Conley details some rules that don’t have big-league carry-over, such as one that says a runner is out at second if the ball beats him to the bag, even if he manages to slide under the tag. One imagines rules like this have been implemented to keep umps from freelancing with their calls, and to prevent ill-informed managers and fans from growing irate when they fail to see the subtleties that informed a controversial decision.

* * *

On the other side of the outfield wall, fans have their own set of responsibilities. Those near the railing should get out of the way of a home-team player attempting to snare a ball over the wall, but should interfere as much as possible (on the proper side of the fence) with a visiting player.

Another rule was enacted Tuesday, during Stephen Strasburg’s well-hyped debut in Washington. Fan Bill Corey, sitting in the front row of Section 141 in right-center field, caught the first home run Strasburg gave up as a big leaguer, to Delwyn Young.

He threw it back.

“I’m just letting [Strasburg] know I have his back, as should everyone else here,” he told the Washington Post’s Dan Steinberg.

This move is hardly endorsed by Major League Baseball, and security officers descended on Corey—though they ultimately opted not to throw him out, a decision based at least partly on the impassioned pleas of people sitting around him, who appreciated what he did.

Steinberg subsequently called a variety of memorabilia dealers and was told that the ball could be worth $2,000, or more.

A small price to pay, for some fans.

– Jason

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