The Code isn’t for Everyone – Just Those who Care

The inimitable Charles P. Pierce.

Charles P. Pierce is a writer for the Boston Globe. He’s one of the more gifted sportswriters in the field. (One of my favorite pieces he’s written ran a few years back in Sports Illustrated.)

He also doesn’t like baseball’s unwritten rules. Said so himself today, right there on his Globe blog:

You know one of the reasons I don’t get (baseball)? This kind of nonsense. A young guy’s not supposed to swing away in a situation because of some secret Templar code that Jim Leyland and Buck Showalter have tattooed on the inside of their eyelids? “Baseball etiquette,” my Aunt Fanny. Get over yourselves, the lot of you.

Of course, in hating on the Code he cuts to the heart of the Code: Those who don’t care don’t get it. Try explaining to somebody who doesn’t love baseball the justifiable propriety of a pitcher putting a fastball into a hitter’s backside in response to something that happened earlier in the game.

Can’t be done.

Pierce calls himself a baseball agnostic, immune to that “extra thing” that “makes maundering children out of slumming poets and distinguished professors of history.” (The problem with gifted writers is that when they snark against things you like, it’s frequently high-quality stuff.)

Which is just fine. I am not a baseball agnostic. I’m not even born-again. I’ve been there since the beginning, still cherishing that first game with my dad, a subject Pierce also savages in his blog. (Okay, he savages the clichéd overuse in memoirs of the First Game with Dad narrative, something with which I’m kind of inclined to agree.)

Still, to those who care about the game—a group that includes most of the people within the game—the Code is vital. It’s what sets baseball apart as a sport, the thing that defines, in concrete terms and with concrete repercussions, that respect is paramount and mandatory.

To put it in other terms: If LeBron James played baseball and left the Indians for the Yankees, then opted to do a baseball version of his chalk-throwing routine before his first game as a visitor at Jacobs Field, do you think he might be wearing a fastball before the end of the series? Do you think he’d do it again after that?

It doesn’t matter what our fictional baseball-playing LeBron James thinks about the unwritten rules. It matters only that they exist and that he would abide by them, because everybody ultimately does.

Baseball mandates as much. It’s one of the things that make the sport special to many of those who care about it. Should Charles Pierce ever come around to caring, perhaps he’ll discover as much.

– Jason

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