Actions and Consequences: The Importance Of Understanding What—And What Not—To Do

WarningOver at ESPN, Doug Glanville writes about baseball’s unwritten rules, and tells a story of charging the mound as a minor leaguer. He spells it out clearly: His actions toward the pitcher in question had little to do with anger or violence, and much to do with setting tone. Glanville wanted to send a message about what happens when one takes too many liberties with an opponent.

The story is a good one, but its upshot comes with the aftermath:

The next time I played the Greenville Braves at home, the team that I charged the mound against, they hit me in the back with the first pitch of the game. I walked to first and told the first baseman that I wanted to move on, so we could just play baseball again. I offered my olive branch. He seemed to accept, but neither of us had any say in what came next. My pitcher declared that he would get the opposing pitcher back, so he threw at him. Then the opposing pitcher threw back at him. My pitcher threw the bat at the pitcher, the managers got into a fight on the field and in between doubleheader games while exchanging lineup cards. It kept going well after I had accepted getting hit.

In many ways, baseball’s unwritten rules are fading from focus, and that’s just fine. The sport will be no less robust without many of the tenets that make little sense anyway (including the kind of ad nauseam tit-for-tat that Glanville describes). But such ignorance comes with a downside.

It was evident last week in Minnesota, when Miguel Sano could have simply gone to first base after being missed by a retaliatory pitch. Had he understood the system—that a cooler response would have effectively closed the book on the situation—all would have ended well. Instead, he argued, he fought and he ended up ejected and suspended.

It was evident in Baltimore, when, instead of neatly wrapping up a string of events with an appropriate purpose pitch, Matt Barnes inflamed tensions by putting a fastball near Manny Machado’s head. (To be clear: A purpose pitch does not have to hit a batter. It is simply a way for a pitcher to indicate that he noticed what the opposition did, that he does not approve, and that some actions have consequences. It is also a way for a pitcher to show his teammates that he’s overtly willing to guard their best interests. The latter detail is frequently far more important than the former. The stupidity of throwing at a guy’s head, though, negates whatever legitimate motivation the pitcher might have had.)

Had Glanville’s minor league teammates understood that as goes the victim, so go they, all would have been fine. Glanville was calm, so they should have been calm. Had Glanville started swinging his fists, they should have been right behind him, offering backup. The Code dictates as much.

Those were just kids, though, playing Double-A baseball, in a league where everything is a learning experience. By the time those players reached the big leagues, one would hope such lessons had settled.

As evidenced by last week’s mayhem, however, that’s not always the case. Decrying the unwritten rules as archaic and unnecessary is one thing, but failure to understand them can bear some unfortunate consequences.

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