Bringing the Code to Sports Illustrated

Following the media’s love affair with Nyjer Morgan yesterday (and by “love affair,” I mean “incessant coverage of”), I put together a piece for Sports, covering the timeline of events leading up to Wednesday’s brawl.

It’s largely based on the article I first posted here, so there’s little need to double-dip if you’ve already read the first one.

Still, it has a pretty picture. Also, you’ll be one click closer to Joe Posnanski.

– Jason


I’ve Been Sermonized

From the “Ways to Tell You’ve Made It” file: I don’ t know Rabbi Dan Moskovitz, and am unfamiliar with Temple Judea—which makes it all the more remarkable that he chose as a sermon topic baseball’s unwritten rules, and name dropped, of all people, me.

I’m in no position to judge anybody based only on religious beliefs, but this much is clear: the good rabbi is a man of staggering intelligence and discerning tastes.

That’s one down. Time to step up, Catholics, Buddhists and Sikhs.

– Jason


Welcome to the Wages of Wins

David Berri is a professor at the Southern Utah University, and has the power to work magic when it comes to the statistical analysis of basketball. He wrote the book, Wages of Wins, and maintains the Wages of Wins Journal, where he waxes continuous about the state of the NBA, viewed largely through the statistics it produces.

I interviewed David a few years back for a story I wrote for Popular Science, and he recently returned the favor, interviewing me for his Web site. You can find it here.

– Jason

Articles, Dallas Braden

Braden’s Roots Inform Demand for Respect

Bay Citizen launched about two weeks ago, offering hope for a sustainable non-profit journalism model. A few days later, I wrote a story for the site about Dallas Braden, which touches on his run-in with Alex Rodriguez, and his perfect game.

The piece isn’t precisely unwritten-rules related, but it’s still relevant to the conversation.

The theme I was after concerned the topic of respect, and what it meant to Braden as he grew up in Stockton. Respect, after all, was the basis for his exchange with A-Rod, and I wanted to find out what about his past informed his perception of the concept.

He told me a number of good stories, several of which were stripped from the final edit. I offer up two of them here.

During the late 1990s, it didn’t take particularly deep insight to recognize that Stockton’s Amos Alonzo Stagg High School was not as well off financially as some of its athletic rivals. This fact was not easily hidden.

In spite of this—or maybe because of it—when a visiting team showed up one day with its own lawn chairs upon which to settle behind the dugout fence during a game, members of Stagg’s junior varsity baseball team felt both anger and embarrassment. The bench provided by the school, it seemed, was too old and splintery.

One of the Stagg pitchers that day was sophomore Dallas Braden, who to this day looks back on the moment with disbelief.

“Are you that much better than us that you can’t sit on our dugout bench, on our slab of wood?” said Braden, who, as a member of the Oakland A’s, has gained more name recognition over the course of this young season than perhaps anybody in baseball. “It’s a slap in the face, a lack of respect for our facility and for us kids. It was as if we just weren’t good enough; that we were almost lucky that they came down and spent the afternoon playing baseball against us.”

And this:

The pitcher tells a story from his youth, when he brought home a friend’s Whiffle Ball bat, only to have his dog chew the handle. Though the bat was hardly ruined, and though money was always tight, his mother insisted that he replace it.

“She said to me, ‘You’re going to go and get him a new bat, because that’s what you would want done for you,’ ” he said. “I was nine. It didn’t matter that it could be taped. It was the principle of the matter. . . . My mom didn’t want to go to bed with that on her mind, knowing that she didn’t teach me the right way to do things.” . . .

Wooden benches on a prep ballfield or a pitcher’s mound in the Oakland Coliseum; poor kids in poor cities or millionaires playing a child’s game for a living; in Stockton or Oakland or New York City, the concept of respect doesn’t change.

You break a kid’s bat, you buy him a new one. It’s as simple as that.

It’s insight into the mind of a guy who understands baseball’s code better than most of his contemporaries, despite being just 26 years old and in his fourth season as a big leaguer.

It also helps explains what the Code is all about.

– Jason


Weighing in on Replay in the Times

In the wake of Perfect Game-gate this morning, the New York Times asked me to weigh in on the notion of baseball implementing a comprehensive replay system. Turns out they placed me in some pretty select company; also contributing were Keith Olbermann, longtime Times writer Gerald Eskenazi and Will Carroll, from Baseball Prospectus. Read the story here.

Needless to say, nobody took a stand against replay (although Eskenazi was non-committal). Now it just waits to be seen whether umpire Jim Joyce makes Olbermann’s Worst Person in the World list.

– Jason


ESPN to Pitchers: ‘How Would You Respond?’

The unwritten rules seem to be taking a place of prominence in the American media landscape right now. If, as I suspect, the reason many old-timers talked to us for The Baseball Codes was that they didn’t want to see the Code fray any further than it already has in the modern game, they must be delighted with this turn of events.

ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick recently discussed a handful of rules with three prominent pitchers from the 1970s: Jim Palmer, Bert Blyleven and Goose Gossage.

As it happens, we interviewed all three for the book, and their opinions haven’t changed a bit since we talked to them. (Blyleven, in fact, was one of the dozen or so players who actively discussed with us the rule about not running across a pitcher’s mound. He was also the most fiery about it.)

There are some terrific stories in the article, but seeing them in such a truncated format makes it strikingly clear that they must all eventually come around to one thing: retaliation. No matter what the offense—showing up a player, stealing signs, peeking at pitches, etc.—the stories that illustrate them are inevitably punctuated with baseballs aimed at ribcages.

The same held true for the vast majority of the stories we elicited from players. It’s why the retaliation chapter is the book’s biggest.

That’s the beauty of the Code (especially when the interview subject is a pitcher): the concept of making sure violations don’t happen again on your watch.

Update: Ex-Houston Astros All-Star and current baseball blogger Morgan Ensberg has posted an interview with himself in which he addresses many of these issues from a hitter’s standpoint.

– Jason