Unwritten-Rules

More Tweets From Gregg Olson About The Unwritten Rules

A month ago today I posted about Gregg Olson’s Twitter feed (@GreggOlson30), which the former closer was using to compile a list of baseball’s unwritten rules. He’d tweeted 14 of them at that point, and since then has tweeted 15 more. Here are the rest in all their glory, with the occasional addendum from me. (Gregg, if you haven’t yet read The Baseball Codes, it’s right up your alley. DM me and I’ll get you a copy.)

This goes without saying. It didn’t necessarily stop Rob Dibble, of course, or the occasional lunatic who brought a gun into the clubhouse, but those guys weren’t the norm.

With an exception made for Elvis Andrus and Adrian Beltre, this one is solid … though it can also be utilized for nefarious purposes. In a story told by Bill Lee, for example, Orioles shortstop Luis Aparicio took advantage of the sometimes-extreme religious leanings of St. Louis shortstop Julio Gotay by making crosses out of tongue depressors atop second base before an an exhibition game in the early-1960s. Gotay didn’t notice them until the first inning, when, with a runner on first, he fielded a grounder and took the ball to second base himself. Upon spying Aparicio’s handiwork, he let out a shriek and immediately backed away from the play. Both runners ended up safe on what had appeared to be a certain double-play, then scored on an ensuing triple. (“I asked Aparicio if he ever tried that trick again,” Lee wrote in The Wrong Stuff. “He told me no, explaining that he he wanted to save it in case he played against Gotay in a World Series or All-Star game.”)

This one is true all the way down to travel ball. Warmups for tournament games can only take place on the sideline or in the outfield. If there’s a reason for this beyond keeping the dirt pristine till first pitch, I have no idea what it is.

Peeking = bad. Alex Rodriguez liked to do this. Do not imitate Alex Rodriguez.

Unwritten rule #20(a): Do whatever Verlander says.

For generations, veterans used this one to put any big-mouthed rookie in his place. “[Veterans] wouldn’t even speak to you,” said Lefty Grove about his own rookie experience, in Baseball When The Grass Was Real. “They figured you were coming there to take away somebody’s job. I was there about two weeks before they let on they knew I was around—and I’d already won three or four games by then. Oh, boy.” Part of it had to do with earning one’s place in the clubhouse, but part of it was strictly pragmatic: Guys with little life experience are better off absorbing what they can than trying to impart semi-formed opinions. Now that rookies earn more money than some veterans via outlandish signing bonuses , however, and can possess significant star power before ever playing an inning of big league ball, Rule No. 21 is not nearly as germane as it once was.

This is true for meals, for wardrobes, for nights on the town. When catcher Bill Schroeder was a rookie with the Brewers in 1983, he ended up in the hotel bar after a game in Kansas City. The veterans in the room wouldn’t let him pay for a drink all night, so in a token of appreciation, he approached a waitress toward the end of the evening and ordered a reciprocal round for them. Mike Caldwell stood up, asked who had purchased the drinks, and jumped into action. “Caldwell came over to me, and brought all six beers with him,” recalled Schroeder. “He said, ‘You’re not leaving here until you drink all these beers, and don’t you ever pull your wallet out again this year. You are not to buy another beer this season. You’re a rookie, and that’s our job.’ ” Yes, Schroeder finished the beers. No, he didn’t buy another round until 1984.

There’s an entire chapter in The Baseball Codes about mound conference etiquette, which pays specific attention to a moment in which Giants pitcher Jim Barr opted to refute this rule with the one guy least likely to tolerate insubordination: Frank Robinson. (It almost ended up in fisticuffs in the dugout.) In another incident, from 1974 (as detailed in Dynastic, Bombastic, Fantastic), A’s pitcher Vida Blue showed displeasure with manager Alvin Dark by leaving the mound before the skipper even arrived, then flipping the ball into the air as he blew past him. (Blue paid the resulting $250 fine in nickels.)

Hitters going to the batter’s box on the opposite side of the field from their dugout must similarly circle behind the catcher and umpire. The path between pitcher and catcher is sacrosanct territory.

Especially true with a 3-0 count during a blowout.

It goes without saying that the most effective method of communication between batter an umpire (or between catcher and umpire) occurs while the player in question is facing away from the ump, toward the field, in a low-key conversation that goes largely undetected save for those in the immediate vicinity. Umpires who feel shown up in front of a stadium full of people are less likely to be flexible in their opinions about a given subject.

Superstitions, man.

This is along the same lines as a pitcher waiting for his manager on the mound. You got your team into this mess; it’s the least you can do to stick around until one of your teammates gets you out of it.

This is the biggest and most important of all unwritten rules, the one from which most of an esoteric and sometimes baffling code book is derived. Dusty Baker said it best, in my favorite quote from The Baseball Codes: “I honestly believe that what you learn in this game is not yours to possess, but yours to pass on. I believe that, whether it’s equipment, knowledge, or philosophy, that’s the only way the game shall carry on. I believe that you have to talk, communicate, and pass on what was given to you. You can’t harbor it. You can’t run off to the woods and keep it for yourself, because it isn’t yours to keep. And what you teach other guys is the torch you pass. I don’t make this up—it was passed to me.”

Here’s to you, Gregg. Nice work.

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Showboating, Unwritten-Rules

Puerto Rico Ama A Francisco Lindor: A Celebratory Lesson

Lindor trots

I’ve referenced 2017’s World Baseball Classic twice in posts this season, and it’s only April. Today is the third—and most pertinent. Francisco Lindor hit a home run yesterday, then effectively paraded his way around the bases, skipping, waving his arms and inciting the crowd. Afterward, he publicly apologized for potentially offensive behavior.

As with most things, details matter.

The WBC was terrific because it showed us a Puerto Rico national squad that was unafraid, within the context of the way baseball is played on the island (and throughout much of Central America), to show some emotion on the field. Though the occasional American red-assed stick-in-the-mud took issue with this, it was generally seen as a good thing.

Lindor was on that Puerto Rico team. Last night’s game was held in Puerto Rico, against the Twins at San Juan’s Hiram Bithorn Stadium.

Of course Lindor celebrated.

Such is the reach of baseball’s unwritten rules—especially the part held up by American red-assed stick-in-the-muds—that Lindor recognized after the fact that his antics might not have been appreciated by the opposing team. Thus, we got this:

That Cleveland was playing the Twins was unfortunate, given Minnesota’s collective, ludicrous, unwritten-rules-inspired groan at a perfectly reasonable bunt earlier in the season. If any team would take issue with a hometown kid playing by hometown rules after succeeding in front of his hometown fans, it’d be these guys, right?

As it turns out: not so much.

Credit to Lindor for sensitivity with this issue, and relieved acknowledgement that everybody involved seemed content to let him have this particular moment.

Update, 4-18: The Twins agree: Lindor was a-ok.

Unwritten-Rules

A Treatise On The Unwritten Rules in 14 Tweets

Former Orioles closer Gregg Olson—the 1989 American League Rookie of the Year, who saved 217 games over a 14-year career—recently gave an interesting response to somebody who Tweeted the following at him in the wake of the Twins’ annoyance that somebody bunted against their shift in the ninth inning: “Bunting down 7 = bad. Utilizing the shift up 7 = okay. Clear as mud. These ‘unwritten rules’ are so lame.”

Olson has, over the ensuing two weeks, backed up his position by listing 14 unwritten rules, all of them presented here with annotations. All are valid, though some have faded a bit since Olson’s time.

 

 

The quibble I have here is that there’s a far more prominent exception to this rule than the shift: If the score is close and a player can reach base via a bunt, all is kosher at any time. Victories trump Code, always.

Superstition will never be defeated.

Outmoded these days. While still sometimes in play, it was once unequivocally true.

Yes! When Alex Rodriguez did this to Dallas Braden back in 2010, the general response was bewilderment about why Braden was so upset. Had people spoken to more pitchers, they would have heard more responses like Olson’s.

 

This is true, but in my book it’s more about baseball strategy than moral standards.

This one cuts to the heart of many of the issues facing the modern game. As the Code fades and new generations of players come up with scant understanding about it, we will see increasingly more situations governed by inflamed emotions rather than reasoned responses. I’ve been discussing this with a reader over at The Baseball Codes Facebook page over the past few days, as pertains to Nolan Arenado’s recent mound charge:

Scott Ledbetter: This is MLB players taking exception to every little thing. My opinion, this is what happens when players embrace too much emotion. I agree the pitch on Margot, while injury producing, was not deliberate. I’ve seen plenty of batters get injured by a HBP that didn’t garner any retaliation, why did this one? Did anyone retaliate when Randy Johnson delivered an inside fastball to JT Snows face? Did anyone retaliate when Giancarlo Stanton took an errant pitch to his face?
The Baseball Codes: One thing worth exploring is the idea about WHY players are more sensitive now. The dissolution of the Code — the slipping grip it has over the way the game is played – – no doubt plays a part. The less clearly that players understand the scope that defines what is happening, the more likely they’ll react to it emotionally.
Scott Ledbetter: I think that’s a sign of the times… younger generations seems to be more sensitive in general, and that can carry over into all sports, not just baseball.
The Baseball Codes: I agree, but I’m talking about something different — a disconnection with the meaning behind certain established behavior, which leaves them with nothing but emotion (or, as you say, sensitivity) to govern their response.
Scott Ledbetter: I think I see what you mean. A lot of the younger players don’t seem to understand that some of the unwritten rules were responses to actual intent to harm other players, and it was the intent that determined how one responded. Nowadays, it’s seems like players feel the response is second nature because they forgot to understand the intent.
The Baseball Codes: Exactly!

Boy howdy does everyone have a different threshold. Once, a four-run lead after six was considered significant. Now, some managers consider a six-run lead in the eighth as still within striking distance.

This rule came into play with the aforementioned bunting-into-the-shift imbroglio, wherein the Twins expected Baltimore to transition into blowout mode (identified above by Olson as halting all stolen bases, but also including bunts, hit-and-runs, etc.) when they weren’t doing so themselves, defensively.

 

 

 

 

Absolutely correct, with the addendum that if you ARE caught, knock it off for a little while.

 

 

 

I will never question a pitcher about this one.

This rule can make it very difficult for friendly neighborhood reporters to do their job. I hate Rule #10.

This one is steadily changing—what’s considered to be showing up another team today is far less stringent than it was during Olson’s time. Only yesterday we talked about this as pertains to Javy Baez.

This makes sense. But if a pitcher gives up a hefty enough blast, he has far more important things to worry about than the fact that his outfielder made no effort to reach a ball that ended up in the third deck.

I just covered this one in March, in my Rusty Staub memorial post.

I haven’t heard too much about this one, save for the instances when substance abuse is impacting a player’s performance. Gregg, if you end up reading this, I’d love to hear a story about the response to somebody bringing a sandwich or etc. into the dugout during a game.

Seeing as his last post came only yesterday, give Olson a follow. One never knows when #15 might drop.

Update, 5-17-18: Olson’s been busy listing more rules.

Unwritten-Rules

The Commissioner Weighs in on the Unwritten Rules

rob-manfredPosition yourself for a moment as an old-school curmudgeon when it comes to baseball’s unwritten rules, a defender of decorum, issuing proclamations about how it was better back before the current generation took over and started flipping bats all over the field and celebrating June victories like they’d just won the World Series.

Now imagine your head exploding when you hear that commissioner Rob Manfred, the man at the head of the food chain, tasked with shepherding baseball into its next golden era, said this in response to a question about on-field celebration:

I actually think players being more demonstrative on the field is a good thing for the game. I think it’s exciting.

It came during a media conference on Saturday and was easy to miss, being sandwiched between questions about minority representation in the sport and replay implementation. It seems, however, noteworthy. Is baseball’s head honcho actually advocating for more showboating within the sport?

Before we answer that question, take off the old-school cap I asked you to put on back in the first paragraph, and instead position yourself on the opposite end of the spectrum, as somebody who decries baseball’s unwritten rules as outdated and without function, serving mainly to suppress individuality and fun within the sport. You’re pretty happy with Manfred about now, aren’t you? So how do you feel about the very next thing that came out of his mouth?:

Overall, baseball has always had unwritten rules that kind of govern what’s appropriate and what’s not appropriate. The way I think about the changes we’ve seen in the last couple of years, is that we have a really exciting new, young generation in the game. And just like the players 20 years ago, they are going to develop a set of unwritten rules as to what’s acceptable and what’s not.

Yep, it’s possible to walk both sides of the line without being in the least bit hypocritical. Manfred is absolutely correct in leaving it up to the players to determine what is appropriate and what is not. That’s been the rule since forever, and things have seemed to work out pretty well. Once, an act like digging into the batter’s box was considered retaliation-worthy. Then times changed. Now, bat flips are all but ignored, and occasionally encouraged. Because that’s the way the players (certain among their ranks—*cough, Bumgarner, cough*—excepted) want it.

It’s the very position I’ve advocated in this space from my very first blog post. My own feelings have little sway in whatever position I happen to be examining. The issue at question is about how a player’s actions mesh with the mores established by his peer group at large. If he’s in the mainstream, there should be little problem with whatever it is he’s done. Otherwise, let’s discuss it and, if need be, discuss it again.

Manfred closed his answer thusly: “I have great faith in our players; that they will use good judgment; that they will develop a set of rules that are respectful of the game, but also are reflective of the differences between these young players and the people that may be played a generation ago. I think we should all embrace that. I think it’s a good thing for the game.”

Honestly, no answer he could give to any question would convince me of his competence more than that one. At their core, the unwritten rules are about respect, and however the current crop of players ends up getting there is far less important than their getting there at all.

Ultimately, that’s all any defender of the sport’s code should care about. Manfred is about two years into his tenure; looks like we’re in good hands, baseball fans.

Unwritten-Rules

Jose Fernandez, RIP

jose-fernandezIn a note only tangentially related to baseball’s Code, it seems fitting to recall Jose Fernandez, as so many have done over the last day or so, as a man whose passions ran deep. His joyful embrace of the game accentuated the drama of his arrival in this country, and his enthusiastic approach had the baseball world remembering him as one of the sport’s most exciting players.

In addition to all that’s been said since news of his passing broke, I have only to add that for all the kid’s bravado, he offered up the single best response to his own breach of baseball etiquette that I have seen since I began covering this beat.

In 2013, when Fernandez was a 21-year-old rookie, he behaved so egregiously in a game against Atlanta that he nearly came to blows with Braves catcher Brian McCann. I went into detail about it at the time, but the important point is what came afterward: Before players had so much as settled into the postgame clubhouse, Fernandez owned up to his mistakes, apologized and vowed to do better.

It was a refreshing dose of self-awareness and humility, the likes of which are seen all too infrequently in professional sports. For it to come from a kid who’d barely reached drinking age made it all the more impressive.

They say, with good reason, that athletes frequently serve as poor role models. On that day in 2013, however, Jose Fernandez set as good an example as possible about how to own your mistakes, and what can be done to try and make things better. He will be missed, for his baseball skills and so much more.

Earning respect, The Baseball Codes, Unwritten-Rules

What the Hell is Wrong With Craig Counsell?

Segura

 

At one end of baseball’s unwritten-rules spectrum, angry pitchers try to justify their desire to throw baseballs at hitters. At the other end, celebration-minded batters ignore the Code entirely while seeing how high they can flip their bats.

On Friday, Brewers manager Craig Counsell broke new ground among their ranks, and not in a good way.

Start with the details. In a game against Arizona, Milwaukee second baseman Orlando Arcia, making only his third major league appearance, collected his first hit as a big leaguer—an RBI single to right field. So far, so good.

When the ball was returned to the infield, however, Arcia’s counterpart, D’Backs second baseman Jean Segura—the man who Milwaukee traded in January, in part to clear space for Arcia—took note of the moment and tossed the ball into the Brewers dugout for safekeeping. It was a nice, anticipatory gesture on behalf of a young player, and prevented the Brewers from having to waste time by halting play and requesting the ball themselves.

Counsell’s reaction was pure bush league. He protested to the umpiring crew that Segura removed the ball from play without first calling for a time stoppage. The umps agreed, Arcia was awarded two extra bases, and Segura was tagged with a thoroughly unearned error. (Watch it here.)

“I get it,” said Counsell after the game in an MLB.com report, “but you have to wait.”

In soccer, players’ code dictates that the ball be intentionally kicked out of bounds when an opponent goes down with a legitimate injury, nullifying an unearned extra-man advantage. In cycling, a race leader who has suffered a mechanical breakdown or other stroke of bad fortune will frequently be granted some slack by his pursuers. Yes, these things aid the opposition, but they also maintain honor.

Where the hell does honor fit into Counsell’s game plan? His move was less gamesmanship—taking advantage of a chink in the system—than sheer, calorie-free bravura, emotional junk food that, while giving his team a slight advantage, diminished himself and the game at large. As a player, Counsell made something of a habit of stealing bases while his team held big leads late in games, so maybe this is just business as usual for him.

Leaving the play alone—letting his ex-player, Segura, do something nice for his current one, Arcia—wouldn’t have drawn notice, because it would have been expected. By calling out a letter-of-the-law violation, however, Counsell painted himself as petty and self-involved.

Ultimately, Arcia was stranded at third base, and Arizona won, 3-2, on a bases-loaded walk, in 11 innings.

Could have been the baseball gods sending Counsell a message.