Retaliation, Unwritten-Rules

Q: When is Headhunting Okay? A: Never

This seems like a good time for a quick dissertation on the meaning of—and the general spirit about—baseball’s unwritten rules. The last several years has seen what seems like a tidal shift of voices decrying their very existence, bemoaning what is deemed to be a culture of institutionalized violence in the name of some outdated code of moral conduct.

Let’s use an event from a minor league game on Friday to dispel some of that.

The scene: Moosic, Pennsylvania, at PNC Field. Pitcher Lester Oliveros of the Triple-A Rochester Red Wings opens the game by surrendering back-to-back singles, then a three-run homer, then another homer. Down 4-0 before he’s recorded an out, Oliveros drills the next hitter, Austin Romine of the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders directly in the helmet.

It’d be easy enough to decry this as macho posturing within an institutional framework that props up such behavior. When one is getting one’s teeth kicked in, after all, it behooves one to mix things up, to make the opposition less comfortable.

It is macho posturing—that much is beyond debate—but it has no more place among the game’s unwritten rules than it does among the written ones. It goes against nearly every facet of the Code: A pitch above the shoulders; retaliation for teammates’ success; loose-cannon ethics that possess no space for the wellbeing of the opposition. The underlying tenet of the unwritten rules is the exhibition of respect, and this act decries it almost entirely, as it regards opponent and sport alike.

If the unwritten rules are to come into play here at all, it will be in the RailRiders’ response. Perhaps the imminent suspension will suffice, but there will likely be an on-field retort the next time Oliveros takes the field against against them. Red Wings manager Mike Quade is well acquainted with the Code; he can opt to let Oliveros take whatever may be coming in an effort to put the incident behind him, or he could simply refuse to play him against Scranton, hoping the pitcher will make the jump to the big club soon enough.

The Code also matters to the rest of Oliveros’ teammates, who should understand that his recklessness has put each of them in harm’s way should Scranton opt to retaliate in anything less than direct fashion. (Such a response would carry its own baggage, but there’s no mistaking that sharing a bus with guys who are pissed off at your actions can serve as a powerful deterrent in the future.)

Ultimately, Oliveros was an independent contractor, working outside the scope of any prescribed response to his situation. By ignoring the Code he set himself up to face every a host of corrective actions that have been developed specifically to keep guys like him in check. It can be a powerful tool … if one lets it.

[Via Hardball Talk]

Unwritten-Rules

Shout it From the Rooftops, Shout it From the Mountain, Just Don’t Shout it Near MadBum

Gomez confused

There was a lot of shouting at Carlos Gomez in Milwaukee on Wednesday. Some of it was from Madison Bumgarner. Most was from Gomez himself.

It started when Gomez fouled off a pitch he felt he should have drilled. He whirled outside the batter’s box and screamed at himself loudly enough to be picked up on the TV broadcast. (Watch it here.)

Bumgarner did not approve. The pitcher glared at Gomez, then fed him an inside pitch—it didn’t come close to hitting him, but conveyed an unmistakable message. Gomez popped out on the lefty’s next offering, also inside. Bumgarner had some words for him as he headed back to the dugout.

Really, though, this story is about Gomez’s postgame comments. Had he not said this, on MLB.com

Who does that guy think he is, Bumgarner? I never scream at anybody when they miss a pitch and he screams at himself, or they make a pitch and be happy. I never say anything. So you put a good swing and they’re looking at you like you’re a piece of (garbage). Tell that (guy) to throw the ball and don’t worry about my thing. That (guy) was looking at me like I’m an idiot. So you worry about pitching. I worry about hitting. I don’t care what you do. You can strike me out and do whatever you want. That doesn’t bother me. But a professional, like the guy thinks he (is), you throw the pitch and the hitter can do whatever he wants. I missed a pitch. . . . I was (upset) because I waited for that pitch and I’m supposed to hit it and I missed it. I was (mad) at myself, so he can’t be looking at me. He’s not my dad.

… then we wouldn’t be talking about the incident today.

The reality is that Gomez is no stranger to controversy. Like his brawl with Gerrit Cole in 2014. And his showdown with Brian McCann in 2013. And his confrontation with Joe Mauer in 2010. The guy has his moments.

So then does Bumgarner, who lit into Yasiel Puig last season for flipping his bat, and into Juan Guzman in 2013 for much the same reason. It wasn’t even the first time he dug into an opponent for self-flagellation; Alex Guerrero did a disgusted pirouette after flying out to right field against the Giants earlier this season, and MadBum had a few things to say.

The takeaway: Bumgarner is one of baseball’s noted red-asses, and whether or not you like it, at least he’s consistent. He’s not settling any stupid, made-up scores by drilling guys, so in that capacity he’s fine. And baseball needs a few curmudgeons to keep things spicy.

Gomez, for all his fire, has the right to be annoyed, but he should also come to expect it. Bumgarner’s not his dad, but he does make his own rules when he’s on the mound. Gomez doesn’t have to like them, but he’d be well served to understand that things are probably not going to go any other way.

Unwritten-Rules

Knee-gate Revisited

Rosy's knee

Last week we examined Adam Rosales’ knee plant atop second base, which was called out by Rays shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera as violating some sort of unwritten rule pertaining to middle infielders. Never having heard of it, I took an unofficial survey of as many infielders as I could find when I was at the Oakland Coliseum last weekend.

Okay, it was only two. And one of them plays third base. Still.

“If his knee’s not in the way and he’s not trying to do it, then he’s not trying to do it,” said A’s third baseman Brett Lawrie (who’s had his own dose of slide-related drama this year). “If you’re on top of the bag but there’s still room to slide, that’s okay. Everything’s fine.”

A’s coach and longtime middle infielder Mike Gallego offered a different—though not contradictory—perspective. The difference between tags today and those of previous generations, he said, is replay.

“Back in the day with the old sweep tag, if the ball beats the runner the umpire is calling him out, no question,” he said. “Now, you have to literally put the tag on the play, so you might see guys blocking the base a little bit more to make sure they get the tag on the runner. It’s changing.”

It’s true. Prior to replay, runners never complained about being called out if the ball beat them to the base, even if the tag had already come and gone. Now, the necessity to position themselves not just to make a tag, but to hold it, is paramount. It only follows that they’ll have to at least occasionally brace themselves in ways about which previous generations would have been less tolerant. Not a direct correlation to Rosales’ situation, but worth mentioning.

The early verdict: Both Lawrie and Gallego mentioned that planting a knee next to the bag is preferable than doing so on top of it, for reasons that Cabrera enumerated after jamming his fingers. They also said that things happen in a bang-bang play, and what Rosales did was hardly objectionable. (Hell, first basemen like Willie McCovey and Willie Stargell were known for applying pile-driving tags on pickoff throws as a means of reminding the runner about the cost of doing business. Tag etiquette can be a complex affair.)

I’ll continue to ask around as the season progresses. Updates as events warrant.

Unwritten-Rules

Knee, Meet Fingers. Fingers, Knee. Chat Amongst Yourselves

Rosy's kneeAfter having paid particular attention to baseball’s unwritten rules since I started researching The Baseball Codes in 2005, I’ve compiled what seems like a pretty comprehensive set. On Saturday, Asdrubal Cabrera may have informed me of a new one.

Diving back into second base on a pickoff attempt, Cabrera jammed his fingers into the knee of Rangers second baseman Adam Rosales, and got up shoving. (At first blush it appeared to be because Rosales inadvertently leaned on him with an off-balance elbow, but that had nothing to do with it. Watch the play here.)

After the game, Cabrera said, in an MLB.com report: “He put a knee onto second base. I’ve played both sides, second and short, and I know that’s not fair to put a knee on the base.”

At the very least, Cabrera was correct in his assessment that, had Rosales’ knee not been planted atop the base, his fingers would have remained blissfully unjammed.

Rosales’ general demeanor is among the best in all of baseball, and there’s no question that whatever he did was done unintentionally. Still, it begs the question—especially with the accusation flying from one infielder to another—was he out of line?

More to follow …

Unwritten-Rules

On Defending the Code

Keep calm

Yesterday, the Atlantic’s website came out with a think piece slamming baseball’s unwritten rules and going so far as to call for a ban on hit batsmen. All hit batsmen. At any time.

Author Adam Felder suggests that baseball eject any pitcher who hits a batter, an idea that is on its face ludicrous and would change the game for the worse by massive amounts, all but eliminating the inside corner. Felder realizes this, of course, and seems to be throwing it out there more as a conversation starter than anything. At least he gets credit for creative thinking.

More worthy of nitpicking are the rest of his hypotheses. The piece is riddled with errors of assumption that are easy to believe. Felder asserts that the dearth of player fatalities since Ray Chapman was struck down in 1920 have “less to do with improvements in player safety and more to do with dumb luck,” when in fact it has everything to do with safety improvements. (Is he really claiming that helmets haven’t made an enormous difference?) Counter to another of his contentions, pitchers are not routinely ordered to drill opponents. (Those orders, while somewhat prevalent prior to the 1980s, are nearly extinct today.) The story led with Chapman (who Felder mistakenly transposed with the man who threw the fatal pitch, Carl Mays), a guy who died in a singular accident that had nothing to do with the unwritten rules, and which would have been prevented had helmets been in use at the time.

And that’s just in the opening paragraph.

What Felder is missing is that the Code serves a grander purpose than being a simple manifestation of aggression. Baseball is a sport of relative leisure, its pace allowing for meaning to be imbued into a given action. A stolen base doesn’t have to mean something, but when a player wants it to, it does. (He can take off late in a blowout game. He can go in too hard, or too late, or spikes high. The possibilities are multiple.) At that point, it is up to the opposing pitcher to respond.

Contrary to popular perception, retaliatory strikes act as a release valve, allowing a team both to acknowledge an act and respond to it. Rather than having bad blood fester between teams—a real possibility considering that division rivals face each other 19 times each season—the cycle ends there. Everybody moves on, all according to the Code.

Internally, it is vital that a player know his teammates have his best interests at heart. When the second baseman on the wrong end of that message-laden stolen base—the guy who was barreled into late—is protected by a retaliatory strike, it helps build a unified front. Should he not be protected it can quickly do the opposite. Just as importantly, the retaliatory pitch lets the other team know that future indiscretions will not be tolerated.

Ultimately—and this is the point that most people miss—the Code is about respect and safety. Pitchers who hit a batter for lightweight infractions like showboating or the above-mentioned ill-timed stolen base can be justifiably criticized. But when players go about intentionally risky business (the runner who flies recklessly into an infielder; the infielder who throws down an intentionally late tag—or, even worse, a deke—to force a baserunner into an awkward slide; any player who plays with excess aggression when aggression is uncalled for), handling things in this manner is a proven, effective way to put a stop to it.

The Code covers that part, too. A pitcher who places a ball above an opponent’s shoulders—intentionally or otherwise—is the closest thing to a pariah that the game knows. The batter who is hit justifiably and properly, in the hip or the thigh, will quietly take his base. Every time.

Sometimes things don’t play out according to the script, Kansas City’s ongoing drama with Oakland serving as a recent example. Those, however, are exceptions, noteworthy for that very detail. Had the participants acted according to proscribed tenets, the bad blood would have barely been noteworthy at all.

There’s a reason for the Code. Feel free to quibble with how it frequently plays out (hell, players themselves do that much), but at least understand why it’s there, and why it endures.

Retaliation, Unwritten-Rules

Machadope: On the Reckless Pursuit of Imaginary Justice


Machado swingsManny Machado is trying to rewrite the unwritten rulebook, virtually from cover to cover. One day the guy is inventing new things to get angry about, the next he’s figuring out new ways to retaliate for them.

In the process, he’s proved himself to be among the most reckless, hard-headed and downright dangerous players in the game, and should be harshly suspended for Sunday’s action.

Machado’s aggravation with the A’s began on Friday, when he took issue with an ordinary tag by Josh Donaldson, who was later thrown at by O’s reliever Wei-Yin Chen. On Sunday, the young shorstop took it to a new level stratosphere.

Hitters will occasionally come into contact with catchers on a backswing. It happens. That said, it is rare and inadvertent, and because it puts catchers into no small degree of peril—a bat is connecting with their head—hitters who do it are immediately apologetic.

Not reckless Manny Machado.

Machado hit A’s catcher Derek Norris with a backswing early in Sunday’s game, then connected again with significant force on an exaggerated follow-through in the sixth, his bat cracking the top of Norris’ helmet. The catcher, stunned, was immediately pulled from the game. Was it intentional? Judge it by Machado’s reaction. The guy didn’t so much as turn around. In fact, as a dazed Norris was being led into the A’s clubhouse, the Baltimore shortstop was caught on camera smirking. (Watch it here.)

“Usually most guys, it’s a, ‘You all right?’ Something,” said Norris after the game, in an MLB.com report. “But, if anything, I might’ve caught him smiling one time, which is kinda bizarre. Not really much [courtesy] coming from his side today. I don’t need a guy to ask me if I feel all right to feel good about a situation, but I think it is courteous for one ballplayer to another to ask if they’re all right. But yeah, nothing.”

This action is beyond the pale. Pitchers who throw at opponents’ heads are shunned by their peers—even those peers who believe in retaliatory pitches. Every one of them cites the idea that aiming a fastball above a player’s shoulders is the quickest way to end a career. Norris is no Tony Conigliaro in terms of long-term impact (at least from the looks of things so far), but a trip to the disabled list to deal with late-manifesting concussion-related issues is not out of the question. That the blow was leveled intentionally, under the scope of game play, is shameful.

Machado backswing
A normal backswing? You be the judge.

Machado compounded matters in the eighth when A’s pitcher Fernando Abad, on to protect a 10-0 lead, threw an inside fastball toward Machado’s knees—almost certainly a response to the backswing, but a mild one. It was not a difficult pitch for the batter to avoid, and it passed unimpeded to the backstop.

Machado waited until the next pitch, then swung and let go his bat—ostensibly to fly at Abad, though it sailed harmlessly down the third base line. It was obvious enough for the Orioles own broadcast crew to proclaim, “Manny Machado thought he was thrown at, and on that swing he let that bat go, intending it to go to the mound.”

A minor pass is given for the fact that Machado is coming off of knee surgery, and is obviously protective of that part of his anatomy. Then again, the reaction fits perfectly with everything we’ve learned about him this weekend. The 21-year-old hothead with the big ego has put some personal and indecipherable code of ethics above the safety not just of his opponents (it appears he’d have been happy to have hit two Oakland players with bats), but his own teammates, should the A’s opt to retaliate at some point in the future. Machado hasn’t yet spoken publicly of some irrational need to be respected, but his actions are those of somebody who feels strongly that he is owed something, despite a decided lack of merit.

O’s manager Buck Showalter pased the buck after the game, saying in the Baltimore Sun that he preferred to let players take care of this kind of thing on their own, and adding that “I thought Manny handled it better than someone with some experience [would]. It was also a good experience for him to have. He cares. It’s a learning experience for all of us.”

If it’s really a learning experience, Machado needs a voice of reason wearing orange and black telling him to knock it off. The Code dictates that one (or more) of Machado’s more senior teammates step in to corral what is looking increasingly like an out-of-control player. That said player is the most talented guy in Baltimore’s system complicates things, but not so much that the team’s veterans can’t bring their voices into the equation.

The A’s may well have a few things to say about the situation when the teams meet again in July, but if things haven’t been handled internally long before then, the Orioles will have far bigger things to worry about than Oakland.

Update (6-9-13): The talking to has happened, at least to some degree. Machado apologized via the team’s TV network.

Update (6-10-13): I can’t see any way this would actually happen, but the Orioles are presenting a serious front: Dan Duquette says that sending Machado to the minors is “an option.”

Update (6-10-13): Machado has been suspended five games, and will appeal. In a less sensible move, Abad has been fined for a pitch that did not hit a batter, after he was thrown out of a game for that same pitch, but only after throwing another, subsequent pitch.

Unwritten-Rules

Why all the Hate?: On the Nature of the Unwritten Rules

Rule policeYesterday over at Deadspin, former big league pitcher Dirk Hayhurst took aim at a recent ESPN feature, written by Tim Kurkjian, about the unwritten rules. Hayhurst savages both article and topic, calling it “piles of oblivious, hypocritical, contradictory bullshit.”

The man is clearly is not a fan of the unwritten rules. I am. Thing is, I agree with almost everything he says.

Kurkjian’s piece is well-reported and informative. It hits on many of the points laid out in The Baseball Codes, identifying actions forbidden on a baseball diamond for reasons that have nothing to do with the actual rulebook. Its points are supported through interviews and anecdotes. So far, so good.

What Kurkjian does not do, by and large, is account for the changing nature of the Code. This vital facet is referenced throughout The Baseball Codes, but even more so has been documented on this website over the four years since the book was published. As society changes, baseball changes. And as baseball changes, the attitudes within it change. And make no mistake—the sport’s unwritten rules are propped up by attitude.

I’ll take it a step farther: The fact that baseball’s unwritten rules are so malleable—flexible not just over time, but from league to league, team to team and even player to player—is what has kept them vital. The discussion never stops, not just about how they’re executed, but why. What motivates players to take offense to something somebody else does on a baseball diamond? When that discussion results in a critical mass agreeing that a rule is outdated or in some way wrong, that rule inevitably changes.

Step away from the ballpark for a moment and you’ll find little difference between the guy who gets upset at being inadvertently bumped in the supermarket and the pitcher who gets upset when an opponent digs in against him in the batter’s box. They’re both assholes; it’s just that one of them has a professional outlet with which to deliver his assholery.

But that guy is an outlier—a reason not to love the Code. He seizes on an institutional framework to further his own emotionally fragile goals, and becomes an easy target for critics.  Some players enforce things the wrong way, and some players get upset over things that should not realistically upset them, but that’s not so different than the rest of the world. The mainstream of players who abide by the Code do it properly, and with reservation. We are, after all, a society of reasonable people.

There are plenty of reasons to appreciate the unwritten rules—reasons that have to do with respect, and putting a check on players who are out of line (including the asshole above). Arguments are bound to ensue over the correct definition of “out of line,” but in the meantime, baseball is the last major sport to devolve into the chest-beating mentality that has all but consumed the NFL and NBA.

Among the points of his rant, Hayhurst bemoans the arbitrary nature of the sport’s unwritten rules:

It would be one thing if there were consistency across baseball—if everybody followed the same rules, then there’d be some de facto weight behind them. Instead it’s 30 different teams with 30 different unwritten rulebooks.

He’s correct. It’s the why of it with which I quibble. This is a moral code we’re dealing with, standards of behavior that govern the micro-society of the major leagues. As with any societal structure, the further one gets from the mainstream, the more arbitrary morals become. And many of the unwritten rules are not arbitrary: Anybody who throws at an opponents’ head will be roundly shunned, even by those who believe in similar forms of retaliation below the shoulders. Low-bridging a baserunner—wherein a middle infielder intentionally aims his double-play relay at the forehead of an incoming baserunner to force a premature slide—is similarly taboo. A couple generations ago, both these things were common practice.

Again: things change.

Those examples, of course, have to do directly with player safety. Annoyances—things like flipping a bat or crossing the pitcher’s mound—are viewed somewhat differently. (At which point I must point out Kurkjian’s error in stating that this latter rule was established only when Dallas Braden took offense at Alex Rodriguez doing that very thing; as has been discussed at some length within these pages, the rule is far older than that.)

As acceptance of these lesser violations has softened over time (anybody who does not yet believe that Yasiel Puig is at the heart of a hang-loose revolution has their eyes completely closed), they have also become fertile ground on which the cranks among us can plant their flags. The unwritten rules offer the cranks a platform, too, which is sort of the point. Those voices screaming about Puig’s bat flips have been thoroughly drowned out by applause for the guy. Soon, the cranks will be quiet on this topic, too, and the Code will have shifted again.

The fringe that wants to hurt their opponents is low-hanging fruit for critics, but it is also an endangered species. A focus on those who want to make the game a better, more respectful place may draw fewer headlines, but to avoid the latter in favor of the former is to do the topic a disservice. We may disagree about methodology, but in that, at least, we can hopefully concur.

 

 

Unwritten-Rules

On the Importance of Baseball’s Unwritten Rules, or: Why So Much Fuss Over a Li’l Old Code?

rocking chairThe Code has taken a drubbing over recent days, thanks to Gerrit Cole and his sense of propriety. All because he called out Carlos Gomez for overacting on the field.

Primary among the critics is Fox Sports’ John Paul Morosi, who, after labeling Cole a “Special Baseball Ethics Instructor” yesterday, wrote:

Gomez needs to be celebrated — not discouraged — for what he brings to major league baseball. At a time when the sport’s message on instant replay and home-plate collisions has become muddled, Gomez illuminates an even greater concern: Why do major league players take exception to peers who have the audacity to enjoy themselves on a baseball field?

He then went cultural, wondering why Gomez—or Yasiel Puig or Jose Fernandez—shouldn’t be allowed to celebrate success the way they learned growing up in their various countries of origin.

Over at Hardball Talk, Craig Calcaterra, in agreement with Morosi, says to “ask yourself—honestly—why it’s so important to retain some century-old code of on-field stoicism and stifling of exuberance, style and—dare I say it—swag.”

At Deadspin, under the headline “Down With Baseball’s Fun Police,” a galled Barry Petchesky wrote that “Carlos Gomez [took his] time to admire what he thought was a home run. Words were exchanged, punches thrown, all over a little showmanship.”

Well, no. Punches were thrown because Gomez started throwing them. Cole did nothing more than verbally indicate that he did not appreciate Gomez’s act.

And I have asked myself—honestly—why baseball’s unwritten rules are important. I’ve also come up with some answers.

They’re important because playing sports the right way—with the understanding that my definition of “the right way” is not the only acceptable interpretation of the term—is important. I coach my daughter’s softball team and my son’s T-ball team, and I expect every player under my watch to be respectful of the opposition. I love celebrating great plays and victories, but it rubs me wrong when professional players treat commonplace success as if they’ve accomplished something remarkable. I am drawn to those who embrace the concept of team—an idea that is, by its very nature, subsumed by the look-at-me mentality of showboating.

I get that the game is changing, and support much of that change. (Hell, I all but cried uncle last year in the face of Puigmania.) After all, as standards change and celebrations become commonplace, they grow increasingly less about showing up the opposition and more about the simple act of beating one’s own chest. Fine.

No matter where one draws the line, however, there is still a line, and it behooves everybody to not just understand where it is, but why it exists. (To address Morosi’s point, this is especially true for players who are singled out for having come up in a Latin American system that has far looser controls on its expressions of exuberance than the professional game in the U.S.)

Gerrit Cole is not exactly a crusty veteran—he’s 23 years old and in his third year of pro ball—but he does have a sense of how the game should be played. Even if he doesn’t take personal offense to Gomez’s antics, he has every right to view them negatively in a larger context, and to comment in response.

I won’t try to explain Cole’s thinking, but I can tell you my own motivation had I been in his shoes:

I don’t want baseball to end up like football, where mediocre first-down runs are celebrated as if they were touchdowns.

I don’t want to see baseball players popping their jerseys or pointing backward with their thumbs to the name between their shoulderblades.

I don’t want to see professional players dogging it, even if they’re on the opposing team, because they drag the entire sport down with them.

Baseball is individual enough as it is. I have come to accept increasing levels of showmanship every year. I largely agree with those who decry intentionally hitting batters as a form of outdated brutality. I do believe there are those who take the unwritten rules—and themselves—far too seriously.

But to call Code proponents “the fun police” is to miss the point. I believe that sport and team—any sport and any team—hold far more importance than the individual players on the rosters. I appreciate humility in a highlight-driven world. I want to know players for doing their jobs, not for how they respond to doing their jobs.

So bring on new methods of celebration. But be neither surprised nor offended when some people recoil in response.

 

Unwritten-Rules

Brave New World, Courtesy of an Exuberant 22-Year-Old

Puig celebratesIt’s been a long week of Dodgers-inspired discussion of the unwritten rules. This is what happens when the team with a laid-back attitude toward the Code butts heads with the direct heir to Tony La Russa. Comparisons are bound to be drawn, and opinions will fly:

The Dodgers’ approach is shameful. Let boys be boys. Celebration is fine. Celebration is disrespectful. Yasiel Puig is precisely what a stodgy game needs—unless he should instead grow up and shape up.

There is little question that the game’s acceptance of on-field merriment has grown more lenient. The celebratory scrum that is now de facto after walk-off wins was, only recently, limited to games in which a team clinched a playoff series. Hand gestures that have become common— Texas’ antlers, Milwaukee’s beast mode, Hanley Ramirez’ goggles—that once they inspired discussions about propriety now barely make a ripple.

Once these things become integrated into baseball culture, after all, they become just another means of celebration. And when something becomes institutionalized, it becomes a whole lot harder for the opposition to take it personally.

That said, these Dodgers seem hell bent on pushing the boundaries. Racing across the diamond at Chase Field to frolic in the pool upon clinching the National League West. Going so far, according to reports, to treat it like a urinal.

Puig’s arms-raised celebratory home run pimp on a ball that didn’t leave the park in Game 3 was all the more amusing because he still ended up with a stand-up triple. Whereupon he did an arms-raised celebratory triple pimp.

Carlos Beltran had an opinion on this, saying “As a player, I just think [Puig] doesn’t know [how to act]. That’s what I think. He really doesn’t know. He must think that he’s still playing somewhere else. He has a lot of passion, no doubt about that—great ability, great talent. I think with time he’ll learn that you’ve got to act with a little bit more calm.”

Adam Wainright said that in Game 3 of the NLCS, Adrian Gonzalez was heckling him from third base as he tried to pitch. He called it “Mickey Mouse stuff.” Gonzalez at first denied it, then offered the most Dodger response possible, making Mickey Mouse ears when returning to the dugout after a Game 5 home run.

To those who took offense, the counterpoint offered by bloggers and columnists everywhere held opinions along the line of “baseball can learn a thing or two,” and that it’s just jealousy” and “shut up.”

Ultimately, it comes to this: Baseball changes very slowly, but it does change. Puig is the youngest, freshest face that the sport has, and he does not have to be universally loved to affect change. Few transformative figures do.

The idea of the Code—an enforced system of respect, displayed through proscribed on-field behavior—becomes more difficult to maintain every year, as old-school adherents retire and are replaced by those who never cared much for it in the first place. Enter the attention given somebody like Puig—who does not disdain the Code so much as revel in the fact that he never learned it in the first place—and we’re looking at a sea change.

Celebrations—be they directed at seasons, games or individual feats—are now commonplace. Puig may represent the crass end of that spectrum, but he is on the spectrum nonetheless, and is pushing the window of what is acceptable toward a place that makes purists howl.

Then again, howling is what purists tend to do when their reality changes from beneath them.

The Dodgers running roughshod as a team over the Arizona ballpark was simply a bad idea, but it shouldn’t distract from the rest of this conversation. Love it or hate it, the game’s unwritten rules have taken a body blow this month. Get used to it: We’re looking at less of an outlier and more of the norm.

Don't Play Aggressively with a Big Lead, Swinging 3-0

The Differences Between Spring Training and the Regular Season Sometimes aren’t so Different After All

Buck Showalter: Not a fan of the 3-0 swing.

As March draws to a close, it’s a good time to ponder the meaning of spring training games.

They exist to help players prepare for the season, that much is obvious. But what of their actual function? Because they don’t count, they’re handled differently than other contests.

Managers regularly empty their benches with steady streams of substitutions. Pitchers don’t fret about poor outings—at least early on—under the hypothesis that they’re working out winter kinks; if they feel like throwing 10 curveballs in a row then by gorum that’s what they’ll do, regardless of what hitters are doing to those curveballs.

But still, they are games. And games are played with certain elemental consistencies.

The last two weeks have seen separate incidents that bring to the fore the question “What’s appropriate in spring training and what’s not?” Both, coincidentally, involved catchers for the Orioles.

On March 15, Pittsburgh’s Andrew McCutchen tried to score from first on a hit by Baltimore’s Matt Diaz, but was tagged out when Matt Wieters blocked the plate, forcing McCuthen into his shin guards.

“I don’t know what (Wieters) was thinking,” McCutchen said afterward in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “It’s spring training. We’re not trying to get hurt. I wasn’t expecting that much contact. I’m OK, though.”

It harkens back to Pete Rose bowling over Ray Fosse in the 1970 All-Star Game. How much is too much when it comes to hard-nosed baseball during the course of an exhibition?

In this case, however, it was McCutchen himself initiating the contact; Weiters did nothing more than react precisely as a catcher should—protecting both himself and the baseball.

As Yahoo’s Kevin Kaduk observed, “Why did McCutchen slide if he was uninterested in making contact? There’s two bangs in a bang-bang play and McCutchen could have easily withheld one by simply peeling off if he felt the run wasn’t that important in the whole scheme of things.”

On Monday, another Baltimore catcher, Jake Fox—who leads the Grapefruit League with 10 home runs—showed that he’s not much afraid to take his hacks, regardless of the circumstances. With runners on second and third and nobody out in the eighth inning—and his team holding a 13-3 lead against the Tigers—Fox swung 3-0.

One of the clearest-cut sections of baseball’s unwritten rulebook mandates that when one’s team holds a big lead late in a game, one does not, as a hitter, swing at a 3-0 pitch. We’ve gone over it in this space before, but the prevailing notion holds that any pitcher in the wrong end of a blowout game is not on the most solid of footing to begin with. With that in mind, and because the last thing a manger wants to see with his team down by double digits (or something close to it) is a bubble reliever trying to get fine, the next pitch is almost certain to be a fastball down the heart of the plate.

Because of this, hitters are expected to back off and give the pitcher sufficient leeway with which to regain his footing.

Were this the regular season, Fox’s actions would have drawn unequivocal ire, but did the fact that they came in a spring training game affect things? Jake Fox is a journeyman, has played for three teams since 2007, and last year was the first in which he logged no time in the minors. While his prodigious display of power this March has all but locked up a roster spot, one can never be too careful, right? The more numbers he puts up, the better his chances of earning a real payday.

Then again, he was facing a minor leaguer in Chance Ruffin. And regardless of circumstance, proper etiquette is proper etiquette. Ruffin was wearing a big league uniform and facing a big league hitter, and deserves an according level of respect. As does the game itself.

Two people who agree were Jim Leyland and Buck Showalter. Once Fox walked, Leyland raced to the top step of the dugout and berated him for his transgression.

Showalter took things a step farther, yanking off his hat and enumerating at high volume to those in the dugout the ways in which Fox had soiled the reputation of the game. He then sent in a pinch-runner, and made sure to meet Fox in the dugout, where he then unloaded on him. Wrote Jeff Zrebiec of the Baltimore Sun, “It apparently wasn’t the first time this spring where Fox ignored a clear take situation.”

If Leyland feels that there’s a lesson to be taught here, it shouldn’t take long—Baltimore and Detroit meet in the teams’ second series of the season, starting April 4.

– Jason