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The Unwritten Rules Must Go

Baseball may be the only sport where the actual rules of the game are eclipsed by a rulebook nobody can read.For over a century, the “unwritten rules” of baseball spell out mostly what not to do, in some attempt to standardize respect for an opponent. Tim Kurkjian has written a great piece at about the rulebook you can’t find in print, and tries to cobble together a list of the most obvious infractions:

  • Do not cross the line showing off your home run.
  • In retaliation, there will be blood (or at least a Rawlings tattoo)
  • No stealing bases when you’re up 10-0
  • No bunting to break up a no-hitter
  • Never swing on a 3-0 count when your team leads big

Of course, two of the last three make sense to speed up a game that has already been decided. Everybody has dinner reservations they’d like to make, after all. But most of the unwritten rules are archaic. They aren’t needed in a modern game.

Do people watch the NFL for conservative run plays to keep a blowout moving? Nope. They watch to see very large men hit other very large men, and scoring plays. The NBA doesn’t make a highlight reel of high-percentage jumpers at the end of the season. Flair makes the game exciting to the fans and the players, but baseball tries to stifle it with the “unwritten rules.”

I actually have no problem with one part of baseball’s silent code: as long as you aren’t throwing at someone’s head, throw beanballs at them all you want. The value of a run is so great, that that extra baserunner may make you pay in the end… and you run the risk of the umpire issuing you a cold shower.

But the actions that are supposedly the reason for a beanball war? Pretty mild. Observing a home run or bat-flipping is tolerated by some players, but not others. So why should any pitcher take offense when the standard is inconsistent? Same goes for bunting to break up a no-hitter. Pitchers should be shown no mercy in that spot, because bunting is a part of the game. A player can bunt in the first inning and not be hated for it, but in the eighth it is a crime? Give me a break.

Overall, baseball’s traditions are great. They’re part of the fabric of the game. But I think new traditions can be alright, too. And whatever you do… put the doggone rules on paper next time.

-Matt Michaels


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