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Tuesday, June 05, 2001

The Unwritten Written Rules of Baseball

There has been a lot of talk recently about the “unwritten rules” of baseball. Arizona manager Bob Brenly allegedly described Padre catcher Ben Davis’ bunt against Curt Shilling as “chickensh*t.” He also reportedly said, “Ben Davis is a young player. He has a lot to learn about how the game is played. But for a guy like him to put down a bunt in the eighth inning was uncalled for.”

Brenly’s comments started a somewhat lively debate about Davis’ play. Some “baseball men” agreed with Brenly’s opinion; many others disagreed with his thoughts. Both sides of the debate supported their opinions by citing their personal understanding of “the unwritten rules of baseball.”

What are the “unwritten rules?” ESPN’s Dave Campbell says, “Unwritten rules in baseball are like a code of conduct that is implied in any business. Some of baseball’s unwritten rules have been around for almost a century, and during that century the nature of the game has changed.”

If the baseball’s unwritten rules have indeed been around so long, why hasn’t anyone written them down? After reading and watching all the disagreements about the rules, I suggest that writing them down would certainly lessen the confusion over what the rules are.

Since I hate squabbling, I’ve decided to accept some responsibility—not the nitwit “I hit my little brother off the coconut because he ran the bases with one flap down after his last home run and because Jim Furtado’s Lab Notes says this is an unwritten rule” kind of responsibility—and write the darn things down.

To get started on the task, I spent some time on the web looking for references to “unwritten rules” and “baseball” using my favorite search engine. Google  found 806 web pages with those two keywords.

The first web page on the list was a list of “unwritten rules” from a 1986 issue of Baseball Digest. Before clicking the link I optimistically hoped I overestimated the time it would take to compile the list. Unfortunately, their list was far from comprehensive. Without even thinking—let’s have no comments quoting this particular sentence—I came up with quite a few “unwritten rules” not included on Baseball Digest’s thirty rules. With a desire to be as complete as possible, I spent more time researching.

The result of my time surfing, and a search of my memory, is the following list of

61 62 63 64

65 previously “unwritten rules.” The list is as comprehensive as my search and my memory can provide. Please feel free to suggest changes or additions to the list. After sufficient time passes I’ll place the list in the Primer workbook area.

Optimistically, the work we do here will educate all those young players ignorant of the unwritten wisdom of baseball men, both past and present. Realistically, debating the topic should be fun.



Written Rules of Baseball
(in no particular order)

  1. On plane flights, coaches, veterans and the day’s starting pitcher get the good seats, when available.
  2. Never put the tying or go-ahead run on base.
  3. Play for the tie at home, go for the victory on the road.
  4. Don’t hit and run with an 0-2 count.
  5. Don’t play the infield in early in the game.
  6. Never make the first or third out at third.
  7. Never steal when you’re two or more runs down.
  8. Don’t steal when you’re well ahead.
  9. Don’t steal third with two outs.
  10. Don’t bunt for a hit when you need a sacrifice.
  11. Never throw behind the runner.
  12. Left and right fielders concede everything to center fielder.
  13. Never give up a home run on an 0-2 count.
  14. Never let the score influence the way you manage.
  15. Don’t go against the percentages.
  16. Take a strike when your club is behind in a ballgame.
  17. Leadoff hitter must be a base stealer. Designated hitter must be a power hitter.
  18. Never give an intentional walk if first base is occupied.
  19. With runners in scoring position and first base open, walk the number-eight hitter to get to the pitcher.
  20. In rundown situations, always run the runner back toward the base from which he came.
  21. If you play for one run, that’s all you’ll get.
  22. Don’t bunt with a power hitter up.
  23. Don’t take the bat out of your best hitter’s hands by sacrificing in front of him.
  24. Don’t take the bat out of your best hitter’s hands by stealing second base.
  25. Only use your bullpen stopper in late-inning situations.
  26. Don’t use your stopper in a tie game - only when you’re ahead.
  27. Hit behind the runner at first.
  28. If one of your players gets knocked down by a pitch, retaliate.
  29. Hit the ball where it’s pitched.
  30. A manager should remain detached from his players.
  31. Never mention a no-hitter while it’s in progress.
  32. With a right-hander on the mound, don’t walk a right-handed hitter to pitch to a left-handed hitter.
  33. Rookie players should be quiet and respectful of veterans.
  34. Batters shouldn’t stop and admire home runs.
  35. Always run hard.
  36. Always throw to the cut off man.
  37. Don’t try to breakup the double play by going into second standing up.
  38. When turning the double play at second, aim for the chest of the oncoming runner.
  39. Do not swing at a ball with a three-balls, no-strikes count when your team is ahead by a lot of runs.
  40. Baserunners on second base should not pick up signals from the catcher and relay them to teammates—a practice called “tipping pitches.
  41. Never, ever rub the spot after being hit by a pitch.
  42. Visiting teams should not visit the home team’s clubhouse.
  43. Always wear your athletic supporter under your uniform.
  44. Do not hide someone in the centerfield bleachers with binoculars with the intent to relay pitchers.
  45. Be humble, or the game will make you humble.
  46. Never argue balls and strikes with an umpire.
  47. GM candidates who go back into uniform are forever seen as on-field guys and will no longer be considered for GM position. (Dave Stewart)
  48. Do not leave your starting position players in the game with a double-digit lead.
  49. Do not hit the opposing on deck hitters with a pitch during warm-ups.
  50. If a batter enters the 26-foot batter’s circle while a pitcher is warming up, the pitcher must throw at him.
  51. Throwing at a batter during one at bat is fine; throwing at a batter for two or more consecutive at bats is not.
  52. During a bench-clearing brawl do not throw sucker punches at guys who are at the bottom of the pile.
  53. With a ten-run lead or more, only advance one base at a time on overthrows or passed balls. Stop your runners at third and have them come home only on hit balls.
  54. Catchers should not impede the baserunner if there is no play at the plate.
  55. Do not slide into first to beat out a hit.
  56. Baseball caps should be worn with the bill forward.
  57. Black men don’t have “what it takes” to be managers or general managers. (Slowly going out of vogue, thankfully.)
  58. Step completely out of the batter’s box to get the third base coach’s signals.
  59. Do not take too much time outside of the box between pitches.
  60. Young players-both hitters and pitchers-do not get close calls.
  61. What gets said in the clubhouse, stays in the clubhouse.
  62. Don’t let “Mister Johnson” contact the food on the post-game buffet table.
  63. Don’t go onto the field to pummel an irritating fan; fans on the field may be pummeled on whim.
  64. Bullpens and dugouts must clear during on-field fights. All players must join in on the field. Extra credit is given for players joining in from the clubhouse.
  65. Rush to the aid, and physically support, any player that ventures into the dugout to catch a foul pop; sit motionless or get out of the way of opposition players on the same play.


Jim Furtado Posted: June 05, 2001 at 02:13 AM | 9 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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   1. Craig Calcaterra Posted: June 05, 2001 at 02:08 PM (#524210)
Other unwritten rules that, unfortunately, don't seem to be going away:

Black baseball players that do well are "gifted" or have "natural ability." White baseball players that do well are "hard workers" and "gritty."

Smart black baseball players are "articulate." Smart white baseball players are "smart."

I've heard each of these offensive old saws on broadcasts just this season. It amazes me.
   2. Devin has a deep burning passion for fuzzy socks Posted: June 05, 2001 at 03:23 PM (#524211)
When batting, don't look at the catcher to see where he's setting up.

Don't hop in the air after making a catch.

If you're a rookie, don't make an umpire look bad.
   3. Pete Sommers Posted: June 05, 2001 at 04:43 PM (#524213)
When leading by one run in the 9th, guard the lines to protect against extra-base hits.

After a pitcher wins his first Gold Glove award, he shall be awarded a Gold Glove every year until he retires.

Pitchers must wear double-digit uniform numbers.

Uniform numbers above 39 are reserved for pitchers, except for 41, 44 and 51.

Batters must not cross in front of the catcher and the plate umpire to get to the batter's box, unless they're Jim Rice.
   4. Bruce Markusen Posted: June 05, 2001 at 05:32 PM (#524216)
Thanks for an interesting read, guys.

I just wanted to point out that some of the material being included here really don't pertain to unwritten rules, but are "axioms" or "sayings." In particular, I'm thinking of some of the racial stereotypes being listed. A rule should involve a "do" or a "don't" command, and not just an assessment or judgment.
   5. Cris E Posted: June 05, 2001 at 06:06 PM (#524217)
After getting an out the pitcher should remain professional so as to not show up the hitter (eg Carasco - Long). Unless it's an appropriate moment of course (like playoffs etc).

Leadoff hitters should take a few pitches so the guys on the bench can see what the pitcher's got.

When you have a guy on first and a full count send the runner with the pitch.

If a guy is close to a shutout he gets to stay in there.

There are lots of situational lefties but there's no such thing as a situational righty.

Quick question: isn't tipping pitches like a "tell" in poker, where your motion or demeanor changes depending on what you're about to throw? Something like arm angle or how you grip the ball before starting your motion, for example. Traschel was tipping his pitches, not the opponents.
   6. John Posted: June 06, 2001 at 05:32 PM (#524222)
Hey Stu, aren't you supposed to touch the base with your left foot?
   7. John Posted: June 06, 2001 at 06:22 PM (#524224)
John, Good point. I think that the actual current thinking is that it is more important not to break stride than to try to touch the bag with either foot, but alot of players do like to use their left foot to push off the bag and get momentum to second base. My rememberance of the "rule" is from years ago and the thinking was to cut the corner as short as possible. I thought this was of those "rules" that was counterproductive as some kids would slow up coming into the base. Maybe it was not a "rule", but bad coaching. Anyway, I agree with you that left foot may be better and not breaking stride should be the goal.
   8. Old Matt Posted: June 08, 2001 at 02:55 AM (#524235)
When a batter break his bat, pick up the biggest piece and toss it to him as he runs to first (but only if your name is Roger ;-) )
   9. Jim Furtado Posted: June 10, 2001 at 08:02 PM (#524241)
Maybe I'll have to break down the list into sections when I post it to the workbook area.

Thanks for the responses!

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