“Unwritten rules” get mentioned often in sports, but it seems like baseball has the thickest invisible book full of them.
Are these unspoken agreements useful or would we be better off in general without them?
First take: Michael Rand
I think the idea of a lot of unwritten rules probably comes from a good place and promotes a notion of sportsmanship — don’t run up the score, don’t stand and stare at a home run, etc.
But I dare say baseball takes itself far too seriously with these rules — many of which are increasingly becoming outdated in terms of philosophy, strategy or both.
Take Thursday’s Twins game, which got me thinking about this topic (again). Jake Cave swings at a 3-0 pitch with the Twins up 13-5 in the ninth inning, getting a single but violating an unwritten rule.
Should Cave stop playing the game competitively assuming the Twins are going to win? Have you seen the Twins bullpen? Allowing eight runs is unlikely, especially with Texas running the bases, but it’s not as far-fetched as perhaps it was when these standards were set.
And the next batter, Max Kepler, gets drilled on the shoulder as a result? I get that players will police themselves, but the whole thing was as silly as it was dangerous.
Columnist Jim Souhan: Unwritten rules are inherently silly. I can’t defend them. I’ll just say that when you spend a lot of time talking to ballplayers, you realize that imposing pure logic on a sport from the outside is not the same as living the sport.
Those who revere the game love all the great old stories about Don Drysdale or Bob Gibson drilling hitters.
Should a pitcher ever throw at a batter? Not in a polite, logical, world, but what players will tell you is that succeeding at this difficult game requires a level of hyper-competitiveness that is going to show up when one of these silly rules is violated.
It’s easy for me to say I’m fine with a hitter flipping his bat. But to avoid hypocrisy, I have to admit that if someone flipped the bat on me, I’d drill them the next time up with my patented 48-mph fastball.
Logic and passion are often antithetical. Would eliminating these seemingly silly unwritten rules make the game better, or just more sterile? Would we be interested in the last couple of innings of a blowout if we didn’t have this to talk about?
Rand: True. I’d say the biggest problem with an unwritten rule is that, by its nature, it has not been officially recorded anywhere and therefore is open to interpretation.
What one player or team thinks is appropriate or a simple emotional reaction might be taboo across the diamond.
But I’d be just fine with striking from the real and imagined rule book any suggestion that a team should stop scoring in a season when the baseball is flying like a golf ball.
Souhan: Unwritten rules will never make much sense, yet teams have to play by them or end up in brawls.
I believe these will slowly be weeded out of the game by younger players who have no use for them, who will then invent their own unwritten rules, or written rules, or VR texts.
Rand: At least there are no unwritten rules in sports journalism. Everything is spelled out crystal clear in the stylebook.
Final word: Souhan
The unwritten rule of sports journalism is that we must criticize unwritten rules.