The unwritten rules of baseball can come to the forefront at any point of a game. It often makes one wonder why there are so many rules that are not in the rule book and not always understood by many casual fans. Some of these rules might seem a little outdated but continue to be observed and followed by the players with a religious like zeal.
We seldom question why players can come out of the dugout and bullpen during a major league brawl. In a span of a few games, there will almost certainly be a player brushed back or hit by a pitch. Even the fist pump that follows a home run will have consequences when the next batter steps to the plate. The players will not forget when opponents fail to follow one of these rules and we in turn are left to wonder why a player has to absorb the impact of a fastball for something that happened several games ago.
Most of these rules are followed by every baseball player and team with few exceptions. The following 10 rules are just a sampling of some of the rules of decorum that have been a big part of major league baseball for many years.
10. Never Steal While You Are Way Ahead
This seems like a good rule of thumb to make sure nobody gets hurt diving into the bag, however, it takes away an exciting event in an otherwise meaningless game. Base stealing is an exciting part of the game and should not be restricted to only certain times of a game. Players can still beat pitchers with home runs, but catchers can’t get beaten to second base.
It also seems like these type of late inning situations might be a good time to practice the craft, but instead stealing is viewed as an insult when there is a huge lead. Don’t hockey players shoot at an empty net or basketball players still put up threes with a big lead? Let the game be more exciting, even at the potential cost of another run crossing home plate.
9. Take a Strike When Your Club is Behind
This rule has good intentions, but seems to come up short in logic. Taking a strike shows patience and can extend the count to theoretically put more pressure on the pitcher, but consider the reality. The pitcher is quickly given an advantage that acts to put more pressure on the batter. It is like a football team that is way behind running the ball to “make the defense honest,” when it only takes away another chance to pass the ball down the field.
Giving up a strike gives the pitcher the option of either throwing another strike or throwing a pitch off the plate. The easiest pitch to hit is often a first pitch fastball and once that pitch goes for a strike, the pitcher often has a multitude of options to follow it up with. Taking that first strike means a pitcher only has to put two out of six pitches across the plate. The odds of getting another a decent pitch to hit go down after that first strike.
8. Never Bunt When Your Team is Way Ahead
Bunting has become a lost art and yet practicing it in a blowout game is taboo. Sure it can be looked at as advancing a meaningless run closer to home plate, but isn’t it often a much needed out? Even if a player wanted to practice dropping one down on a pitcher who throws high heat, it would still be insulting to bunt.
Since a bunt more often leads to an out, it doesn’t seem like that big of a deal in a contest that is out of reach. It would seem like a thunderous swing of the bat might be more of a cause for concern than putting a ground ball into play. It says nothing about the next batter or the rest of the game, but you would think it would be like throwing the football in the fourth quarter of a blowout NFL game. After all is said and done, a bunt is less of an insult than a late inning home run.
7. You Must Always Participate in a Brawl
In most other sports, players are punished if they get off the bench or sidelines to join in a brawl. In baseball, it is expected to join in and even the umpires and other team know this to be a fact. The bullpens are even expected to empty in order to follow this rule. A brawl is a team affair and even managers are not immune from having to stick their necks out in such a bonding ritual.
For a sport that does its best to promote Cracker Jacks, hot dogs and a non-violent image for kids, it seems like fighting should be discouraged. It doesn’t seem like a good idea to allow dugouts to empty and relief pitchers to run out of bullpens to escalate the fray. Blows are seldom exchanged and cheap shots are more par for the course. Why players are allowed to rush the field and escalate matters is perplexing in this day and age, especially when there is no tolerance of such behaviors in our kids schools.
6. Never Mention a No-Hitter While it is in Progress
This is a rule of baseball superstition that is followed in every clubhouse and often by commentators and fans of every team. In most sports, when a record or mark is about to be set it is often relayed to teammates in the hopes that they will help contribute to the likelihood of the record being set. In baseball, no-hitters are the exact opposite and it is considered taboo to even suggest the possibility that one could occur.
Batters might sit down in a late season game, if a batting title is clinched, steals might happen in late innings if a record is in sight and batters might swing for the fences in a blowout if a home run title is in clear view, but no-hitters are silent affairs. One would think that players would want to know for the sake of picking it up on defense or taking a chance on a ball hit in the gap, but the fear that players will tighten up or get too tense makes mentioning the possibility taboo.
5. Never Take a Big Cut on a 3-0 Pitch in a Blowout
The game of baseball is a lot to do with statistics and salaries often depend on these statistics over the wins a team might have. A home run on a 3-0 count in a blowout is no different than a home run on a 1-2 count in a one-run game when the season comes to an end. Basketball players do not miss layup opportunities when there team is way ahead and football players do not stop running into the end zone in a blowout game.
Funny how it is fine to swing for the fences at a 3-1 or 3-2 pitch in a blowout. The pitcher still must throw a strike and giving up a walk is not going to do much good. Instead the batter is considered to be greedy if the batter takes a good cut on a 3-0 pitch. It is never a consideration that the batter took a look at the first three pitches in the first place and might be doing the pitcher a favor by swinging at 3-0. If the player takes the walk, is it cause for retaliation? Let the batter punish the pitcher for not throwing strikes with no victory in sight.
4. Don’t Ever Let the Opponent Celebrate a Home Run
Obviously this is part of the “baseball code” that has to be followed in order to be a man in this sport. If a player hits a home run and admires it or flips a bat, it is grounds for retaliation. This sounds simple enough, but upon further examination it doesn’t seem to make much sense.
So often the offender is not the target of the retaliation. Why must a 95 mile per hour fastball be aimed at a player who had nothing to do with the offense? Sure they are teammates, but the fastball is often aimed at a better man than the one who showed the pitcher up. When you talk about the damage that a pitch of that nature is capable of doing, it just seems a bit odd that this violent act is so widely accepted as part of the game. Throwing at a player seems more personal and not something to share with anyone on the other team.
3. A Pitcher Should Never Celebrate Strikeouts
This is not done with great frequency because most pitchers know that a strikeout is really just another out. Pitchers who celebrate strikeouts are usually even showing up their own team, putting their personal accomplishments above those of the team. Still many relief pitchers who don’t pick up a bat have been known to violate this unwritten rule.
Too often, some relief pitchers will get a little too excited when they notch a strikeout in the late innings of a game. This is shunned and considered bad behavior that could lead to retaliation. Imagine a field goal kicker who comes into the 4th quarter of an NFL game and proceeds to kick a game winning field goal. Now consider not celebrating that kick. Relief pitchers do often get stuck with runners on base and have to work magic on the mound, but they are forbidden to exult when they work out of a jam. Yes, there are more games to a baseball season, but something is wrong when fans can go nuts and players must remain artificially calm.
2. Never Steal the Other Team’s Signs
Stealing signs in baseball is a big no no, especially from the catcher at home plate. In NFL games, a linebacker or a safety who once played for the opposing team will eagerly yell to his new teammates if he diagnoses a certain play, but in baseball you can’t tip your hat if you figure out what pitch or play is on the way. It seems odd that players cheat with performance enhancers, corked bats and with doctoring a ball, but stealing signs is even a greater evil.
Certainly stealing signs is cheating and gives the sign stealing team an advantage, but it is still up to both teams to execute. It is hard enough for the opposing team to read the signs and even harder for them to relay the information, but that doesn’t always mean a .200 hitter is going to get a base hit. Managers have come to blows over this rule and players have thrown fits, but it just seems like these issues are usually only crying over spilled milk. It happens and most players know it, but do it in a critical moment of a ballgame and all hell is sure to break loose.
1. Never Admire or Celebrate Home Runs
This is the number one rule of etiquette that gets broken in the baseball world today. In an era where NBA players scream “in your face” following a thunderous dunk and football players act like they are in the middle of a movie production when they reach the end zone, baseball players are expected to go quietly about their business when they succeed.
Consider that a player who even manages to get one base hit every three times at the plate is a huge success, why is it so taboo to celebrate the ultimate accomplishment of a home run? Baseball is missing the boat with this rule. Our society has adopted celebrating success in all the other sports. If a player celebrates hitting a home run and it bruises his ego, he shouldn’t have let it happen in the first place. So fans can cheer and jeer, but the culprit who happened to do the monumental deed has to hold all his emotions in check. Why do we support being poor losers in this respect?