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Everything you wanted to know about baseball’s unwritten rules. And lots of stuff you don’t.

May 29, 2014, 4:32 PM EDT

Crols Gomez Brian McCann AP

ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian has an epic-length treatment of baseball’s unwritten rules. Unlike a lot of treatments of the topic, however, he doesn’t just list them and explain them as if they just are. He gets tons of players on record about them, and it makes for a wildly entertaining read.

The thing I find the most fascinating is that even though there is nearly unwavering acceptance of most rules — at least the ones of on-field decorum, as opposed to just dumb hazing of rookies and such — most of the players Kurkjian talks to sort of realize that they’re, well, silly and often contradictory. Or that they can be. It’s one of the more striking examples of simultaneously holding conflicting thoughts: “this is just, well, something we do for some reason” and “OF COURSE we adhere to it.”

As a person who doesn’t do particularly well in the conformity department — and as someone who has encountered some amount of trouble in his life because of it — I hold two simultaneously conflicting thoughts too: of totally not understanding how guys put up with all of this silliness while also rather admiring them for having a code, however convoluted, and sticking to it. I say in all honesty and zero snark that it’s admirable in a way, even if I couldn’t adhere to it myself.

Of course my admiration of it only goes so far. I don’t much care for belligerent enforcement of the unwritten rules a la Brian McCann and Gerrit Cole. And while even a Carlos Gomez/Yasiel Puig-lover like me will admit that hot dogging can go too far, I feel like most hot dogging is hilarious rather than offensive. Take this hypothetical example Kurkjian gives a few players about some bad on-field behavior and their uniform reaction to how it would be accepted:

Several years ago, Joe Horn, a wide receiver for the New Orleans Saints, scored a touchdown, pulled out a cell phone that he had taped inside the goal post, and made a call, or at least pretended to.

“And no one in football cared!” Baker says. “If that had happened in baseball … if someone had hit a home run, reached home plate, took a cell phone out of his stirrup and called someone, he wouldn’t finish the phone call. There would be balls flying into both dugouts. It would be like a Cuban winter-ball game, with guys running around with bats in their hands. Oh my God, the world would stop spinning on its axis. The ice caps would melt.”

McCarthy laughs and says, “Oh my God, he would never get to home plate. Bats would be tomahawking out of both dugouts. Where would a player hide a cell phone, under a base?”

McGehee says, “The game would never get to the next hitter. It would be so ugly.”

Says the Tigers’ Torii Hunter, “That would start the greatest brawl in major league history. I would drop my glove, chase the guy down, and beat the s— out of him. And I’d do the same thing if he was on my team. The camera shot would be of his entire team, piled on top of him, pummeling him. I hope that never happens in baseball.”

Personally, I’d laugh my friggin’ head off and have myself a new favorite player. But like I said: I have some trouble with this stuff.


  1. raysfan1 - May 29, 2014 at 4:41 PM

    Well, Horn’s prank cost his team a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and him a $30K fine. In other words, it was deemed against the written rules. It was pretty funny though.

    • asimonetti88 - May 29, 2014 at 4:47 PM

      Coincidentally enough, there was also a new rule passed that offseason banning the use of props in touchdown celebrations.

  2. tbird05 - May 29, 2014 at 4:43 PM

    Coming from someone who appreciates the unwritten rules and generally snarks at your distaste for them, this was very said Craig. I respect your opinion, even though I typically disagree, and appreciate your candor.

    • tbird05 - May 29, 2014 at 4:49 PM

      very well said*

    • SocraticGadfly - May 29, 2014 at 6:57 PM

      On batters getting into the box late, this isn’t “unwritten.” Within a batter’s at-bat, Rule 8.04 specifies 12 seconds between pitches if the bases are unoccupied. I got the “penalty” wrong in my mind, pre-Googling. Rather than signaling the pitcher to pitch, it’s an automatic strike. I’m not sure what the time limit is between batters, but, I would think that, once a new batter puts a foot in the box, 8.04 applies if there’s no runners on.

      Otherwise, contra Craig, I like the unwritten rules, and like a couple of pitchers who spoke for Tim, think we ought to go back to the 60s. You wanna flip a bat? Fine, you get a fastball in the ribs next time up.

      • SocraticGadfly - May 29, 2014 at 6:59 PM

        I’d still like to see Craig play a modern George Plimpton, with addition of a bat flip, against Gibby or another 60s pitcher, if he wants to be that iconoclastic.

      • SocraticGadfly - May 30, 2014 at 10:59 AM

        I know there’s something similar for pitchers, but not sure of the rule number.

  3. okwhitefalcon - May 29, 2014 at 4:47 PM

    Hot dogging and the unwritten rules are all a part of the allure of the game, I dig the code and the code breakers all at once.

  4. sdelmonte - May 29, 2014 at 4:48 PM

    The only unwritten rules I want to see go are those about retaliation. The other things? They’re silly, even the ones I like. But anything that could endanger a player’s health is just plain dumb. I really want to see zero tolerance on the beanball.

  5. chadjones27 - May 29, 2014 at 4:52 PM

    “In hockey, guys don’t take their skates off and slash an opponent’s throat with the blade.”
    Isn’t that governed by laws, you know, the whole assault with a deadly weapon thing.

    “In football, you never see a guy take off his helmet and just bludgeon an opponent.”
    There’s a rule against that. Players are penalized for taking off their helmets. And there are also penalties for unsportsmanlike conduct, which this falls under as well.

  6. kardshark1 - May 29, 2014 at 4:53 PM

    I love how pitchers think they’re getting shown up by players like Gomez and Puig, yet if you asked any person watching, are they really thinking about the pitcher in that situation? Are they really thinking, “Wow, this pitcher must feel so stupid right now? I hope he’s okay.”

    I’m either celebrating watching the replay, or sulking at the score watching the replay… The pitcher, unless I’m wanting him pulled cause he’s done, is the last thing on my mind.

    • elmo - May 29, 2014 at 5:32 PM

      That’s a great point. The sense I get from most hot-doggery is usually more “I’m awesome” than “you suck,” so why bother to get offended by it? It’s not really about you, pitcher, so why make a big show of making it about you? That seems at least as self-indulgent as the original offense. Heat-of-the-moment sort of thing, I suppose.

  7. DelawarePhilliesFan - May 29, 2014 at 5:00 PM

    Ok – while it is beyond dispute that tom-foolery is better tolerated in the NFL….NO ONE CARED about Joe Horn? Lets not revise history here!

    – His team was penalized 15 yards
    – The league fined him $30,000
    – His coach said called Horn “selfish” and added “I don’t like what he did because it hurt our football team. That’s what bothers me.”
    – His GM said “I don’t have a whole lot of empathy for Joe, to be honest with you. The league has made it clear that it won’t tolerate that kind of behavior, and he went ahead and did it anyway.”
    – Opposing players after the game said the stunt was “bush league”

    Sure, no brawl broke out. But watch the video on YouTube – it took a good 10 seconds to even figure what the hell he was doing, by which time most other players were off the field

    • kardshark1 - May 29, 2014 at 6:11 PM

      And yet after all those statements and chain of events… hook each one of those people involved up to a lie detector test and you’ll find out that NOBODY CARED.

      • DelawarePhilliesFan - May 29, 2014 at 6:25 PM

        I don’t want to get too far a field here – I realize that the main point of this piece was “ A guy flips a bat in baseball and a brawl breaks out, and yet things happen all the time in the NFL without any issue”. And yes – that is true. And I would agree that after Horns stunt, everyone involved moved on with their lives and haven’t lost sleep. For the record – Brian McCann has said he moved on and is fine with Gomez. So sure – brawl or no brawl, everyone moves on from shenanigans.

        But to your point that none of the people I named cared about it (officials, the league, his coach, the GM, and the Giants player)….none of them cared? Well consider this – the league did clarify their rules further after to make it clear that what Horn did is not allowed, the officials unquestionably would throw a flag again, and his coach did make a point of saying he better not try anything like that again. And uhhhh if he pulled out another cell phone out against the Giants? Yea….I bet they would have done more than call it Bush league.

      • kardshark1 - May 29, 2014 at 8:04 PM

        My point is: In baseball, McCann, Gerrit Cole, these players were conditioned and told that bat flips are disrespecting, so when they see it, they act out, cause it’s what they’ve been told and taught to do. In the NFL, nobody was conditioned to think busting out a cell phone to market yourself and get some publicity is disrespecting game… So therefore, the player’s natural reaction was the same as how you and I and everybody else reacted, a slight chuckle and move on. Nobody cared. Now, just because due diligence took place in the aftermath, that doesn’t mean the parties involved cared. It just means they thought that’s what they had to say/do.

        There’s no way, unless you’re trained to think bat flips and TD props are disrespectful, you’d come up on that with you’re own. Yes, weirdoes might, but I’m willing to bet Cole and McCann are not weirdoes, rather they were conditioned in old school baseball beliefs. Beliefs the NFL did not have at the time Horn did that. Therefore, nobody cared despite what protocol followed.

        Here’s what a normal pro athlete or somebody involved in professional sports should care about in this order:

        1. Their health
        2. Their families’ well being
        3. Their peers’ well being
        4. Their ability to do their job and provide for their family
        … Skip down to …
        78,568. Somebody else marketing themselves by pulling out a cellphone

        So, just as a rational thinking person, I don’t buy for one second, that anybody deep down inside cares if Puig flips his bat unless they’ve had it instilled in their brain since they were a kid that that’s a bad thing to do.

      • DelawarePhilliesFan - May 29, 2014 at 8:35 PM

        Sure football players did not react to the cell phone, but then again, they also know that the player will get his comeuppance (penalty, fines, etc.). And it’s not as though football players aren’t going to blow with things that Baseball players could care less about.

        Also don’t see what you are debating me about – as I said, it is without question that that jack-assery is easier to do in the NFL vs. MLB. I was simply noting that it’s not as though “no cares” in the NFL. The league cares and writes directives all the time about on field behavior. The refs care and throw flags. The coaches and GM’s chime in. And players – yea, they blow heads a lot, just not in the immediate quid pro quo all the time

  8. chip56 - May 29, 2014 at 6:01 PM

    Terrell Owens celebrated a touchdown in Dallas by running to midfield and preening on the star. He got leveled by a Dallas player.

  9. rbj1 - May 29, 2014 at 6:36 PM

    I thought you weren’t supposed to write them down.

  10. chunkala - May 29, 2014 at 6:53 PM

    Craig only embraces hot-dogging due to a combination of a fear of minorities and white guilt.

    • chunkala - May 29, 2014 at 7:00 PM

      to clarify: fear of standing up to minorities and white guilt.

      • [citation needed] fka COPO - May 29, 2014 at 7:23 PM

        You didn’t need to clarify. Your first statement showed you were a moron.

  11. sensiblevoice - May 29, 2014 at 6:54 PM

    Also, Joe Horn did it against a classy organization in the Giants. Had he pulled that stunt against a less disciplined team there is a very good chance he would’ve gotten decked.

  12. djandujar - May 29, 2014 at 7:10 PM

    Just because they are playing a kid’s game doesn’t mean they should act like kids on a playground. Some of these things that players do seem disrespectful (like stealing a base when its 10-0) but bat-flipping or whatever. That is just stupid to have a problem with mild flamboyance. When you bat-flip, you may or may not be showing up the pitcher, but hitting the home run already did that.
    Why does everyone, from players to armchair commentators, think they need to be police?
    Okay, I am going back to the real world now.

    • jwbiii - May 29, 2014 at 8:33 PM

      Exactly. The pitcher should be embarrassed about throwing a meat ball, not about what the batter does after crushing it.

  13. stercuilus65 - May 29, 2014 at 7:11 PM

    “As a person who doesn’t do particularly well in the conformity department — and as someone who has encountered some amount of trouble in his life because of it”

    Uh yeah being a contrarian has never hurt when it comes to op-ed journalism, especially in sports. It drives views which is all the sponsoring company cares about, not the quality of the writing (see ESPN).

  14. metalhead65 - May 29, 2014 at 7:17 PM

    I wonder what craig and the hot doggers would say if a pitcher celebrated after every strike out? what if he stared the at score board showing how fast the pitch he struck him was? would that be showing the batter up? you can bet that puig or any other batter would be charging the mound after that but yet it is perfectly ok to flip the bat or stand and stare or take your sweet time rounding the bases? the problem you have is you never played the game and don’t know or understand the rules unless there is some stat about it.

    • [citation needed] fka COPO - May 29, 2014 at 7:25 PM

      you can bet that puig or any other batter would be charging the mound after that

      Name the last time a batter charged the mound not because of a HBP or almost HBP.

      • metalhead65 - May 29, 2014 at 10:24 PM

        maybe you don’t see that because pitchers do not celebrate the way hitters do. I guarantee you they would if they celebrated the way hitters do.

    • lukedunphysscienceproject - May 29, 2014 at 9:52 PM

      I’ve seen pitchers celebrate strike outs with a fist pumps or an audible shout at least 1,000 times.

    • campcouch - May 30, 2014 at 7:31 AM

      pitchers celebrate strikeouts constantly. fist pumps,praying to grandma,the fall away dance,you name it. especially if they’re getting out of a jam. everyone would flip if a batter ranted after being punched out,but they usually drop their heads or just stand there in disgust.

  15. alphonzolester - May 31, 2014 at 11:09 AM

    I’d like to see Careless Gomez take out his iPhone and start chatting up as he crosses the plate, then Brain McCain can whip out his Android and start taking pictures and angrily text-up a starm.

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