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Ripping the unwritten rules a new one

Jun 3, 2014, 3:20 PM EDT

Crols Gomez Brian McCann AP

Dirk Hayhurst does just that today over at Deadspin. He takes Tim Kurkjian’s recent article on the unwritten rules and, combined with his own professional baseball experience, explains why they’re simply incoherent.

The strongest observation: that there is no one set of unwritten rules. It’s all about what young players learn from veteran players on their team. And that every team has a slightly different variation on those rules. Some veterans are OK if you have flair and personality as long as you do your job. Others are stricter about decorum and behavior. There is no uniform standard. If there were, then no one would fight about these things. Everyone would know. But they do fight:

Some of those players will get traded to other teams where other leaders with different views have imprinted other rookies. Lockers rooms will face a an unwritten code schism. Sects will form. Doctrines will mutate. In many ways, unwritten rules are like religious views, with different values assigned to different doctrines, all of which must be taken on faith. And just like with many religions, believers will embrace things for which they have no clue of the origins, just because they’ve been told to believe them, and that there will be hell to pay if they don’t.

It all boils down, basically, to arbitrary values with said arbitrary values being justified by a seniority system in which veterans try to dominate young players out of fear or inertia or habit or tradition. The key is that there is no way to ever truly get a good explanation for why things must be a certain way. Or why things could be a certain way on one club but a totally different way on another. At its core it’s an irrational system even if the desire for generalized traditions and decorum is understandable.

I’ve met Dirk and talked with him a lot. I’ve read all his books and most of his articles. I think I get him pretty well. At least I get this much: guys like Hayhurst tend not do well with irrational rules and can’t help but call such irrationalities into question. There’s a grand tradition of that sort of thing in baseball. Unfortunately, those who partake in that tradition tend to get attacked on an ad hominem basis or have their criticisms fended off by appeals to authority. I’m sure some folks who don’t like what Dirk has to say here will dismiss it by talking about his writing career or the relative brevity of his major league career and say that those things disqualify him as a critic, QED.

If and when that happens it will only prove Dirk’s point, of course. For such appeals are, themselves, irrational and are designed to obfuscate the matter at hand and change the terms of the debate to one more favorable to the person on the defensive.


Well then.

  1. gothapotamus90210 - Jun 3, 2014 at 3:42 PM

    Whether one agrees or disagrees, the marketplace of players puts value in unwritten rules. It’s going to take a large crop of young players disavowing these rules as they become veterans to minimize them.

    • natstowngreg - Jun 3, 2014 at 4:35 PM

      The next generation won’t get rid of unofficial rules altogether. The next generation will just make up its own set of unwritten rules.

  2. proudlycanadian - Jun 3, 2014 at 3:43 PM

    The only rules that should matter are the written rules.

    • happytwinsfan - Jun 3, 2014 at 4:07 PM

      What about the unwritten rules concerning which written rules are actually enforced?

      • proudlycanadian - Jun 3, 2014 at 4:16 PM

        That is called “the human element”.

    • blacksables - Jun 3, 2014 at 6:16 PM

      Ever had your wife ask you if she looks fat in her new jeans?

      How you answer certainly leads to the implementation of unwritten rules.

      Why do we condemn the players from doing on the field what we all do in life on a daily basis?

  3. stlouis1baseball - Jun 3, 2014 at 4:02 PM

    My newly formed opinion/philosophy on unwritten rules is very simple and incredibly easy to understand.
    I have coined it the “WWYPD” philosophy.

    Whatever Yasiel does…I do (hence the abbreviation).

    Air mail the cut ouf?
    Pffft… I blow my nose on cut off men.

    Get picked off 2nd numerous times in one game?
    Pffft… I blow my nose at sound base running.

    Run into an out on the base paths as a result of not picking up my base coach?
    Pffft… Base Coaches are for amateurs. I blow my nose at Base Coaches.

    Flip my bat on a pop up?
    Pffft… Bat flips showcase my incredible wrist strength. I blow my nose at non-bat flippers.

    Drop a pop fly?
    Pffft… A dropped pop fly gives me a chance to showcase my cannon when dude tries to go 1st to 3rd.

    Flip my bat on a line drive?
    Pfft… Dude who caught the line drive is lucky I didn’t flip it right at him. Or is Wife, Mother and kids.

    At the end of the day folks, we all have but one thing to consider.

    What Would Yasiel Puig Do?

    • chacochicken - Jun 3, 2014 at 4:08 PM

      Be one of the six best players in history in his first full season of baseball.

      • stlouis1baseball - Jun 3, 2014 at 4:19 PM

        Dude is a stud. No arguing that. But “1st full season?” He has played two half seasons.
        Let’s revisit this in 2024…shall we?

        But back to my post. What do you think about my new philosophy?
        You dig it don’t you? Admit it Chaco! Admit it!
        You dig my “WWYPD” philosophy of unwritten rules following.
        That fine. We both know you dig it. That’s good enough for me Brah!

    • dluxxx - Jun 3, 2014 at 4:19 PM

      Man, he must go through a lot of Kleenex. That, or he’s probably “thumbing” his nose…

      • stlouis1baseball - Jun 3, 2014 at 4:29 PM

        Yep…word on the street is…he has a butt load of stock in Puffs.
        Everything the dude does is perfect. Above reproach if you will.
        His stock market decisions are no different.

      • jimeejohnson - Jun 3, 2014 at 9:13 PM

        Surprised there are any tissues left after the last two Presidential elections.

    • chadjones27 - Jun 3, 2014 at 4:59 PM

      The only unwritten rule that was broken was the bat flip one?

      • stlouis1baseball - Jun 3, 2014 at 5:16 PM

        Not sure Chad. Good question. I would say you are right. Air mailing cut off men doesn’t really apply. I mean…hitting cut off men, sound base running, etc…
        Pretty much baseball 101.

    • SocraticGadfly - Jun 3, 2014 at 5:21 PM

      Tis true, per one other commenter, that only one broken rule is “unwritten.” That said, I think this shows that one gains more rights to break unwritten rules when when gets better at playing within the written ones.

  4. happytwinsfan - Jun 3, 2014 at 4:14 PM

    A bunch of guys hanging out together will always come up with a bunch of stupid stuff. We start doing this on the elementary school playground and continue it all the way through baseball, the pentagon and everywhere else we can get away with it. I really wish histro would come back and re explain to us how fun it is to watch.

    • dluxxx - Jun 3, 2014 at 4:20 PM

      Yeah, what’s up with her? She normally does a good job of keeping us in check.

    • stlouis1baseball - Jun 3, 2014 at 4:30 PM

      What is the deal with Philiac anyway?
      Has she been on an extended vacation with school being out?

      • Reflex - Jun 4, 2014 at 1:59 AM

        She is fine, just heads down on some work related things.

    • happytwinsfan - Jun 3, 2014 at 4:44 PM

      I’m in favor of holding our breath until we turn blue unless she comes back.

    • youngwomanscreek - Jun 4, 2014 at 10:05 AM

      Too cute – the boys miss the girls.

  5. DelawarePhilliesFan - Jun 3, 2014 at 4:17 PM

    Craig – serious question. What system is better – MLB and it’s unwritten rules, or the NFL which specifically prohibits “bat-flip’ type behavior all the time via the 15 yard penalty (not to mention fines)?

    Granted, that is a bit of a straw question – it does not have to be either. But would you prefer all these things be written rules, like they do in the NFL? Recall, the NFL’s alleged “non-chalance” was praised the other day….but if MLB was like the NFL, guys following a bat-flipper would start there AB with a 0-1 count

    • brazcubas - Jun 3, 2014 at 5:18 PM

      The major difference, though, isn’t written v. unwritten, it’s in the cultures of the two leagues. While “showing up” the other team is generally frowned upon in both leagues, you have to work much harder to make that happen in the NFL.

      Puig’s bat flips are a daily source of consternation and hand wringing, while in the NFL players routinely do backflips without anyone raising an eyebrow.

      • DelawarePhilliesFan - Jun 3, 2014 at 6:11 PM

        I agree that shenanigans are better tolerated in the NFL. But take a look sometime at behavior that is specifically banned in the NFL – taunting, removing your helmet in celebration, ‘excessive” celebration – then go back and look at why those things were banned. To avoid….fights! So I’m not so sure the NFL such a great culture, if they have to assess penalties lest a fight break out.

        And again, maybe people over react to bat flips – but I would still prefer over reactions over on field penalties

  6. sfm073 - Jun 3, 2014 at 4:20 PM

    The only unwritten rule any player needs to know is don’t be a jerk. If player A thinks player B is being a jerk then they need to stop and think to themselves ” do I want to do something that will make me look like a jerk”? If the question is yes then don’t do what you’re about to do.

    • dluxxx - Jun 3, 2014 at 4:22 PM

      This. But then again, if the person is already a jerk, then they may not think they are being one. They’re just being themselves, you know?

      • dluxxx - Jun 3, 2014 at 4:23 PM

        Which brings to mind the Bill Cosby line about Cocaine.

        “Cocaine enhances your personality!” “Yeah, but what if you’re an asshole?”

  7. sfm073 - Jun 3, 2014 at 4:25 PM

    True, but the fans and media sure will let him know.

  8. 4cornersfan - Jun 3, 2014 at 4:26 PM

    The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.” Genesis 11:6 – 7.

  9. papajack1259 - Jun 3, 2014 at 4:27 PM

    Unwritten rules are like morals each team has different values subject to change Honestly here are a couple of rules I would love to see written
    #1) 30 sec clock for a pitcher to throw a pitch after receiving the ball from the catcher
    #2) once a batter enters the box no backing out
    #3) Catcher can only visit the mound once in a game

    To my baseball purists there you have it….also a batter can declare mound time and approach the mound after he is struck by a ball with bat in hand and take one swipe at the pitcher but both must be within the dirt of the mound at which time when done said batter leaves game and emergency aide can be brought in for pitcher. there would be no more hit batters guaranteed

    • stlouis1baseball - Jun 3, 2014 at 4:32 PM

      Rule #3 sucks a s s Jack.
      That is the only one I can find fault in.

    • illuminancer - Jun 3, 2014 at 4:44 PM

      #1 is actually a written rule. There is a time limit for pitchers to throw; it’s just never enforced.

      • raysfan1 - Jun 3, 2014 at 11:17 PM

        And it’s 12 secs

    • danaking - Jun 3, 2014 at 4:46 PM

      Let’s say the catcher can visit the mound no more than once per at bat.

      As for batters, give them some leeway, but stop letting them call time right before the pitcher is ready to throw.

      30 seconds is too long. Give them 20 to either pitch or throw to a base.

    • raysfan1 - Jun 3, 2014 at 11:23 PM

      Both suggestions 1 and 2 are covered by MLB rules– 8.04 and 6.02 respectively. They just need to be enforced.

    • rcj22001 - Jun 4, 2014 at 2:24 AM

      cannot put a clock on the field for a pitcher. base runners would have a huge advantage in attempting to steal.

  10. danaking - Jun 3, 2014 at 4:42 PM

    There was a lot of BS in Kurkjian’s article, and some in Hayhurst’s rebuttal. All I really care about is for baseball not to go the way of football and basketball, where even routine plays (sacks, first downs, sacks) are marked by chest-thumping and various other rituals. You do something extraordinary and celebrate? Fine, though show some respect to your opponent. Have little signals between teammates for good plays, that are kept sotto voce? (Like the subtle finger wag of Gererdo Parra, or the Pirates’ “Z” signs of a few years ago.) Have a ball.

    It’s like everything else: moderation. Show some class. It’s not only about you.

    • raysfan1 - Jun 3, 2014 at 11:27 PM

      Agree, but… Class goes both ways. If some player showboats, then opposing players should not be jackasses back/start fights.

  11. ctony1216 - Jun 3, 2014 at 4:58 PM

    Hayhurst sums it up thusly:

    “When you start inventing rules for why it’s OK for you to hurt someone for making you look bad, you’re not a gamesman; you’re an egomaniac.

    Or you’re an insecure old man worrying about about some fit, hungry kid taking your job. That’s what this is really all about.”

  12. bluesoxbaseball - Jun 3, 2014 at 5:04 PM

    I don’t know Latin, but Hayhurst’s joke about Tim Kurkjian fitting in the overhead bin, and referring to him as “Timmy” seemed ad hominem. Here’s something else ad hominem: I’m tired of Dirk Hayhurst.

  13. jacobknicks - Jun 3, 2014 at 5:11 PM

    Time to write down the unwritten rules

  14. nsauser - Jun 3, 2014 at 5:51 PM

    I think there’s an unwritten rule about not commenting on articles about unwritten rules if your pitching record is below .500.

    • nbjays - Jun 3, 2014 at 10:26 PM

      It’s right next to the one about not criticizing pitchers with records below .500 when you have never played pro ball at all.

  15. senotonom205 - Jun 3, 2014 at 6:20 PM

    I honestly cannot believe it took this long for a post by Craig about that Kurkjian article. The moment I read it, I knew we were going to get a post about how terrible it was. It’s like a quota, if we don’t get a post about, or containing a snarky remark about either the unwritten rules, or someone talking about Puig, it’s a failure of a day. A lot of players have decided, both past and present, that they want a set of unwritten rules. Some follow it, some don’t, it is what it is. Every sport does this, baseball is just magnified due to it’s history and strange aura of tradition. Do I agree with them? nah, not all the time, but for gods sake, stop beating the dead horse already.

  16. matt14gg - Jun 3, 2014 at 6:34 PM

    Calcaterra = Ambien

    • jimeejohnson - Jun 3, 2014 at 9:14 PM

      Only for the pea brains.

      • stlouis1baseball - Jun 4, 2014 at 10:02 AM

        Yep…and unfortunately, theycame in droves during the last two elections.

  17. tbutler704 - Jun 3, 2014 at 9:00 PM

    I’d kick Brian McCann’s fat ass.

    • jimeejohnson - Jun 3, 2014 at 9:15 PM

      Another internet tough guy! Too bad McCann would squash you like an ant.

  18. mazblast - Jun 4, 2014 at 3:59 PM

    In the words of the late, great Paul Brown (often attributed incorrectly to Vince Lombardi), to a player doing some over-the-top celebration of a touchdown–

    “Act like you’ve been there before.”

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