A Critique of Baseball’s “Unwritten Rules”
About a week ago ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian wrote a good piece on MLB’s “unwritten rules” most of which involve payback following an opposing player’s over-exuberant celebration of an on-field accomplishment. I thought about writing a post regarding Kurkjian’s piece but didn’t feel like I had a whole lot to add at that moment.
Today, former major league pitcher Dirk Hayhurst wrote a piece for deadspin.com in which he completely trashes the “bullshit” “unwritten rules.” It’s well worth reading.
It’s worth noting that Hayhurst’s major league career lasted only about 16 or 17 weeks, although he did play in the majors for two organizations, and as such his perspective is entirely that of a “rookie” player rather than a “veteran.” Even so, his critique of the unwritten rules is hard to contest rationally.
While showboating certainly does generate resentment and ill will that makes fights more likely, later retaliation, usually in the form of hitting batters which pitches, causes an awful lot more fights than the initial hot-dogging. Also, while I do find bat-flipping and standing around admiring one’s home run disrespectful and without class, it’s hard to justify intentionally throwing at batters as an appropriate corrective measure.
In fact, a more appropriate corrective measure might be to have the umpires police this kind of behavior, first by warning players to act appropriately and then following up by ejecting players for repeat performances on the theory that they are creating situations that might lead to fighting or other retaliation. Such a regime would be much like the way referees penalize excessive celebrations in the NFL. However, such rules would probably allow a great deal more celebration than is currently allowed under the “unwritten rules.”
Regardless, Hayhurst is completely accurate when he writes that the “unwritten rules” are entirely arbitrary in terms of how they apply and how they are enforced. Unfortunately, the umpires don’t always do a better job when they try to suppress retaliation.
A major story today is the fact that David Price was not ejected or suspended after plunking a second batter in May 30th’s Rays-Red Sox game. Price hit David Ortiz with a pitch in the first inning, and the umpire pointedly warned both benches that further beanballs would mean ejections. Ortiz had taken Price deep in last year’s post-season.
However, when Price plunked another Red Sox hitter in the 4th inning, the umpires did not eject Price, opining that the HBP was unintentional. However, when Red Sox reliever Brandon Workman threw a pitch behind the head of Evan Longoria two innings later, he was ejected and later given a six-game suspension, because the umpires felt the pitch was intentional.
The problem, of course, is that umpires are not capable of reading the minds of pitchers. Whether or not Price’s second HBP was intentional, he should have been ejected after the second batter was hit simply because both teams had been warned further beanballs would result in ejection. Instead, the umpires’ and MLB’s decisions make it look as if the Rays were receiving preferential treatment.