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

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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.

 

Javier Baez: “This is a game. It’s not as serious as a lot of people take it.”

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Infielder Javier Baez is back in camp with the Cubs after helping Puerto Rico to a second-place finish in the 2017 World Baseball Classic. He was the focal point of what was, to many, the most memorable play of the entire tournament: Baez pointed at catcher Yadier Molina, who was attempting to throw out a would-be base-stealer, before applying the tag for the final out of the eighth inning.

While Baez didn’t receive much criticism for his theatrics, aside from an insignificant handful of spoilsports, he is one of the players who most exemplifies the emotional, celebratory culture that foreign players bring to Major League Baseball. U.S. (and Tigers) second baseman Ian Kinsler is on the other side of that spectrum, as he said prior to the WBC final that he hopes kids mimic the solemn way U.S. players play the game rather than the emotional, passionate way players from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic play the game.

Baez isn’t about to apologize for the way he and his teammates play the game. Via CSN Chicago’s Patrick Mooney, Baez said, “We do a great job playing and having fun out there. That’s what it’s all about. This is a game. It’s not as serious as a lot of people take it. but, you know, everybody’s got their style and their talent. I have a lot of fun.”

He continued, “It’s their choice to look at how we play, how excited we get. To us, it’s really huge what we did, even though we didn’t win. All of Puerto Rico got really together. We were going through a hard time over there and everything got fixed up for at least three weeks. Hopefully, they keep it like that.”

Mike Trout proposes change to spring training umpiring

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Angels outfielder Mike Trout came up with an idea that would allow less experienced umpires an opportunity to call some major league spring training action. As ESPN’s Buster Olney reports, Trout thinks the veteran umpires should only call five or six innings as they get back into regular season shape. The rest of the innings could be called by minor league umpires.

According to Olney, baseball officials loved Trout’s idea when they heard about it last week. One official said, “It makes a lot of sense for a lot of different reasons.” Another said, “That’s Trout — he’s always paying attention to stuff beyond what he’s doing.”

Of course, I have to agree that the suggestion is a great one. As Olney notes, the turnover rate for umpires every year is relatively low, so younger, less-experienced umpires have few opportunities to get a feel for what it’s like calling major league action. Even beyond the actual interpretation of the rules, interacting with big league personalities would also be helpful for minor league umpires.