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.