From bat-flipping, to sign-stealing to the manner in which one shows, or does not show, exuberance, baseball players and managers have long attempted to impose bits of baseball etiquette that are not formally established, usually in pretty ridiculous ways. They are, of course, the famous Unwritten Rules of Baseball. I wrote a great deal on the ins-and-outs of all of that a couple of years ago. We’ve mocked the Unwritten Rules on this site for many, many years.
The thing about most Unwritten Rules is that they’re based — or, rather, their proponents claim them to be based — on baseball tradition. Old ways that must be preserved for, I dunno, the good of The Republic or something. Whether that’s actually the case or not, the appeal to tradition is a handy way to cover for the fact that most people who like Unwritten Rules are fun-hating fuddy duddies. It’s pretty effective too. The merits of an Unwritten Rules argument are usually terrible, but by claiming that Johnny Dickshot or whoever did it that way for the 1937 Pirates so Tyler Newbie of the 2018 Mudtown Nine should too is a pretty handy powerful rhetorical tool in the toolbox of Unwritten Rules pushers.
Which has made me wonder, from time to time, if there can be new Unwritten Rules. Is it even possible for a convention to be imposed on some truly novel aspect of the game if the ethical basis for such conventions are, by definition, tradition? Where does it all begin? An interesting ettikal question.
We got one datapoint on this back in May of 2016. That’s when Cardinals manager Mike Matheny played his infield in in a blowout, seemingly in retaliation for Cubs manager Joe Maddon using a replay review in a blowout the night before. Yes, we saw the attempted imposition of an Unwritten Rule on the then-new mechanism that is instant replay. That’s pretty intriguing, but Joe Maddon and Mike Matheny are old, so maybe we should not give full credit for modern innovation to them.
This is why yesterday’s Unwritten Rules silliness in which Twins players got all bent out of shape at Chance Sisco of the Orioles bunting to beat the shift late in the Twins victory over Baltimore is so great. Yes, there have always been defensive shifts, but nothing on the scale that we see now. That’s truly new, and the fact that baseball players in their 20s have opinions about that, to use Jose Berrios‘ words, not being “good for baseball,” shows just how adaptable and responsive the Unwritten Rules Industrial Complex truly is. It makes me confident that if, tomorrow, Martians land on Earth, turn their lasers on us, and challenge humans to one game of baseball which will decide the fate of humanity, some ballplayer would already have an opinion about whether one’s green tentacles should be worn inside or outside of their jersey.
Anyway, carry on you brave policemen of the diamond. Never waver in your commitment to what is right and just. And — while you’re carrying on — perhaps ask yourselves whether or not shifting against a dude with 22 career at bats late in a blowout is not itself some serious horse shit.