The whole discussion about unwritten rules or codes in baseball comes up several times a year. In 2013 we’re hearing about it a bit early as a result of the WBC brawl between Mexico and Canada over the weekend. However whether it’s ARod running across the pitchers mound, someone stealing a base in the latter innings of a blowout, or swinging away after back-to-back home runs, we see the same story unfold a few times each season. Someone violates an unwritten code of baseball, someone else takes umbrage, a fight breaks out, and the original offender stands there with an innocent look in his eyes and says, “…I didn’t know that was an unwritten rule. If it’s a rule, write it down; otherwise I can’t follow it.!”
First off, in the Canada/Mexico situation what the Canadian team did in laying down a bunt was technically against the unwritten codes of baseball gamesmanship. However the WBC is based on run differential, so I can’t fault them for doing that (and thus I can fault Mexico for thinking that was wrong). However let me be clear; in general, I’m in favor of enforcement of the unwritten codes of baseball. People argue all the time that if it’s a rule, write it down! Perhaps, but the unwritten codes of the game are nothing more than overall decency and sportsmanship, and that’s something that I feel Baltimore Orioles’ fans have a good grasp on. You don’t need to run the score up, you don’t rub salt in an opponents’ wound, etc. So for guys to claim they don’t “know” the unwritten codes, I’m sorry but I’m not buying that. These players have been in baseball their entire lives; they’re simply saying they don’t know of these codes to cover up the fact that they broke them. However again, if someone truly doesn’t know, they should err on the side of sportsmanship and not showing up the other side.
I suppose that the point I’m trying to make is that there’s a right way and a wrong way to win (or lose), as is the case with all things. Rubbing your opponent’s face in the mud and reminding them of the fact that you’re winning is the wrong way. Most of the unwritten codes of the game are designed to prevent someone from doing just that. However there are others which are designed to protect the something along the lines of a perfect game or a no-hitter (ie-no bunting past the sixth inning). The idea is that an achievement as such should stand above an actual game, and you’re not supposed to go up to the plate with the intent of breaking up that perfect game/no-hitter. The idea should be to get on base, and there’s no better way of doing that than with a base hit. The counter-argument is that the corner infielders are protecting against an extra-base hit, thus bunting for a base hit is fair. The reason they’re guarding the lines is because of the perfect game/no-hitter situation, so it is in effect taking advantage of a situation.
Whenever these issues come up the people that are saying there should be no such thing as unwritten codes tend to be louder than the voices who stick up for them. However the fact is that the unwritten codes are as old as baseball itself. It’s very much a self-policing game, and most umpires are aware of that. Last season when Cole Hamels of the Philadelphia Phillies hit Bryce Harper of the Washington Nationals (unprovoked), the home plate umpire “allowed” Washington hit a Phillie in retribution before warning both benches. (By that I mean that he could have warned both benches right away, which in theory would mean that Washington wouldn’t get to retaliate.) The unwritten codes are meant to enforce a culture of mutual respect among competitors, and that’s true in baseball more so than in any other sport.
For the record, people that claim there are no “unwritten codes” in any walk of life are just plain wrong. When two lanes are merging into one the unwritten rule is that the cars in each lane alternate one-by-one. It’s not in the book of traffic laws, however that’s what makes it an “unwritten rule.” At some point someone decides to break that unwritten rule and go when they’re not supposed to, causing other drivers to sit on their horns. Like it or not, this is the same concept. Again, in the WBC example from this past weekend we saw the traditional unwritten codes not be in harmony with the actual rules of a tournament that breaks ties based on run differential. However in general I think that these “rules” are good ones, and that they should be uniformly respected around major league baseball.