The unwritten codes of baseball come up several times over the course of the Baltimore Orioles’ season, and anyone who knows me is aware of the fact that I believe firmly in those unwritten codes. People love to criticize baseball for being archaic in that it’s the only sport which appears at the surface to keep so much “close to the vest” in terms of what’s an unwritten rule and what’s not. However I would submit that the unwritten codes of the game are merely standards of decency in our society, and thus in truth they probably apply to other sports as well.
So you had to know where this was going; at least anyone who saw Richard Sherman’s rant to Erin Andrews following the Seattle Seahawk’s victory over the San Francisco 49ers in yesterday’s NFC Championship game. You can watch the video yourself if you haven’t seen it (linked above), however I would submit that Sherman’s comments were some of the most gutless and over-the-top I’ve ever seen in sports. This prompted a wave of reactions on media such as twitter, including Justin Verlander who inferred that Sherman would get hit if he was a baseball player after a rant like that.
My comment above about Sherman being “gutless” speaks for itself. Rarely do I take such a harsh public view on something an athlete says or does (on or off the field). I firmly believe that the job of a columnist is to report the facts without jumping to conclusions. I have my set of views like most people, but I often keep them to myself. However what Sherman said last night goes well above-and-beyond anything I’ve ever seen in sports previously. Was Sherman not privy to Peyton Manning’s postgame comments which in effect glorified Tom Brady and the New England Patriots just a few hours before? Did he not know that an attitude as such shows class and dignity? Of course not, he was too busy telling himself that he was the best defensive back in the NFL.
Some of his defenders claim that Michael Crabtree started this by talking trash on the field. The fact is that anyone who’s familiar with Sherman knows that there’s nobody in the NFL who talks as much trash as he does. He freely admits that he tries to get under opponents’ skin so they hit him after the play and he draws a penalty. (And for the record, it’s pretty telling that Sherman was the one who drew an unsportsmanlike conduct foul in the aftermath of the final play last night – even after Crabtree shoved him after the whistle.) So I highly doubt that Sherman just played the game and Crabtree said something to him unsolicited. And even if he did, that doesn’t mean Sherman should have gone off on him like he did on national television afterwards.
All of that aside, the Sherman incident shows why we have unwritten codes in baseball and thus
in life. Again, these codes are nothing more than standards of decency. Justin Verlander is absolutely correct in that Sherman would be plunked if he were a baseball player. But then again, we don’t truly know what the reaction would be given the fact that there’s really no precedent for someone doing what Sherman did, and to the degree that he did it. Even after a brawl on the field (or any on-field misunderstanding), most baseball players kind of suck it up and say something such as well things just got kind of out of hand and so forth. Heck, most football players do as well…
…and the reason for that is because one of the ultimate unwritten codes of sports is that what happens on the field should stay there. A few years ago the Orioles’ Kevin Gregg got into a fight with David Ortiz at Fenway Park; two days later a few pitchers on both sides threw behind hitters and so forth. Yet none of that spilled over off the field. And that’s the case in most situations; if a player feels that strongly about something that another player did, he probably won’t even talk to the media to avoid coming off like Richard Sherman did last night.
Yet Sherman has his defenders I suppose. I saw a lot of people on twitter last night applauding him for having the guts to speak his mind and so forth. And I’m sure those people along with Richard Sherman would tell people such as myself and Justin Verlander that part of why baseball is weak is because guys passive-aggressively handle things as opposed to coming out and speaking their mind. First off, I don’t want to turn this into baseball vs. football because while I’m a baseball writer I’m also a huge NFL fan. However with it’s strict enforcement of the famed unwritten codes, baseball remains a beacon to what our society should strive to be. There’s a right way and a wrong way to handle conflict. Sending a message is the right way. What Sherman did last night showed a person that was so far out of control that he picked a moment when an athlete should rightly be at the pinnacle of his career to get back at an opponent. That my friends, is the wrong way.