The ‘Unwritten Rules’ Strike Again

by Jason Epstein

Last weekend was all about MLB’s “unwritten rules,” as the code that’s too amoprhous to put in writing reared its ugly head in Oakland on Friday, Washington on Saturday, and Pittsburgh on Sunday.

  • At O.Co Coliseum, a pitcher took exception to a bunt with his team down seven in the first inning. Words were exchanged between the pitcher and his skipper on one side and the batter on the other, leading to both benches’ emptying.
  • In Nationals Park, the home team’s young superstar didn’t run through the first-base bag on a comebacker, never mind that the out had already been recorded by the time he peeled off in the direction of the dugout. In response, the manager abruptly removed him from the game.
  • Over at PNC Park, a pitcher who has less than one year of service in the majors got peeved after a batter playing in his eighth big-league season hit a deep fly to center and then flipped his bat and started a slow trot toward first base. When the ball neither cleared the fence nor was caught, the batter turned on the jets and slid into third base with a triple. The pitcher and a bench-warming teammate ran over to the batter to jaw at him, and a brawl ensued.

The objection to Jed Lowrie’s bunt against the shift is downright silly. Even if you believe that a bunt or attempted steal in a blowout is bush-league, no professional team with an ounce of dignity — yes, that includes the bottom-feeding Astros and manager Bo Porter — has the right to cry “No más!” in the bottom of the first inning.

Bryce Harper is the face of his franchise and, if anything, he too often risks injury by playing the game with reckless abandon. On the play in question, he hit a one-hopper back to the mound. Although out by a country mile, he didn’t run through the bag – apparently a cardinal sin in Matt Williams’s unwritten rule book. Why that’s so important on a comebacker is beyond me. And even so, why make a mountain out of a molehill? Was yanking the 21-year-old from a close game ND then later blabbing to reporters about his decision the appropriate way to address the matter?

From batting Harper sixth on the second game of the season to whispering to the Washington Post’s Tom Boswell that he faked a quadricep injury so as not to face Marlins’ ace Jose Fernandez, the Nats seem more interested in feuding with their five-tool sensation than with the rival Braves. He won’t be a free agent until four more seasons, but the Nats act as though they can’t wait to see him playing the game in pinstripes.

Whatever you thought of last September’s Turner Field antics featuring Carlos Gomez, the behavior of the Brewers’ center fielder on slugging Gerrit Cole’s over-the-middle fastball was more mild than your typical deep-fly flip-and-pose. Moreover, Gomez’s slow trot toward first might have cost him a chance at an inside-the-park home run, which should have angered his own teammates, not Cole. Heck, the young pitcher and Travis Snider, the bench player, should have profusely thanked him for dogging it out of the box.

In each of these cases, the breaking of one of three of the game’s supposedly unwritten rules — don’t bunt when your team is way ahead, run through the first-base bag even though you’re out by 45 feet and/or not 100 percent healthy, and don’t admire a well-struck ball because it upsets the opposing pitcher — resulted in hurt feelings because they’re either ambiguous and/or plain stupid.

The solution?

I don’t know, perhaps players and managers alike may devote a little less energy on attitude adjustment and more on winning the darn game?

Right Field

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