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Unwritten Rules: Baseball Terminology

Unwritten Rules Baseball Terminology

Manny Machado has been in the middle of arguments over unwritten rules

Unwritten rules are somewhat of an oxymoron, because if they were real rules they should be written down somewhere. Somehow, over the course of baseball history, the game developed its own way of being played. Whether it be a gentleman’s game, a kid’s game played by grown men, or somewhere in-between, there are no doubt unwritten rules that are still agreed upon by some and argued against by others.

If you don’t know what an unwritten rule is, here is an example: a team is not supposed to steal bases when it is has a large lead late in a game. Why not steal? Isn’t the idea of the game to score more runs than the other team? There is no timer or game clock and an opponent could essentially come back from a 10-run deficit with two outs in the last inning. However, baseball is very much a numbers and percentages game. When the odds are highly in your favor, the respectable thing is to ease up a little bit.

In the instance of stealing bases or taking extra bases in general, a common rule of thumb is runs plus outs remaining. If a team has ten runs and they have ten outs remaining, it might be time for some substitutions. The lower the number the closer the game, so you can see how this would be a dilemma if one team thinks the game is still close and the other thinks it is out of hand.

Another common unwritten rule is to not bunt to break up a no-hitter or a perfect game. This unwritten rule can make both coaches and players fuming angry. The idea that a no-hitter is in the works gets everybody excited after about four or five innings. At that point, if the opposing team does not have a hit, it is frowned upon to get one by bunting. Even if the game is close or tied, it is simply a thing of respect to get the first hit gracefully if you will. This isn’t to say that a bunt for a hit isn’t allowed; any other fluke hit is allowed and not held over the other team’s head, but a bunt could initiate retaliation by team who lost the no-hitter.

Unwritten Rules Baseball Terminology

Unwritten rules can be enforced by players and coaches

This brings us to the next popular unwritten rule: retaliation. Eye for an eye. Tit for tat. You hit our guy and we hit yours. If a hitter is thought to have been plunked by a pitch intentionally, the next pitcher on the mound might be told to retaliate by hitting one of the opposing players. Likewise, if there is contact on a play in the field that is deemed intentional to hurt a player, the opposing team can also retaliate. Retaliation is most common in throwing at a batter, since that is the most likely guaranteed chance to get the job done. Throwing at hitters can be commanded by the manager or other players if they feel there is a need to get a message across. No matter who calls for it, once it starts, each team feels like they should have the final say.

One of the most controversial unwritten rules of the last few seasons has to be bat flips and celebration by hitters. There is an established code of conduct among old timers that respect is shown in terms of simply jogging around the bases and acting like you have been there before. Any flamboyant showmanship is seen as showing up the pitcher. Major League players, coaches, and particularly umpires do not like being shown up.

The bat flip is controversial because the players most accused of this type of disrespect are Latino players who grew up in a different baseball culture. Everybody has their own opinion whether the adaptation of baseball is a good thing or not, but the bat flip seems to be easing its way into acceptance. This is not to say that Korean bat flips will become the next big thing, but celebrating after a home run brings a certain atmosphere to the game that has been absent for some time.

Unwritten Rules Baseball Terminology

There are pitchers who get pumped up after a strikeout. Fielders smile and laugh when they make a web gem. Base runners rejoice when they score a run. It seems the hitter is the only player on the field who has been limited in the reaction he is allowed. Bat flip connoisseurs such as Yasiel Puig and Jose Bautista have been criticized for their post home run antics, but there are mixed feelings among the younger generation about what is seen as having fun versus what is being disrespectful.

There is an endless debate as to the validity of unwritten rules in baseball. The fact is, if they aren’t official and written down, they can’t be enforced by the umpires. That is why the arguments and retaliation between players and teams is so fierce. They are the ones who get offended, and it is the umpires’ job to make sure that the arguments don’t go too far. This isn’t football or hockey, and there is only so much physical altercation that can be dealt with between the lines.

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