Baseball Etiquette: Five Unwritten Rules Players Follow
5 Unwritten Rules
Major League Baseball’s code of conduct is defined by an unspoken set of rules. They are enforced by the players themselves. Like primitive tribal customs, these guidelines have been passed down from one generation of baseball players to the next.
For the average fan, many of these rules often go unnoticed. For a player, however, ignorance of these rules is unacceptable. Fortunately, today’s ball players seldom incur serious consequences from violating the code. The reason is the cost of doing business. Risking injury to multi-million dollar players seldom warrants players taking justice into their own hands.
Nonetheless, these rules are more than suggestions; they are universally honored and adhered to by players with years of seniority. Not so with younger players who willingly cede responsibility to MLB. It would seem that following traditional statutes just isn't as important to newer generations of ballplayers.
Still, ignoring these rules is foolhardy. Despite today's laissez-faire attitude toward enforcement of these rules, total disregard for this highly respected code is seldom wise. And, dishonoring long-standing traditions often results in players facing the disdain of the baseball community.
When enforced, guilty players need to be alert.
Baseballs that intentionally send a message go hand-in-hand with violating one of these codes. Many code-breakers find themselves dusting the dirt off their uniforms after an opposing pitcher delivers a too-close-for-comfort fastball.
Likewise, base runners who are deemed guilty often experience the sharpness of baseball spikes from inadvertently being stepped on. Still, in today’s game the threat of being ostracized by teammates often carries more weight than a wayward baseball or spike.
It is with this background in mind that we take a look at Baseball Etiquette: Five Unwritten Rules Players Follow. These examples run the gamut from minor violations to those that incur the wrath of teammates.
It is often the threat of reprisal that keeps offending players toeing the line more than it is an actual act of justice. For baseball purists, the policy of players policing themselves is integral to the game. These unspoken rules are more than just substance, they add style and intrigue to America's game.
Court is in session.
No-Hitter Chatting a No, No
Ever watch a game in which the pitcher has a chance to throw a no-hitter? Look closely the next time the cameras pan the dugout. From about the seventh inning on, no one will talk to the pitcher, much less even look at him. It’s considered taboo and bad luck.
Ignorance of this rule is no excuse. Even broadcasters tend to be reticent when talking about the possibility of witnessing a no-hitter. Players who inadvertently violate this code of conduct risk the wrath of their entire team. The player who breaks this rule will bear the blame for the hit a pitcher subsequently gives up.
Stealing Bases A No, No
Stealing a base, even running the bases aggressively is considered a faux pas when your team is holding a large lead in the later stages of a game. This rule includes batters swinging at 3-0 pitches. Baseball players are very sensitive to being shown up. It’s akin to rubbing the drubbing in.
The definition of what constitutes the “later stage” of a game and a “large lead” is debatable. Most knowledgeable baseball people agree that it’s somewhere around the seventh inning and more than a four or five run lead. There’s no exact correct answer, but the consequences of guessing wrong and going astray could result in some serious “chin music” for the next batter.
Home Run Gazing A No, No
Home runs are exciting to watch for fans and players alike. Problems arise, however, when the batter hitting the home run admires the journey of the baseball from home plate to the bleachers for more than a few seconds. In years past, this was a recipe for getting plunked the next time up.
Showboating could also become cause for retaliation when hitters like Los Angeles Angels’ Albert Pujols, Philadelphia Phillies’ Ryan Howard and Detroit Tigers’ Torii Hunter airily flip their bats after hitting round trippers. They seem to be sending the message that what they just achieved was way too easy.
Not what a pitcher wants to see.
Too Much Hitting Success A No, No
When players feel like they “own” a pitcher and become too comfortable in the batter’s box, an unspoken rule comes into play. The set-up usually begins with a batter leaning in towards home plate, almost crowding the dish. It’s an attitude that says, “I own this space”. Umpires frequently embellish this perception by giving a hitter favorable calls when the ball is pitched on the outside of the plate.
This scenario results in what players call the “brush back” pitch; not quite close enough to hit the batter but far too close to stand pat. It forces the hitter to move their feet and, therefore, relinquish the solid footing they had established. Should that not work, pitchers often send a more serious pitch, the “knockdown".
Most players understand this progression as a fait accompli. It can at times escalate into a team vs. team free-for-all.
Not Joining In A No, No
The one unspoken tenet that players never want to be judged guilty of is the one that governs bench-clearing brawls. Not covering your teammates’ backs is tantamount to baseball treason. Peacemakers seldom gain favorable recognition and are often cast as being gutless.
One of the more humorous scenes in these team scrums happens when opposing bullpens sprint to join the action. Due to their lack of speed and aerobic stamina, relief pitchers are often so out of breath that all they can do is hang on to an opposing pitcher.
Physical damage in these brawls is often non-existent. But, let a player remain on the bench or stay behind in the bullpen during one of these tussles and another war of a different kind might break out. It’s a battle with one’s own teammates.
Good luck to the player who finds himself in that situation.