Most baseball fans have heard about the “unwritten rules” of the MLB. Things like, “don’t steal when you’ve put the game out of reach. Don’t stand and admire a home run for too long. Don’t bunt to break up a no-hitter. And if you hit one of our guys, we’re going to hit one of yours.”
Baseball purists will tell you that the game will police itself because these rules are well-known and respected by players in today’s game. After this week, however, maybe these unofficial rules need to be more clearly delineated so we can avoid the embarrassing scenes that played out within the last 48 hours.
In the second inning Monday night, Tampa Bay Rays outfielder Matt Joyce ripped a long foul ball that would have been a home run if he kept it fair. Unbeknownst to anyone, Boston Red Sox pitcher John Lackey took exception to the way that Joyce watched it (replays showed Joyce behaved like anyone else would have). After getting him to ground out on the next pitch, Lackey shouted something at Joyce as he ran to first, then waved him toward the mound as he walked off toward the Red Sox third base dugout.
Four innings later, on an 0-1 pitch, Lackey drilled Joyce in the arm as apparent retribution for the earlier foul ball “incident.” The two once again exchanged words as Joyce walked to first, the benches emptied, but nothing serious transpired. The problem? No one really knows what angered Lackey so much. Was it because Joyce swung at a 3-0 pitch? After all, some old school baseball people think the 3-0 pitch is a get me over fastball that the batter shouldn’t swing at. Or did he feel that Joyce dropping the bat on a long foul ball showed him up? Either way, it’s a joke and shows that these unwritten rules of baseball aren’t clear enough.
The second incident involving misinterpreted baseball code occurred in Tuesday nights Los Angeles Dodgers game. In the sixth, Dodgers rookie sensation Yasiel Puig was hit in the face by Arizona Diamondbacks veteran Ian Kennedy. Some Dodgers perhaps felt the pitch was on purpose, but we’ll give Kennedy the benefit of the doubt… for now.
So, in the top half of the next inning, Dodger pitcher Zack Greinke followed through on another of baseball’s unwritten rules and hit Miguel Montero. No harm, no foul. Greinke went about it the right way, hitting Montero in the back just to send the message that if you want to pitch inside, you better be more accurate. He didn’t hit him in the head, or in the hands, risking a potentially serious injury. It should have ended there, but it didn’t.
As luck w0uld have it, Greinke came to bat in the bottom of that very same inning with one out and no one on. Kennedy, for whatever reason, decided to throw at Greinke, this one up near his head, glancing off his shoulder at 92 mph. Kennedy was immediately tossed by the home plate umpire, but the Dodgers players were irate. They poured onto the field yelling at Kennedy, and the normally mild-mannered hitting coach Mark McGuire went ballistic. Players pushed and shoved each other near the Diamondback dugout, and a few even threw punches that might get them suspended
In the end, six players were ejected for a bench-clearing brawl that could easily have been avoided. Is this the policing of the game that defenders of the baseball code were talking about? Apparently Kennedy didn’t know these rules existed, or maybe his interpretation was slightly different than everyone else’s.
And therein lies the problem. There’s so much ambiguity in these “rules” that brawls often result as a violation of one of them. How many runs do you have to be up for the game to be out of reach? Anything more than four? In what inning does it become uncouth to bunt to break up a potential no-hitter? The fifth?
It would be one thing if feelings were all that got hurt in these skirmishes, but when people are hurling baseballs 92 mph at your head, there’s inherently more risk. So it’s time to iron out the subtleties of the unwritten rules or scrap them altogether.
B.L. is a sports writer for Rant Sports and can be followed @coachlip.