The Unwritten Rules of Baseball

The Unwritten Rules of Baseball

by Paul Dickson

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From beanballs to basebrawls, the most important rules governing the game of baseball have never been officially written down—until now.

They have no sanction from the Commissioner, appear nowhere in any official publication, and are generally not posted on any clubhouse wall. They represent a set of time-honored customs,


From beanballs to basebrawls, the most important rules governing the game of baseball have never been officially written down—until now.

They have no sanction from the Commissioner, appear nowhere in any official publication, and are generally not posted on any clubhouse wall. They represent a set of time-honored customs, rituals, and good manners that show a respect for the game, one's teammates, and one's opponents. Sometimes they contradict the official rulebook. The fans generally only hear about them when one is bent or broken, and it becomes news for a few days.

Now, for the first time ever, Paul Dickson has put these unwritten rules down on paper, covering every situation, whether on the field or in the clubhouse, press box, or stands. Along with entertaining baseball axioms, quotations, and rules of thumb, this essential volume contains the collected wisdom of dozens of players, managers, and reporters on the secret rules that you break at your own risk, such as:

1.7.1. In a Fight, Everyone Must Leave the Bench and the Bullpen Has to Join In

1.13.3. In a Blowout Game, Never Swing as Hard as You Can at a 3-0 Pitch

5.1.0. In Areas That Have Two Baseball Teams, Any Given Fan Can Only Really Root For One of Them

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The Unwritten Rules of Baseball

Chapter One

1.0.0. The Unwritten Rules for Players—the Basic Canon of Baseball Behavior

If there is a taxonomy to this list, it is that it works from moving the rules of the clubhouse—"The Code of the Clubhouse," in the words of author Ross Bernstein—onto the playing field.

1.1.0. The Clubhouse Is a Sanctuary

During spring training in 2002, the New York Yankees expelled Ruben Rivera for violating this rule. He had stolen Derek Jeter's glove and bat and was apparently ready to sell them to a dealer in sports memorabilia for $2,500. A few days later, Yankees manager Joe Torre explained why the penalty was so quick and so harsh: "To me it's very important that you trust the people you are playing alongside of. The clubhouse is very sacred. You spend more time in the clubhouse than you do in your home during the course of the season. The players should be able to escape the pressures of the day... the media, the game itself." He added: "Players are now like rock stars—they command a lot of attention. They need a place to get away from all that."

1.1.1. A Player's Locker Is Off Limits to Everyone Save for the Man Whose Name Appears on It

As Don Baylor, then managing the Colorado Rockies, told a reporter in 1998 after an incident in which a reporter had been seen poking around one of his player's lockers, "You don't go into a guy's locker. Even when I was a player, if another player asked for something and it was in my locker, no way. You don't do it."

1.1.2. This Sanctuary Rule Also Applies to the Visiting Team's Clubhouse

In1990, Murray Chass of the New York Times wrote an article, "Bats in Bronx: A Yankee Caper," in which he said that New York Yankees front-office employees, under orders from George Steinbrenner, for several years had secretly checked the visiting team clubhouse late at night to see if the opposition's bats were altered. Frank Robinson, then managing the Baltimore Orioles, was among those expressing a strong negative reaction: "It's an unwritten rule, I have no right to do that. I would never go into another clubhouse here." The assumption, according to then Cleveland Indians manager John McNamara, was that a visiting clubhouse was your home "and that you don't expect people to come invading your privacy."

1.1.3. Don't Even Think about Visiting Your Opponent's Clubhouse for Any Reason Whatsoever

On April 3, 2002, Red Sox pitching ace Pedro Martinez took the opportunity of a rain delay to visit the Toronto Blue Jays clubhouse at Fenway. Blue Jays manager Buck Martinez learned what had happened and angrily invoked the unwritten rule of fraternization as well as clubhouse sanctity. "I don't understand the mentality of a player being in another player's locker room," said the angry manager, who was just as mad at any of his own players who may have welcomed the pitcher, especially since the Red Sox ace had hit Shannon Stewart of the Blue Jays with a pitch in the previous game. "If I were Shannon Stewart I've got to think of taking a pop at him or something," said Martinez.

This transgression got a lot of media attention and the term "unwritten rule" was widely invoked, but that did not stop it from happening again. In September 2007, after former New York Met Julio Franco had signed with the Atlanta Braves, he wandered into the clubhouse of his former teammates to say hello, irking the Mets, most notably manager Willie Randolph and pitcher Tom Glavine. "That wouldn't go over too well in the clubhouses I grew up in," Randolph told the Record (Hackensack, New Jersey), to which Glavine added: "You play long enough, I guess you see everything."

1.2.0. Refrain from Criticizing a Teammate or the Team in Public

"What you see here, what you say here, what you hear here, when you leave here let it stay here—that is still the rule," says Rick Dempsey, first-base coach of the Baltimore Orioles, quoting a time-honored clubhouse commandment.

Breaches of this rule are so few and far between that when they occur, they make headlines. In 1979, Dave Revering made headlines with a postseason assessment of the worst team in the history of the Oakland A's. "Our biggest problem is lack of talent. We have about five men who can play every day in the Major Leagues." Asked about his personal goals by Tom Weir of Sporting News, Revering replied, "To get out of here."

Violations of this rule are more serious when made during the season. In June 2002, San Francisco Giants outfielder Barry Bonds complained that his pitchers weren't retaliating when he was getting hit. Bonds's complaint had merit—Giants hitters had been hit with a pitch three times as often as Giants pitchers had hit opposing hitters up to that point in the season—but making it public was a clear violation of the clubhouse rule.

There is a version of this rule that extends through every level of the game, including Little League, where the first rule of the baseball parent is that one does not criticize the behavior of the players—at least not within earshot of the fans.

The Unwritten Rules of Baseball. Copyright © by Paul Dickson. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Paul Dickson has written eight bat and ball books (one on softball, seven on baseball) and is working on the third edition of his Dickson Baseball Dictionary, as well as a new work, The Unwritten Rules of Baseball. He also writes narrative 20th century American history and compiles word books. He lives in Garrett Park, Maryland, with his wife, Nancy.

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