We will dust off the Friday Flashbacks and write about unwritten, unspeakable things. Like expressing joy at a baseball game. With all the nonsense about which fanbase is better or which team is the arbiter of the true way to play baseball, I thought it would be fun to look back at when that rarest of the birds, the unwritten rules of baseball, was randomly spotted in print. I went through archives in both Lexis and Google News Search to find references to “baseball” and “unwritten rules”. This search runs through 1993, because if it didn’t happen before then, I am going to assume it is a made up unwritten rule (I also assume many of these were made up).
We know that Dixie Walker was a central figure in the most famous unwritten rule, no black players, when he was not happy about Jackie Robinson becoming a teammate. Well, in 1913, a different Dixie Walker (unless he was playing at three years old) was at the center of the first reference I could find. The umpire would call a player out on a slide into first base, even if rules didn’t prohibit.
Let’s just go through a list of other things covered by the written about unwritten rules of baseball, always recognized in the breach.
- The play at second given as an out even if defender pivots before receiving ball. In 1940, it was estimated 50% of outs at second base were like this.
- Putting a potential winning run on first base (1947)
- That one does not hint at a no hitter in the works (1947)
- Umpires are not be quoted (1952), after umpire Larry Goetz referred to Yankees as “cry babies”
- Unwritten rule that don’t kick a player out of the game, you fine him (1956)
- From 1958, an unwritten rule that a pitcher goes to bed early on the night before he pitches, recognized in the breach due to Whitey Ford.
- Pitcher who hit batter gets thrown at next time up (1967)
- Don’t have a side piece in the home town you play in (in this article on Groupies from 1977)
- Don’t hit sportswriters (from a Thomas Boswell piece on Larry Bowa, 1978)
- Don’t try too hard once you have been eliminated from the playoffs, from a Thomas Boswell article about Orioles GM Hank Peters in 1983, about the Tigers (“The Tigers are playing overly aggressive baseball. There’s no need for it. We’ll store it (in memory). Right now, they’re feeling sorry for themselves. They should,” said Peters, jaw clenched. “They’re second best. The best wins.”)
- Don’t throw a changeup the first time up (1984) (never violated)
- Don’t walk people in Fenway (1985) (hear that, Tigers pitchers? You will be worse than Puig celebrating if you throw four balls to one batter).
- If the throw beats you, you are out, even if you slide in under the tag (1987) (this leaves unanswered what happens if you complain about an unwritten rule, and an umpire tosses you in violation of an unwritten rule. Which rule prevails?)
- Stealing bases up by five runs is verboten (Whitey Herzog vs. Roger Craig, 1987)
- Don’t pinch hit for a Hall of Famer like Jim Rice (1988)
- If you are blocking the plate, and you don’t have the ball, you must yield to the runner. (1989) Err ma God! Brian McCann broke an unwritten rule while trying to enforce an unwritten rule!
- Players should not be too friendly with the opposition (1992), From when Sammy Sosa joined Pedro Guerrero in the Cardinals clubhouse, and Todd Worrell came to blows with his teammate Guerrero.
Since that was the Cardinals, and it was an incident involving the Cardinals protecting the game against violations by Latin American players, it is appropriate to close with Rex Hudler’s quote of the incident: “If you’re the enemy and you come into the enemy foxhole, most of the time you don’t get out of it,” Hudler said. “He’s lucky he got out without serious damage.”
Oh, and Go Dodgers.