Larry Banman: The unwritten rules are the important rules
May 12, 2008
Baseball has many unwritten rules regarding how the game is played.
They is a set of gentleman’s rules of comportment. These unwritten rules are passed down to each generation. Each succeeding wave of players is expected to learn the rules, practice them and then pass the mantle to the next group.
I have found over the years that some of the more vocal outbursts you see from players come when an unwritten rule has been broken. The “code of conduct” has been violated and that, it some ways, seems to be more important than the written rules.
For example, when a player hits a home run, he can rejoice in the moment. However, if he does so for too long or too exuberantly, he crosses a line and risks the danger of “showing up” the other pitcher and team. If the home crowd screams for a curtain call after he reaches the dugout, he can make a brief appearance and wave his hat. That is OK, but if he makes two appearances, pumps his fist or points into the other dugout, there will be retaliation. He, or one of his teammates, will likely see a little “chin music” (a pitch that is uncomfortably close).
One of the more obscure unwritten rules I have come across happens when one pitcher faces his counterpart. By the time pitchers make it to the major leagues, they are invariably poor hitters. It is considered bad form for one pitcher to embarrass his opposite number.
It is OK to strike out the other pitcher, but it is not OK to throw his nastiest or filthiest pitches. In addition, if a pitcher has thrown the same pitch twice and it is obvious the opposing pitcher couldn’t hit that pitch again if it were thrown to him every day for a week, the pitcher who is throwing isn’t supposed to throw that same pitch a third time in a row and get a strikeout. That would be a violation of an unwritten rule that says you compete hard, but you don’t embarrass the opponent.
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There are also, in case you didn’t know, unwritten rules for the fans who watch the game. That is what I have found the most frustrating when I go to games at large venues. As much as I enjoy a trip to Coors Field in Denver to watch the Colorado Rockies, I usually experience a bit of that frustration. Many people don’t appear to have a clue about those unwritten rules. When I am surrounded by fans who are cheering for the other team, I expect them to cheer and cheer loudly for their team. I expect them to boo when things don’t go their way on a close play. I don’t expect them to cheer when my team does something well. I just enjoy a game more when I am surrounded by people who know and respect the unwritten rules of watching a sporting contest.
One of those rules is simple courtesy for your fellow fans. If you have to leave your seat, you wait for a break in the action. In every sport, there are numerous opportunities to go get a bite to eat, a beer to drink or to go to the restroom. In baseball, there are breaks between every pitch. Over the course of a game, there are usually about 200 pitches, or more than a ample number of opportunities to satisfy that jones for a hotdog. A less opportune time is during a pitcher’s windup on a 3-2 pitch with two outs, two men on base and the other team’s best hitter seeking his favorite pitch. For a person who loves the minutiae of baseball, that situation has a ton of potential energy.
Every one of the players on the field has a specific job and you could watch any one of them and be fascinated.
More than once, I have been sitting behind somebody who picked that time to make a cell phone call and stand up, ostensibly, to get better cell reception. For Broncos fans, that is similar to that instance when the person next to you gets up to go to the bathroom and passes in front of you while Jay Cutler drops back for a third-down pass with less than a minute to play and the Raiders ahead by four points.
Another unwritten rule governs the decorum surrounding opposing players. These days, we know so much about players and their foibles that it is easy to build up animosity toward practically anybody.
Call me old-school or old-fashioned, but once a player is between the lines, I believe they deserve a measure of respect. For example, when a player from the opposing team does something remarkable (and I mean something that you might see once every 20 games) you don’t boo. The guy is doing his job. At that moment, he wasn’t cheating, he wasn’t stealing hotdogs and he wasn’t insulting your wife or children.
The unwritten rule in that case calls for some show of appreciation. That appreciation can even take the form of silence. In Chicago, when an opposing player hits a home run, the opposing fans throw the offending ball back into the field of play. That has a certain style.
However, I have been at numerous game (even in St. Louis) where some fan takes that opportunity to yell an insult at that player. “You suck,” is apparently the most intelligent thing many person can muster at that moment. And then (this is the part I love) that person looks for high-fives from everybody in the immediate vicinity. It is if he just came up with the opening phrase to the next Gettysburg Address.
I enjoy being with fans (they are usually older) who applaud good plays on both sides. I have been at a few games (usually in St. Louis) where an opposing player has received a standing ovation. That kind of respect is what typifies good sportsmanship, at least to my way of thinking.
I know I am on a Don Quixote like quest. I realize that sports, particularly at the professional level, has long passed from a measure of athletic prowess to a form of entertainment. I won’t, however, give in to what I see as the erosion of sportsmanship in the stands. I will continue to follow the unwritten rules of watching an athletic contest.
At the next game, watch for those fans that crouch down while walking up the isle. They are doing their best to not obstruct your view.
Look for fans that applaud when their team has made an out. They likely are showing appreciation for what is know as a productive out ” a base runner was advanced, somebody scored, a double-play was adverted and a more productive hitter is next up to bat. Look for fans that are filling out a scorecard, they are tracking the subtleties of a baseball game.
When you hear an announcer call a particular town a good sports town or a particular crowd an educated crowd, I hope you give pause and appreciate what that means. If you are one of these educated fans, I hope that you are sitting next to me at the next baseball game I attend.