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If it’s unwritten, it’s not a rule

SHARE If it’s unwritten, it’s not a rule
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San Diego Padres’ Fernando Tatis Jr. watches the flight of his grand slam ball that came off a pitch from Texas Rangers relief pitcher Juan Nicasio in the eighth inning of a baseball game in Arlington, Texas, Monday Aug. 17, 2020. The shot also scored Jurickson Profar, Josh Naylor and Trent Grisham.

AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez

SALT LAKE CITY — At nearly 200 pages, the official rulebook for Major League Baseball is almost as long as a novel, but not as interesting, unless the novel was written by the guy who wrote “The Shack.” 

But I digress.

The rulebook is long and probably nobody actually reads it any more than they read car-rental contracts and insurance-benefits manuals. Maybe the only people who read it are umpires, but, judging from many of the calls they make on the field, that doesn’t appear to be the case either.

The point is, the rulebook is so long that maybe this is why baseball has so many “unwritten rules.” They simply couldn’t fit them in the book. Or maybe whoever wrote the rulebook simply was so worn out by page 192 that he couldn’t be bothered.

So, baseball has a number of unwritten rules. To wit:

  • Never bunt to break up a no-hitter.
  • Do not swing at the first pitch after a pitcher has given up back-to-back homers.
  • Do not rub the spot where you got hit by a pitch (no, seriously).
  • Do not over-celebrate strikeouts or home runs (baseball players are very sensitive to slights).
  • Oh, and this one: Do not swing at a 3-0 pitch if your team has a big lead.

That’s what Padres shortstop Fernando Tatis did during Monday’s game against the Rangers. Tatis came to the plate with his team leading 10-3 in the eighth inning and the bases loaded. Pitcher Juan Nicasio ran the count to 3-0. The “unwritten rules” demand that Tatis take the pitch, which in baseball means don’t swing. Nicasio threw the next pitch right down the center of the strike zone. Tatis swung.

And hit the ball over the right-field wall for a grand slam and a 14-3 lead.

This ignited a nationwide debate — as if we don’t have enough of those already — about baseball’s “unwritten rules.” Rangers manager Chris Woodward, who was visibly upset watching Tatis round the bases, said afterward that Fernando’s slam had “challenged the unwritten rules in today’s game.” Pitcher Ian Gibaut, who replaced Nicasio after the grand slam, threw a 93-mph fastball behind the next batter, an obvious retaliation. 

Even Tatis’ own manager didn’t defend him.

Tatis apologized for hitting the ball over the fence and said, “I’ve been in this game since I was a kid, and I know a lot of unwritten rules. And this time, I was kind of lost on this one. …”

There’s something wrong when a hitter apologizes for hitting a home run.

Every sport has its unwritten rules, but baseball’s might be the silliest. If a team is supposed to simply stop trying, then just end the game right then and there; otherwise, what’s the point of carrying out a charade. If one team is just incapable of stopping another’s best effort, that’s on them. Don’t give up 14 runs; don’t throw pitches down the middle of the plate; don’t work the count to 3-0.

And by the way, when does a lead become so great that a team should stop swinging the bat — seven runs? Eight? Ten? It is certainly possible that the Rangers could’ve overcome a seven-run lead.

Sports’ unwritten rules have always been puzzling. There are frequent discussions in football about running up the score (which is at the heart of Tatis’ “offense,” of course). At some point, when a lead becomes insurmountable — whenever that is — the leading team is supposed to stop throwing passes, especially deep passes, and the end zone is to be avoided as if it were infested with COVID-19.

Sports is supposed to be about effort and excellence, but then there are these other “rules” that say otherwise.

If a rule isn’t written, then it’s not a rule. If an unwritten rule has merit, then put it in the rulebook. Simple.

Baseball’s unwritten rules might have once been sacrosanct, but not anymore. Even Woodward noted, “There are a lot of unwritten rules that are constantly being challenged in today’s game. I didn’t like (Tatis’ slam), personally. You’re up by seven in the eighth inning; it’s typically not a good time to swing 3-0. It’s kind of the way we were all raised in the game. But, like I said, the norms are being challenged on a daily basis. So just because I don’t like it doesn’t mean it’s not right. I don’t think we liked it as a group.”

Well, maybe. Players around the league Tweeted their disapproval of the unwritten rule, including pitchers.

Pitcher Collin McHugh: “Swinging on a 3-0 count should not be against any rules, no matter the score. Before a game I would always look to see what percentage a guy swings 3-0. If it’s over 20%, it means I can’t just groove one. The guys who will never “give you a pitch” at the plate are the toughest ABs.”

Pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez: “3-0 counts rule. You just have to pitch better if you don’t want that to happen.”

Pitcher Trevor Bauer (apparently addressed to Tatis): 1) Keep swinging 3-0 if you want to, no matter what the game situation is. 2) Keep hitting homers, no matter what the situation is. 3) Keep bringing energy and flash to baseball and making it fun. 4) The only thing you did wrong was apologize. Stop that.”

Hall-of-Fame catcher Johnny Bench: “So you take a pitch ... now you’re 3-1. Then the pitcher comes back with a great setup pitch ... 3-2. Now you’re ready to groundout into a double play. Everyone should hit 3-0. Grand slams are a huge stat.”

Shortstop Tim Anderson: “This (is) why the game won’t grow!! Why (didn’t) the manager have his back through whatever anyway. The Game Wasn’t Over Yet. Don’t apologize next time …”

Maybe the best response was Tweeted by third baseman Trevor Plouffe: “Ya we were taught that (unwritten rule) coming up but it’s OK to change when you learn that the things you were taught are stupid.”