Unwritten rules reflect baseball's protocol

Unwritten rules reflect baseball's protocol

For a bunch of unwritten rules, a lot has certainly been written about the so-called "Baseball Code" in the days since Alex Rodriguez got into a mound of trouble by jogging through Dallas Braden's space.

Many on the baseball front, players and managers, applauded the A's pitcher, at least for his spunk. Even more chastised Rodriguez, who, for whatever reasons -- envy of his remarkable and highly-paid talents being at the top of the list of suspicions -- is not the Major League's most well-liked player.

But most were confused. Code? What code? "Is there a new printing of the unwritten rules that I did not get?" some wondered.

Asked whether Rodriguez had violated universally known convention in Oakland late last month by jogging across the mound, and stepping atop the pitching rubber, on his way back to first base after the batter had hit a ball foul, Milwaukee manager Ken Macha wore a blank expression.

"Not that I know of," said Macha, whose Major League career began as a player in 1974 and who is in his seventh season of managing. "I'm not caught up on it yet. I need to do some remedial work in that area. Maybe Braden can give me a remedial lesson on what the rules are."

Presumably, there are some who believe such lessons would have to touch on walk-off home run celebrations -- such as the Prince Fielder human-bowling-pins production staged by Macha's own Brewers last September against the Giants.

The point is, the fanciful Code has as many entries as violators. Breach definitely is in the eye of the beholder.

Rodriguez is unquestionably a lightning A-Rod. When he gets mixed up in something, there is no end to it. Opponents still talk about his slap at Bronson Arroyo's glove -- six years ago. And his baserunning "Boo!" as Howie Clark, then the Toronto third baseman, settled under a popup -- three years ago.

Yet, the day before the Rodriguez incident, one of the game's most respected individuals had raised a stink that aggravated veteran baseball men even more, but was quickly forgotten.

Cardinals pitcher Chris Carpenter, who was hit on the left wrist by D-backs starter Edwin Jackson, hadn't been upset by being hit, but by the target catcher Chris Snyder had given the Arizona right-hander.

"I watched the replay, and the catcher was setting his glove up high,'' Carpenter said after the game. "I know he didn't try to hit me, but don't put your glove up there. Throw the ball down and away. Anytime you throw the ball up there like that, it's unacceptable.''

D-backs manager A.J. Hinch -- a former big-league catcher -- almost hyperventilated over that one.

"You can't throw a tight fastball to a pitcher? Where did that one come from?" Hinch said a few days later. "The code of conduct seems to change day-by-day, and I don't even know what they all are."

Addressing the one Rodriguez ostensibly violated, Hinch added, "That's a new one. There's a lot of unwritten rules in baseball. I guess we can add that one to the glossary."

The glossary has many familiar entries, ones that "just make common sense and should be obvious," as Hinch put it. The most widely accepted include:

• No stealing bases with a big lead.
• No bunting to bust up a no-hitter.
• No admiration of long home runs from the batter's box.
• No going for the pivot man, rather than the base, on double-play grounders.
• No swinging from the heels at 3-and-0 pitches.

But here's one problem: One would have to figure that "No stealing of signs" is also somewhere in that unwritten glossary. Yet the art of sign-stealing has long been an admired skill, with those particularly adept at it -- such as the late Gene Mauch -- earning legend status.

When it is convenient, as in the latter example, "violations" are classified as "gamesmanship."

"There are two sides to the coin," Colorado's Jason Giambi said. "It's like stealing signs. They'll say if you're stupid enough to have them that easy, then they should be stolen."

"There's do's and don'ts that most players know. It's mostly respect for the game and respect for the guys playing the game."
-- Indians catcher
Mike Redmond

Teams are increasingly adopting orientation events for their young players, such as the Dodgers' Winter Development Program. At these gatherings, players are briefed on professional conduct, media relations and the ins-and-outs of big league cities.

But are they taken to old-school? Is there a course on baseball etiquette? Is "The Code" passed down to them, like some secret family heirloom?

Apparently not. "The Code" isn't handed off, generation to generation. Several younger players approached by MLB.com reporters were simply unaware of this Code culture. Veterans acknowledged the big laws (see above), but likewise knew little about any long list of unseen bylaws.

"I didn't got my copy of the book that says you don't bunt when you are ahead or behind by five or six runs," said Seattle manager Don Wakamatsu. "What is the magic number? What inning can you do it?"

The enduring parts of the unwritten rules are absorbed. And sometimes picked up in only one classroom: The school of hard knocks. Unwittingly cross a line, and there will be someone to let you know about it. Ignorance is not a blessing.

"These are things that either happened to you coming up in the Minor Leagues or happened to someone on your team and somebody says, 'Hey, don't do that,'" said Arroyo, now in the Reds' rotation. "Like, don't lay down a bunt or steal a base when you're up eight in the seventh inning."

"The one that stands out to me," said Mariners veteran Ken Griffey Jr., "is going out of the way to take a guy out at second on a double play. That can come back to haunt someone on your team."

"Baseball, it's a funny game like that," said Mike Redmond, a veteran catcher now with the Indians. "There's do's and don'ts that most players know. It's mostly respect for the game and respect for the guys playing the game. That's just baseball. That's what makes the game so great."

"You don't stand there and watch a home run if you hit it," said Houston's Lance Berkman. "The game has a way of policing itself. Problems get taken care of on the field."

Not, however, in as stringent a manner as they were in an earlier era. Through free agency, the Major Leagues have become a giant mixer. There no longer are sides of the track, right and wrong. Gradually, everyone crosses on the same side.

The best indication of that are the defunct no-fraternization rules. Not too many years ago, umpires spent pregame drills stationed in the stands to watch out for players who got too chummy, then reported violators. Now, batting practice often is a hug-fest among former teammates or offseason golf partners.

Of course, when it comes to unknown unwritten rules, Rodriguez broke just about the most selective one. Basically, it is known only to pitchers -- old-time pitchers at that.

"No, you don't do it. It's like stealing a base when you're ahead by nine runs in the eighth inning," said Hall of Fame right-hander Don Sutton. "It's just common sense and common courtesy. If Bob Gibson or Don Drysdale had been on the mound, it would've been over in 15 seconds."

Chimed in another pitching legend, Tom Seaver: "You just don't do that. Let me ask [Rodriguez] this: 'Would you dare to do something like that on Don Drysdale, Nolan Ryan, [Bob] Gibson or me?' All of a sudden you remember protocol."

"There are a lot of current players who wouldn't know that rule," said Cardinals manager Tony La Russa. "I guarantee that young man [Braden] has studied baseball history."

And apparently not just the chapter on territorial pitchers. Braden seems well-versed in all of "The Code." In an interview on Sacramento's KHTK radio, the 26-year-old southpaw enumerated, "You don't steal past the seventh inning when you are up 8-0. You don't hold runners on when you are getting beat 8-0 later in the game. There are just little things that are not done."

So give Dallas his Ph.D., Doctorate of Baseball Protocol. Only, let him come pick up the diploma; don't step on the mound to present it to him.

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.