Come at me, old-timers. This is where I, at nearly 36, start spouting off like a 16-year-old again.
Baseball is the greatest game in the world. You can have opinions about football, basketball, hockey or soccer — but you’re wrong.
What makes the game so great? Well, it’s a convoluted answer.
You’ve got the smell of the fresh cut grass; the leather of the glove; the sound of a bat smacking a hit (or better yet, the pop of a good fastball into a catchers’ mitt).
There’s the strategy of the game. The atmosphere of the ballpark. Spitting sunflower seeds. Sliding in the dirt. Diving catches. Quick tags.
I for one am a sucker for a perfectly executed drag bunt.
Today’s game is changing, and with it some of the strategy (for better or worse). In fact, even some rules are changing. And if official rules are changing, then it’s about time some of the “unwritten rules” go too.
I wanted to put up a variety of unwritten rules, either passed down through the years or written down in articles and biographies. But here’s the thing: Because they are unwritten, they are not actually rules, just guidelines. So when a player like Yermin Mercedes hits a ball to the moon off a third string catcher like Willians Astudillo in a blowout for a grand slam on a 3-0 count, I don’t get my Jockeys in a bunch.
“But it’s showboating against a position player in a blowout!”
Maybe be more upset at the team that couldn’t keep up and decided to let a position player pitch. Not only that, but in my wide range of unwritten rule searches I came across a few contradictions.
● One rule states: “Do not swing on a 3—0 count when your team is comfortably ahead”
● While another says: “Do not work the count if your team is winning or losing by a significant amount”
So is the hitter supposed to work the count or swing at a good pitch?
To stand by Yermin’s side here, what would be the point of letting that pitch go by? Moving to a 3-1 count and then it’s ok to swing? That’s a weak point to try and make. What if he walks? And the next guy? And the next guy? Are they all supposed to just shoulder the bat until a strike crosses the plate? Two strikes? Are we playing the game, still? Should there be a mercy rule at the professional level? (No.)
The guy was throwing 45 mph for crying out loud. It was practically an overhand slow pitch softball toss.
“Oh, Adam, his manager gave him the take sign! Obey your manager!”
Yeah, there’s a lot to unpack with this one. First, practically all of us have had bad managers in the workplace, and a baseball field is no different. A lot of managers (baseball and otherwise) get their job because they “know someone” or were really good 30 years ago and the head of the company/team likes them. Not that the manager will actually be good, or be in touch with his workers (or not facing another DUI charge before his hire). Yermin’s boss, Tony La Russa, checks those nepotistic marks.
Also, correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t a players’ job to win games? (Hint: It is). Hitting a home run in ANY circumstance should be congratulated, not villainized. Even at 10-0, professional teams can make a run with a good inning. Now, 25 runs? Maybe not. But teams score 10 runs or more in an inning a handful of times a year.
Another take here is how a manager (and teammates) are supposed to back their own player, not throw them under the bus. Somehow there is no unwritten rule for that one, which is quite honestly baffling. I’m not saying I’d give less effort under a boss I distrust/don’t have respect for because he/she openly throws me or my teammates under the bus for UNWRITTEN violations. What I am saying is that I would be more conscious of keeping my effort at top level for a superior who I know trusted me and had the back of my teammates and myself. Positive breeds positive, and negative breeds negative. Yes, respect is earned, but not just by past accomplishments. It’s a continuous give-and-take, and if a superior doesn’t give their workers respect, then (to me) it’s ok for the worker to also not exude respect for their boss. The boss isn’t always right, and sometimes their decision making (or lack thereof) can put the task at hand in danger of not being completed. Good workers get it done. Great workers get it done without breaking written rules. (Again, “written” being the key term here.)
Also, side note, player contracts are very dependent on statistics, which are more unheralded in baseball than in any other sport. As a young player yet to reach free agency, let alone arbitration, he just picked up a home run and four RBIs that will probably help him add a few Benjamin’s to his salary in the future.
Second sidebar: An idea for the All-Star break/home run derby — Have Mercedes enter the derby and have Astudillo pitch to him! Or even better, get Willians into the derby, and have Mercedes pitch to him as well. I’d definitely be more interested.
Now, again, there are a lot of unwritten rules in baseball. Some are still good, and the rest are either irrelevant or outdated. Some don’t make a difference during the course of the game, like how rookies are to shag balls during batting practice. Other rules are off the field, like if a starting pitcher is pulled in the middle of an inning to stay in the dugout until after the inning is over — in respect for his teammates. However, with today’s stats and analytics-guided decision making, a lot of pitchers get pulled not because they have had a bad inning, but the team is just playing the odds that a replacement will do better. For example, a call to the bullpen may be warranted in a pitcher’s third time through the order, which is usually not good for anyone but elite aces, or maybe a pitch count was reached. That would make this rule irrelevant, in my eyes.
Listed next door are a bunch of in-game unwritten rules, and what my views are on them. I gathered the list through articles old and new — from a 1986 copy of Baseball Digest, to more modern pieces from Sports Illustrated, USA Today, Sporting News and others, plus my own recollection of unwritten rules.
Granted, I never played professionally, just low-tier junior college ball and Home Talent after high school. But I’ve been around the game either as a player or reporter for 30 years, which makes me feel sort of like an “old-timer” myself. But also, as I said in the beginning, the old-timers won’t like my presence in the dugout at the old-timer’s game.
— Adam Krebs is the editor of the Monroe Times and is an award-winning columnist. He also believes each team should have a designated knuckleball pitcher, that MLB should go to robo-umps for balls and strikes, and that instant replay at the professional level should expanded upon. Also, bat-flips are awesome and the runner on second in extra innings rule should be tossed immediately. Adam can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Some of baseball’s unwritten rules, and whether Adam thinks they are basic strategy or good/bad guidelines
1. Never put the tying or go-ahead run on base.
This is just good strategy.
2. Play for the tie at home, go for the victory on the road.
Is this a football rule?
3. Don’t hit and run with an 0-2 count.
No one hit-and-runs anymore, so this can go. Even if it stayed, I’d break it — I love aggressive/risk-taking offense in all sports.
4. Don’t play the infield “in” early in the game.
Meh, toss it.
5. Never make the first or third out at third.
Again, just good strategy, allowing the next batter to try and drive in a run. However, I am also a sucker for aggressive baserunner, like I said before, so this can go.
6. Never steal when you’re two or more runs down.
This is a strategic idea, but hardly a rule for sportsmanship/gamesmanship. Also, I think it’s garbage strategy unless your team is filled with players who can’t make it 90 feet on a sprint.
7. Don’t steal when you’re well ahead.
This one is tricky and weird, because so many people have varying interpretations. Some say it’s a 7-run lead whenever in the game. I remember it being “7 runs after 7 innings.” But I am also about teams in all sports playing hard the whole game. If the defense and catcher try to catch you stealing, you look silly. But if you have the chance to simply walk or jog to take the next base — I don’t care if it’s 25-0 in the top of the 9th, you have my approval. Just because the other team gave up doesn’t mean you should too.
8. Don’t steal third with two outs.
Again, strategy. But again, it depends on the player and situation on whether it is a smart play or not. This rule can get tossed.
9. Don’t bunt for a hit when you need a sacrifice.
This is garbage and should be thrown out immediately, because a bunt for a hit should always be the first bunt attempt. If you fail, then a sacrifice bunt is ok. I say this as a guy that prided myself in my bunting skills — a lost art in today’s game. Giving up an out is silly, and outside of pitchers, no batter should sacrifice bunt on the first strike. Try to lay it down the line and beat it out. If it goes foul, well, then just get it down. Note: My take does not apply for a squeeze bunt.
10. Never throw behind the runner.
This wording confuses me. Does it mean throw behind like to the base? If the runner is headed to third, don’t throw to second? That would depend on the defender’s arm(s) and the runner’s speed. If this is meant for not pegging a runner in the back with a throw, well, that’s good sportsmanship. Not to say I wouldn’t have broken that as a rule in my playing days, though. My ruling on this rule: It needs further wording/clarification.
11. Left and right fielders concede everything to center fielder.
Generally speaking, yes. But there are time’s it is not warranted. Like in college when a lazy fly ball was hit directly at me in left field — seriously, I didn’t move — and Scott White, my centerfielder — yes, Scott White the Monticello teacher — kept calling for the ball and ran into me full sprint despite me screaming “I’m camped!” We got the out and I got an earful from my assistant coach, which I side eyed and moved on to the next half inning.
12. Never give up a home run on an 0-2 count.
This is strategy, and is broken a lot. I’d rather my pitcher not bean a guy on 0-2 — make him earn it.
13. Never let the score influence the way you manage.
This should absolutely be tossed out. What in the name of Connie Mack is this nonsense? I’m down 10 runs in the third, let’s leave my starter in for five more innings? No wonder you lost nearly 4,000 games, Connie, and had 200+ more losses than wins despite managing the same team for 50 years. That would never fly today. Toss it — and yes, I tried to take a dig at a Hall of Famer that’s been dead for 65 years.
14. Don’t go against the percentages.
Mostly yes, this is good strategy, but more of philosophy than anything.
15. Take a strike when your club is behind in a ballgame.
I never liked this. Ok, you are making the pitcher throw a few more tosses, to what, wear him down? If you’re behind, he’s at the advantage. If you get your pitch — whether it’s the first one or the fourth one — you swing away.
16. Leadoff hitter must be a base stealer. Designated hitter must be a power hitter.
Old strategy for a game long evolved. The best leadoffs are now the guy that will likely get on base the most — and if he is fast, it’s even better. To me, the DH is the most improperly used spot in the lineup. Give it to a starter that needs a day off, or the guy that will help your team — not just swing and miss and occasionally smash a homer.
17. Never give an intentional walk if first base is occupied.
Usually sound strategy, but Barry Bonds was walked intentionally with bases loaded in a close game the year he hit 73 homers.
18. With runners in scoring position and first base open, walk the number eight hitter to get to the pitcher.
Unless that pitcher is Brandon Woodruff, or Michael Lorenzen, or Shohei Ohtani, but also only if you know they are actually sending the pitcher to the plate and not an actual hitter.
19. In rundown situations, always run the runner back toward the base from which he came.
Again, this is little league strategy, not a rule with considering to be a rule.
20. If you play for one run, that’s all you get.
Counterpoint: One run an inning is nine in a game, and very few teams score nine runs and lose.
21. Don’t bunt with a power hitter up.
Given current defensive shifts — which I love and there should definitely NOT be a rule against — I very much enjoy seeing a big power hitter like David Ortiz lay down the occasional bunt for the free bag. If no one is going to cover the left side of the infield, the 95% chance of reaching on a bunt is much better than the 40% chance of swinging away.
22. Don’t take the bat out of your best hitter’s hands by sacrificing in front of him.
No MLB teams sacrifice anymore other than with starting pitchers. Toss this out.
23. Only use your bullpen stopper in late-inning situations.
I disagree with this, and the premise of a closer. Your best bullpen arm should be your emergency stopper to get you out of a bind. If that means the third inning — then so be it.
24. Don’t use your stopper in a tie game — only when you’re ahead.
See above. Also, if you are the home team and it’s tied entering the last inning, your closer/stopper would not get a chance to pitch with the lead — ergo, throw him in there.
25. Hit behind the runner at first base.
Why? Because it’s hard? Toss the rule.
26. If one of your players gets knocked down by a pitch, retaliate.
Oh please. If you’re going to knock someone down, hit them. And it would be poor strategy to put someone on base if the inning before they only brushed one by. Be mad, but just get the out.
27. Hit the ball where it’s pitched.
Again, strategy/skills learned in little league. Toss it.
28. A manager should remain detached from his players.
This is a philosophical one. If you stay detached, it’s easier to bench them, trade them. But I am also a sucker for a player’s-coach, and that means understanding your players and earning/gaining their trust and confidence.
29. Never mention a no-hitter while it’s in progress.
100%, as a teammate, as a coach, and as a player. I’m not superstitious, but I am a little stitious.
30. With a right-hander on the mound, don’t walk a right-handed hitter to pitch to a left-handed hitter.
Unless you’re walking Fernando Tatis Jr. or Vlad Guerrero Jr.
31. Do not bunt to break up a no-hitter.
I understand it, doesn’t mean I like it or wouldn’t do it myself — especially in a 1- or 2-run game
32. Do not swing on a 3-0 count when your team is comfortably ahead.
We’ve gone over this one already. Swing big, but maybe don’t bat-flip — unless you’re a pitcher hitting. Toss it.
33. Do not work the count if your team is winning or losing by a significant amount.
This contradicts No. 32. Simply put, find a pitch you like and swing. If you don’t like any pitch, then don’t swing.
34. Do not spend your time admiring a home run you hit.
I feel comfortable tossing this rule. You don’t want a guy to showboat? Don’t give him a beach ball in the middle of the black.
35. Always throw at an opposing batter when your batter gets plunked.
This is a Tony La Russa rule, and it can go — especially given how hard pitchers throw today, and how easy it is to miss a spot.
36. Every able-bodied player and pitcher must leave the bench and bullpen in a fight.
Uh, no. Toss this one. Fights should be on their way out in baseball, especially because there are hardly any brawls compared to “benches cleared.” Besides, why risk a pitcher getting hurt running from the bullpen? Be smart.
37. Runners on second should never send a catcher’s signs to batters.
I say no to video usage of stealing signs — and guys with binoculars from the bleachers. But from second base? Secret time: If I knew the pitch coming was a fastball, one arm down/one on my hip in my leadoff. If it was offspeed, two arms down. If I didn’t know, both arms on my hips.
38. Hitters should never look back at a catcher’s signs or where he’s setting up.
If the catcher isn’t hiding it, joke’s on him. But also, if the catcher sees this happening, it’s pretty easy to switch up the signs a bit.
39. Slides into second when breaking up a double play must be hard but clean with spikes down.
Yeah, Ty Cobb.
40. Do not swing at the first pitch of the at-bat if the pitcher has allowed back-to-back home runs.
Are you kidding me? If that pitch can go for a third-straight, you’d be foolish not to swing. Hack away!
41. Do not rub the spot where you were hit by a pitch.
This is a “tough guy” thing that I am 100% in favor of. I was hit by a 95-mph heater in college — the stitch marks stayed for 2 months, the bruise for 3. It hurt like a sun of a gun, but I have a cool story to tell.
41. Do not walk in front of a catcher or umpire when walking to the batters box.
Meh, I’m indifferent. People say it’s a respect thing, but to be honest, whatever way to walk that’s most convenient to get in the box is fine with me.
42. Do not stand on the dirt near home plate when the pitcher is warming up.
This is a safety item more than anything. A slip of the ball could get you concussed or put on the IL. Pitcher’s might also think you’re trying to get a better read on their bender or time out their heater. I’m fine with this becoming an actual written rule.
43. Do not assist a member of the opposing team.
In reference to keeping them from getting hurt falling into a dugout, I guess. But also be a decent human being.
44. A pitcher who is removed from the game in the middle of an inning must stay in the dugout until the end of the inning.
This should be a guideline based on situation. Because of that, toss it as an all-encompassing unwritten rule.
45. A pitcher should not indicate displeasure if one of his fielders commits an error, likewise, a fielder should not indicate displeasure when a pitcher gives up a key hit/home run.
It’s about respect, first and foremost. I’ll allow it.
46. Don’t step on the foul line, except for during actual live-ball play.
Definitely keep this one. There’s no reason to upset the baseball gods.
— Rules collected from multiple news and magazine articles, including Sports Illustrated, USA Today, Sporting News and a 1986 copy of Baseball Digest, among others.