The Story Behind Baseball’s Unwritten Rules

On Monday, August 17th, professional baseball player Fernando Tatis Jr. of the San Diego Padres curried both rage and adulation on social media by … playing baseball. At least, that’s what it looked like he was doing. According to some of the internet’s more vocal denizens, what he was really doing was breaking baseball’s unwritten rules. This raised the question — what are baseball’s unwritten rules? And has anybody ever thought of writing them down?

In Tatis’ case, the crime was straightforward. The Padres, according to CBS Sports, were up by ten runs in the 8th inning, and he swung on a 3-0 pitch with the bases loaded, hitting a grand slam. What some folks might call “hedging your bets,” other people had harsher terms for, like “showboating” or “running up the score” or “trashing your dad’s trip to Atlantic City by pummeling the spread.” It’s not technically breaking a rule. At worst, it’s poor sportsmanship, the athletic equivalent of mashing the low-kick button on Mortal Kombat.

Baseball's unwritten rules: keeping it dignified

According to MLB News, there are other unspoken faux pas. Akin to swinging on a 3-0, some players and fans look down on stealing bases when your team’s score is too high. Or, oddly, when it’s too low. What exactly constitutes “too high” or “too low” is up for interpretation. That sort of gut-based margin for error might be why nobody bothered to write these down.

“Don’t swing at the first pitch after the pitcher has allowed back-to-back home runs.” “Don’t show up your opponent.” “Don’t show up your fielders.” All of these are listed by the MLB as examples of how to “play the game the right way.” If that all seems old-timey and gentlemanly to the point of emulating (shudder) cricket, there’s at least one glint of precious bloodsport left in America’s favorite pastime: “Throwing at hitters is the conventional retaliation.” Yeah, they describe the tradition of clocking an offending party with five and a half ounces of cork and leather as “baked into the game.” Peanuts and crackerjacks be damned. Are you not entertained?

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