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DeFranks: A look at baseball’s unwritten standards (April 3)

Matthew DeFranks | Tuesday, April 3, 2012

All I can imagine is a dark room filled with shadowed figures sipping whiskey on the rocks. They trade quips and threatening stares. They each wear power suits with dapper ties. They are respected, feared, wise. They are gentlemen and scholars and … baseball players.

Okay, so maybe that isn’t exactly how baseball’s unwritten rules were decided upon. Odds are they were decided by a handshake between captains after a fistfight. Okay, so maybe that isn’t it either, give me a break.

No matter how these rules were decided, there is no doubting their existence even without tangible evidence in a rulebook.

Despite the existence of these guidelines in America’s pastime, it seems like the past year has involved more and more code-breaking plays.

There was Angels shortstop Erick Aybar bunting in the eighth inning in an effort to break up Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander’s no-hit bid in August. Verlander said he was surprised by the attempt and called the play “bush league.”

Many argued whether Marlins outfielder Scott Cousins violated the players’ code when he ended Giants catcher Buster Posey’s season after barreling over him in a play at the plate a year ago.

Most recently, Indians pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez beaned former teammate and Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki with a high and tight pitch that prompted tempers to flare and benches to empty – in spring training. Colorado manager Jim Tracy called the play “a gutless act” and said he lost all respect he had for the former 20-game winner.

Even more gutless than Jimenez’s action was his reaction.

Just after the ball plunked Tulowitzki, Jimenez stepped off the mound towards him. It was almost instantly. His pompous attitude as he ran toward Tulowitzki just begged for someone to return what he had coming towards him.

He claimed the pitch just got away from him. He did not mean to hit Tulowitzki – it just happened. I believe that as much as I believe that Santa and the Easter Bunny ride their unicorns to their money trees where the Tooth Fairy and a centaur greet them. So, yeah, I don’t believe him.

For his efforts, Jimenez has been suspended for five games.

Written in the players’ code is a section about plunking opposing batters. Do it in the ribs. Do it in the back. Let him take his base and move on. Expect the same from the opponent. You’re not supposed to walk demonstratively towards home plate.

So the question is: why do these rules exist and why are they so religiously followed – and continuously ridiculed when they are broken?

Maybe it all boils back down to the dark room with the shadowed men. Or the fistfight-following handshake between captains. It’s all about respect.

This isn’t football where players hit after the whistle and aim to injure. This isn’t hockey where a skirmish breaks out after every held puck around the net.

While those sports do have unwritten rules of their own, baseball’s take a more prominent position in their sport. They have managers erupt over their breaking. They have players band together. They have columnists writing about them. They are just as integral to the sport as a ball and a bat are.

So let’s not turn on the light in the dark room. Let’s keep the origins of the rules hidden.

So long as they are followed.

Contact Matthew DeFranks at mdefrank@nd.edu                                 

The views expressed in this Sports Authority column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.