- Tim Kurkjian, MLB reporter
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THIRTY-FIVE YEARS AGO, Wayne Gross hit a home run off reliever Ed Farmer, and took his time running around the bases. Farmer was furious, and immediately plotted revenge. But he didn't face Gross again until four years later, and by then they were teammates. On the first pitch of a batting practice session, Farmer hit Gross in the back with a 90 mph fastball.
"What was that for!" Gross screamed.
"That was for four years ago!" Farmer screamed back.
"OK," Gross said. "We're even!"
Welcome to the contentious, confusing, contradictory world of baseball's unwritten rules. There are so many of them, and they've existed for over 100 years, that it's hard to keep track of them, to process them.
Back in the 1960s, hard-throwing Stan Williams tracked them this way: He carried a list of names around in his cap.
"What are the names on the list?" Williams was asked.
"Those are the guys I have to get," Williams said.
"Why do you keep them in your cap?" Williams was asked.
"So I don't forget any of them," Williams said.
Yes, the game has changed a little since those days, and some of the responsibility for the enforcement of the unwritten rules has been taken away from the people who play it. Now, Major League Baseball polices the game, not the players. Now, umpires issue warnings after a questionable hit batsman, and often, the next pitcher to hit a batter gets ejected. And with the ejection often comes a suspension, sometimes for as many as 10 games.
Confusing? Contradictory? At least one veteran player insists baseball's unwritten rules are a thing of the past, with no present whatsoever.
"There is no fear of getting drilled anymore," the White Sox's Adam Dunn says. "A guy in front of me, who shouldn't be celebrating when he hits a home run, does, and I'm thinking, 'OK, they're coming after me now.' And it never comes. When you do something like that -- celebrate at home plate, or make a slow trip around the bases -- someone has to pay for that, preferably you. But the unwritten rules are dead. They are gone."
"David Ortiz does the same bat flip after every home run. He carries a Mariachi band around the bases with him every time he hits one. But it's OK because he's Big Papi."Brandon McCarthy
Make no mistake, though: Lines that aren't spelled out in any edition of the Official Baseball Rules still get crossed, and the players who cross them still face vigilante ramifications for their transgressions. The 2014 season is less than two months old, but it's already given us -- among other things -- a brawl in Pittsburgh over one unwritten rule, three ejections in St. Petersburg over another, a word war between the A's and the Astros over a third, and a tit-for-tat, by-the-(unwritten)-book reprisal in St. Louis over one more.
Dunn isn't wrong, exactly; it isn't as easy to retaliate as it once was. But he probably does over-state the situation. The unwritten rules are far from dead. And they still abide by one principle: This is a hard game played by hard men, vengeful men without remorse who have really long memories. If you disrespect them, their team or the game, you will pay, often with something in the ribs at 90 mph.
Baseball's unwritten rules quietly took form in part to reprimand a player for running too slowly around the bases, celebrating as he goes, after a home run in the eighth inning of a 10-1 game, and, in a development of the past 10 years, flipping his bat as he stands at the plate to admire his feat. The unwritten rules were built to penalize a player who stole a base when his team was ahead by 10 runs, or swung as hard as he could at a 3-0 pitch when up by 12, or dropped a bunt in the ninth inning to break up a no-hitter.
And those are just a few of them.
"THERE ARE SO MANY UNWRITTEN rules in baseball because you can't fight, and you can't tackle people," says Cubs catcher John Baker. "In hockey, you throw down your gloves and fight. In football, you're allowed to tackle a guy. In baseball, there is so much separating opposing teams. You can go hard into second base and [you] might run over a catcher, but you can't run over the pitcher. There's not a platform for retaliation when you're frustrated or upset."
Angels pitcher C.J. Wilson says, "There are so many unwritten rules because it's such an old game. It's such a technical game. There are so many opportunities for gamesmanship. It creates such drama. It's such a game of respect. It's a game that punishes those who are selfish."
Diamondbacks pitcher Brandon McCarthy asks, "But aren't there unwritten rules in every industry? In journalism, you can't steal sources, right? In hockey, guys don't take their skates off and slash an opponent's throat with the blade. In football, you never see a guy take off his helmet and just bludgeon an opponent. We've been playing baseball since the 1800s. We just have more unwritten rules."
And every one of them is debatable and fluid and arbitrary.
To some, it's an unwritten rule that a hitter shouldn't dawdle before he gets into the batter's box.
"I've yelled at hitters, 'Let's go! Get in the box!'" Baker says. "But they have a certain walk-up song. They have to mimic a certain part of it, so they wait until that part of it plays. It's like they're on a runway getting into the box, instead of just playing the game."
McCarthy says, "That pisses me off, too. The rhythm of the game stops when that happens. Baseball becomes bad entertainment. The same thing applies with a pitcher that doodles around out there. That drives me just as nuts. Clay Buchholz is a really good pitcher. I love his stuff, but I can't watch him because he takes so damn long between his pitches."
Wilson says, "It's ridiculous how long it takes guys to get in the box, or pitchers to throw the ball. Guys on their own team yell at them, in very colorful language. 'Get in the box! Throw the ball!' Some guys are serial line-steppers; they are habitual line-steppers. That's how they get the reputation as a rain delay. What I love is the pitcher who has two pitches, and he shakes off the catcher five times. We yell, 'Pick one!' But really, the guy at the plate digs a hole, adjusts his helmet, wiggles his butt, swings the bat, adjusts his wristbands? You wonder, 'What were you doing all that time in the on-deck circle?'"
And to others, a new unwritten rule was established a few years ago when the Yankees' Alex Rodriguez ran across the mound after making an out, infuriating A's pitcher Dallas Braden, who claimed that the mound belongs only to the pitcher, and that no runner shall cross it.
"I'm with Alex on this one," Baker says. "I'm going to have to use pretzel logic to defend Dallas, a friend. That was just Dallas showing that he grew up on the mean streets of Stockton, the whole '209' thing. He has been wildly competitive his whole life. Until that, I had never heard of it. I had never even thought about it. That was all in Dallas' mind."
Wilson says, "I always stay on the mound after a pitch, so it would be pretty awkward if a hitter ran across it while I was still standing on it. It's not a sanctimonious thing with me. Alex has had some instances where he's done some stuff -- like, a few years ago, yelling at the Toronto third baseman [Howie Clark] while he was trying to catch a popup. That's just lame."
The Orioles' Chris Davis says, "I'd never run across the mound. I'm afraid I might trip and fall."
The Marlins' Casey McGehee says, "I'd never do that. I don't want to get anywhere near the pitcher that just got me out."
And Dunn says, "I'd never heard of it. I do it all the time. I hate to run. The fastest way to any point is a straight line."
Another unwritten rule is gaining steam these days, too: too much bling.
"The guy with the eye-wash, wearing nine wristbands, and shin guards, and eye black, with seven chains around his neck," says Baker. "When you bring attention to yourself, that's when they throw at you."
And there must be a million unwritten rules that govern the clubhouse.
"With Arizona, we had a bathroom stall, a handicapped stall, which was bigger than the rest of the stalls," says Brewers first baseman Mark Reynolds. "There was a sign on the door of the stall that said it was only to be used by guys with four years of major league service. Really stupid stuff."
There are so many unwritten rules, according to Baker, that, "We need to write them down."
And yet, if they are written down, Reynolds says, "The game would be chaos. Things happen in a game, behind the scenes, that people don't even know is going on. We keep them in-house."
"With Arizona, we had a bathroom stall, a handicapped stall, which was bigger than the rest of the stalls. There was a sign on the door of the stall that said it was only to be used by guys with four years of major league service. Really stupid stuff."Mark Reynolds
Chaos? Several years ago, Joe Horn, a wide receiver for the New Orleans Saints, scored a touchdown, pulled out a cell phone that he had taped inside the goal post, and made a call, or at least pretended to.
"And no one in football cared!" Baker says. "If that had happened in baseball ... if someone had hit a home run, reached home plate, took a cell phone out of his stirrup and called someone, he wouldn't finish the phone call. There would be balls flying into both dugouts. It would be like a Cuban winter-ball game, with guys running around with bats in their hands. Oh my God, the world would stop spinning on its axis. The ice caps would melt."
McCarthy laughs and says, "Oh my God, he would never get to home plate. Bats would be tomahawking out of both dugouts. Where would a player hide a cell phone, under a base?"
McGehee says, "The game would never get to the next hitter. It would be so ugly."
Says the Tigers' Torii Hunter, "That would start the greatest brawl in major league history. I would drop my glove, chase the guy down, and beat the s--- out of him. And I'd do the same thing if he was on my team. The camera shot would be of his entire team, piled on top of him, pummeling him. I hope that never happens in baseball."
Yes, there are a million of them. We're going to limit our look to the five that seem to be the most firmly etched in stone ... well, maybe not etched. Remember, they're still unwritten -- including the one about the on-field cell phone.
"Oh, it's going to happen in baseball," Dunn says. "And the guy who hits the homer will take his phone out of back pocket and tweet it before he reaches home plate. But when that happens, I'm leaving. I'm retiring. I'm done. I'm going home."
The deliberate, demonstrative home run trot has been a part of the game for decades. The great Babe Ruth, who glamorized the home run, sometimes waved his cap to the fans as he circled the bases. But in the past 25 or so years, the admiration has mushroomed completely out of control.
It's unclear when the real histrionics began, but Jeffrey Leonard's "one flap down" tour of the bases nearly 30 years ago is one marking point. Over the past 10 years, the slow trot has been replaced, and/or preceded, by a bat flip and a five-second pause at the plate to celebrate the blast. (Check out this clip, which comes from a minor league game.)
As flamboyant Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips says, "If I really get one, I don't care. I'm watching. I've got to admire something."
The score of the game doesn't seem to matter; nor does the pedigree of the home run hitter. And sometimes, the drive they're admiring from home plate is caught on the warning track.
"It's the culture now. It's a young man's game," Reynolds says. "These kids grow up seeing this stuff on TV, and they want to emulate it. Baseball is a slow game; people want more action. The fans like it; the players don't like it. But more of it is going on now than ever."
Wilson says, "Look, dudes just want to get on TV. So, they pimp it at the plate. It's like the NBA. They don't want just to dunk on you. They want [people] to say, 'He jumped all the way over that guy!' They want to see it on replay the next day. This started with Barry Bonds, because he was better than anyone at hitting homers. He'd stand and fold his arms after a long home run. But I've seen guys pimp it when they are 17 years old. They're still doing it."
"I'm not a big fan of the bat flip," Davis says. "It shows up the pitcher. Sometimes, you have to act like you've been there before. The only time you should bat-flip is on a walk-off."
A lot about the enforcement of this particular unwritten rule, it seems, depends on who has hit the home run.
"If Manny Ramirez hits a home run and does his thing at the plate on the bases, well, he's Manny Ramirez. He can do that," McCarthy says. "But when Ronnie Belliard, who swings just like Manny and does the same thing as Manny after he hits a home run, it's not the same because he's not Manny. I was angry for a week over that one. David Ortiz does the same bat flip after every home run. He carries a Mariachi band around the bases with him every time he hits one. But it's OK because he's Big Papi. To me, it's just so arbitrary."
"If you have 50 career homers, then don't celebrate like [Robinson] Cano or Big Papi or [Alfonso] Soriano. They have 200 homers and more. It comes down to service time. When you have service time, you have certain liberties."Adam Jones
Orioles center fielder Adam Jones says, "If you have 50 career homers, then don't celebrate like [Robinson] Cano or Big Papi or [Alfonso] Soriano. They have 200 homers and more. It comes down to service time. When you have service time, you have certain liberties."
Boston outfielder Jonny Gomes says, "It's like the military situation: The stars on your chest and the stripes on your arms are symbols of something important, something earned. We don't wear them; we have them. The game gives you that, not a person, not a committee. The more you move up the ranks, the less the unwritten rules apply to you."
And yet today, the young guys are celebrating their fifth career home run as if it's No. 500. The Dodgers' Yasiel Puig, for example, has been known to celebrate a meaningless extra-base hit like it's a Game 7 home run.
"But I understand it," says Gomes. "You have every right to say, 'Hey, I've been waiting since I was 4 years old to hit a home run in the major leagues, and you want me to hurry up?' But when a young guy hits his third major league homer and just cruises around the bases when he's up 10-0, now he has self-proclaimed stars and stripes on his shoulders."
What would Gomes tell that kid the next time he goes to the plate?
"DUCK!" he says.
VETERAN NATIONALS infielder Greg Dobbs says, "When you pimp a home run, or flip a bat egregiously ... I'm not saying you have to put your personality in the shadows, but how far do you take it? When you do that, act selfishly, you are disrespecting the founders of the game, the guys that came before you. When you hit a homer, flip your bat, walk 10 feet toward first base and stare at the pitcher, showing bravado, you are disrespecting the other team, your team and the name on the front of jersey. That's the worst thing you can do."
And if a young National does that?
"I'd air him out," Dobbs says. "I'd tell him, 'That's not how we do things.' When you can't control yourself, you're not setting an example for children. You're not being a representative of the game. You're not representing those bigger than you. It's not about you."
Of "Cadillac-ing" it around the bases in a 10-0 game, McGehee says, "You better not! You are going to get yourself smoked -- or worse, get someone else smoked. You are an idiot, and someone hits [Marlins star Giancarlo] Stanton, breaks his hand and he's out three weeks, that's on you. He's hurt because you are selfish. We're here to protect people from being selfish."
Tigers reliever Phil Coke says, "You're up 10-0, and you hit one that just goes over the outfield wall, and you're a fresh guy -- you're going to get thrown at if you pimp it around the bases. I didn't see it; it happened 3,000 miles away from us, but [the A's Yoenis] Cespedes did that two years ago. You think, 'Hey, Bro, this isn't bush league. Respect me.' You don't want to dance on Mariano Rivera's toes when you've had a cup of coffee in the big leagues. He deserves respect. He commanded respect because he showed respect."
Hunter says, "If a teammate of mine did something like that, I would light his ass up. I'd tell him, 'Don't you ever do that again!' I would tell him that because I love him; he's a teammate. And I wouldn't want him to get a bad reputation in the game, because he would."
Last year, the Brewers' Carlos Gomez hit a home run off the Braves' Paul Maholm. Gomez says the Braves had thrown at him intentionally several times that season, so he reacted by admiring the home run, flipping the bat, making a slow run to first base, then screaming at Maholm all the way around the bases. Ten feet before he reached home plate, he was confronted by Braves catcher Brian McCann, which nearly started a major brawl.
The next day, Gomez apologized for his actions.
This spring, Gomez said, "In the moment, it was OK to do what I did. But after I cooled down, I realized it was not the right thing. It was unprofessional by me. I've been playing this game for seven or eight years. I understand the game. I had my reasons for why I did it. But I am responsible for what I do. If a pitcher strikes you out, he can do whatever he wants to do. It makes some guys mad, but not me. If you win, you can do whatever you want.
"But this is who I am. If I try to be another way, I'm not going to be any good. I respect the game. I play hard. I have no problem with anyone from the Braves. I apologized to the Braves for my actions. I would like to apologize personally to Paul Maholm for my actions. It was my fault. It was embarrassing for me, but it was nothing personal. It was nothing personal with Brian McCann, either. If I ever get a chance to talk to him, I would tell him that. If I was a catcher, I would have done the exact same thing that he did to me."
This spring, McCann said, "I was not upset that he was pimping it around the bases. I just didn't like him yelling at our pitcher. Looking at the moment, yelling at someone like that, in any profession, it is second nature. You're going to do something about it. So I did."
"I have no problem with anyone from the Braves. I apologized to the Braves for my actions. I would like to apologize personally to Paul Maholm for my actions. It was my fault. It was embarrassing for me, but it was nothing personal. It was nothing personal with Brian McCann, either."Carlos Gomez
Baker says, "That's the way Gomez has played his entire career. He does dumb things. I've seen him hit a homer, run about 10 feet, stop, then walk, then start to run again, like a crazy person that runs through the streets screaming at himself. It's a case of, 'Here he goes again.' But he was upset that they had hit him. I see his point. Both sides were right there."
And that is McCarthy's point. "That's where the unwritten rules work," he says. "That's what so great about it. We can argue all day. Which guy was right in that spot, Gomez or McCann?"
This April, Gomez was involved in a brawl between the Brewers and Pirates. He hit a deep drive to left center field and flipped his bat at home plate. Then, after realizing the ball would not leave the park, ran hard to first base, and wound up at third with a triple. Pirates pitcher Gerrit Cole, who was backing up third on the play, told Gomez that he shouldn't flip a bat unless "it's a f---ing home run." Gomez yelled back and both benches emptied, resulting in a fight and multiple suspensions, including a three-gamer for Gomez.
He didn't apologize this year, saying he did "nothing wrong." The Pirates' Travis Snider didn't apologize, either, for going after Gomez.
"I was just protecting a teammate [Cole]," said Snider, who was suspended three games. "That's what you do in that situation. I'd do it again."
Snider got a nasty shiner in the fight courtesy of a punch from the Brewers' Martin Maldonado, who was suspended for eight games for that punch.
But apparently, the unwritten rule about home runs might only apply in this country.
"In Japan,'' says McGehee, who played there last year, "it doesn't have to be a home run. When they hit a ball hard in the first inning, they flip a bat. Over there, they will flip a bat for anything."
Few likely took it to the extreme that Stan Williams did when he kept a hit list in his cap, but many pitchers through baseball's history have been happy to throw at a hitter who deserved it.
"Pedro [Martinez] was notorious for that," Jones says.
Reynolds says, "Oh, Randy [Johnson] would hit you."
And they are two of the greatest pitchers of their generation, if not of all time. When one of pitcher Rick Sutcliffe's teammates was intentionally hit by a pitch or was taken out on a cheap-shot slide at second base -- or was subject to any act that demanded retaliation -- Sutcliffe would walk down the bench and ask that teammate, "Who do you want me to get?"
And yet, it's not clear sometimes who exactly should be "got." Should it be the player who committed the dirty, disrespectful act? Should it be the other team's pitcher? And if it should be the pitcher in an American League game, with the DH, exactly how do you "get" him? Should you wait to hit the best player on the other team, tit for tat? Should you only drill the guy who "Cadillac-ed" it around the bases? But what if he's out of the game, or is not going to bat again in that game or that series? Should you send the message immediately and just hit the next guy in the batting order?
This much is clear: They don't make many like Sutcliffe or Pedro or Randy Johnson or Stan Williams anymore. The game has changed. There aren't as many mean pitchers today as there were 30 years ago.
In the mid-1990s, Art Howe, an old-school guy in many ways, managed the Astros. In one game, his team was getting pounded. Opposing hitters were diving across the plate and crushing balls to the opposite field. So Howe went to one of his young pitchers.
"I need you to get the next hitter off the plate," he said.
"I can't do that," the young pitcher said.
"I'm not asking you to hit him. Just get him off the plate," Howe said.
"I can't," the young pitcher said. "He and I have the same agent."
Still, even with the softening of today's pitchers, there are still plenty who can be bent on revenge.
"[The Reds' Alfredo] Simon will hit you," says Reynolds.
So will the Dodgers' Zack Greinke. Last year, he hit the Padres' Carlos Quentin with a pitch, starting a brawl that ended in a broken collarbone for Greinke.
"CC will drill you," says the Orioles' Adam Jones, referring to the Yankees' CC Sabathia. "We're still pissed at the Yankees for hitting [Nick] Markakis [breaking his wrist]. We still haven't gotten them back. That was in 2012. It's 2014.
"And we haven't forgotten."
Some of today's pitchers forgive, but they never forget.
"If they keep throwing inside to [teammate] Paul Goldschmidt, then I'm coming after you," McCarthy says. "It's like little carrier pigeons taking notes back and forth on who is going to get hit next. But the line is blurred there, also, when it comes to retaliation. Is it instant retaliation? Do you do it now, or do you do it later? I've been furious at guys, and it's happened twice. But when someone admires a home run, I'm not so mad at him as I am at myself for giving up a homer."
Wilson says, "You will get drilled. Even if it takes a year, you get drilled, and you will know why. You'll say, 'OK, that's for pimping it that day' -- unless you are really ignorant, or depending what sort of medication you're on."
Today's pitchers may be softer, but they throw harder.
"No one is throwing 88 mph anymore," Dunn says. "You can only get hit by 95 so many times before you have to take action. Guys are throwing a lot harder, and with a lot more accuracy."
Coke says, "A well-placed 90 mph fastball hurts like a son of a bitch."
A couple of Sundays ago in St. Louis, the Braves' Freddie Freeman hit a home run against Jaime Garcia in the first inning. In Freeman's next at-bat, in the fourth inning, Garcia hit him on the shoulder blade with a pitch. In the bottom of that inning, Braves starter Gavin Floyd plunked Garcia in turn.
"I went up to [Floyd], hugged him and said 'I love you,'" Freeman said after the game. "He said, 'I've always got your back.'"
"If you're paying attention, you know when someone is being thrown at," Davis says. "You are responsible for sending a message. I hope someone wouldn't have to tell a pitcher what he has to do. If you don't do it, you'll have a target on your back. You will be alienating teammates. It's not that you don't have the guts to do it; it's that you don't care."
Coke says, "It's unacceptable to not take care of business, no matter what the business is. If you're supposed to hit a guy in the ribs and you don't do it, then shame on me. I didn't do my job. I didn't protect my teammate. If you don't, you will never be right with the guys."
Reynolds says, "You lose respect in the clubhouse. I don't know a pitcher who wouldn't do that."
Wilson says, "One year in Tampa, one of their relievers hit Gary Matthews Jr. in the neck at about 96. It was intentional. I was pitching in relief. It was the fourth inning of a 12-5 game. I know I have to hit someone. I know it has to be Carl Crawford because he is the equal guy. One of our veterans got in my face and screamed at me -- not because he didn't think I was going to do it, he just wanted to make sure that I did.
"He said, 'You hit him in the ribs as hard as you can!' I said, 'Yes, sir.' First pitch slider; then the next pitch, I threw behind him. Crawford yelled at me. I yelled back, 'Did you not see that our guy got hit in the neck? Are you watching the game? You're lucky, I could have hit you in the face.'"
Thirty years ago, it was different. Forty, 50 years ago, someone might have gotten hit in the face.
"Times have changed. That was much more prevalent in the '80s," Baker says. "That was more of the wild, wild west back then. Maybe they were more serious about the game then. The pay wasn't nearly as high. They weren't as worried about losing money [over being suspended or hurt in a fight]. When George Brett slid hard into Graig Nettles at third base, that started a fist fight, and no one got thrown out. That doesn't happen anymore."
Coke says, "You don't see very often these days a pitcher say, 'I don't care. I hate you. I'm going to hit you.'"
Baker says, "In Bob Gibson's day, if you looked at him cross-eyed, he would hit you in the head. [In 1981] Pete Rose was going for another record [the NL record for hits]. He got a hit, was one hit away from the record, and Nolan Ryan told him he'd hit him in the face before he'd let him get another hit. So he struck him out the next three at-bats. Things have changed. It has been cemented with the amount of money invested in these players."
"If you're supposed to hit a guy in the ribs and you don't do it, then shame on me. I didn't do my job. I didn't protect my teammate. If you don't, you will never be right with the guys."Phil Coke
Says Gomes, "So many rules and regulations have prevented the players from policing our game. Now, a young guy hits a home run, he cruises around the bases, and then you hit him with a pitch to teach him a lesson and you get suspended six games. Is it worth it to make a point? No. The rules have been altered. You have a better opportunity to go out in the parking lot and fight a guy after a game than throwing at him. If you fight in the parking lot, you might not get suspended. But if you hit a guy, you are going to get suspended."
Parking lot? Pirates catcher Russell Martin is considering something much bigger and more public. Soon after the brawl with the Brewers this year, he challenged -- somewhat playfully -- Maldonado to a fight in the offseason.
"We could do it for charity, him against me," Martin said with a half-smile. "He got away with one."
And that rarely happens in baseball.
Wilson laughs and says, "The ultimate irony is that Joe Torre and Frank Robinson are legislating these things. They played against Drysdale and Gibson and Ryan. And now they're telling me that I can't make a guy's feet move. They're taking that tool away. There are guys who are diving out over the plate. If I can't take the inside part of the plate, I will lose my job."
McCarthy shakes his head with regret.
"I don't know if it's a good thing. I don't know if it's a bad thing," he says. "We romanticize so much about the past in baseball that we get into patterns about how things are supposed to be done. It is so important to keep the traditions. But the game is getting so boring to the fans. We need to keep working to change the game. And this [taking away the policing of the game by the players] is taking away from that.
"I miss the nasty-ass pitchers who would throw at you for just digging in, or taking a big swing. There's not as much personality in the game today. The viewer has a hard time differentiating between the players, one from another. We have become so homogenized today. There should be villains in baseball. You should see a guy on TV and say, 'I really hate that guy.'"
In the second game of the 1984 season, the Indians, who had great speed and little else offensively, stole eight bases against the Rangers. And the Indians kept on running in the final two innings of the game, even with a four-run lead. Cleveland manager Pat Corrales responded to critics, saying, "Look, when they stop hitting home runs, we'll stop running."
It is an unwritten rule: At some point, usually when the other team's first baseman is no longer holding a runner on base, it's time to stop stealing bases.
"You get a feel for how things are going in a game," Reynolds says. "You know what's going on in the heads of the other team."
That "feel" apparently wasn't being felt last weekend in St. Petersburg. With the Rays leading Boston 8-3, Yunel Escobar doubled, and then took third on defensive indifference -- a move that engendered a shouting match between players from the Red Sox dugout and Escobar. Gomes ran in from left field and shoved Escobar as both benches emptied. Eventually, Gomes, Escobar and the Rays' Sean Rodriguez were ejected.
"[Escobar] stole third base, five runs ahead, with two outs in in the seventh inning," Gomes says. "OK. I wouldn't do that, but I don 't care. But then he started screaming at our dugout, then he walked at our dugout, then he challenged our dugout. You don't do that. That's when I had a problem. I never said a word, from beginning to end. I just ran in and turned him around."
So, by how many runs must you be ahead, and how late in the game must you be, before you stop stealing?
"The unwritten rule is this: It is 'runs ahead' against how many outs you have left," Baker says. "If you are eight runs ahead, and there are seven outs to go, you don't steal. If you are five runs ahead with two outs left, you don't steal. But at Coors Field, a five-run lead is more like a two-run lead. In Philadelphia, a seven-run lead is a three-run lead. There has to be an adjustment for ballparks."
Gomes agrees, saying "Hey, Game 5 of the  LCS at Fenway, we [the Rays, Gomes' team at the time] are up 7-0 in the seventh inning, and we lost the game."
Tampa Bay's Joe Maddon managed that game.
"I'm not big on unwritten rules," he says. "When you're beating us by 12 runs, that's not your fault. It's our fault. If you can add on two runs when you are up 12, you should. I never felt anyone was piling on. We have not played well enough. Period. Just play, baby, because at the end of the day, they didn't embarrass us. We embarrassed ourselves. It's all fluid. Some of these unwritten rules have existed since the dead ball era when it took 10 singles to score four runs. They were rooted in an entirely different game.
"It all depends on the venue now; but to call off the jam when you are up six runs in the eighth inning, in Fenway, with Manny [Ramirez] and David Ortiz coming to the plate, that is wrong. Why stop scoring?
"But when they are playing behind you, and you steal, well, that's not kosher."
And what happens if you steal when you're ahead 10-0?
"Somebody is going to get drilled. It should be you, and you will deserve it," Jones says. "But you don't have to be afraid of getting it. I've been hit on purpose lots of times. It's going to happen. As long as it is not in the head or face, you're OK. There are lots of places to hit a guy: ass, elbow, back. With padding and armor, it doesn't hurt as much. But you have to send the message."
"Stealing when you're seven runs ahead in the ninth inning, you should get one right in the neck. It's stupid. It's selfish."Adam Dunn
Says Dunn, "Stealing when you're seven runs ahead in the ninth inning, you should get one right in the neck. It's stupid. It's selfish. I'm not mad at the pitcher. I am mad at you!"
Says Davis, "If you do, you will wear one the next at-bat, next game, next year. Or all three."
Says Wilson, "You don't have to steal third base when you're up 10 runs. There are lots of other ways to score. That's just a stupid chance. When you do that, you are doing something for yourself. When someone does that, the pitcher will glare at the runner. You might not get a chance to get back at them right then; you just file it away. There will be retribution."
Hunter agrees, saying "If one of our young guys did that, I would explain it was wrong. If he does it again, that would be like puking on the floor, then licking it up. It's your fault."
Yet some base stealers, some non-base stealers and even some pitchers object to not being allowed to run, no matter the score.
"Ichiro [Suzuki] used to steal third base with two outs when he was up by five runs, even when he didn't need another bag," Jones says. "And he wouldn't get drilled, except by Texas."
"I'm scarred. I was with the Devil Rays," Gomes says. "We got behind 7-0 pretty quick all the time. At arbitration time, you'd say, 'I'd have had 20 more bags if we weren't in last place.' To me, if you are holding me on, I have the right to run."
At least one pitcher agrees.
"I don't care if the score is 24-0 -- if you want to steal a base, go ahead," McCarthy says. "Same in football. If it's 75-0, I say throw a bomb. I don't care. Look, we all make a hell of a lot of money to get outs and to get hits. To suddenly stop trying to do those things because you are way ahead, to just stop playing after seven innings and coast to the finish line, I don't understand that logic. There are miracle comebacks in baseball. And if Billy Hamilton's team is up 25-0, he should say, 'I'm going to steal that base.' He might set the record with that one.
"I'm a big believer that it should be a nine-inning streak to the finish, every night. You bust your ass and do your best, the whole game."
On May 26, 2001, the Padres' Ben Davis, a slow-running catcher, dropped a bunt single in the eighth inning against Arizona that ruined Curt Schilling's bid for a perfect game. The score was 2-0 at the time, but that bunt single set off a firestorm.
Bob Brenly, the Diamondbacks' manager at the time, called the Davis bunt "a chickens--- play."
"I remember that. It was awesome! I was 15 years old," Jones says. "But you can't do that."
When -- if ever -- is it acceptable to bunt during a no-hitter?
Most agree that it's OK to do so early in the game. And most agree that if the game is close late, it's acceptable for a fast guy, a bona fide bunter, to lay one down in an effort to get on base.
On July 31, 2011, the Angels' speedy Erick Aybar bunted on Justin Verlander in the eighth inning of a no-hitter with the score 3-0. Verlander fielded the bunt and threw it wildly to first. The play was scored an error, but Verlander yelled at Aybar from the dugout for bunting so late in the game.
Verlander eventually lost the no-hitter, but a great debate raged in the wake of the game about Aybar's at-bat.
What about bunting in the eighth inning of a no-hitter when the score is 8-0?
"That is treason," Hunter says.
"The unwritten rule is this: If you are just trying to break up a no-hitter, you shouldn't bunt, especially if you are someone that never bunts," Baker says. "If you are bunting to try to win the game, you should bunt. The circumstances are a big thing. If you bunt for a hit in a no-hitter when the score is 9-0, that's weak. I think 100 percent of the players would agree with that. That is not just going to get you knocked down; that is going to get you hit."
Gomes says, "If someone else did that, I would judge his character. I wouldn't fight him. I wouldn't hit him. I would look at his character. And character is really important in this game."
"If a non-bunter broke up my no-hitter with a bunt single in the eighth inning of an 8-0 game, I would attach the F-word to the front of his name for the rest of his career. I would refer to him for the rest of his career as F------ John Smith."Brandon McCarthy
Wilson says, "My second year in the league, someone bunted on me when we were down 8-1. I looked at him, like 'Really?' There wasn't a no-hitter going, and that guy lost his dignity."
Bunt in a no-hitter?
"That would never cross my mind," Reynolds says. "Never."
Dunn says, "It's selfish. I would never do that even if I was a bunter. He should be hit for that."
But what if, say, the third baseman is playing way back against a power hitter?
"There's a reason I'm playing 10 feet behind third -- because it's not within your skill set to do that, not even when the score is 2-0," Dobbs says. "So why do it when it's 8-0 in a no-hitter?"
Maddon says, "I understand the machismo that you have to earn that first hit. But I would probably encourage our guys not to bunt. If my guy had one going late with a big lead, I would take the bunt away. I would play the third baseman in. And if they did break it up with a bunt, I'd smirk or smile. I would not hit anyone. I would not say anything about it."
But McCarthy might.
"I wouldn't have a problem with it. But if a non-bunter broke up my no-hitter with a bunt single in the eighth inning of an 8-0 game, I would attach the F-word to the front of his name for the rest of his career," he says. "I would refer to him for the rest of his career as F---ing John Smith."
As a skinny rookie, Harold Reynolds took a big swing against veteran Nolan Ryan.
"I swung and missed," Reynolds says. "I didn't even hit it."
The next pitch, Reynolds got one under his chin. The count on the pitch at which he'd swung wasn't even 3-0, and he still got dusted.
So, if a hitter swings at a 3-0 pitch when his team is ahead 10-0?
"He is going to get killed tomorrow," Hunter says.
Not many guys are swinging 3-0 in blowouts these days. At some point, when the game appears to be over, players stop trying to swing as hard as they can at a 3-0 pitch -- much like, in the final seconds of an already-decided basketball game, players dribble out the clock rather than go for another dunk.
"It's acceptable to swing at a 3-0 pitch in a 0-0 game in the fourth inning, or the ninth, but you don't swing on a 3-0 pitch when it's 14-0," Baker says. "The easy way to determine the unwritten rule is this: If they're not holding runners on base anymore, you don't swing 3-0."
And if you do?
"Only Miggy can do that. He loves the game. He sees the ball, hits the ball. He's a big old donkey who just loves to swing the bat."Phil Coke
"That happened to me in the minor leagues, and I got drilled for it," McGehee says. "The guy before me did that, swung at 3-0 way ahead, and I got smoked. I went to him and said, 'Hey, if you do that again, you idiot, I will hit you. You did something stupid, and I'm paying for it.'"
Davis says, "If you swing 3-0 when you're up 10 -- if you do something stupid -- in our clubhouse, you're going to hear it from everyone. You're going to hear it for a long time. You have to be accountable. I expect retaliation. It's not showing who is boss. This is about respect. If you do that, I'm going to take you under the stands and throw a ball at you."
Wilson, a pitcher, says, "When someone swings at a 3-0 up eight runs in the eighth inning, I get really competitive then. Then I really, really, really, really want to strike him out."
Coke laughs and says, "Only Miggy [teammate Miguel Cabrera] can do that [swing 3-0 whenever he likes]. He loves the game. He sees the ball, hits the ball. He's a big old donkey who just loves to swing the bat."
And yet, there is another side to this question.
"Hey, in a blowout game, you're still seeing off-speed pitches on 3-2," Gomes says. "There are no gimmes in this game. As a hitter, you want to take strikes away from me? You want to take RBIs away from me? We're way ahead, so I am getting punished for that?"
McCarthy says, "If a reliever comes into a blowout game and throws a breaking ball on 0-2, and they scream at him from the dugout to throw fastballs ... Why? What, do you want me to go to Triple-A right now? No one should stop playing and start cruising after seven innings."
ORIOLES MANAGER BUCK Showalter says the unwritten rules of the game "are being passed along by old farts like me. A lot of our young guys in the game have no idea what they mean."
The unwritten rules have been quietly and privately administered for over 100 years, but they are ambiguous. There are so many gray areas, and the game has changed. So, is it time to clarify them? Is it time to get rid of some of them? Most of them? All of them?
Or do they remain essential to the game? Is the game today too public to try to exact revenge in private?
"Now, everything is a humongous deal," Baker says. "There is so much more coverage now. There's 'Baseball Tonight.' The game is much more transparent now on how players act."
But, McCarthy says, it's because the game is more transparent that it's OK for players to become more transparent, too -- to be more personalized, to add a little more flavor to the game. He mentions Arizona teammate Gerardo Parra, who had 17 outfield assists last season, and is as skilled as anyone at throwing out runners. Sometimes, when Parra guns a guy out at the plate, he will walk back to his position and subtly wag his left index finger as if to say, Don't run on me, much like Dikembe Mutombo used to wag his finger after blocking a shot (and is still wagging his finger in a current Geico commercial).
"When Gerardo wags his finger, that is my favorite thing in the game," McCarthy says. "It's his way of saying, 'I did everything right on that play. That was a perfect play.' I love it!"
In the contradictory nature of the unwritten rules of baseball, not everyone agrees. But that's what makes the unwritten rules so interesting. How demonstrative should a player be after making a great throw? How slow is too slow to trot around the bases? When should a pitcher retaliate against a hitter, and how? What should the score be when you stop trying to steal a base, or stop swinging on a 3-0 count? When can you bunt in a no-hitter?
Even well after more than 100 years of baseball, there are no definitive answers to these questions; and there likely won't be over the next 100 years, either. But Dunn, a 13-year veteran, has had enough with the ambiguity of the unwritten rules, which he says are dead and gone. He says it is time for change.
And he has a solution.
"To me," Dunn says, "it should be mandatory: You can drill one guy per game, and you can have one charge of the mound per game. Fair is fair."
2hInterview by Buster Olney