Nothing seems to get baseball fans more worked up than the unwritten rules of baseball. These can be quite confusing, especially for casual fans of the game, as you can obviously not find them in any official rulebook. Flip your bat after a homer in Korea, and no one bats an eye, but if you do the same thing in the Major Leagues, you will probably find a fastball coming at you in your next at-bat. Why? The unwritten rules.
If the unwritten rules seem strange, think of them as the game’s way of defining the professionalism, etiquette, and safety most players are looking for. The problem stems from the fact that those definitions are quite vague, and they vary from league to league.
Issues such as fake tags, sliding to injure, and unnecessary tags, when a throw will do, tend to be related to maintaining player safety. While bat flips, stare-downs, and taking your time running the bases on a home-run are all seen as unprofessional. Not surprising from a league where the “act like you’ve done it before” mentality runs strong. But what happens when these unwritten rules are brought over to other countries, with their own unwritten rules?
This issue was brought to light recently in Korea when Doosan Bears pitcher Dustin Nippert was clearly upset at Samsung Lions outfielder Park Hae Min for stealing second in the bottom of the 3rd, while the Lions were down 14-1. You might expect the Lions to be annoyed if the Bears kept stealing, but it’s only the 3rd inning and you can’t blame Samsung for trying to get back into it, right?
However, Nippert took offense. Why? Who knows? Maybe he knew the Lions have no post-season hopes and he felt the steal risked injury to the Bears, or maybe he was just annoyed. While this was a very unusual incident of the unwritten rules being violated, some are understandable.
Anyone who has played baseball competitively, even at an amateur level, will find that tempers flare and injuries can happen in an instant. So, perhaps there is some validity in the unwritten rules. Play the game with dignity and grace, whether winning or losing, and don’t take unnecessary risks. This could allow everyone to enjoy the game and be safe. Sadly, the world is never that simple.
Critics of the unwritten rules are quick to point out that the retaliation is often worse, and more dangerous, than the infraction. Players who violate the unwritten rules often end up in fights or having pitchers throw at them. This can, and sometimes does lead to injury. Thus eliminating the purpose of the unwritten rules in the first place.
So, what is to be done? Will baseball get rid of their love of unwritten rules? Probably not anytime soon. The sport is built upon tradition, and traditions are slow to change. The biggest issue remains foreign players coming to Korea and Koreans going to the Majors. Bat flips are common in Korea and some Koreans probably don’t know the more subtle unwritten rules in the US (Kang Jang Ho’s fake tag comes to mind).
Hopefully, these issues will become fewer and fewer, but in the meantime, enjoy the drama, debates, and bench-clearings!