There is much confusion over the so-called unwritten rules of baseball, and sorting out what is and isn’t a rule is a difficult process. We interviewed a handful of players to help sort it out. Here are some of the most common unwritten rules (with a huge assist from former big-league third baseman Morgan Ensberg):
The reasoning: This is a big no-no, primarily because of the risk of injury. It is OK, however, to retaliate if this happens to you.
The problem: It is difficult to know if a pitcher is throwing at a batter on purpose.
“All position players would tend to believe they’re getting thrown at. I don’t think the majority of the time you are. You definitely know if you get a ball on the far shoulder of your back. But if a guy is simply coming inside, it’s too arbitrary to really know.”
— Former third baseman Morgan Ensberg
“You can tell. There’s conviction behind it.”
— Catcher Rob Johnson, who played 61 games for the Seattle Mariners this season
“Sometimes (you know). It depends on the situation, it depends on the game. There are a lot of things that factor in, but that’s also part of baseball.”
— Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun
The reasoning: Stealing a base when you are leading by a large margin is seen as “rubbing it in.” Stealing a base when trailing by a large margin is seen as a disrespectful way of padding your stats.
The problem: Players often disagree on what exactly constitutes a blowout.
“I did it one time in Triple-A and it wasn’t the smartest thing. We were up 13-4 in the seventh inning and I took off stealing. Our manager started screaming at me, saying I was showing them up. You want to beat people, but you don’t want to beat them in a way that is shoving it in their face. … that’s just not classy.”
The reasoning: Everyone tries to steal signs, and everyone knows it. It’s all about gaining an edge, and catchers know it is their job to shield their signals from prying eyes, and to change up the signs to make them difficult to decipher.
The problem: There are limits as to what is acceptable. Using TV cameras is unacceptable, as is trying to view the signals with binoculars in the bullpen, as a Phillies coach was caught attempting this season. It is also unacceptable for the batter to look back and sneak a peek at the catcher’s signals.
“If you have a guy on second base, and you (the catcher) are using easy signs to pick up from second, that’s acceptable. If the catcher is setting up way too early, that’s acceptable. You have to practice these things and you have to make it as hard as possible for the opposing team to pick up signs.”
— Atlanta Braves catcher Brian McCann
What about using binoculars from the bullpen?
And if a batter looks back …
The reasoning: If a pitcher is throwing a no-hitter, you owe it to him to earn a hit, and not get a cheap one by bunting.
The problem: Sometimes the need to get runners on base and win the game usurps the pitcher’s attempt at making history. Thoughts on this issue vary within baseball.
The reasoning: If you draw undo attention to yourself when you hit a home run, it’s viewed as showing up the pitcher, who is already embarrassed enough at having surrendered the home run.
The problem: Because baseball is such a difficult game, it's not easy to supress the urge to savor the moment when you accomplish something big like hit a home run, especially if it comes during a key time in the game. Some believe that more accomplished players should be given a little leeway on this rule.
“Every single person who walks (when he hits a home run) is wrong. Walking after you hit a home run is disrespectful. You’re a professional athlete, you can’t just trot? I’m embarrassed by that.”
The reasoning: If a player does well against you, such as hitting a home run, it’s your fault, not his. You need to be a better pitcher.
The problem: If a pitcher perceives that the hitter showed him up after hitting that home run, he might feel inclined to let him know that’s not acceptable.
“You’re not allowed to hit a guy just because he owns you. That’s so lame. (Albert) Pujols didn’t do anything wrong, it’s not his fault that he’s hitting .900 off you. You have to get better. If I’m 0-for-20 against a guy, does that mean I can step out of the box and throw my bat at him?”
The reasoning: Like with the previous rule, a classy player should not embarrass his opponent by drawing attention to himself.
The problem: Whether or not you are showing up another player is often in the eye of the beholder.
“There is a certain way to play the game with respect. I believe that if you’re putting the focus on yourself and it’s taking away from the play on the field, then you’ve gone too far. If your actions make the crowd or players look at you instead of the play, in my opinion it’s too far.”