Cubs-Nationals Brawl: Why Silly Unwritten Rules Stoked Scuffle

Ian CasselberryMLB Lead WriterSeptember 7, 2012

Jamie Quirk and Bo Porter argue over unwritten rules.
Jamie Quirk and Bo Porter argue over unwritten rules.Greg Fiume/Getty Images

Obviously, the Washington Nationals and manager Davey Johnson forgot to post the latest edition of baseball's unwritten rules in their dugout.

At the very least, the Nats apparently didn't have the version of unwritten rules that Chicago Cubs bench coach Jamie Quirk was consulting during the fifth inning of their game with the Nats on Thursday night (Sept. 6). 

As reported by's Dan Kolko, Quirk got mad when the Nationals' Jayson Werth swung at a pitch with the count at three balls and no strikes while the bases were loaded. The Nats already had a 7-2 lead by that point, and they apparently weren't allowed to score any more with a five-run margin. 

Quirk began barking at Nationals third base coach Bo Porter, who then walked over to the top step of the Cubs dugout with a presumably reasoned, finger-pointing response. That caused both benches and bullpens to clear out and gather in front of the Cubs dugout. 

Watch video of the fracas here.

Quirk was being absolutely absurd, of course. Where exactly is it written that a team should stop playing baseball when it holds a five-run lead halfway through a ballgame? Oh, that's right—the rule isn't written anywhere. It's an unwritten rule that's apparently circled in Quirk's imaginary rulebook.

Ask the Baltimore Orioles if they should have stopped trying to score runs after taking a 6-1 lead over the New York Yankees on Thursday. That was during the sixth inning, so in Quirk's world view, the O's should have eased up on the throttle and stopped playing baseball.

Never mind that the Yankees scored five runs in the eighth inning to tie the score at 6-6. Etiquette is what's important here. Baltimore was simply being polite by letting the Yankees back into the game to make it competitive. Jolly good sportsmanship, we say!

But maybe Johnson picked up the wrong unwritten rulebook at some point before this season. This isn't the first time his team had a dispute with an opponent over violating some sacred ethereal decree from the baseball gods. 

If you'll recall, Johnson steamed the glasses of Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon back in June when he asked umpires to check Joel Peralta's glove for pine tar. That prompted Maddon to call Johnson a five-letter word that's typically associated with a feline. 

Johnson did take a break from managing for 11 years between 2000 and 2011, though. His unwritten rulebook probably became outdated during that 11-year span. I'm sure those things are updated at least once every five years. 

"Their bench coach was yelling all kinds of things, 'Swinging 3-0, blah, blah, blah, blah,' really loud," Johnson said to reporters after the game, "and it was totally uncalled for.

"Here we are in the fifth inning, we're in a pennant race. We're going to swing 3-0, we're going to do everything. We ain't stopping trying to score runs. Certainly a five-run lead at that time is nothing. I think it was the bench coach's frustration in us handing it to them for a couple days. If they want to quit competing and forfeit, then fine. But we're going to keep competing."

Exactly. The Nationals are trying to win the NL East division. They currently hold a 7.5-game lead over the Atlanta Braves, but if last season taught us anything, it's that no lead is really big enough to assure a playoff spot in September. (Well, maybe a 10-game lead would be suitable.) 

Is that 7.5-game lead so big that the Nationals should ease up and stop rubbing the Braves' faces in it? Has anyone asked Quirk about that? Maybe the Nats have to let the Braves back in the race for the sake of sportsmanship. Is that why the Braves and Red Sox blew their huge wild-card leads last year, by the way? Were they just being fair to the competition?

Johnson and the Nats are right in pointing out that Quirk's indignation had nothing to do with violating some unseen declaration that a baseball team shalt not dare swingeth at a pitch with a 3-0 count and a five-run lead in the fifth inning.

Quirk—and perhaps everyone else in the Cubs dugout—was miffed over getting crushed for the third straight game and facing a four-game sweep. He was tired of the Nats wiping the field with his team. Any competitor would be.

But nobody likes a sore loser. If the Cubs weren't slogging through the rest of a miserable season, no one in that dugout likely would have made an issue of this. There would be far bigger fish to fry—like winning ballgames and keeping pace in a playoff race. Instead, Quirk is spending his nights at the ballpark fretting over unwritten rules. 

Meanwhile, Johnson and the Nats will apparently continue to keep playing without being aware of these old-timey directives and try to qualify for the postseason despite their ignorance. But in the interests of spotsmanship, maybe the Nats should hold a team meeting about this stuff—just to make sure they don't ruffle any more feathers in pursuit of a World Series championship. 


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