MLB's Top 5 Unwritten Rules and When It's OK To Break Them
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Because it’s time that the most important baseball rules—the ones that are enforced without having been printed—were (not so) seriously discussed.
1. A Batter Should Never Bunt During a No-Hitter
“To bunt, or not to bunt, that is the question.” With apologies to William Shakespeare, the conundrum surrounding bunting during a no-hitter has long been the most difficult question faced by minor and major leaguers alike.
I’d like to think that the "Bard of Avon" would agree with me...but he never played baseball.
Any pitcher will tell you that a batter who attempts to break up a no-hitter with a bunt should be subjected to all kinds of cruel and unusual punishment, regardless of whether the play results in a hit (ask Justin Verlander).
However, when this unwritten rule is broken, the situation in which the infraction occurred should be taken into account. In short, there are times when a bunt is acceptable.
Is the game well out of reach for the batter’s team? Does the batter normally try bunting for base hits? Did the batter formally announce his intention to break up the no-hitter before stepping into the batter’s box? All of these situations should be considered before passing judgment.
If the game is close (a few runs), and the batter normally employs the bunt as part of his offensive arsenal, bunting during a no-hitter shouldn’t be regarded as something on par with stealing from the church collection plate.
The batter is only trying to help his team win; just because a hit hasn’t been recorded doesn’t mean that he should be prevented from playing the game a certain way.
(Memo to pitchers: If you don’t like the fact that he just bunted on you, field the ball and throw him out.)
2. A Batter Should Never Upstage a Pitcher After Hitting a Home Run
We’ve all seen it on the highlights after the game: The batter crushes a tape-measure home run (or hits one out of the park in a big spot during the game), then takes a few extra seconds to admire his handiwork. Maybe he glares out at the pitcher or flips his bat prior to starting a slow trot.
By the time the batter touches home plate (where he possibly engages in more grandstanding), the pitcher has already mapped out his revenge. He knows where, when and with what pitch he’ll exact his retribution.
Undoubtedly, it will be a fastball with a little more juice behind it.
Pitchers obviously don’t like giving up home runs, and when a batter showboats after hitting one, it’s perceived as an assault on the pitcher’s manhood.
This concept of “showing up” the pitcher has become more prevalent in this era of SportsCenter highlights and the "look at me now" style of today’s game. Back in the days of grainy, black-and-white game footage, batters would simply put their heads down and run the bases after hitting their home runs. Perhaps that’s why this unwritten rule is so important today.
Unless, of course, the pitcher had done something to draw the ire of the batter (e.g. intentionally hitting him with a pitch in a previous at-bat). In those cases, I’ll give the batter a pass, if he shows his satisfaction more aggressively.
3. After an Intentional Hit-by-Pitch, the Batter’s Team Must Retaliate Against an Opposing Batter
This rule also has its roots in the early days of the game. From the moment Abner Doubleday set the bases 90 feet apart, baseball players have been policing themselves with the fastball.
If the hit batsman is seen as an intentional act, retaliation from the pitcher on the victim's team is immediately authorized, whether it’s explicitly stated by the manager or implied by the words and actions of his teammates.
The retaliation is usually nothing more than a fastball placed squarely between the numbers of a player of comparable skill on the opposing team.
Case open, case closed.
The art of retaliation is so ingrained in the minds of players and fans, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where it would be acceptable for a pitcher not to follow this unwritten rule.
That is, except if you’ve been warned by the umpire that intentionally hitting a batter will result in ejection. Even if that’s the case, some pitchers will throw at batters anyway.
As they say, boys will be boys.
4. Never Mention a No-Hitter While It’s in Progress
Saying the words “no-hitter” will always get a sharp glance from the people who hear you.
They either want to know who just pitched one, or they’re wondering why the %#@& you just mentioned it WHILE THE GAME IS STILL GOING ON!?
If you’re a player on the same team as the guy pitching a no-hitter, under no circumstances can you break this unwritten rule and make mention of how your pitcher hasn’t given up a hit yet.
Players often go to extremes in this regard, sitting as far from the pitcher as possible and refusing to talk to him between innings.
If you’re a member of the media, however, you can break this rule all the time (usually starting after the fifth inning of a no-hitter). If you follow @MLB on Twitter, you’ll even see in-game updates when a pitcher is threatening perfection.
When it comes to the players, this unwritten rule is truly unbreakable. Whether it’s because of tradition or superstition, players always honor this rule. For the media, it’s something to scoff at.
5. After Getting Hit by a Pitch, Never Rub the Mark
If you’re a baseball player…well, there’s really no way you can break this one. You’re a man, aren’t you?
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