Pro athletes take unwritten rules a little too far
We’ve been hearing a lot lately about unwritten rules in sports. Apparently pro athletes have an unspoken code of conduct — who knew? I thought John Rocker was acting that way just for the fun of it.
But no, it’s all by design.
For example, there’s no bunting allowed when the opposing pitcher is working on a no-hitter in the later innings. And how about the exhibition game this past weekend between the San Francisco 49ers and the Washington Redskins? Steve Spurrier, thinking he needed to accumulate BCS points, left his starters in until late in the fourth quarter, by which time the 49ers were so far down their roster some of their players weren’t even wearing helmets.
Here are some unwritten rules in baseball: No swinging at a 3-0 pitch when your team is ahead by six or more runs. And no sliding into second base with your cleats up.
Umpires also have unwritten rules; ever see a double play in which the infielder actually touches second base while he has the ball in his glove?
There are unwritten rules in basketball (take out your starters if it’s a blowout), hockey (always help your opponent locate his missing teeth) and ice skating (always bring enough cash to pay off the French judges, it’s impolite to go to the ATM during a routine).
The unwritten rules are everywhere; they even have them in Scottish Country Dancing, as you no doubt are aware. One of these unwritten rules is that you never attempt a swooping reel if there are more than five couples on the floor. I know, this falls more under the category of plain common sense. But you get my point.
Unwritten rules are in place for a simple reason: Big-time athletes don’t want to be embarrassed in front of a lot of people. So if you hit a home run off me, fine, but you’d better run around the bases in an orderly fashion, quickly, with no hand gestures, and wipe that grin off your face. Otherwise, I’ll hit you with a pitch when our teams face each other again next season (or in three seasons if it’s interleague play).
In baseball, revenge is best served with a day planner.
The unwritten rulebook is woefully incomplete, however.
For example, why is it unmanly to bunt during a no-hitter, but it’s OK to walk a guy intentionally? It seems that the latter would be more practical to the paying fan.
Also, shouldn’t there be an unwritten rule against American League pitchers hitting anyone? It doesn’t take a lot of courage to plunk a guy when you know they’ll be no retaliation unless you’re traded to the other league. And what about baseball fights? They’re so fake anyway — shouldn’t they be totally scripted, like pro wrestling?
I did a lot of thinking about baseball’s unwritten rules as I was watching the Little League All-Star Western Regionals in San Bernardino. The team from Aptos was playing the team from Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and I couldn’t get over the fact that something was missing.
There were the same inept umpires as in the pros, and the same fools in the stands, whooping and blowing on giant noisemakers. Then, it hit me, there were no unwritten rules.
Egos are not involved in Little League, so there’s is no need for unwritten rules. Kids play baseball with their hearts on their sleeves, and vanity is for the most part checked at the gate. So if a pitcher has a no-hitter going in the later innings, you know it’s going to be a bunt-fest. And it was. And that’s OK, because kids expect that. It’s the law of the playground: no quarter given.
And in Little League, when the game is over, all is forgotten. That’s what happens when you play baseball for fun, and not like another boring day at the office. Kids understand that rules are made to be broken — that’s the only way things get done — plus, it ticks off your parents.
Remember, there was once an unwritten rule about blacks playing in the major leagues. So here’s to athletes such as Jackie Robinson, and John McEnroe, Casey Martin, Muhammad Ali and yes, Anna Kournikova. It is my unwritten rule that she is allowed to be in every tennis tournament, everywhere, even if she never wins another set.
Now that’s a rule we can live with.
— Rick Chandler’s interactive sports column, Capacity Crowd, can be found at
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