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The value of the unwritten rules of sports

photo: pixabay.com

Unwritten rules may not be found in an official rule book, but for many, they are just as important as the written rules that govern a game.

Last week, while listening to the latest episode of the That Baseball Show podcast, the hosts briefly brought up the unwritten rule in baseball of 'not bunting to breakup a no-hitter'. This made me wonder how the greater Twitter universe felt about this.

That's right. It was poll time.

It's safe to say the turnout was low, but the results were as follows:
Those who voted were pretty split. And with any Twitter poll, there is a lot not said within the parameters of the poll that can come into play. Is it the fifth inning? Seventh? How many runs is your team behind? Is the game tied at zero in the late innings?

My thoughts? You don't do it, especially late in the game, unless the deficit is under three runs. In this day and age, though, who really bunts anyway? Isn't it all about a home run, a strikeout, or nothing?

Poll number two posed this: Is it okay for you to steal a base if your team is leading by five or more runs after seventh inning?
Apparently no one who voted in this poll cares about unwritten rules. All of you, in fact, would have kindly been drilled in the back the next game for stealing base late in the game with that type of lead. There are pitchers out there who believe in the integrity of the game, following old school unwritten rules and would not have taken kindly to this. Shame on you. Shame.

Unwritten rules are part of not only sports, but a majority of games as well. Money to the 'Free Parking' spot in Monopoly? Not a rule. And even as a man who is definitely old-school at heart, there are certain unwritten rules that deserve to fall to the wayside.

Old School vs New School

Over the years, the unwritten rules of a sport--especially in baseball--have been a hot topic among players, coaches, commentators, and fans. Much of it has revolved around the retaliation pitch.

The pitch stems from a variety of things. It can range from a rough slide into a second base to admiring a home run for too long. The former might trigger the need for a retaliation pitch. The latter--while deemed an act of showing up the pitcher--should not be.

I'm under the belief a player should have the right to celebrate a home run in a big moment. Jose Bautista a few years ago in the playoffs? Yes. Admire that shot. Bryce Harper doing it in April? No. Put your head down and run.

I also understand, though, that baseball has a reputation for being a conservative sport in the regards of celebrations and such. A player should be allowed to put a little flair and fun into their home runs. Let him celebrate a bit, admire his long shot, and enjoy the moment. As long as he's not deliberately staring at the pitcher and taking five minutes to run the bases, let it go. Move on to the next batter and get back to business.

That being said, a pitcher should be allowed to show emotion as well. Do I expect Chris Sale to celebrate exuberantly every time he strikes someone out? No. One, he would get pretty tired from expounding all that energy in a game. And two, it's his job.

Now, a closer or reliever in a big moment? Celebrate that strikeout, but keep celebrations to a minimum, especially if it's only the first out.

Veering further into unwritten rules of baseball we arrive at sign stealing. I'm not talking about sitting in center field with binoculars. I'm talking about a player being a second base and trying to pick up on the signs a catcher is putting down.

Two managers--Andy Green of the San Diego Padres and Dave Roberts of the Los Angeles Dodgers--recently had words regarding this very thing. Each was defending their respective players who verbally sparred over this fact.

My thoughts? If the catcher has a system in which a player on second can pick out the signs, the catcher should try harder. To me, attempting to pick out the correct signs of the opposing team is all part of the strategic part of the game.

Heeding the unwritten rules of Rick Reilly

Rick Reilly's 'Point After' column on the back page of Sports Illustrated that ran from my teen years until well-into my 20's was always a favorite of mine. In fact, many of these columns touched the heart or were written for comedic value. I saved many of these over the years, ripping them out of the magazine to read and enjoy for future use.

Putting It in Writing was one of these articles.

Let's be clear: Former Sports Illustrated writer Reilly did not invent these rules. In 1995, though, he put these rules in writing. And I ripped this page from that issue and have kept it at the front of a binder to this very day.

They are rules ingrained in people who play and watch sports. They may very from region to region, but these are rules many have unknowingly followed for ages. From pick-up games on the court to professional events, these rules are part of the history of sports.

Over the next few weeks, I will continue to pose poll questions on Twitter regarding these unwritten rules. A few might be from Reilly's article, while others are ones I've picked up or learned over the years. Many might be universal while others might be more obscure. Whatever the case, the results will be used as part of a very scientific study I'm conducting to see if unwritten rules should really disappear from sports forever. The results will be revisited and discussed in approximately a month on this very blog. 

If you're interested (and don't follow me already) go ahead and give me a follow on Twitter. You can find me here: @jasonrh_78 (Or simply click on the tweets above). Vote. Retweet. Leave thoughts if you have any. And don't be afraid of the brushback pitch.

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