Does the “Code” need a revision?



A few days ago, Cleveland Indian catcher Victor Martinez took exception to the Tampa Bay Rays base theft B J Upton stealing third base with his team up 9-0 at the time. He sighted that it was against the “Unwritten Rules of Baseball” to condone or attempt such an action. After the Sunday afternoon game against the same two squads Rays Manager Joe Maddon thought the “Unwritten Rules” needed to be revised since the game is faster and more powerful then the older version. We sometimes forget that baseball is a game built on the traditions and aspects set forth over 150 years ago.

Everyone has heard about the “Code” or “Unwritten Rules” of baseball. They might have been passed down to you by a coach, a parent , or maybe another player if you played ball beyond the High School ranks.  While the code has been around for a long, long time, it is still a taboo subject to some in the game. In fact, some players are pretty uneasy to even chat about them “on the record” to reporters or even bloggers.  For if they even talked about a set of parameters or even rules of conduct within the scope of baseball, they admit there is a set of rules. This might be the real Pandora’s box we read about as kids.

The code seems to be built more on the game within the game concept. It can be viewed as a system of intimidation, retaliation and retribution between the hitters and the pitchers mostly.  It goals is to keep the game on an even playing field, with no see-sawing of emotions or action within the scope of the contest. Some say that the “rules” have their true basis is the fact of fear, or the fear of pain upon a transgressor of the rules.  I have to admit, when I was in college and a 95 mph fastball would come in close on my shoulder or near my knees, it took everything I had in me to stand tall and not bail out most nights.  So for me, the fear of injury or pain is a basis of the penalty for abusing the code and trying to circumvent the unwritten rules.

But who is really right here?  Who out of these two defenders of the game was in the right here? Well, actually, they both seemed to have great cause for their opinions to be the supreme guidance that day. The unwritten bible that stood the test of time in early baseball until probably 1950 was envisioned because of the low scoring contests and a more gentlemanly aspect of the game. Just as in life, baseball at that time seemed to be based on the puritan aspect of the game, and not the aggressive natures of some players to make an offensive explosion of the contest.

In a sense, Maddon is also correct here. Some of the rules put in place long ago have to be revised or drooped because of the offensive nature of the game today. We are not taught to “never give up” or to ” fight until the last out.” With that outlook on the game, some of the rule seem a bit too tight and have no wiggle room for interpretation at all. It might seem odd now for Martinez to scream about an older rule that was based more in the era of 5-6 run total scoring games compared to recent blasts of over 21 runs a game. Maddon make a good point that some of the games “Unwritten Rules” do need a bit of revision or tweaking.  


So here we are in a duel between the physical player and the situational manager. Who is right, or are they both wrong in their assessments of the current rule system? I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but they are both right to a point. Martinez is using the older rules to basically foster up a sense of entitlement over his actions during the weekend series against the Rays. While Maddon is trying to instill a new aggressive set of parameters for his own team that currently go against the grain of some of the older rules. So where do we draw the line? Where is it that we can make the changes or even attempt to even bring to light some of the outdated and antiquated rule that beg for a makeover. Well, first let take a gander at some of these older established “unwritten rules” and you be your own judge, jury and executioner on them ( I am not putting the rules in any order, just going to throw out a few for your viewing pleasure).

Unwritten Rule:
Do not steal a base late in a game that isn’t competitive.

This might be the rule that Martinez was referring to when he accosted Upton about his stealing of both second and third in the sixth inning of a 9-0 game. But what is really the basis of this rule is the “winning squad” doesn’t partake in additional embarrassment, not the team trying to get some runs and make the game competitive. If your team is winning by a lot of runs, so many that it looks like the game is pretty much over then stealing a base is just rubbing it in. Unfortunately since it’s an unwritten rule nobody is clear of the rules. How big of a lead is too big? How late in the game is too late is established by the beholder. In this case, I think Martinez was grasping for straws and should have just let it go, but bitterness can be a bitter pill to swallow.

Rienhold Matay / AP

Unwritten Rule:
Always back up your teammates in a fight.

This rule also can into effect during the Rays vs. Indians series. But what is more concerning is the fact that before the benches did clear, that Martinez was verbally accosting Maddon with profanity and comments that do not ever get voiced to a manager. That is also a section of the “Unwritten Rules” that coaches, umpires and team officials also have their own section of codes and rules for the players to follow accordingly. Martinez failed in this attempt. Some say baseball teams are like gangs. When a fight starts t
hey all run out and each take a side and face-off.

Unfortunately the posturing is suppose to be the effect here, not the actual throwing of punches or gang-tackling that some brawls evolve into in baseball. 
Pat Burrell running to look for baseball pants and a jersey  to wear on Sunday is a classic example of this rule. He was on the training table getting treatment and came out onto the field in his B P  jersey since he could not find his game jersey at the time.

Unwritten Rule:
Never bunt to break up a no-hitter. 

If an opposing pitcher just has your number that day and can even get to a point of a level of perfection against your team, you should honor that event, not try and throw it under the bus to establish your own agenda. I’ve never understood this unwritten rule. What if there is not a no-hitter and the score is 3 – 2 in the ninth and the losing team tries to bunt. If that isn’t considered a cheap way to try and win the game then why is bunting a cheap way to end a no-hitter?

But I do see the respect and the aspect of preserving the integrity of the pitching duel, so I would also consider it a disgrace to try and bunt to end a no-hitter by another pitcher.

Unwritten Rule :
Do not show up the pitcher after hitting a home run.

I think that this rule is going to get more and more intense in the next few years. As relievers and pitcher also adjust to emotional outbursts on the mound, the actions of the hitter have to stay consistent and not provoke a bean ball or an intentional pitch high and inside at a hitter. This unwritten rule could also be known as the don’t do what Sammy Sosa used to do after a dinger rule.

When a batter hits a home run it is considered rude to jump up and down and celebrate or to watch and admire your homer. I  can understand this rule in the course of a game, but if it is a game-winner, I think I could take a bit of a breather knowing it is a classic event and let the batter slide a bit on it as long as it is not a long linger and a comment or look towards the mound after the ball clears the wall.

Reinhold Matay / AP

Unwritten Rule:
If the opposing pitcher hits one of your batters then you must retaliate and hit one of their batters.

Sometimes there is a reason for a pitcher to take offense to a hitter at the plate. Plucking a hitter is a part of the game, and most hitters know it is going to happen to them in their career no matter if they are respectful or not, it is a part of the respect factor. Most of the time, a hitter knows it is coming, but sometimes pitchers can take an incident from far leftfield and run it into a personal vendetta. The other team has insulted us now we’ll show them!

Pitchers are so accurate, to within millimeters, that they can place the ball with pinpoint precision exactly where they want it. If a player gets hit in a certain spot, and the situation is ripe for payback, then there is no doubt as to whether or not a bean ball is just that, versus a mis-thrown wild pitch. That’s the ballplayer’s intuition, or sixth sense, taking over. And here is another thing: If a batter gets nailed with a 95 mph fastball on the fleshy part of his thigh, he had better not act like a baby and start rubbing it. No way. He should suck it up and be a man by simply “walking it off” on his way to first base. Period. A batter can never let a pitcher know that he hurt him with a pitch, that would be a psychological advantage and a clear sign of weakness. The code forbids it unless he is knocked unconscious or bleeding bad enough to warrant some medical attention.

So here we have listed a few of the “Unwritten Rules” that most of the fans might already know. There are really tons of pages of antiquated and outdated rules that do need to be readdressed and maybe modernized to support the current and future of the game. But it is not my place to sport the revolution of the rules . That has to be done within the confines of the sport itself. By the members of the teams, managers, umpires and even the guys who line and grade the turf and clay. But isn’t it a grand notion to know that a set of rules or a code is in place to keep the respect and the admiration of the game within guideline for all of us to enjoy.

So the next time you and a friend are in the stands remember, it is against the “unwritten rules” to discuss a no-hitter. You can cheer and want to see this great spectacle happen on your home turf, but to mention it is considered a curse, and also a bad omen not only for your pitcher, but for the sport itself. But if I had to put a quick summary of the code, it would be a simple fact of respect. Respect for the players, the history of the game and the respect of the opposition. In a true one sentence line, it is the players’ sacrificing personal glory for the good of the team.


Rays – there certainly needs to be some unwritten rules; but aren’t there times when it is acceptable to break them? On base stealing – fine, if your team is up by a large margin, then they probably should steal. But isn’t the other team suppose to play to win? So a steal could be in order to move the base runner along. On the no-hitter. But what if it is a one run game (on an unearned run) – shouldn’t the losing team be able to do what is necessary to get on base and win the game? I think in this day and age of baseball we need to look at the circumstance.


I am going to agree to disagree here with you.
I know the rules have been passed down for 150 years as a tradition, but some are based with great intent and consideration.
But other are just plain outdated and not with the fast and frequent scoring games of today.
A lot of the rules are subtle enough to be a guide of common sense baseball, but other are as far fetched as a glance or glare at a pitcher from a batter boz getting you beaned.

Time will change them, but we should review them and trash the outdated rules.

Rays Renegade

Great entry RR, fascinating topic. I would say most sports have these “unwritten rules”. As times/centuries change old rules should drop off or be modified to flow with the times. Most things eventually evolve and baseball is no exception. I’m digg’n on your new blog format. Mixing in your personal opinions with thought provoking topics and you’ve yot youself a winner brotha. I owe you some comment love for all of your words of wisdom left over at the Rockpile Rant…D

Really interesting post, Renegade. I think you should pitch it to one of the sporting magazines or Tampa papers. Such a provocative topic and so many different ways to look at each example you gave. And I learned something – I didn’t know it was against the code to bunt when the pitcher has a no-hitter going! I understand why it would drive the pitcher nuts, but what if the other team is just trying to win the game and eek out a run?

I agree with Jane. When a pitcher is throwing a no no, a bunt is one of the things they aren’t expecting as well as the rest of the team. If it is a close competitive game, do whatever needs to be done to get on base and score.

Some of these rules sound like they need updating, and soon. I understand standing up for your team, but bunting in a no-no is a grey area to say the least. Are there many unwritten rules for umpires (other than leaving your glasses at home! LOL) ?
Just a question, but are there any unwritten rules that you have heard of that cross over between sports or are applied to all of them (maybe the sticking up for your team one?) ?

I totally agree with not showing up a pitcher after a HR; that makes me ill. But the rest of them are kinda iffy. I mean if my team is losing and we need a hit, I really don’t care if a guy is pitching a no-no. And the retaliation hitting, I just don’t get. It is dangerous and just plain silly. But that’s just my opinion :O)


Here is the link to my site. I ranked the Rays trio of pitchers if you scroll down a little. Interested to here how you would rank them…

I sometimes think we have the same wavelength going on subjects.
Just trying to do somethings a bit different, and hope it can come out in the end.
So far it has been fun.

Rays Renegade

There are so many of these unwritten rules.
That is why I put the photo of the two best books to talk about the subject on the blog.
Trying to steal signs while you are on second base will get your batter plucked , and maybe you too on your next at bat.
There are hundreds of “old school” and “new thinking” rules.
But my favorite is still the one I also had to learn in football. “what happens in the locker room stays in the locker room.”

Rays Renegade

According to the “unwritten rules”, you would get a ball in at your noggin for that. Plus you might have to asnwer to your own team mates if they do not agree with your actions.
Kangaroo Courts in the clubhouse is another way that a team can get their point across to another player without disrespecting him in public.
Bunting to try and pop the no-no bubble would get the natives restless in a heartbeat.

Rays Renegade

I can personally vouch that there are rules that go beyond just one sport.
Another of my favorites is that if it is team oriented sport, the team takes the loss, not the player.
I will be doing a blog in a few days that will show this in more detail.
And another great one is that you never throw youe team under the bus. Always take responsibility for your actions and no one else does you job.

Rays Renegade

I am noticing a weird pattern here where the women are not getting the no-no rule more than the men.
I am not going to single anyone out, but if you have not played the sport beyond High School, you get left out in the cold with some of the more intense nuances of the sport.
I can tell you I would throw inside and high on you if you bunted on me in a no-no game.
And I would hope my teammates were on the dugout rail ready to go when the pitch hits the glove.
Just saying, that is the way I would roll on it.
Nothing personal.

Rays Renegade

I will certainly go to your site and check that out right after I post this.
Rays trio of pitchers sounds like a rock band ouyt of New Foundland.

Rays Renegade

I agree with some of the rules but not all. I don’t see a problem with “padding the score.” Some players don’t have an off button (Grady Sizemore and from what I’ve seen in the past BJ Upton which is why I like him) so how do you expect them to just stop playing because they’re winning. Whatever Martinez was referring to is weird and I have never heard of that nor do I believe in it for a second. I don’t like the throwing at each other rule but I can understand it. The Rays can go ahead and throw at us if they want but would request they throw at Grady since he can’t seem to get himself on base. He won’t steal or you have 50/50 shot of throwing him out so it really isn’t that big of a deal anymore to put him on. I thank the Rays in advance. ;)

I will pass that on to Kazmir tonight, but I think he will not throw at someone he likes.
Martinez on the other hand played the crybaby card, and that is another unwritten rule I forgot to mention.
“Play as a team, and not as an individual.”
But I guess he forgot to read the memo since it was in English.

Rays Renegade

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