I hadn’t really thought much about the “unwritten rules” of baseball until this past season. Then as young phenom Fernando Tatis, Jr. was lighting up scoreboards with seriously entertaining baseball, the “unwritten rules” began to sneak into news stories. For example, you’re not supposed to swing on a 3-0 pitch right down the middle if your team is up by some (indeterminate) amount of runs. At another point, Tatis, Jr. offended the Dodgers by allegedly “disrespecting” Clayton Kershaw by admiring his home run off the ace pitcher. I thought the outcry in each case was stupid. Don’t want someone hitting a grand slam off you when they’re already leading? Don’t throw a 3-0 fastball where they can easily smash it. Don’t like hitters admiring their home runs?
Enter Jason Turnbow’s The Baseball Codes, a book which seeks to draw out some of these unwritten rules while showing many anecdotal examples of the same.
The book is divided into four parts: On the field, Retaliation, Cheating, and Teammates. Each part is absolutely filled to the brim with real life stories from players around the league who were involved in some way with the unwritten rule in question. While many of these rules might be expected–such as “Don’t show players up” which came into play in discussions of Tatis, Jr. and Kershaw–others are surprising. For example, in the section on “Cheating,” I was delighted to learn that the way the baseball field is prepared can come into play on the box score. Turnbow writes about how teams can adjust, ever so slightly, the angle of the foul lines, the way the dirt angles, the make of the pitcher’s mound, and more. Have a home team that loves to bunt? It’s advantageous to pile up the first and third base line dirt in such a way that it helps roll those bunts back fair. This isn’t cheating in that it’s not against the rules, but it certainly involves giving advantages.
I was also surprised to find that some of the unwritten rules are things I don’t disagree with. While I think that complaints about “showing up” an ace pitcher by hitting and admiring a home run are stupid, uwritten rules that involve curtailing injury are not. Don’t deke an opponent into a short slide, because that can cause ankle injuries. It’s common sense, but hard to codify into an actual rule in the Book.
Apart from all the discussion of the “rules” themselves, a huge portion of the book is dedicated to stories of players breaking or enforcing the same rules. I found these to be often hilarious, sometimes stressful, and often baffling. There are many, many stories in here. Trust me, you’ll find something you enjoy. It would be hard not to.
The Baseball Codes is constantly entertaining with baseball stories. But what makes it truly great is it also makes you think even more about baseball and the workings that may or may not be going on behind the scene. Turnbow’s fantastic book is well-worth the read if you’re a fan of baseball. It’s phenomenal.
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