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Don’t Be a Hot Dog! (An Essay on the Unwritten Rules of Baseball)

Original articles, for reference:

The Unwritten Canon, Revealed – Tim Kurkjian (ESPN.com)
http://espn.go.com/mlb/story/_/id/10964445/mlb-baseball-confusing-contradictory-unwritten-rules
A Major League Pitcher’s Guide to Baseball’s BS Unwritten Rules – Dirk Hayhurst (Deadspin.com)
http://deadspin.com/a-major-league-pitchers-guide-to-baseballs-bullshit-unw-1585433770/all

This weekend, as my husband was incapacitated from a nasty cold, I was flipping through the television channels and stumbled upon “Baseball and American Life” on – of all channels – C-SPAN. (Oh Lord, I never thought I’d admit to watching C-SPAN!)

For those who haven’t seen the segment, it features a panel of guests – Tim Kurkjian of ESPN, David Brooks of the NY Times, US Supreme Court Associate Justice Samuel Alito, USA Today’s Christine Brennan, and columnist George Will – moderated by Talmage Boston, attorney and author of Baseball and the Baby Boomer.  In it, the panelist are posed a series of topics such as cheating in baseball, have you had any lovers’ quarrels over baseball, has baseball provided any grounds for civility among opposing parties (fitting since we’re discussing with folks in Washington!), etc.  The video is available online on C-SPAN’s website…this may be the only time you willingly watch anything there! ☺

Amongst the discussions, the article written by Tim Kurkjian, in which he reviews some of baseball’s unwritten rules, was mentioned – first link posted above, for reference. I hadn’t heard of this before, and decided to give it a read. As I was searching The Google for said article, I came across the 2nd article linked above – basically referring to Mr. Kurkjian’s writing as BS. Hmm…sounds like I need to do some reading!

Another topic discussed, and presented in the article, was the length of the game…or rather, how long it takes a pitcher or hitter to mosey their way up to the plate and get the show on the road. Not even a day earlier, my husband and I discussed this very thing, before even reading this article, or watching this piece on C-SPAN (Man, did I really spend over an hour watching C-SPAN??) We concluded that the length of the game is fine, but when you factor in all the time spent by the pitcher adjusting his junk, tossing the resin bag around, shaking off the catcher, stepping back off the rubber…you could have ordered a pizza from Giordano’s and enjoyed your first slice! Hitters are no exception – they’re just as guilty of taking their jolly sweet time as the pitcher…

In Mr. Kurkjian’s article, Angles pitcher C.J. Wilson says

“It’s ridiculous how long it takes guys to get in the box, or pitchers to throw the ball. Guys on their own team yell at them, in very colorful language. ‘Get in the box! Throw the ball!’ Some guys are serial line-steppers; they are habitual line-steppers. That’s how they get the reputation as a rain delay. What I love is the pitcher who has two pitches, and he shakes off the catcher five times. We yell, ‘Pick one!’ But really, the guy at the plate digs a hole, adjusts his helmet, wiggles his butt, swings the bat, adjusts his wristbands? You wonder, ‘What were you doing all that time in the on-deck circle?'”

OMG – yes – every bit of this, YES. The game of baseball is not meant to be fast-paced, but for the love of Harry Caray – please, get your butt on the mound, foot on the rubber, and throw some darn pitches! And the same with the batters – stop adjusting your junk, stop making the sign of the cross, and just swing the dang bat!

Switching between the two articles, it’s easy to see there are two schools of thought – the modern “new era” and the old school. I’m of the old school line of thought – respect the game, respect your fellow players, and respect yourself. Don’t be a hotdog! Now, I can hear you saying, “Yeah, but look at Babe Ruth…he was the founding father of the slow trot around the bases after a home run!” Yes, but he had talent. All the players back in the day earned the right to trot around the bases, wave their cap at the fans, etc. Players today, I’m sorry to say this, just don’t have the raw talent that The Babe, Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Pete Rose, Roberto Clemente, Jackie Robinson, etc had back in the day. Those players earned the respect of their fellow players, Jackie Robinson almost at the cost of his life!

You didn’t see Ted Williams* toss his bat to the side and walk out of the box toward first base before the ball even crossed home plate because he knew it was ball four (I’m looking at you Big Papi.) You didn’t see Jolten Joe whack the catcher with the bat on his follow through on multiple occasions, nor would Lou Gehrig throw the bat down the third base line (Yep, that’s you, Machado…you little weasel).  *That said, Ted Williams was quite egotistical, but he had the talent to back that swagger. He didn’t juice, he didn’t make a spectacle of himself. He worked his rear-end off and was a student of the game…he earned the title of one of the best ball players of all time.

Now, I’m not here to rag on ALL the modern day players – there are still a handful that garner my respect and the respect of their fellow ball players… Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera (OMG – two Yankees…C-SPAN and Yankees in the same drivel…I’ve gone stark raving mad!), Andrew McCutchen, just to name a few…these guys are good ball players and have earned respect through hard work and their passion for the game.

I have to agree yet again with C. J. Wilson, who says

“Look, dudes just want to get on TV. So, they pimp it at the plate. It’s like the NBA. They don’t want just to dunk on you. They want [people] to say, ‘He jumped all the way over that guy!’ They want to see it on replay the next day. This started with Barry Bonds, because he was better than anyone at hitting homers. He’d stand and fold his arms after a long home run. But I’ve seen guys pimp it when they are 17 years old. They’re still doing it.”

Sigh. Barry Bonds. The downfall of baseball hot-dogging. Ugh. Makes my stomach turn just thinking about it. But he’s right…we ate that stuff up when Bonds was hitting them out of the park (juiced or not) – we loved it when Sammy Sosa would do his little side jump in the air after he whacked a ball to the moon; in my opinion, though, we needed it. Baseball needed it. After the lockout, and after some of the beginning rumblings of the steroid controversies, baseball needed a boost (no pun intended). Those players had potential though…they had the talent that would have got them places without embarking on the ‘roids journey. That’s a topic for a different day, though.

The following baffles me though…completely and utterly baffles me:

“If Manny Ramirez hits a home run and does his thing at the plate on the bases, well, he’s Manny Ramirez. He can do that,” [Brandon] McCarthy says. “But when Ronnie Belliard, who swings just like Manny and does the same thing as Manny after he hits a home run, it’s not the same because he’s not Manny. I was angry for a week over that one. David Ortiz does the same bat flip after every home run. He carries a Mariachi band around the bases with him every time he hits one. But it’s OK because he’s Big Papi. To me, it’s just so arbitrary.”

Really?! Manny Ramirez is in the same boat as Barry Bonds as far as I’m concerned. They haven’t earned the right to show boat – if they can achieve what they did on their own merit and without the ego or douchbagery that comes with their personality, then yes – by all means – hot dog away. But if you have to rely on your antics or juicing to get you where you are, or to gain your fan base, then no. No show boating for you. They’re creating a double standard that so many folks want to tear down in any other arena… Oh, you’re Justin Bieber? Go ahead and make an ass of yourself and get arrested. We’ll still love you. You, punk kid, sorry – do not pass go, do not collect $200. It’s the celebrity of it all. And it makes me cringe.

Then there are the folks that think it is “wrong” to tag a batter for their shenanigans. That little stunt Big Papi pulled the other day would have seen a ball very close to his person, if not aiming right for him. To quote Phil Coke, “A well-placed 90 mph fastball hurts like a son of a bitch.” Sure, it may not make him never do it again, but at least he’ll know you didn’t like it. It’s very similar to hockey – the opposing team makes a run at your goalie, you check him so they know you noticed. At least in hockey you can drop the gloves (and please for the love of God don’t take that away from us!)

I think Brandon McCarthy sums it up best:

“I don’t know if it’s a good thing. I don’t know if it’s a bad thing,” he says. “We romanticize so much about the past in baseball that we get into patterns about how things are supposed to be done. It is so important to keep the traditions. But the game is getting so boring to the fans. We need to keep working to change the game. And this [taking away the policing of the game by the players] is taking away from that.

“I miss the nasty-ass pitchers who would throw at you for just digging in, or taking a big swing. There’s not as much personality in the game today. The viewer has a hard time differentiating between the players, one from another. We have become so homogenized today. There should be villains in baseball. You should see a guy on TV and say, ‘I really hate that guy.'”

One other topic I found interesting in Kurkjian’s article – bunting in a no-hitter (Bob Brenly who managed the Diamondbacks in 2001 referred to it as “a chicken-shit play” when Ben Davis bunted and ruing Curt Shillings bid for a perfect game) – and I think I tend to agree; If you’re trying to break up a no-hitter, go for the gold man, and just hit the stupid ball, especially if you’re a non-bunter normally. Don’t take the easy way out! Make it really something to watch and work for! That said, it’s not worth pegging a guy with the next pitch…

To wrap this up (what started as a simple blog post turned, it seems, into an essay…sorry about that!) I’d have to say I encourage the unwritten rules where you’re defending your teammates and the honor of the game, but do it without disrespecting the team, the field, or the fans…or yourself.

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