Baseball’s Unwritten Rules Strike Again

“I know he’s stealing bases out of his own doing, he’s trying to get back at us,” Marlins third baseman Wes Helms said. “We had to show him that we weren’t going to put up with the way he was treating us after last night but also trying to take the bases being [down] 10 runs. . . . He gets under everybody’s skin. Especially mine.”

That’s right, the Nationals were down by 10 runs and Morgan was still trying to score runs. Everyone knows that this violates sacred baseball rule 12(b); when a game gets to a certain (undefined) level of out-of-handedness, both teams must stop trying to score runs and get the game over with as soon as possible. Nevermind that the Marlins weren’t holding Morgan on, so he could easily take those bases, or that he wound up scoring on a sacrifice fly, no, none of that matters. Morgan refused to stop trying to win the game, and for that he had to have a message sent to him.

Look, I don’t want it to come off like I’m defending Morgan, but this is totally ridiculous. It’s bad enough that we expect teams that are winning by large margins to stop playing, it’s absolutely absurd to expect the same of teams that are losing. Aside from the fact that it goes against the basic ethos of competition, it’s completely out of line with the game of baseball in particular. After all, baseball doesn’t have a clock governing length of play, you have to record 27 outs to put the other team away. Whereas in football there comes a point where the time on the clock makes it impossible to mount a comeback, that’s never the case in baseball. Unlikely as it may be, you can score any number of runs at any point, even down to your last out. So there’s simply no reason to expect any team to stop trying to win, let alone in the 5th inning. It’s even dumber to have a culture that encourages hurling a pitch at someone because half-way through the game they haven’t stopped trying to win.

As I said before, baseball really needs to put a stop to this. It’s one thing to use the beanball to “protect” your players, it’s another to use it to enforce an arbitrary and stupid set of social norms within the game. Even more so when you have a major league baseball player openly saying is team threw at a player because he had the audacity to not meet the expectation that he stop trying to win the game. Nyjer Morgan deserves to be suspended for the rest of the season. The guy has been awful this year, is almost certainly going to be non-tendered by the Nationals, and will probably have to sign a minor league deal if he wants to stay in baseball next year. For some reason, he’s decided to take his last month or so in the big leagues to go completely postal. Tuesday night’s play at the plate aside, the guy is totally out of control, and is showing total disregard for everyone else at the park, players and fans alike. The commissioner’s office should drop the hammer on him and, frankly, the union should probably support the action. After all, those other players on the field are union members too, and if Morgan has decided he likes running over catchers for the hell of it, the union should obviously take their interests to heart as well as Morgan’s.

But it’s also time for baseball to put a stop to this stupid culture of machismo and “unwritten rules,” and there’s no better time to do it than now. After all, the Marlins have already admitted Morgan was thrown at for his baserunning exploits, so there’s no ambiguity at all here. The commissioner’s office should issue a firm statement that, in light of Helms’ statement, both Volstad and Marlins manager Edwin Rodriguez are eating lengthy suspensions and hefty fines and, again, the union should support it. All those players getting thrown at because they didn’t run around the bases fast enough for a pitcher’s liking after a home run or showed a little too much emotion at some point are union members, and the union should be looking out for their safety. I know the players are generally knee-deep in this culture, so the union probably doesn’t want to rock the boat too much if their members don’t generally support the idea, but it would serve the MLBPA’s legacy well to be forward-thinking here.

8 thoughts on “Baseball’s Unwritten Rules Strike Again

  1. Mike

    I'm not a big fan of players trying to enforce their own brand of justice.  It's just not a good example of sportsmanship and usually not that enjoyable to watch either.

  2. What makes the Marlins’ indignation all the more ridiculous is knowing what type of player Morgan is.  I predicted (privately, of course) before the game last night that if they plunked Nyjer, he was going to try to steal second and probably third if those bases were open, regardless of the situation.  Of COURSE he was going to run on them, to try to repay them to some degree.  No one should be surprised at this, even if they were 11 runs down.

  3. HIM

    In all businesses, from baseball to the NY Stock exchange you MUST know ALL the rules, not just the written ones.  It is always self administered or you can't play…like it or not and it will never change…

  4. MP

    Seriously, baseball players often aren’t the most elequent of speakers. I really think that you’re missing the context because you’re focusing on Helms’ struggles to truly draw out the Nationals’ reasoning. The first sentence in the quote says it all…

    “I know he’s stealing bases out of his own doing, he’s trying to get back at us…”

    In other words, Morgan is stealing bases because he was hit by a pitch. Why was he hit by a pitch? Because he committed some transgression that the Nationals’ pitchers felt needed to be addressed (failing to slide). So, rather than just suck it up and take his “punishment,” Morgan decided to “punish” the Nationals for, as they see it, protecting their players…

    … Not necessarily because of the deficit at the time.

    Now, I’m not one to condone purposeful beanballs. I just think that it’s silly to skew this story to make it look as if the winning team would ever expect the losing team to just roll over.

  5. I’m not supposed to admit this, but that clothesline WAS enjoyable to watch.  More than once, in slow motion.

    Anyhow, I can see how in a gentlemanly game there can be rules of sportsmanship that a team with a huge lead should observe.  But the team that’s trailing ought to pull out the stops to win.  Back in 2001 the Diamondbacks flipped out when the Padres successfully bunted for a base hit to break up a Curt Schilling perfect game in the 8th inning of what proved to be merely a 3-1 Arizona victory.  Setting aside the fact that later that I would soon come to root for much worse things than that to happen to Schilling, I remember thinking at the time, “If that’s really the rule, then all of baseball is just a farce we’re suckered into watching.”  Schilling said he thought that a player should be expected to “earn” his way on base that late in a perfect game.  Funny, I thought it was a perfect game that had to be earned.

    It is disrespectful to the paying customers to require trailing teams to stop trying to win.  To a certain extent I am willing to defer to the players to manage their own affairs, but not when it comes to getting bang for my buck.

  6. Matthew, that's a great comment. I think I would agree though that's there is always going to be some sort of "code" governing what is and isn't sporting in any game, and to some extent I think some of baseball's standards are fine. I mean, if you're bunting for a hit in a perfect game in a circumstance where you would never do so if it weren't a perfect game, that's unsportsmanlike. On the other hand, if it's within the context of trying to win, I don't have a problem with it. IIRC, Morgan Ensberg had a blog post about that exact subject recently.

     

    But I do agree that the idea that the losing team should ever stop trying to come back is just absurd. It doesn't happen often, but it's not like huge comebacks never happen. I can think of at least 3 this season alone. And you're right, the people in the stands aren't paying to see the teams phone it in. If that's the way you want to go, have a mercy rule. Until then, it ain't over 'til it's over.

  7. Pedro

    Morgan was being disrespectful for stealing 2 bases when losing by 10 runs? Thats ridiculous.

  8. Alex

    It's odd that you use the word "machismo" to describe this behavior.  Throwing a baseball at someone at a very high speed because you're team is collectively annoyed that someone would not take your stupid, childish punishment in the EXACT way you feel is necessary is in no way macho. It's childish, petty and cowardly.  Baseball is a sport I truly enjoy, but it seems as though these things have been cropping up a lot more over the last 10 years.  It's almost as though the current generation of players revere and venerate an ultimately unremembered nostalgia of "the way things used to be," to the extent that they're envicing this sort of orthodox adherence to norms and traditions to a far greater extend than they would have been in the past.  The thing that bugs the most about it is the fact that they're so god damned smug and self-righteous about this type of behavior.  I could go on and on about it, but all that really needs to be said is this: grow up, ladies, and get the fuck over yourselves. 

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