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The “Unwritten Rules” and Traditionalist Baseball Fans Need to Stop

If baseball wants to get younger fans to enjoy baseball, they are going to have to accept the change in culture.

On July 28th, the talk during the Dodger’s 5–1 win over the Braves was not Yasiel Puig’s three RBI night, nor was it Max Fried’s solid performance in his five innings of work.

It was about this:

Justin Turner and Chase Utley taking BP on July 28th (Photos via MLB.com and Deadspin)

You see, that is the Dodgers taking batting practice, like most teams do before a game. Most are wearing blue shirts, some with Dodgers branding on them, with baseball pants. Meanwhile, Chase Utley is taking batting practice in a gray t-shirt with shorts and no socks. The shirt that he’s wearing is to support Strike Out Cancer Day, where proceeds from the shirts goes towards cancer research.

“Why is this a conversation?” is what you might be asking yourself. Braves’ TV announcer and former Dodger Joe Simpson decided to discuss with Chip Carey on how “unprofessional” they looked.

I am going to pause for a brief moment and automatically debunk the first two points Simpson made. If you are a real fan of a team, any team, then you should be able to tell right away who is who, no matter how far you reside from your team’s home location.

As mentioned before, the shirts were for The Jason Motte Foundation’s commitment to “Strike Out Cancer” Day, an annual day that started in 2014, and will be worn around baseball on September 2nd.

Let us put all of that to the side for a brief moment. Why does Joe Simpson care about what Chase Utley and the Dodgers (much less all Major League Baseball Players) wearing during batting PRACTICE? The elongated answer:

“I think of Walter Alston, even Tommy Lasorda. Walter Alston would roll over in his grave if he saw that. Walter O’Malley would never allow such things. And I know it’s a different age, a different era. But that’s a complete lack of respect for the fans and for the game, and as I said, an embarrassment. Bobby Cox never allowed anyone in a Braves uniform to take the field for batting practice or anything else until they had their uniform on. And for batting practice, you had to have your batting practice uniform on that has your name on it, so the fans know who you are as you’re taking batting practice.”

The simple answer: tradition. Simpson proved with these statements alone on BP attire that he is one of many former and current players that strongly believe in traditional baseball. Forget about not liking casual BP attire, that means a full, professional, “act like you have been there attitude” throughout six months and 1,400+ innings.

Hate to break it to you, Mr. Simpson and other baseball traditionalists, that is just not the game in 2018.

The Tradition of Baseball and the Unwritten Rules

Unlike basketball, football, soccer, and any other sport you could think of, baseball still stands on the tradition that made it “America’s Favorite Pastime”. The gritty plays, sliding in spikes up, and everything in between. These are the reasons we grew up loving the game of baseball.

“There are so many unwritten rules because it’s such an old game. It’s such a technical game. There are so many opportunities for gamesmanship. It creates such drama. It’s such a game of respect. It’s a game that punishes those who are selfish.” — CJ Wilson, 2014 (ESPN)

Then you get into a whole different sub-genre of tradition with the “unwritten rules” of baseball. Now a lot of them are basic common sense; for example, if you are at second with zero or two outs, you’re already in scoring position, and there should not be a point in stealing third unless you’re 125 percent sure the result is you being called safe. Then you have the “respect” portion of the unwritten rules: “Thou shall not bat flip (more on that in a moment) or otherwise admire a home run, thou shall not bunt when you are being no-hit or blown out, thou shall not steal when you are down — or up — by a boatload of runs”, and the list continues.

If that is your view on what qualifies as respect, good for you. Here’s the problem, it is 2018; this is a different type of baseball. A game in which a team is leading 6–0 in the seventh inning can no longer be considered an easy win. If a pitcher has a no-hitter going in the seventh inning, but he has 10 strikeouts, why not drop a bunt and see if you could catch the defense napping and maybe start a rally?

“It was a perfect bunt… I don’t think it was quite too late…to bunt, especially being as how that’s a major part of what he does. I really didn’t have any issues with it…” — Justin Verlander, after a bunt by then-Mariners outfielder Jarrod Dyson cost him a no-hitter in June 2017

Now, let’s talk about the main cause of concern with the “unwritten rules”: the admiring of a home run. If we are really being honest, bat flips have always been around the sport. From Mickey Mantle angrily flipping his bat to the ground on strikeouts to Tom Lawless epic batflip in the 1987 World Series, there are a bundle of underappreciated home run celebrations in baseball history.

The term bat flip, however, was not as prominent in Major League Baseball until Yasiel Puig emerged in 2013, and it became a phenom when Jose Bautista did this in Game 5 of the 2015 ALDS:

Suddenly, everyone wants to have their own home run celebration, or at the very least, show emotion after getting a clutch hit. Apparently, that is a problem with American baseball traditionalists (because if we are being honest, they do NOT really care in the Pacific):

For every video of a Major League player — someone that has worked vigorously damn hard near his whole life just to get to the big leagues — bat flipping, you see the old-school guys immediately type into their keyboard “hit your homer, round the bases” or even worse, “next at-bat, he should get a fastball to the ribs” (more on that in a moment). It is painful to see those types of comments with Major League hitters; imagine seeing those type of comments alongside your child’s first little league home run that you believed was amazing, only to see elder baseball purists trash your kid’s moment because he showed too much emotion.

Retaliation For Breaking The Unwritten Rules

“It’s a tired sport, because you can’t express yourself. You can’t do what people in other sports do.” — Bryce Harper, early 2016

Again, I have no problem if you feel that the game of baseball should be respected — whatever that means — and you want to see the tradition of baseball be respected.

It really starts to become a problem when someone calls for retaliation, usually when in the next at-bat, you get a fastball to the upper body, or —second-best case scenario — start a bench-clearing brawl:

Back in the days in which these traditionalists want to return to, you had pitchers with exceptional control on the mound that threw at most 92 miles per hour, so maybe a hit-by-pitch would not be as bad.

Nowadays, you have 110,529 fastballs at 95 or more coming at you, and most of the pitchers you see throwing them have little to absolutely no control. In that case, retaliation in the leg suddenly turns into 98 miles per hour near the dome. That simply cannot be the case, especially for the reasoning of doing so.

Think about it this way: have you ever seen James Harden get thrown to the floor on a layup attempt because he “stirred the pot” on a made three? Did you ever see a Redskin defensive back try and destroy Antonio Brown after he “twerked” in the endzone in 2016? Have you ever seen a player slide into Christiano Ronaldo’s legs after he rips his jersey off to celebrate a goal? Why must baseball players retaliate for showing emotion — a game that needs it — or trying to keep a lead in a ballgame in such a way that can physically harm a person’s playing career or even his life? That is that baseball is in this era of pitching: a deadly weapon.

We already have this problem in the NFL where it is losing the youth because the whole sport is a deadly sin. In a sport that’s already fading due to lack of emotion, why have a mother worry about whether his son’s going to come home because the opposing coach told his son to drill him in the ribs because he bat flipped?

Conclusion

“I hope kids watching the WBC can watch the way we play the game and appreciate the way we play the game as opposed to the way Puerto Rico plays or the Dominican plays…That just wasn’t the way we were raised. They were raised differently and to show emotion and passion when you play. We do show emotion; we do show passion. But we just do it in a different way.” — Ian Kinsler during the World Baseball Classic in 2017

The game of baseball needs more than pace-of-play rules to get the youth to enjoy it. It needs emotion and a better display of passion. Yet, both are seemingly outlawed by the “tradition”.

Joe Simpson spewing nonsense about batting practice attire is only a portion — though a rare portion — of the nonsense that this tradition brings. We have seen the elder baseball fan or player continuously knock a player because they “disrespected the game.” We continue to hear the elder baseball fan call for someone to get a fastball at the numbers over bunting while being no-hit. What if, in the year of 2018, we can have a different view of what’s respecting the game or not?

Maybe it’s time to put an end, or at least reduce the punishment for breaking them, to the unwritten rules. As the sport continues to lack the motivation to gain fans, hitters continuing to worry about their health over tradition set from 100 years ago does not seem to help. Something needs to change, or this hardcore tradition is going to make the graph below look much worse.

(Photo via The Atlantic)

I didn’t even get to use all the examples I wanted to use. For more unwritten rules that you may not have heard about, check out this tracker from April 2018 by Yahoo Sports.

Follow Payton Ellison on Twitter (@realpmelli14).

Payton Ellison

Payton Malloy Ellison is a current Journalism junior at SUNY New Paltz with goals of becoming a sports journalist and broadcaster. He has been writing semi-professionally about sports for three and a half years, starting with monthly coverage for the NBA and Major League Baseball on Grrindtime. Recently, he has written and edited articles, produced live content, and assisted in growing the brand of Diamond Digest. When it comes to broadcasting, he is the sports director for the New Paltz campus radio station, WFNP The Edge, and provides play-by-play and color commentary for SUNY New Paltz basketball.

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