Andrew Stetka: It’s time to burn baseball’s unwritten rule book

You hear about it all the time. Baseball’s list of unwritten rules is the most discussed thing in the game that doesn’t even exist. Most know what rules are on the list. What most don’t know is that there is a reason that these rules aren’t real. It’s because these rules are pointless.

Joe Girardi’s little tirade on Monday night at Camden Yards brought this issue to the forefront. The Yankees manager accused Orioles third base coach Bobby Dickerson of stealing signs, which is one of those “unwritten rules” that you aren’t supposed to break. There’s a reason, however, that stealing signs isn’t actually against the rules. It’s perfectly legal and accepted.

Every team attempts to steal signs. It’s not cheating; it’s attempting to gain an advantage against your opponent. Knowing more about your opponent and its tendencies will only help you gain knowledge as to how to defeat them. Imagine if a football team didn’t watch film each week to study what types of plays their upcoming opponent ran. The defense would look clueless and have no idea what to expect.

There is a reason signs in baseball were invented in the first place. It’s to relay information between players on a team and communicate what they are going to do without letting the other team know. But why have these signs become so complex and complicated over the years? Why does a third base coach touch his elbow, swipe his chest, tip his cap, grasp his belt and nod his head twice? Because if he only touched his elbow, you’d know what is coming. Signs are complicated because teams are always attempting to steal them and figure out what’s coming. It’s also why teams change their signs so often, sometimes even within a game. If Girardi had an issue with his signs being stolen, perhaps he should’ve figured out some new ones.

Sign-stealing isn’t the only one of these unwritten rules that needs to be forgotten. If I bunt for a base hit during a no-hitter, why should I be looked down upon? Is bunting not a part of the game? If a pitcher really wants that no-hitter, he and his team should learn to defend that type of play.

Speaking of no-hitters, why aren’t we allowed to talk about them when they are happening? If I mention a no-no to the guy next to me, or tweet about it, is the pitcher really breaking into an extra sweat because others really know what’s going on? These “jinxes” are silly. I can say no-hitter three times in a row and no ghost of baseball’s past will appear, I promise.

Part of what makes baseball so great is the lack of a game clock. The game isn’t over until you have recorded the 27 outs necessary. That’s why I have no problem with stealing bases with a big lead. If my team is up by 10 runs in the ninth inning, I’m still doing my best to pile on the runs. My opponent could come up in the bottom of the ninth and score 10 runs before I record three outs. If my aggressiveness in stealing a base led to my team’s 11th run, I could avoid extra innings and give my team a better chance at winning. If you don’t want to see me steal a base or keep playing the game hard in the late innings, get me out. Don’t let me on base in the first place. Beat me on the field where it counts.

Perhaps the most egregious of these foolish rules is the notion that a pitcher must retaliate and hit a batter after one of his teammates has been hit. There are of course certain situations where order must be restored and a team can’t be pushed around, but why would I want to put a man on base on purpose? This has led to a lot of controversy over the years about protecting players and has sparked suspensions and fines throughout the league. There’s no reason for it. It’s time to make it all stop.

All of these rules need to be put to bed. The heart of a pennant race is no time for a manager to be belly-aching about a rule that doesn’t even exist. Perhaps the pressure was too high for Girardi on Monday night. Perhaps the bright lights of New York are starting to get to him. Perhaps the Yankees skipper just needs to change his signs.

Andrew Stetka blogs about the Orioles for Eutaw Street Report. His thoughts on the O’s appear here as part of’s continuing commitment to welcome guest bloggers to our little corner of cyberspace. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

blog comments powered by Disqus