Dallas Braden gained some notoriety a few months ago by jawing at Alex Rodriguez after A-Rod ran across “Braden’s mound” on his way back to first base following a foul ball. It was an unwritten rule that many had never heard before, and was a popular topic of discussion for a few days back in May. With Braden starting today, it is only fitting that an incident in last night’s Marlins-Nationals game has brought the unwritten code back into the limelight.
Nyjer Morgan was hit by a pitch due to an incident from the night before, and may have deserved it. Later in the game, Morgan stole 2nd and 3rd despite trailing 14-3, and then scored on a sac fly. The Marlins took exception to Morgan stealing bases in a blowout and threw behind Morgan, at which point Nyjer charged the mound and a brawl ensued. Brien Jackson of IIATMS had a solid take on all this:
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.
I do not have much to add to that, except to note that all of these controversies serve to illustrate how silly and childish the unwritten code of baseball is. As I stated at the time of the Braden incident and a subsequent incident involving Chris Carpenter:
This story, coupled with the Dallas Braden silliness, just displays how silly the unwritten code of baseball is. Players take themselves so seriously that they expect the opposition to be automatons who never celebrate or get frustrated. Baseball is the only sport where excitement, joy, and frustration are taboo, and the refrain of “be a professional” means to take a business-like approach to what is, at heart, an enjoyable game. Players simply need to grow up and ignore the fistpumps and bat-slams of the opposing team, and focus on doing their own jobs and regulating their own behavior. The “Code” is a nebulous group of self-important, undefined rules that allow players like Carpenter and Braden to justify their own actions by disparaging the actions of others. It is time to let it fade into oblivion.
The overwrought machismo of the unwritten rules eventually leads to the sort of melee that we saw last night. Major League Baseball needs to react harshly to all of the involved parties and send a message that the only rules that count in baseball are those codified in the rule book.
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