Monday, July 18, 2011

The Unwritten Rules Of Baseball

Tonight the Boston Red Sox come to town in what will be the first meeting of the teams since what was a very ugly series to end the first half. On the off chance you have blocked the memories (and with the Orioles' performance over the last month no one would blame you), Baltimore went into Boston and lost 4 straight games by a total of 32-13. But it wasn't the scores as much as it was the drama that unfurled during the games.

Instead of rehashing all of the high (and low) lights of the game, let's take a look at what caused it to get so ugly so quickly (these charges are from the Baltimore Orioles point of view. Others may disagree):

  • David Ortiz stands at home plate for an extended period after hitting a home run off of Zach Britton, showing the rookie up
  • Former Oriole Matt Albers goes almost into histrionics after striking out some former teammates
  • Ortiz overreacts to pitches Kevin Gregg throws inside (while they were inside and called balls, Ortiz is known for crowding the plate in order to cover for his diminished bat speed on outside pitches) and yells at him from home plate
  • Ortiz swings at a 3-0 pitch in the 8th inning of a 10-3 game
All of this led to the brawl and the 4 ejections. Tempers flared, something sparked the tinderbox, and it was on. The next day John Lackey hit Nick Markakis in the 6th inning. Intentional or not, that should have ended it. But it didn't because

  • Lackey hit Derrek Lee in the 7th inning in what was unquestionably an intentional pitch, which led to home plate umpire Jeff Nelson warning both benches (meaning if a pitcher hit another batter in that game no matter the possible intent it would be an automatic ejection of both that pitcher and his manager)
  • And in Sunday's finale Red Sox rookie Kyle Weiland hit Mark Reynolds and Vladimir Guerrero, knocking both out of the game and putting Guerrero on the disabled list.
While both pitches were fairly obviously not intentional (just as Jeremy Guthrie's plunking of Kevin Youklis was clearly not a purpose pitch), the fact that Orioles' players were getting beat up led to Michael Gonzalez throwing behind Ortiz (clearly a purpose pitch) and getting himself and manager Buck Showalter ejected.

Now on to "The Rules", or "The Code"...whatever you want to call it, it must be capitalized and in quotations (or at the very least in italics). To the best of my knowledge there is no other sport in the world with a set of unwritten rules quite like baseball. Even long tenured veterans aren't always sure what the rules are, but there are some that are pretty much obvious and agreed upon, and the man who wrote the book on baseball's "Code" (literally) talked about what happened in the Friday game HERE. My contention is that John Lackey hitting Nick Markakis was okay after all that had happened, even though Kevin Gregg has a right to pitch to both sides of the plate and David Ortiz overreacted to the situation Lackey needs to show that he will protect his teammates, and once the Red Sox had taken a 3-0 lead it was a safe place to do it. Now from the looks of it his hitting Markakis was unintentional, but as my grandfather would say "them's the breaks". No matter the intent, the deed was done. Once Lackey hit Derrek Lee in the next inning it was starting all over again. And this is where the biggest mistake was made, something that Jeremy Guthrie alluded to after Sunday's game. Jeff Nelson warned both benches after Lackey hit Derrek Lee with a purpose pitch, leaving 2 straight Orioles' players being hit without giving the Orioles' pitchers a chance to deal with it in the way it has been dealt with for over 100 years. So now anger is festering again, which is only exacerbated when Kyle Weiland hits Mark Reynolds (no matter his intent or lack thereof) and knocks him out of the game. After Guthrie hit Kevin Youklis (another incident that is in no way affected by any possible intent), things should be settled. But Weiland hits ANOTHER Oriole, knocking HIM out of the game. So even though Weiland was ejected because of the warning issued on Sunday after Guthrie's incident, the issue still has to be dealt with and that is exactly what Gonzalez did.

Now after all of that came the pundits and local talking heads. Some backing the Orioles' actions, some bemoaning and railing against "The Code". So what is my take on it?

First and foremost, I think Kevin Gregg should have shut the hell up after the game. "The Code" is a lot like Fight Club, and I think we all know what the First Rule of Fight Club is. But other than that I don't see how things could have played out much differently. I put a lot of this on the umpires, especially Nelson because his actions caused bad blood to fester longer than needed and all but required retaliation from the Orioles even if Sunday's affronts weren't intentional. And also I DO think that there is a need for "The Code". There is a reason that it has existed this long, and while baseball might have the most famous set of unwritten rules they are far from the only ones to have them. If you don't believe me, think about what happens when you use the public bathroom at the stadium. No one told you where you are supposed to look or how you're supposed to wait. You just did it. And if you did something against the accepted protocols someone probably let you know it. Without these unwritten rules things would be a lot more difficult, and the same scenario applies to baseball.

Now let's see if the players have decided that it is done with, or if there is going to be more drama tonight.

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