Mudcat Café message #3180349 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #138875   Message #3180349
Posted By: josepp
02-Jul-11 - 04:14 PM
Thread Name: BS: Baseball code
Subject: BS: Baseball code
Interesting book that shows how the unwritten codes of baseball govern most everything that goes on in the course of a game and ultimately in the course of a season. The authors--Jason Turbow and Mike Duca, both sportswriters--spell out a part of the code and then use real game examples to illustrate how it works.

We fans of baseball know many parts of the code because sportswriters and announcers--many of them ex-ballplayers--have mentioned them to us. An example would be, no bunting or stealing by a team with a large lead especially late in the game. Some I learned by watching a specific broadcast and just happened to catch it. That's how I learned about "peeping." A peeper is a batter who secretly glances at where the catcher sets up and positions himself in the batter's box accordingly. Catchers and pitchers carefully watch a batter to see if he peeps. In this case, Bobby Higginson of the Tigers was getting ready for the pitch and seemingly glanced down at his bat. As soon as he did, both announcers made this disapproving "oooh" and explained he was actually looking at where the catcher was setting up. That gets you a brush back from the pitcher one of them said and, sure enough, the pitcher brushed Higginson back. The pitcher's way of saying, "Knock it off, I'm watching you."

The pitcher's weapon is the ball. Break the code and prepare to get beaned. Al Cowens was a known peeper who got beaned in the face by pitcher Ed Farmer for peeping at his catcher. The ball broke Cowens's jaw which had to be wired shut. A couple of seasons later when Cowens was playing for the Tigers, he faced Farmer again for the first time since the beaning. He hit the pitch somewhere in the infield but then charged the mound and he and Farmer went at it. To most fans, it seemed inexplicable but those who know the code knew exactly what was going on: Cowens peeped and got beaned but pitcher's aren't supposed to aim for the head when deciding to bean so both violated the code and were now working out their differences.

Sparky Anderson was managing the Tigers at that time and stood behind Cowens 100%. Sparky was a code man. When we say a player or manager is "old school," fans don't generally know what that means. Within the game itself, it means he adheres to the code traditionally and right down to the unwritten letter. And nobody was as old school as Sparky Anderson. To Sparky, you don't small ball a team to death--stealing or bunting when your team is 12 runs ahead--and those that did this against him were risking retaliation from his pitchers.

Nolan Ryan and Don Drysdale were feared not just for their velocity but because they were unyielding in enforcing the code. When Lenny Dykstra got a hit and turned to the opposition's dugout, pumped his fist and bellowed out a victory scream, Ryan sat there calmly and said to the pitcher next to him, "I do believe the boy needs a bow-tie." The bow-tie was a pitch Ryan learned from Satchel Paige who told him it was one of his favorite pitches to teach batters some etiquette. Basically, the pitcher hurled a nasty pitch right at the batter's throat--hence the name. It became Ryan's favorite as well and he did not hestitate to use it on any batter who pissed him off. Dykstra never did that again.

Some batters fought back. Frank Robinson would never allow a pitcher to brush him back. He'd stand closer to the plate. Robinson was old school as well and knew the code like the back of his hand. Once, he crowded the plate and the pitcher threw and just missed his chin. Robinson picked himself up, trotted part way to the mound and said calmly, "You do that again and I'll tear your head off." Then went back to the batter's box. The pitcher didn't do it again.

Another batter that pitchers don't try to brush back very often is Ichiro. Quite simply, he can hit that. He also shifts position in the box mid-pitch so it is impossible to know where to throw. People might wonder why he does that--precisely because it skirts the code. He may not look like he's crowding the plate but when the pitch is halfway to the catcher's mitt suddenly there he is crowding the plate. Try to brush him back on the next pitch and BANG! he slaps it through the infield. And you don't want to hit him and put him on first because he's such a threat on the base paths. So Ichiro gets a pass.

Ricky Henderson also got a pass. He'd steal no matter what the score was. But pitchers and catchers forgave it because that was Ricky being Ricky. He wanted that base-stealing record and nothing you threatened him with was going to deter him from getting it. It wasn't that Ricky was trying to show anyone up but he wanted that record and would let nothing stop him. So the opposing teams just had to accept it and let him have at it.

Whenever a brawl starts on the field, it is almost always because of a code violation. To fans it might seem inexplicable but the umpires know what's going on. They try to prevent it sometimes but can only do so much. Sometimes they overdo it and interfere with the game. Once former Tiger Pitcher Jeremy Bonderman threw at the head of a player on the White Sox team. The problem was, it was only the second inning and there was no score. Bonderman had no reason to mess with anyone and the pitch wasn't very fast and batter easily ducked out of the way. It obviously left his hand too soon but the umpire ejected him right then and there. The batter said after the game that he did not believe Bonderman had thrown at him deliberately simply because Bonderman would have hit him.

Later in the game, the same umpire forbid a reliever on the White Sox to come inside or he'd be ejected. He was determined to avoid a brawl that neither team had any intention of having. As soon as the Tigers saw this pitcher staying on the outside of the plate, they proved Don Drysdale correct when he said, "Show me a pitcher who's afraid to come inside and I'll show you a loser." The Tigers teed off on the guy and won the game. Trying to circumvent the code, the umpire interfered too much with the outcome.

Other things that piss off the pitcher is being a "pimp." The pimp stands at the plate and admires his own home run--he just watches it sail over the fence before he begins his trot. Harmon Killebrew started it at least in my lifetime, Reggie Jackson took it to new levels of self-absorption and Barry Bonds turned it into a ain't-I-great ballet by pirouetting in the batter's box.

Another no-no is flipping the bat after hitting a homer. You're supposed to drop it and run not flip it away with a "And that's how it's done, kids" flourish. Nor do you jump on home plate with both feet when you complete your trot. Again, some players are cut slack but not most. The pitchers will start drilling batters to send a message and the message is easy and clear: CUT IT OUT!!!

Sometimes, a younger player will break the code and be cut slack only because the pitcher can see the reaction in the other team's dugout and knows the problem will be taken care on internally. In one case, a rookie player stole a base with his team leading by a wide margin late in the game and infuriated the batter--his own teammate. After the game, the rookie--Roger Cedeno--refused to talk to reporters but they could see he had been crying. What happened was that his teammates berated him after the game for breaking the code because he was putting them all at risk and any teammate who got beaned because of him it was on his hands and he would have no defenders because it's unacceptable so cut it out and cut it out right now! The rebuke was harsh enough to reduce Cedeno to tears.

Not all player liked the code. Torii Hunter hated it. Bob Gibson also hated it. To these men, you went out there to beat the other team as badly as you could and who gave a damn if they didn't like it? But because your teammates would pay the price, you have to respect the stupid code. Some still didn't such as Lou Brock. Brock, like Henderson who followed him, would steal bases any damn time he could. If someone on the team told him it wasn't a good idea to rub it in, Brack would shrug and say, "Fuck them." Gibson, his teammate, admired Brock's stance. "My kind of baseball," he said.

Once Torii Hunter stole base late in a game with a big lead and manager Ron Gardenhire was furious. After the game, he dragged Hunter to neutral territory (it's against the code for players of opposing teams to visit the other's clubhouse) to apologize to the other manager Terry Francona. Hunter said he forgot about the score and just ran when he saw the opportunity. Francona just told him to forget it, it was no biggie. Gardenhire was afraid Hunter's action would trigger a spate of beanings and wanted the other team to know Hunter had not stolen on his orders. That's how strong the code is.

Another part of the code is for the beaned batter never to rub the area where he is hit no matter how bad it hurts. The batter must show the pitcher "Do your worst, you can't hurt me." When a batter grabs the area where he was hit and grimaces in pain--you KNOW that one hurt REALLY bad! But most of the time, watch the batter--he never rubs the spot except maybe to spit on it and then rub it without grimacing, which is considered acceptable. Otherwise the batter is never to rub the spot and let the pitcher know he can be hurt.

I once saw Frank Robinson as a manager crying after a game because he pulled his catcher of the field part of the way through an inning. I couldn't understand why he was so emotional. What's the big deal? Turns out, it's bad form in the code to pull a player off the field. Replacing pitchers is OK (in fact, it's VERY bad form for a pitcher to argue with the manager on the mound--VERY bad). But pulling a fielder off the field is considered an odious thing to do and it so upset Robinson to have to do it that he was overcome with emotion. Those that don't know the code would find the whole thing bizarre.

The code has more clout on the field than the rulebook. Umpires enforce the rulebook but they fight against the code but realize it is so ingrained that they can't eliminate it without essentially fixing the game. And no one can manage a team that is not versed well in the code and know how to use it to win games. Ignore the code at your own peril.