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Should Baseball's Unwritten Rules Finally Become Written?

Imagine you are a rookie outfielder from Japan, currently playing in Major League Baseball (MLB) for the San Francisco Giants. Akio grew up playing baseball in Japan and eventually, after being honored playing for the Tokyo Giants before moving to the States. Before coming over, Akio learned the rules and skills of baseball while on offense or defense. Even with the technical expertise, and being new to America, he realized it's critical to learn the quirkiness and nuances of the American game. Which means, baseball's unwritten rules mean that to fit in and contribute as a foreign-born player, you need time to digest some of the challenges of such a concept.

The S.F. Giants are ahead 10 to 1 in the bottom of the 8th inning. Bases are loaded and your opponent is out of capable pitchers so their skipper brought in a short-stop to pitch in the 8th inning. A short-stop converted pitcher is adept at throwing to second or first but struggles with getting the ball over the plate. The count eventually becomes 3 balls and no strikes which, according to the unwritten rule of baseball, you never swing for the fence if you have a large lead late in the game (especially if the correct pitcher is a professional infielder).

Akio, still a rookie, hears differing instructions from the dugout. The manager is yelling, “don’t swing at any pitches as the game is out of reach.” Others in the dugout are excited for the rookie and some are heard saying, “knock it out of the park.” Akio's instincts kick in and on that next pitch; he launches that slow 70 miles per hour pitch out of the ballpark into the water at McCovey Cove.

The score is now 14-1 and the opponents are seething mad at the fact that an opposing player swung at a 3-0 while up by 9 runs. Akio's Giants manager is also mad as he's old school and during his formative years in baseball, you would never swing in that situation. This is one of baseball's unwritten rules so now the Giants wonder how their opponents will retaliate. If there's future bad blood, how will that look like? Will the opponent’s pitcher throw at a batter? Will they throw high and tight just to send a message? Needless to say, they will attempt to settle the score -- at least, according to baseball's unwritten rules. Because of the inconsistency with knowing and following these unwritten rules, it might just complicate matters.

Are the unwritten rules published somewhere? How do we know that each baseball team and manager knows of all the unwritten rules? You can do an internet search on baseball’s unwritten rules where your results might produce different rules based on the site selected.

Do you know all the unwritten rules in baseball? I know some but I'm not sure if all of them were accurately passed down to me.

In this situation where Akio swung at a 3-0 pitch, most observers would say the game appears to be won so why would the team-leading attempt to pile on the score? But wait, if their opponents are still trying hard to swing for the fences, why shouldn’t the winning team continue to hold onto the lead? If it’s an unwritten rule that you shouldn’t swing in that situation, then why doesn’t the losing team just swing casually hit soft balls back to the infield in a way to intentionally concede the game.

The problem with unwritten rules is they’re unwritten. This may lead to misuse or say the least, a big misunderstanding. The game is changing all the time, so an unwritten rule by one generation may be brushed aside by the next. Besides, MLB is much more international today, what some players may know most of the unwritten rules may not apply to all players. Some newer players may not abide by the unwritten rules so how can that be policed if not everyone playing this game is on the same page with unwritten rules.

Another rule not necessarily written down is to not bunt against your opponent during a no-hitter late in the game (8th or 9th inning). If a player bunts in the first inning, nobody thinks twice about it. But if the hitter waits until the ninth inning of a no-hitter to do so, it’s not only an unwritten rule but also many consider a baseball felony.

I get this unwritten rule if the score is 7-0 in the ninth inning and your opponents are merely trying to be petty by potentially breaking up a no-hitter but what about a scenario where the score is 1-0 in the ninth. Is bunting allowed then? Because the unwritten rule says you should not bunt in the ninth inning if you’re being no-hit, it doesn’t spell out which situation is ok to bunt and when it’s not ok to bunt. Too much nuance in this situation to ensure everyone is on the same page.

I don’t necessarily look at it the same way, how is a bunt not earning it? If players were successful bunting, they'd do in all 9 innings. Because it's a skill hard to master, a batter has much more success taking a legitimate at-bat.

A plausible scenario, the game is 1-0 in the ninth and the losing team needs to get someone on base. If they decide to gamble and bunt, in this scenario, it's completely legitimate, regardless of what the unwritten rule book says.

Let’s be honest, baseball’s unwritten rules can create unnecessary controversy if all teams are not on the same page. Do baseball executives know that all teams follow the same code of conduct? Should baseball executives and players hammer out a very detailed code of conduct instead of unwritten rules where not all players and teams know and follow it very closely? By publishing this, teams and players should all be on the same page with rules of the game and a clearly defined code of conduct. Until then, it's anyone's interpretation on what is allowed and not allowed according to the unwritten rules in baseball.

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