A battle has begun brewing between two distinct factions of Major League Baseball.

It’s not a debate drawn across racial lines, but more so, one deriving from differences in culture and the way players came to collect an understanding of baseball’s oldest set of on-field norms, though this code cannot be found scrawled on any of the clubhouse or dugout walls.

The Battle To Rewrite Baseball’s Unwritten Rules

These unwritten rules have had dramatic off-field effects in recent weeks, as well as repercussions, levied by the league’s front office, 99 MPH fastballs from the likes of Yordano Ventura and Noah Syndergaard, and furious right-hand haymakers, launched by Manny Machado and Roughned Odor, that land flush on the faces of their victims.

Robin Ventura, no relation, learned these rules the hard way.

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The now-fifth-year manager of the Chicago White Sox had a career to clamor about, but every time his playing days are referenced now, a highlight tape of Nolan Ryan‘s notorious headlock is culled from the catacombs of the production department’s archives, dusted off and played on a loop, with Ryan pounding Ventura mercilessly, landing at least five clean shots atop the younger man’s head.

The battle between new and old school interpretations of baseball’s unwritten mores began with a minor spark, started by defending National League MVP, Bryce Harper, when he called the guidelines for policing the game “Tired,” in an offseason interview with ESPN The Magazine for a story dubbed, “Sorry Not Sorry.”

It continued when the New York Mets flame-throwing, long-locked starter, Syndergaard, nicknamed Thor for his striking resemblance to Marvel’s version of the mythological character, threw behind Chase Utley in retaliation for the Dodgers infielder breaking then- Mets’ shortstop Miguel Tejada‘s leg on a late, hard slide into second base in last season’s NLDS.

The war waged on when Jose Bautista was buttoned by Odor May 15, after a slide similar to Utley’s.

Bautista said he “was pretty surprised,” by the punch from Odor.

“I mean, obviously, that’s the only reason he got me, and I have to say he got me pretty good, so I have to give him that. It takes a little bigger man to knock me down,” Bautista said.

What has been frequently mentioned when discussing this topic, but not quite highlighted until now, is that it was Bautista who started the bad blood eight months earlier, when he hit a walk-off home run in the deciding game of the ALDS between the two teams, prompting “the flip heard round the world.”

Odor vs. Bautista I


As baseball struggles with its identity Roughned Odor offered a counter-punch to the new-school way of thinking about the “unwritten” rules of the game.

Baseball writers and reporters have spent a significant amount of time debating the right to flip one’s bat in celebration of a home run, and in Bautista’s case many have taken into consideration that it was a clutch, series-clinching, home run for a team that hadn’t reached the playoffs since Joe Carter “touched them all,” and “never hit a bigger home run.”

Therefore, due to these mitigating factors, many believe Joey Bats’ bat-flip should be viewed through a different lens.

I am not one of those people.

Bautista has a reputation for being brash and difficult in the clubhouse, though no one can discount his remarkable power and impeccable record as a ‘”clean” slugger, no player has hit more home runs since 2011, when so many in the game today are tainted in one way or another.

I admire Bautista for his ability to eat that Odor right like a bag of Doritos sold in a elementary school lunchroom. The Toronto slugger was struck directly on the pressure point and although his knees did buckle a bit, he never went down.

So, I can agree that the bearded wonder of ‘The 6’ can take a punch, but Bautista’s claim that Odor’s answer to the slide was “cowardly,” is not something I can abide.

That is the way baseball is supposed to be played. That is how the honor and respect for America’s Pastime is shown.

Don’t believe me? Ask Enos Slaughter.

Slaughter, a Hall of Famer for the St. Louis Cardinals during the 40s and 50s, has become infamously known as “the guy who spiked Jackie Robinson.”

In 1947, the same season he broke baseball’s color barrier, Robinson was playing first base in late August when Slaughter came barreling down the line on a ground ball to the infield. Nicknamed “Country,” Slaughter slammed his spikes into the back of Robinson’s leg as he crossed the first base bag, causing a seven-inch gash as a result, some historians say, jeopardizing Robinson’s career.

In a future game, after Robinson had moved to what fans remember fondly as his best position, second base, Slaughtered rang a would-be double off the left field wall. Robinson corralled the relay throw and planted a violent tag, smack-dab on Slaughter’s kisser, knocking out four of his teeth.


Enos Slaughter’s spiking as recalled in the recent Robinson bio-pic ’42’

‘Country’ calmly picked up his fallen chicklets, spit out some of the blood that had begun to pool in his mouth and sauntered off the field without saying a word.

THAT is how it is done.

Slaughter knew there could be a repercussion for the spiking, and that was before Twitter, ESPN’sTop Plays or Baseball Tonight or even color T.V.

So don’t try to sell me on the argument that Bautista didn’t expect retribution for his bat-flip.

Syndergaard was ejected by a rookie umpire without warning after throwing behind Utley and after the same ump was coached to issue a “warning first,” before tossing anyone out of that particular game.

What would Bob Gibson say about that, or Ryan, or Randy Johnson? And those are fairly recent guys.

Baseball is unique in that, similarly to hockey, players often police themselves on the playing surface, using officials only to uphold the “written” rules.

Baseball’s Best Brawls

If Harper, Bautista, or any major leaguer for that matter, wants to flip his bat, stare down the opposing pitcher, or “pimp it” around the bases in celebration of a home run, play on playboy.

Just don’t complain when you hear the record stop on the sultry sounds of a little chin-music, be it from a pitcher or position player.

The beauty of these codes are that they lack an expiration date and that is what players like Joey Bats are unable to understand.

In addition to his complaints about the assault launched by Odor, Bautista called the timing of the incident into question, highlighting that it came in the 8th inning of the penultimate game of the regular season for the two clubs.

Response: Robinson knocked out Slaughter’s teeth two full years after he was spiked.

It is the same epidemic of disrespect for the game that has players not running down the line on a “can of corn” fly ball or “routine” ground ball.

Players, you know the rules, whether they are written or not, simply abide by them.

To borrow a line from the great John Sterling, “This is baseball Suzyn (Waldman).”

And if you don’t like it, go play lacrosse, or continue to play it “your” way.

Cadillac it around the bases, pull another one into the shift despite the mammoth hole on the opposite side of the infield and the fact that he’s thrown four straight pitches on the outside corner. And please, by all means, flip your bat.

Just don’t say you’re “surprised” when someone  tries to re-educate you on the unwritten rules of baseball.

 

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