The Unwritten Rules of Baseball (Paul Dickson)

There’s No Crying in Baseball. Isn’t that a rule? I’d wager you could find more people able to recite that rule — thanks to Tom Hanks in A League of Their Own — than know the infield fly rule. Some rules are official and enforceable. Crying is … well … it just doesn’t belong in baseball, okay?

baseball0288The no crying rule is one of many standards players and fans usually agree upon but aren’t part of the official major league rule book. There are a lot of them. Don’t mention a no-hitter while it’s in progress. Pitchers walk off the field, but other fielders run.

Paul Dickson compiled many of them in a book new this spring called The Unwritten Rules of Baseball: The Etiquette, Conventional Wisdom, and Axiomatic Codes of Our National Pastime.  Skip the subtitle; the title’s sufficient. It’s also pleasantly self-contradictory. Dickson writes all the rules we mostly know, and organizes them into tidy rule-book order. “No crying” is rule 1.9.0.

I’m a baseball fan and usually pick up at least one baseball book each season. This was a simple browsing book, filled with anecdotes and short asides. You can keep it near your TV remote, read a page between innings, and set it down again until there’s a pitcher change. Effortless reading.

Some of the “rules” make you wonder about group psychology. Take brawls, for instance. Dickson declares that everyone on a team must participate in a team brawl, and mentions the cases of a player sitting in the press box and an ejected manager sent to the club house. Both men made the effort to get onto the field. They just had to be there. And a batter can complain to the umpire as long as he doesn’t look at the umpire while he’s doing it. That’s disrespectful and might be cause for ejection. Is it in the official rule book? No. But it’s in this one. It’s the same with the custom of fans throwing an opponent’s home run ball back onto the field, bean-ball etiquette, and why some official rules get ignored. (Think: pine tar.)

Two thirds of The Unwritten Rules is laid out like a rule book. The last third is an alphabetical collection of quotes and axioms. That portion was more tedious reading for me, but taken in smaller bites — when I want to mute the inane words of the color commentator, for instance — they might be just as fun.

And there is fun in baseball. Just no crying.

P.S. If you’d like to read The Official Rules of Baseball, I’d suggest a volume with that title by David Nemec. I read it several years ago and thoroughly enjoyed his explanation of each rule, the reasons and implications, and countless quirky stories in which rules were pushed to their limits in major league games.

PHOTO © Steve Campion

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