1) a set of laws or regulations
2) a set of ideas or rules about how to behave
Codes, unlike rules, are often unwritten and informal. No official book. No company manual. No government-like posters in the lunch room. They’re phantom collections of understandings between members of a group. For example, Chicago has a hot dog code that says you never, ever, never, never ever put ketchup on a hot dog; there’s no law preventing it, but if you’re from the Windy City you just wouldn’t ever do that. And if you did, you’d have to take the extra-large ration of doo doo — justifiable, by the way — that your friends would dish.
There are other kinds of codes, too. Like, say, a code of ethics. That’s the kinda thing Hillary Clinton wouldn’t recognize if it jumped up and took a bite out of her pantsuit-wearin’ donkey. Another would be a code of conduct. Donald Trump couldn’t identify that one if it was sittin’ on top of whatever it is that’s already sittin’ on top of his head. But that’s not what’s at issue here. In November, yes. What I’m talkin’ about now, though, is a code of honor. Semper Fidelis is the Marine Corp version. It means remaining faithful to the mission, to each other, to the Corps and to country, regardless of whatever kinda hell is happening all around them. Even the Mafia has a code. It’s called Omertà, and it means you never rat on your friends, you don’t cooperate with authorities, and you keep your nose outta the illegal actions of others. If you’re a wise guy, Omertà isn’t something you wanna treat with a casual attitude; like Alfonso Soriano used to have in the batter’s box. You could end up wearin’ cement shoes. If you’ve ever seen Prince Fielder run, you’d know that’s somethin’ you want to avoid.
Which brings me to the point; that unwritten code in baseball that says if one of your guys takes out one of our guys — whether it’s a hard slide into second base or some chin music that actually hits a high note — there’s gonna be some kinda retaliation. It’s part of the game — even the sissified, pink tutu-wearin’, give-a-warning-to-both-teams version Bud Selig turned it into. When I was a kid though, if you did a Chase Utley against the Cards, for example, you’d have to expect Bob Gibson to attempt a little brain surgery on you the next time you came to the plate. Not givin’ someone a tit when they’ve obviously tatted you is just plain cowardly, my friend. It’s baseball, not figure skating, and if you’re gonna put on the uni it’s your duty to stick up for each other. Period. Plus, it adds a dimension of Omertà to things, cuz you never know when, where or necessarily who is gonna pay the price. Bryce Harper thinks flippin’ bats and admiring your own work at the plate makes the game more interesting? That’s just ego in a very jackassian sorta way. Throwing a 97 mph heater at a guy’s numbers, on the other hand, tends to start a conversation — one that uses ALL the words in the english language, and that sometimes ends up in a spontaneous all-team dance on the infield grass. Now that’s interesting, pallie. You can keep your friggin’ bat flip.
The reason this is top of mind at the moment is because of what we’ve witnessed over the past few weeks. (Besides the Cubs continuing to clean their spikes off on the rest of the National League, that is.) There have been 3 obvious “code” incidents, where guys were throwin’ what I call “pigeon balls” — pitches that come with messages. Buster Olney wrote a good piece about this the other day, describing each of these exchanges and what led to them. The key questions Buster raises are 1) Is it acceptable for pitchers to throw a baseball at or near a hitter to deliver a message? And 2) Should a history of bad blood between teams and players matter? I say yes to both, just in case you haven’t been paying attention. Where Buster misses the mark, IMHO, is his dissatisfaction with how differently each of these events, although very similar, were handled by the umpires, and his call for “MLB to determine what will be tolerated and what won’t be, and to send a message of its own, loudly and clearly, perhaps by reaffirming the rules that should apply in these moments.”
Then there’s that pesky little Rule 8.02: Throwing at the Batter. It reads as follows:
The pitcher shall not intentionally pitch at the batter.
If, in the umpire’s judgment, such a violation occurs, the umpire may elect either to:
Expel the pitcher, or the manager and the pitcher, from the game, or may warn the pitcher and the manager of both teams that another such pitch will result in the immediate expulsion of that pitcher (or a replacement) and the manager. If, in the umpire’s judgment, circumstances warrant, both teams may be officially “warned” prior to the game or at any time during the game.
(League Presidents may take additional action under authority provided in Rule 9.05)
Rule 8.02(d) Comment: Team personnel may not come onto the playing surface to argue or dispute a warning issued under Rule 8.02(d). If a manager, coach or player leaves the dugout or his position to dispute a warning, he should be warned to stop. If he continues, he is subject to ejection. To pitch at a batter’s head is unsportsmanlike and highly dangerous. It should be – and is – condemned by everybody. Umpires should act without hesitation in enforcement of this rule.
Go ahead and reaffirm that rule. Not a damn thing will change.
Yeah, these incidents were kinda handled like they were from different planets. You read the rule … what can you expect? It’s full of words like “judgement” and “may” and “circumstances” and “should.” It’s dealing with something that’s not an absolute, which is why the rule was written that way in the first place. If the nature and severity of code retaliations were always the same, you could have one, all-powerful way of handling them. But they’re not. Too many variables. How hard was the pitch thrown? How close, exactly, was it? Was it really intended to hit a guy or was it just a “hey, I could hit you if I wanted to” thing? Where was it located? Is the pitcher a control guy, or not so much? What was the cause of the retaliation? How severe was it? How long ago was it? Yadda yadda yadda. This is an issue that’s never gonna be etched in stone, and if you try to treat it like it is you’re gonna have a lot more of the Syndergaard/Utley thing than you want. It’s a Pandora’s box, my friend. I say, lock the damn thing and throw away the key.
Look, there are two issues, as I see it: 1) The rule, as written, allows for a lot of interpretation on the part of umpires and 2) Major League Baseball has umpires. Like the code, umpires are part of the game. Do they get stuff wrong. Yeah. Does it drive me to the friggin’ moon and back when they do? Without exception. Do I wanna see Rob Womanfred and his band of merry minions continue to turn baseball into something I hardly recognize by turnin’ umps into zombies, or replacing them altogether with some sort of cyclops-techno-wiz-bang robot that you can’t kick dirt on? HELL no! This is baseball, not u-friggin-topia. The more perfect we try to make the game, the less perfect it’s becoming.
Of course, I could be wrong. But I’m not.