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Sports “Codes” and Society

2010 May 7
by Brian Goff

Big League Stew recently posted an article from Jason Turbow on “The ‘Code’: Ten Unwritten Baseball Rules,” drawing from his book, The Baseball Codes.  He highlights

  1. Don’t swing at the first pitch after back-to-back home runs
  2. Don’t work the count when your team is up or down a lot
  3. When hit by a pitch, don’t rub the mark
  4. Don’t stand on the dirt cutout while the pitcher is warming up
  5. Don’t walk in front of the catcher and umpire when going to the batter’s box
  6. Don’t help the opposition make a play
  7. Relievers take it easy when facing other relievers
  8. Follow the umpire’s code when addressing them on the field
  9. Pitchers stay in the dugout at least until the inning is over when they are removed
  10. Pitchers never show up fielders

My June 2009 post on The Economics of Sportsmanship explores why these kinds of rules exist.  Whatever their origins, such customs crisscross all corners of “baseball society” — the “ten” include actions directed at teammates (9 and 10), umps (5 and 8), and mostly opponents (the rest).

These non-codified codes, while sometimes individually very narrow, matter for the smooth functioning of the game.  The undercurrents of how such rules come to be and why they matter parallel unwritten rules in society as a whole.  A Cambridge University Press book, Violence and Social Orders (by North, Wallis, and Weingast), examines in great detail  governmental rules but also societal customs in determining the degree of “openness” of communities and nations and how they have mattered for economic well being.

2 Responses
  1. Dennis permalink
    May 7, 2010

    “The Code” (NHL) and “The Football Code: Football’s Unwritten Rules and Its Ignore-at-Your-Own-Risk Code of Honor” by Ross Bernstein both are about the unwritten rules in sports. I am reading the NHL book now and find it quite interesting. It is interesting that everyone knows the code, or so Bernstein and his sources report, as they learn it growing up in hockey, yet the rules are never or hardly ever spoken.

    Many of the people interviewed state that the code is about respect, for the opponent and for the game. How and why these unwritten rules developed is discussed in some detail. I recommend the book.

    An issue that arises for me as a result of reading the NHL story is how the influx of European players has or has not affected “the code”. Do they also know the code from years of hockey in the juniors and as children? Is the code different in Russia or Sweden from the code in the US and Canada? How does all of this play out in the current NHL after the canceled season followed by new rules for opening up the game? The book suggests the instigator rule in the NHL is a bad thing because under the instigator rule the enforcer that ensures his team is not disrespected risks putting his team at a severe disadvantage if he does his job (pummeling the person on the other team who did not show sufficient respect).

  2. pokerfoos permalink
    May 7, 2010

    I don’t get “Relievers take it easy when facing other relievers.”
    I assume it to mean a relief pitcher facing a relief pitcher on the other team? How often does that even happen? I don’t know that rule and I don’t understand it.

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