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The Baseball Codes: Beanballs, Sign Stealing, and Bench-Clearing Brawls: The Unwritten Rules of America's Pastimeby Michael Duca
Synopses & Reviews
Don't Show Players Up
It was a simple question. From the batter's box at Candlestick Park, Willie Mays looked at Yankees pitcher Whitey Ford and, pointing toward Mickey Mantle in center field, asked, What's that crazy b**tard clapping about?
What that crazy b**tard was clapping about only tangentially concerned Mays, but the Giants superstar didn't know that at the time. It was the 1961 All-Star Game, and Ford had just struck Mays out, looking, to end the first inning. The question was posed when Ford passed by Mays as the American League defense returned to the dugout--most notably among them Mantle, hopping and applauding every step of the way, as if his team had just won the World Series. There was a good story behind it, but that didn't much matter in the moment. Willie Mays was being shown up in front of a national baseball audience.
Under ordinary circumstances there is no acceptable reason for a player to embarrass one of his colleagues on the field. It's the concept at the core of the unwritten rules, helping dictate when it is and isn't appropriate to steal a base, how one should act in the batter's box after hitting a home run, and what a player should or shouldn't say to the media. Nobody likes to be shown up, and baseball's Code identifies the notion in virtually all its permutations. Mantle's display should never have happened, and Mays knew it.
Mantle had been joyous for a number of reasons. There was the strikeout itself, which was impressive because to that point Mays had hit Ford like he was playing slow-pitch softball--6-for-6 lifetime, with two homers, a triple, and an astounding 2.167 slugging percentage, all in All- Star competition. Also, Ford and Mantle had spent the previous night painting the town in San Francisco in their own inimitable way, and Ford, still feeling the effects of overindulgence, was hoping simply to survive the confrontation. Realizing that he had no idea how to approach a Mays at-bat, the left-hander opened with a curveball; Mays responded by pummeling the pitch well over four hundred feet, just foul. Ford, bleary and already half beaten, didn't see a downside to more of the same, and went back to the curve. This time Mays hit it nearly five hundred feet, but again foul. It became clear to the pitcher that he couldn't win this battle straight up--so he dipped into his bag of tricks.
Though Ford has admitted to doctoring baseballs in later years, at that point in his career he wasn't well practiced in the art. Still, he was ahead in the count, it was an exhibition game, and Mays was entitled to at least one more pitch. Without much to lose, Ford spat on his throwing hand, then pretended to wipe it off on his shirt. When he released the ball, it slid rotation-free from between his fingers and sailed directly at Mays's head, before dropping, said Ford, from his chin to his knees through the strike zone. Mays could do nothing but gape and wait for umpire Stan Landes to shoot up his right hand and call strike three.
To this point in the story, nobody has been shown up at all. Ford may have violated baseball's actual rules by loading up a spitter, but cheating is fairly well tolerated within the Code.
Everyone knows that baseball is a game of complicated rules, but it turns out to be even more complex than we realize. Jason Turbow and Michael Duca take us behind the scenes of the great American pastime. Players talk about the game as they never have before, breaking the code of secrecy that surrounds so much of baseball, both on the field and in the clubhouse. We learn why pitchers sometimes do retaliate when one of their teammates is hit by a pitch and other times let it go. We hear about the subtle forms of payback that occur when a player violates the rules out of ignorance instead of disrespect. We find out why cheating is acceptable (but getting caught at cheating is not), and how off-field tensions can get worked out on the diamond. These tacit rules are illuminated with often incredible stories about everyone from national heroes true eccentrics.--From
Retaliation can take many forms: Pitchers have always thrown brushbacks to intimidate hitters, but in 1946 Hugh Casey took the practice to another level when he threw a pitch at Marty Marion, who was standing in the on-deck circle. In 1968 Don Drysdale hit Rusty Staub with a pitch as punishment for having rummaged through Drysdale's shaving kit during an All-Star game.
A frankly incredible book--a history and analysis of baseball's insular culture of unwritten rules, protocols and superstitions, assembled over the course of ten years . . . I can say without hesitation that this is one of the all-time greats--a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
--Glenn McDonald, NPR
If baseball players adhere to a series of informal doctrines, then consider Turbow the ultimate code breaker . . . Turbow pulls back the curtain and breaks through the game's shroud of secrecy to deliver a grand slam of a book.
--Mike Householder, Associated Press
A remarkably well researched book, filled with intricate details of plays from the past 100 years.
--Larry Getlen, New York Post
Turbow and Duca have filled a void with this entertaining, revealing survey of the varied, sometimes inscrutable unwritten rules that govern the way baseball is played b
About the Author
JASON TURBOW’s writing has appeared in The New York Times, Sports Illustrated.com, Slam Magazine, Popular Science, and the San Francisco Chronicle, and he is a regular contributor to Giants Magazine and A’s Magazine. He lives in the Bay Area.
MICHAEL DUCA was the first chairman of the board of Bill James’s Project Scoresheet and has written for Sports-Ticker, Giants Today in the San Francisco Chronicle, and the Associated Press. He works in the office of the commissioner as an official scorer, and for mlb.com. He lives in the Bay Area.
Table of Contents
Know when to steal 'em — Running into the catcher — Tag appropriately — Intimidation — On being intimidated — Slide into bases properly — Don't show players up — Responding to records — Gamesmanship — Mound conference etiquette — Retaliation — The wars — Hitters — Off the field — Sign stealing — Don't peek — Sign stealing (Stadiums) — If you're not cheating, you're not trying — Caught brown-handed — Don't talk about a no-hitter in progress — Protect yourself and each other — Everybody joins a fight — The clubhouse police.
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