The term “fair play” is used outside the context of sports, but of course that’s where it originates: All competitors play by the rules of the game, whichever game it may be.
Rules of the game? They’re written down, widely available for reference and enforced by officials.
Except in baseball, which at the Major League level apparently has a full set of unwritten rules that must be followed.
We learned of another Unwritten Rule of Baseball after a game Sunday between the Baltimore Orioles and the Minnesota Twins:
If you’re down 7-0 in the ninth inning, the pitcher beating you has a one-hitter going and his teammates put on a defensive shift to deny you, the batter, the area where you usually send a batted ball, you are not allowed — repeat, not allowed — to bunt to the other side of the field.
If you find yourself having never heard of this particular Unwritten Rule, you’re not alone.
In the top of the ninth Sunday, Twins pitcher José Berrios had a one-hitter going. Baltimore catcher Chance Sisco came to bat having gotten the only Orioles hit.
The Twins shifted to the right side of the field – clearly in an attempt to deny Sisco, 23, another hit. Sisco, observing that the left side of the infield was now wide open, laid down a perfect bunt and reached first base. The Twins added a walk and another hit, but couldn’t get any runners home. Berrios lost his one-hitter but kept his shutout, Twins win 7-0.
Here comes the Unwritten Rule part. In the clubhouse after the game, Deadspin.com reported Monday, the Twins were displeased that Berrios – let us check our notes here – had tried to get on base.
Second baseman Brian Dozier: “Obviously, we’re not a fan of it. He’s a young kid. I could’ve said something at 2nd base but they have tremendous veteran leadership over there.”
Berrios: “I don’t care if he’s bunting. I just know it’s not good for baseball in that situation. That’s it.”
Outfielder Eddie Rosario: “Nobody liked that. No, no, no. That’s not a good play.”
It’s “not good for baseball” for a player to … try to win the game? Where were we when this change was announced?
This next comment from the Twins’ camp hurts the most around here: “It kind of took some of the drama out of what might have unfolded, but that’s fine.”
That’s from Twins Manager Paul Molitor. Known to fans of the 1980s Milwaukee Brewers as “The Ignitor” for his recurring role in getting Brew Crew rallies started. Sometimes with a bunt single.
Oh, Paulie. What’s happened to you since you went back home to the Twin Cities?
“What is the unwritten rule he seems to be referring to?” said Orioles vice president of baseball operations Brady Anderson. “That if a team is winning by several runs they can continue to employ their shift taking certain hits away from the batter, but out of respect ‘for the game,’ the opponent must continue to hit the ball where they’ve positioned their defense until the score is a little closer? Is that how it works? Is he the arbiter of how the game should be played?”
Baseball seems to have an awful lot of Unwritten Rules. If they’re so important, we’re left to wonder: Why haven’t these unwritten rules become written rules?
Some Unwritten Rules, the ones dealing with good sportsmanship, don’t bother us as much. You’re not supposed to be stealing bases when you’re up 16-0 in the ninth inning, we’re told. We get that. We’ll file that under Running Up The Score, the rough equivalent of throwing deep downfield passes in football when you’re up 49-0 in the fourth quarter.
But the onus there is on the baseball team holding the big lead.
The team trailing, by however many runs, is absolutely within its rights to try to put some runs on the scoreboard. Because the object of the game is to score more runs than the other team, and if you haven’t made the third out in the ninth inning, you should still be trying to get on base and score a run.
The idea that the Orioles were supposed to lay down and let Berrios get his one-hitter? That’s unsportsmanlike.
“Championships are there to be won, and the fact that you win one, or you win two or you win three doesn’t mean to say that you should be filled up now. I think you should win as many as you can, and every time you go out there you should try to win.”
That quotation is from another Wisconsin sports legend: Vince Lombardi.