You know Don Larsen fired up a cigarette in the dugout after he retired the Brooklyn Dodgers in order for the seventh straight inning that long ago October afternoon?
He looked toward the Yankee Stadium scoreboard, which still had the Dodgers without a hit, turned to Mickey Mantle and said, “Hey, Mick. Look at that. Two more innings. Wouldn’t it be something?”
I know what you’re thinking: Larsen was smoking during a game? Sure. A lot of players did back then. A few still do today.
No, Larsen’s real breach of etiquette was stating the obvious, a transgression so blatant Mantle moved to another part of the dugout.
Geez, didn’t Larsen know anything about the unwritten rules?
You know the ones: Never throw at a batter’s head. Never say a pitcher is working on a perfect game. They hit one of us with a pitch, we hit one of them.
There are many rules. Here is another you might have read about recently: Never steal a base when your team is trailing by nine runs.
Tampa Bay Rays center fielder B.J. Upton did that 10 days ago and, oh boy, look out.
Two days later he’s dodging a fastball behind his back, another at his ribs.
There’s manager Joe Maddon yelling at Cleveland catcher Victor Martinez.
There’s Rays left fielder Carl Crawford walking toward Indians pitcher Kerry Wood.
The dugouts empty. Accusations fly.
Upton violated an unwritten rule found in the unwritten book.
“There’s a lot of pages out of the book that need to be burned,” Maddon said.
But how can you burn something that doesn’t exist?
Maddon was speaking figuratively, but he could have been speaking literally, because the unwritten rules of baseball actually do exist in bound form.
Author Paul Dickson spent a few years collecting them and put them together in a neat little book titled, “The Unwritten Rules of Baseball. The Etiquette, Conventional Wisdom, and Axiomatic Codes of Our National Pastime.”
Thank you, Paul.
“I got interested in the glue that holds baseball together,” Dickson said. “Not the stuff that goes on in the game, but that stuff that goes on in everyone’s head. Some of the stuff is crazy.”
Never rub where it hurts.
Never tell a pitcher on your team that he is tipping his pitches.
Never show up the other team.
“It’s all relative,” Dickson said. “It’s the way the other team perceives it.”
Take Kirk Gibson, Dickson said. He limps around the bases, pumping his fist in the air after hitting a game-winning home run on May 3, he can expect a fastball to his ribs on May4.
But do it in Game 1 of the World Series and it is completely acceptable.
Never peak at a catcher’s signals when batting. Never steal with a big lead. Never steal when trailing by nine runs. We mentioned that, didn’t we?
It’s kind of interesting because while the Rays trailed 9-0 when Upton stole second and third, they trailed 9-6 just six batters later.
What happened? Well, the Rays kept playing hard. The Indians pitching went kaput. The Rays almost erased a 9-0 deficit. The following night they erased all of a 7-0 deficit and won.
“You have to understand,” Maddon said, “the game is different today.”
Maybe Ty Cobb couldn’t steal when the Tigers trailed by a lot, but that was a different era. Yet that’s the era when many of the unwritten rules were unwritten.
“At that point, they had to hit like 15 singles in a row to catch up on a seven-run difference,” Maddon said. “Today, you could get two guys on, homer, two guys on, homer, and you got six.”
And a 9-0 game is now 9-6.
Now, you can steal.