Enough About 'Unwritten Rules'

Time for purists to let go of baseball's silent code of conduct
10/17/2013 1:24 PM ET
By Doug Williams

Yasiel Puig's premature celebration of a triple irked the St. Louis Cardinals in their NLCS matchup.(AP)
I'm about as much of a "baseball purist" as anyone in my generation. Going through high school and college it always felt like more and more of my friends were starting to watch basketball and football over baseball. I know that it's because these sports are supposedly the "star-driven" and "fast-paced" alternatives, but I happen to like baseball the best because it's not those things. It's an intellectual game. To really understand the game and master it, you have to be smart. I took a baseball statistics course in college, for example. Other sports don't have that option.

In other words, I am happy that baseball is so different from the alternatives. But in the past few weeks, the sport -- and some of its fans and players -- has driven me mildly insane.

Let's start with the St. Louis Cardinals and Atlanta Braves, two "old-school" teams in the National League. What do they have in common? They have taken offense to players celebrating their hits. For the Braves, it was the first career home run for Jose Fernandez, a 21-year-old rookie pitcher. It also happened to come against a pitcher who had hit him in the past. It was pure excitement and redemption. And for the Cardinals, it was the bat flip and celebration at third base by Yasiel Puig, a 22-year-old rookie, after a triple in the NLCS. Both, you could argue, the biggest hits of their careers.

Defenders of both the Braves and the Cardinals -- and the players on those teams themselves -- have said that guys like Puig and Fernandez are breaking the "unwritten rules" of baseball, and that their celebrations are an insult to the opposing team.

Let's take a step back here. Do people really think that Puig and Fernandez are making a conscious decision, in the heat of the moment, to show up the other team? Fernandez hits his first career home run -- as a pitcher! -- and he has to behave as if it's no big deal? Yasiel Puig, who does nothing BUT hustle 24/7, flips his bat and gets excited because he thought he hit the biggest home run of his career and there are really baseball purists out there that think that's an outrage?

Let's remember that neither of them is old enough to rent a car in the United States. A year ago, Jose Fernandez couldn't even drink legally. And guys like Brian McCann and Miguel Montero are saying they're disrespectful and breaking the ancient, unwritten rules of the game. McCann was so angry and felt so strongly that his opinion needed to be heard that he stopped Fernandez after stepping on home plate and gave him a stern talking to. Excuse me if I'm wrong, but I'm pretty sure the "unwritten rulebook" would say to let him go by, and then retaliate by getting a hit off of him in your next at-bat or buzzing him up-and-in the next time Fernandez is up to hit.

As much as I don't like watching players showboat, these veterans sound like guys who were never rookies with no idea how to act. They also sound like guys who don't care about the popularity of their sport, because THAT is what's actually important and THAT is what Fernandez and Puig are helping with. Baseball needs excitement. It needs guys like Puig and Brett Lawrie to get pumped after a single and annoy the other team. Because no matter how annoyed the "old-school" guys are -- who are probably on their way out of the game anyway -- that's what fans like to see and it's what will put butts in the seats.

We're allowed to be annoyed, that's our right, but we have to stop blaming our anger on some bigger issue like "unwritten rules." In reality, there is jealousy here from opposing players and also pure competitiveness. But all these young players are doing is having fun. They are playing the game like it's in somebody's back yard because they are talented enough to make it look that way. Do older players somehow have the right to call that wrong? All they are doing by complaining is proving that they are having less fun playing this game for a living.

Believe me, I understand the people that worry about the intellectual status of baseball. As I said earlier, that's something that makes the sport appealing to me. But let's face it, when one of the "unwritten rules" of this sport is that a shortstop doesn't have to actually step on second base to get a force out, it means some of these "rules" are far from genius and are probably on their way out as replay inches closer and closer.

Yasiel Puig has been in the Majors for four months and has the No. 3 selling jersey in baseball. So for the baseball purists, there's a train coming. You can either step aside, accept change and let it go by … or let it run you over. 

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