Judging the Royals

Lee Judge breaks down the Royals, game by game.

A guide to the unwritten rules

04/11/2013 6:16 PM

05/20/2014 10:42 AM

The unwritten rules

A reader-posted list of unwritten baseball rules made for interesting reading. Since part of my job is bringing the player’s point of view to the fans, I’ll tell you what they say about following unwritten rules: it all depends on the situation. Here are some of the unwritten rules that were posted — the reader said they came from Baseball Digest — and what ballplayers and managers have told me about those rules.

Never put the tying or go-ahead run on base.

This one gets violated all the time. It depends on the hitter getting walked and the hitter on-deck. If the guy at the plate can end the ballgame with one swing and the guy on deck can’t, you may want to avoid the guy at the plate. And if the guy at the plate can’t run, he probably won’t score from first on a double.

Play for the tie at home, go for the victory on the road.

Managers will violate this one if they believe their bullpen is in better shape than their opponent’s. Tie it up in the ninth, get it to extra innings, outlast the other team and win it there.

Don't play the infield in early in the game.

It depends on the pitcher: if the other team has Justin Verlander or Felix Hernandez on the mound, you better do everything you can to keep the other team from scoring — they won’t need that many runs to win.

Never make the first or third out at third.

You might see this one violated if the runner going into third is trying to draw the throw away from home plate. If another runner is trying to score, offering the opposition an easy out at third might be worth it — as long as the run matters.

Never steal when you're two or more runs down.

It depends on the inning: if you’re down by three and you can score one now and get the other two later, it might be worth stealing the base. Delivery times also matter: if the pitcher is taking so long to get the ball to home plate that a stolen base is a virtual lock, take it—it’s a free base.

Don't steal when you're well ahead.

Not unless you don’t mind getting drilled by an angry pitcher.

Don't steal third with two outs.

Once again, look at the delivery times — it might be worth it. Where you’re playing also matters: the unwritten rule is based on the idea that you’re already in scoring position if you’re on second base — but not if you’re in Fenway. The Green Monster is so close to home plate runners can’t be sure of scoring on a two-out hit. In Fenway, runners will try to get to third whenever possible — even with two outs.

Never let the score influence the way you manage.

I don’t know where they got this one; the score influences the way you manage every night.

Don't go against the percentages.

Which percentages? If the guy at the plate is a better overall hitter than the guy on deck, you might work around the guy at the plate. But what if the guy at the plate has been struggling the last 10 games and the guy on deck has been on fire? Ballplayers consistently say that what’s happening right now trumps everything else.

Take a strike when your club is behind in a ballgame.

It depends on the pitcher and the hitter: say you’re losing by one, the guy on the mound is a strike-throwing machine and the guy at the plate is a terrific power hitter. With some closers they have a put-away pitch that they throw when they’re ahead in the count — you don’t want to let them get to that pitch. The first pitch might be the most hittable pitch of the at-bat.

Never give an intentional walk if first base is occupied.

I was watching a game with Paul Splittorff and the opposing pitcher worked around Wilson Betemit with Billy Butler on first base. I asked Split how a pitcher could walk a guy and force a runner into scoring position. Split said Billy still wasn’t in scoring position — if the lead runner is slow enough, the pitcher can use first


second base when he wants to avoid facing a hitter.

With runners in scoring position and first base open, walk the No. 8 hitter to get to the pitcher.

It depends on the inning: early in the game the starting pitcher will hit, by the middle innings the other manager might think it’s worth pinch hitting. You’ll also see pitchers throw balls just off the plate to the eight-hole hitter hoping he’ll expand his zone with the pitcher on deck.

In rundown situations, always run the runner back toward the base from which he came.

The Royals disagree with this one; they’d rather limit the number of throws than make an extra one to get the runner headed back to his original base.

If you play for one run, that's all you'll get.

It depends: if the other team is bad defensively, forcing them to make throws and decisions can also force errors and that can mean a multi-run inning.

Don't take the bat out of your best hitter's hands by sacrificing in front of him.

If you’ve got Prince Fielder hitting behind him, you can bunt in front of Miguel Cabrera.

Don't use your stopper in a tie game — only when you're ahead.

Managers will use their closer in a tie game when they’re at home. If the closer shuts down the other team in the top of the ninth, the home team has two chances to win: the bottom of the ninth and no matter what happens in the top of the inning, the bottom of the tenth.

If one of your players gets knocked down by a pitch, retaliate.

If the umpire issues a warning too soon, retaliation may have to wait till the next day. In an effort to stop pitchers throwing at hitters, they can prolong it.

Hit the ball where it's pitched.

Some guys are so strong they can pull an outside pitch and still hit it hard.

A manager should remain detached from his players.

Some do, some don’t. Both kinds of managers have had success and both kinds of managers have failed.

Never mention a no-hitter while it's in progress.

Absolutely true. Announcer Ryan Lefebvre told me that he’s damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t. If someone tunes in late to a game, listens for an inning and then turns off the radio or TV, they’ll be mad that Ryan didn’t mention a possible no-hitter. He tries to get around that by saying something like: "There’s nothing but zeros on the board" without saying "no" or "hitter." In the press box, you don’t mention how fast a game is going—that’s also considered a jinx.

With a right-hander on the mound, don't walk a right-handed hitter to pitch to a left-handed hitter.

It depends on the match-up numbers. If the right-hander were Babe Ruth and the left-hander were me, walk Ruth.

It’s always good to remember that every rule has its exceptions — even unwritten rules.


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