Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Unwritten Rules

  On Sunday, Detroit Tiger ace pitcher Justin Verlander took his 100 mile an hour fastball into the eighth inning of the game against the visiting Los Angeles Angels with a 3-0 lead having given up no hits and within 6 outs from his second no-hitter of the year and a chance to be only the 4th pitcher since 1900 with 3 or more no-hitters. Angel shortstop Eric Aybar led off the inning with a bunt that Verlander mishandled and threw away for an error, allowing Aybar to get to second base where he scored on a pair of ground balls. Only 4 outs away from the no hitter, Verlander gave up a single to Maicer Izturis to bring the Angels to within 3-2 and finish his no-hit bid.

  After the game, Verlander said Aybar’s bunting was “bush league” or poor sportsmanship. Aybar’s response was that he bunted because he’s not a power hitter and bunting is a good way for him to get on base and he also mentioned that Verlander told him he’d ‘get him’ next year. There was also an incident where Angel starter Jered Weaver threw a pitch over the head of a batter after Tiger Carlos Guilen took his time admiring his long home run off Weaver.

  I knew about the ‘unwritten rule’ of just putting your head down and getting around the bases after a home run, but I’d never heard about the rule against bunting to get a hit until the opposing pitcher has given up a hit. There was another incident a couple of months ago when Big David Ortiz of the filthy Red Sox got all upset against Orioles Kevin Gregg for pitching too close to him in a game 3 weeks ago and then mocking him for not running out the popup he hit to the outfield.

  Baseball has a lot of ‘unwritten rules’ and most are pretty nonsensical. If you don’t want someone to preen after they hit a home run, don’t let them hit one. And I don’t see anything wrong with bunting even if the other pitcher has a no-hitter going or even stealing a base with a 10 run lead in order to score another run. I remember Phil Rizzuto complaining when a Yankee opponent would pull a stunt like that and his broadcast partner Bill White would say, “Are the Yankees still trying to win the game?” When Rizzuto would say of course they were, White would pounce and tell Rizzuto that in that case the opponent should get as many runs as possible. I don’t know what got into Gregg’s mind to bother an opponent for not running hard. Just let him be lazy and reap the benefits when a player drops a pop up and still throws him out at first base.

  There used to be an unwritten rule about payback for a pitcher that threw at a batter on your team, but it has been lost in history. The payback involved a hitter bunting the ball down the first base line in order to make the pitcher field the ball and then instead of running TO the base, the batter runs THROUGH the unsuspecting pitcher, who has his back turned on a perfect bunt. I used to see this in the 70’s (especially on teams managed by Billy Martin), but the last time I saw it pulled off was by Toby Harrah when he played for the Yankees in 1984. I was a pretty good bunter and managed to pull this off in a fast pitch softball game once. I was catching and the pitcher smacked me in the elbow with his bat while taking some exaggerated warm-up swings in the batter box. He then let me know that if I didn’t like it, I should back up in the catcher’s box or else I’d get more of the same. When it was my turn to hit, I bunted down the line and nailed the guy with a beautiful flying tackle just as he bent over with his back to me to field the bunt. We ended up throwing punches, but at least the other guy didn’t have a baseball bat in his hands.

  Chess has quite a few of its own unwritten rules. The handshake at the beginning and the end of the game is not required, but everyone does it. Most people (me included), just give a perfunctory handshake, but there is the occasional ‘hand-cracker’ or the 2 finger ‘I can barely bear being in contact with you’ handshake guy.

  Another unwritten rule between more advanced players is to be a gracious loser. When one side has an overwhelming advantage, the other player does not play it out to checkmate, but resigns the game in a mannerly fashion. I’ve seen more than my share of games where a strong player would make an equally strong opponent checkmate him with a queen and king vs. king situation. Normally, this is a sure sign of bad blood, but in a blitz game or when the winning player is short of time, anything goes. I was at one tournament where the player who was losing just sat at the board for more than an hour until his time ran out, whereupon he picked up his scorebook and pencil and left the playing area without so much as a nod to his conqueror.

  At a tournament in New York, my opponent was adjusting the pieces every 20 seconds or so, but only while it was my turn to move. I thought it was against the rules and asked the tournament director, but he said while there was an unwritten rule against it, it was not illegal. I know now that there were a number of rules about distracting your opponent that could have been invoked, but none of that helped me from getting distracted and losing a game.

  One unwritten rule I rarely follow at the chess board is to go over the game after it’s over unless it’s the last game of the day. I’d much rather get a nap and relax to prepare for the next game. I’m sure some people think it’s really rude, but when I’m playing, the goal is to do my best and my psyche isn’t helped by finding all the ideas I overlooked moments before I have to play another game.

  An unwritten chess rule that can be broken to advantage is that when there is a great difference in the ratings of the players, the lower rated player should not offer a draw because the higher rated player will never accept it and that the lower rated player should be honored to accept the draw offer of the higher rated player. The higher rated player will use the latter ‘rule’ to offer a draw in a losing or lost position and allow the lower rated player to grab a few rating points rather than test their technique against a superior player. As a lower rated player, I’ve found that the moment I make the draw offer to a higher rated player is when they are most likely to be over-confident and careless for a move or two. The lower rated players draw offer is almost an extra move when played properly.

I would have asked which of the genuises at the Bondurant Git 'n Go decided to label a 5 ounce 500 calorie pack of Twizzlers as a 'Healthy Treat!, but I think there's an unwritten rule against it. Anyway, they were probably off for the day working on their Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech.