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Jake Fox and Unwritten Baseball Rules: What's the Big Deal?

In general, unwritten rules are stupid. That’s why no one took the time to write them down. Think about it. If something really needs to be a rule—and it’s widely agreed that it needs to be a rule—it’s going to be documented, set in stone and thumb tacked to the wall of every minor league clubhouse.

By not making something an official rule, Major League Baseball is officially saying that it is okay, allowable and within the realm of acceptability.

In a spring training game today, Jake Fox swung at a pitch. The count was 3-0, his team was winning by ten runs, and it was the eighth inning with a minor league pitcher on the mound. Apparently that’s a no-swing situation.

I think it is not only a little irrational to get bothered by what Jake Fox did, but it’s somewhat insulting to those of us who take the game seriously. It dilutes the spirit of the game to dictate that an otherwise perfectly allowable action is somehow out of line in a certain situation. When you start saying that it’s not okay to make a certain strategic decision based on an in-game situation, you are taking control away from the players on the field. Let them play it out.

Sure, with a 10-run lead, the game is more or less decided. It isn’t absolutely certain that your team will win, but it’s a pretty safe bet. I am, however, of the belief that an 11-run lead is better than a 10-run lead. Similar to how a five-run lead is better than a four-run lead, but a less pressing situation.

You should still try to score runs when leading by 10. Maybe you dial it back somewhat to avoid needless injury, or rest some of your regulars, but that doesn’t mean hold back on your swing when you otherwise would let loose.

The point of organized baseball is that every player is held to the same exact rules. These rules need to be consistent. For example, if you are allowed to throw a curveball at one point, you need to be allowed to do so at any other point.

So why can’t you swing at a pitch in this situation, when in most other situations swinging is quite well within the rules?

I say leave the guy alone. He didn’t tread on anyone’s mound. He didn’t plow through an unsuspecting catcher. He didn’t say anything disrespectful about an opposing team. He didn’t inject any chemicals that are going to make his muscles grow exponentially. He swung at a pitch. Few things are less commonly done in baseball.

Fox’s move has to be less “out of line” than stealing a base in the same situation. Or even bunting. Swinging the bat is such a fundamental part of the game, and such a natural part of it, that to say it cannot be done at any point borders on insanity.

To require a hitter to leave the bat on his shoulders during the last two innings of a 10-run victory is akin to handing out “participation” ribbons to the losing team. If we continue heading in that direction, we’re approaching naming the Texas Rangers 2010’s co-champions.

I propose this: if something needs to be a rule, write it down and enforce it. If not, don’t whine when someone violates it. There is another term for things that are “unwritten” rules. Some of us call them “things you’re allowed to do.”

I would absolutely love to hear Jim Leyland and Buck Showalter explain why this move pissed them off so much. If they are able to muster an explanation consisting of anything more than the sentence, “You just don’t do that,” I’ll be very surprised.

That may suffice within the confines of conventional baseball wisdom, but not in reality. In the real world, for something to be against the rules, it has to be destructive in some way. I fail to see how Jake Fox did anything truly destructive. It’s just a case of the slaves of conventional baseball wisdom chastising a young player for absolutely nothing.

It would be so easy to fall back on the fact that this is an unwritten rule.

“But, why is this wrong?”

“Because it violates an unwritten rule.”

With any law or rule in existence, the rationale needs to go beyond that. Why is it wrong to commit theft? To commit violence? You can cite the ways these things harm people. That’s why these rules are written down and enforced strictly.

Jake Fox swung at a pitch. No harm done. One report says that Showalter was still hot and bothered after the game ended.

Calm down and grow up.

The same article states that this isn’t the first time Fox “ignored a clear take situation.”

Heaven forbid. We have a renegade bat-swinger. Throw him behind bars along with Delmon Young and Jeff Francoeur. Those lawless rogues, offering at every pitch that tickles his fancy.

And the crime is? I’m sorry, but no one is harmed. You can swing the bat at any pitch you darn well please. Swing at all of them if you want. Chances are, it won’t hurt anyone but yourself.

And if it does harm the other team? Isn’t that the point of swinging the bat in the first place?

I guarantee you that Buck Showalter and/or several of the Oriole’s veterans have sat down with Jake Fox to explain to him what he did wrong. And I bet it was an entirely baseless argument, nonsensical to all but the old-timers who hold things dear for no reason other than tradition.

I challenge anyone who has a problem with what Jake Fox did to explain why he was out of line. Why should he have not swung at that pitch? What harm was done? And why is this an unwritten rule as opposed to simply a rule?

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