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March 24, 2017

Short Relief

Puttin' On The Reds / Historical Unwritten Rules

by Matt Sussman and Mary Craig

Puttin’ On The Reds

By: Matt Sussman

In 1998, the Reds were bad. Groan and wince bad. It’s probably why, of all teams in history, the 1998 Cincinnati Reds were baseball’s all-time pun team. Not in quantity, but quality.

It began with Sports Illustrated’s humble season preview, the subhead of which underscored both properties: SCHOTT IN THE FOOT.

"We're more of an expansion team than Tampa Bay or Arizona,"

Reds general manager Jim Bowden says with a straight face. "I'm

not kidding."

The expansion Diamondbacks had 560 plate appearances of Andy Fox, the Devil Rays Opening Day roster literally employed a Bob Smith, and the Reds had less than this. If this sounds familiar to another Cincinnati Reds team about to break camp on another baseball season, then let’s consider what happened on June 21. Manager Jack McKeon had a perfectly good Reggie Sanders on his team but instead scribbled in this lineup:

Pokey Reese 3B
Mike Frank CF
Barry Larkin SS
Dmitri Young LF
Bret Boone 2B
Sean Casey 1B
Chris Stynes RF
Brook Fordyce C
Pete Harnisch P

I have no insight into what the ol’ skipper watched the night before but this was the first and only occurrence of the outfield, reading surnames left to right:

Bonus points, as if that’s possible, were awarded for starting his one Brook, although unfortunately not his Mel (vin Nieves).

Moving onto the 2017 Reds, how do you make a wilder trio than Young, Frank and Stynes? Bryan Price is going to wrack that noodle pretty hard to find the perfect outfield. Right now their best option is to trade Joey Votto for prospects move Billy Hamilton to right, Arismendy Alcantara to left and then acquire and convert Xander Bogaerts to center for a trio of Al and Xander/Hamilton. This, of course, is a stretch of the imagination. Most people agree Hamilton doesn’t have the arm for right.

The Futility of Baseball’s Unwritten Rules

By: Mary Craig

The Washington Times July 28, 1907.jpeg

The Washington Times, July 28, 1907.

If there were a verbal form of baseball clickbait, it would be the phrase “playing the game the right way.” It’s often lobbed toward people who seem like they’re having too much fun, thereby defying the Old Testament God who batted the game from Heaven right into Abner Doubleday’s outstretched hand (because it was an unwritten rule to not use mitts). But putting stock in various unwritten rules neglects such an important characteristic of baseball: it encompasses the sociopolitical climate of its time, and it is therefore always changing.

While some unwritten rules have persisted through history, such as never mentioning your teammate is throwing a no-hitter, others have been lost to time. Let’s take a quick look at some unwritten rules that no longer exist, in rough order of their appearance in the game:

  1. Baseball is a sport for white men only (1890).

  2. Whenever a player receives a present/reward for his good play, he will play poorly the next day (1900).

  3. “Big men” must hit home runs, while “little men” hit grounders (1900).

  4. The travelling team must drop the first game of a series (1910).

  5. Players should never untie a shoelace/show any other signs of game being over until the final out, regardless of the score (1915).

  6. Careers are done by the age of 32 or 33, and pitchers’ careers ended on occasion via drawing straws (1920).

  7. Don’t mix baseball and horse racing (1920).

  8. Sportswriters can give small loans to ballplayers only if the player has been with the home team for at least 5 consecutive years (1940).

  9. All good players should have Monday off (1945).

  10. A farm team should be left alone early in the year (1945).

  11. No team should intentionally put the potential winning run on first base in the 9th inning (1945).

  12. Managers should never be caught “throwing back a beer” at the same bar as their players (1950).

  13. No baseball team should have African American starters as a majority on the field (1965).

  14. All outfielders should be the best hitters on the team (1965).

  15. Any player involved in a saloon brawl will quickly be traded or find themselves jobless (1965).

  16. Good pitchers shouldn’t also be good hitters, so all pitchers should assume a low profile around the batting cages (1970).

Some rules are simply pure superstition, but others are antiquated conceptions of players as property (Hi, Matt Vasgersian--players aren’t property!), and today’s game would look pretty absurd if any of these were still adhered to. Imagine Jose Altuve being forced to play center field because he’s an excellent hitter or Mookie Betts being discouraged from hitting home runs because he’s not a “big man.”

Progress, though often unnoticed, has intrinsically been part of baseball since its birth. So, to all you sticklers for unwritten rules, resistance is futile.

Matt Sussman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Matt's other articles. You can contact Matt by clicking here
Mary Craig is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Mary's other articles. You can contact Mary by clicking here

Related Content:  Cincinnati Reds,  Unwritten Rules

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<< Previous Article
Rumor Roundup: Drag Ra... (03/24)
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Short Relief: Playing ... (03/23)
Next Column >>
Short Relief: Talking ... (03/27)
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Looking Back on Tomorr... (03/24)

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