MLB’s Unwritten Code: Where Brotherhood and Ego Collide
Why all the ‘You hit my guy, I’ll hit your guy’, tough guy bravado oozing out of the pores of the testosterone driven professional athlete?
Just 3 short weeks into the 2015 MLB season, baseball fans across the country, especially those who are that rare breed of baseball and hockey fan, have witnessed media gold: base ‘brawls’. The most recent bench-clearing melee happened in Chicago on a night where tensions between the hometown White Sox and the visiting chip-on-their-shoulders Royals were already high before the game even began. On Opening Day, White Sox pitcher Jeff Samardzija rifled a 90’s fastball into the back of outfielder Lorenzo Cain, the hitter who appeared just after Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas, who’d taken Samardzija over the wall for akey home run. Was it intentional? Most likely, but these things happen. And they always will. The question is, why? Why all the ‘You hit my guy, I’ll hit your guy’, tough guy bravado oozing out of the pores of the testosterone driven professional athlete? And isn’t the irony here that the ‘boys of summer’ are playing a child’s game? They do make millions of dollars, but when you strip it down, it’s a game, right? That’s what it might look like on the outside, but on the inside, it’s much more than that.
I’ve played the game at this level. I’ve been hit by a pitch by a Latin flame thrower at the crisp rate of 98 mph. It made me angry not because I was hit by the pitch, although it wasn’t a pleasant experience. It made me angry because he was taking his frustrations out on the hitter before me, who’d just launched a 100mph fastball over the center field wall at about Mach 3. I can still hear the sonic boom it created. But it wasn’t the home run that caused any issues. It was the way the previous hitter ‘showed up’ the pitcher by trotting around the bases quite slowly, adding enough flair to place a bullseye on my back. Should he have hit me, or waited for that hitter to come back around? He may not have been in the game at that point, so was I his only opportunity to exact revenge? If you’re affiliated with the opposing team in any way, you would most likely convince yourself it was justified. In my opinion, as well as those of my bride, my trainer and my teammates, it wasn’t. Just one inning later, one of the other teams’ players was hit by our pitcher, and a brawl ensued. Suspensions were levied, calmer heads eventually prevailed, and baseball was back to normal very soon, with just a small, bruising reminder of that wonderful day in the summer of ’96. As I think back on that day, and attempt to compare it to these first fews weeks of the MLB season, I wonder: can the ‘unwritten code’ of protecting your teammates backfire on teams if taken too far?
And so, the Royals and White Sox have their own players suspended for different lengths of time. The Royals believe the White Sox started it (and I believe that as well, and not just because I’m a loyal Royal, which I am), and yet they continued to press the envelope. The Royals, fresh off a World Series appearance, are making a point to let everyone in baseball know they won’t be pushed around, and so they should. Any chance an opponent has to disrupt a team’s or player’s momentum, they will do so to gain a competitive edge. But when a team blatantly continues to go after another, risking careers, and in some cases, lives, it becomes just a bit more than gaining an edge. Has the unwritten code of ‘only the strong survive’ gone too far? Are players on an MLB roster that don’t subscribe to the brawler mentality afraid to speak up out of fear they’ll be ostracized? Are some players, those with Type A personalities, 100 mph heaters and 6’5″, 230 lb. bodies just looking to fight like the designated hockey goon?
The clubhouse is a player’s sanctuary. The media is allowed in at certain times to conduct interviews, but rest assured, they are never fully allowed ‘in’. It’s a place of player’s-only meetings, speeches, joking around and private territory. That’s just how it should be. Heck, the one thing I miss about being in the big leagues isn’t the diving catch or the game-winning home run (although there wasn’t many of those, at least in the show), but the rain-delayed card games and funny stories from the earlier years of baseball. Having an unwritten code is about bonding, about having a wingman (or 24 of them), about watching the other guy’s back. I miss that atmosphere, those relationships, the thought of knowing I’m part of something bigger than me. But when it’s ONLY about ego, only about the player, only reactions because some guy is ticked off and just wants to fight, all without fear or concern of consequences to themselves or worse yet, their teammates, well, then it’s gone too far. The unwritten code exists for the players. It’s a non-contractual agreement among teammates that makes ‘The Bigs’ a boyhood dream come to life. It’s a great place to hide, yet feel like a man at the same time. The problem is that when a player’s vision gets so clouded that they can’t see their teammates through the trees, then the unwritten code needs to be tweaked. Pitchers shouldn’t be throwing at hitter’s heads. That IS someone’s son, husband, brother, father. And if a pitcher instigates a fight, take ownership of it and don’t go on and on about it. If someone slides dirty, and you probably can think of someone right now who recently accomplished that feat, don’t lie, be accountable. Getting caught in the moment happens. We all lose our minds every now and then. But it’s time to be accountable. In every walk of life, folks should be able to do what they enjoy without fear of pain or wearing a target for someone who can’t control their sanity. Until this mindset changes, all baseball is missing is a rink, a pair of skates, and a goon that makes $20 million a year simply to draw blood from an opponent. I’m still that little kid who loves baseball, and the rare one who had that dream fulfilled to play in the big leagues. If things continue like this, I’ll get tired of watching soon. And if that’s you too, I think it’s all bigger than some unwritten code.