“Like maybe no other single game in history, this one was packed with violations, both real and imagined, of baseball’s unwritten rules.”

August 5th, 2011

From the Sports of the Times article titled “When Baseball Imitates Congress, and Not in a Good Way”:

The purpose of the baseball codebook, passed down in the clubhouse from generation to generation like an ever-evolving collection of tribal rites, was probably most succinctly described by Bob Brenly, who led the Arizona Diamondbacks to their 2001 World Series championship. “I can break it down into three simple things,” Brenly told the authors of “The Baseball Codes.” (Yes, there are enough of these rules to warrant their own book.) “Respect your teammates, respect your opponents, respect the game.”

If only it were as simple as Brenly makes it sound. As with the unwritten rules that govern any institution, baseball’s are subject to endless interpretation: You can’t steal on an opponent when you have a big lead late in the game, but what constitutes a big lead? And when, exactly, is it late in the game?

No bunting to break up a no-hitter, but what if it’s a tight game in the heat of a pennant race and the batter has been known to successfully bunt for base hits? (This last scenario isn’t hypothetical: The Angels’ Erick Aybar tried to bunt his way on in the eighth inning of the game in question, a move Verlander later described as “bush league.”)

So what was the infraction?

If opinion research firms conducted approval-ratings polls for baseball players, the Tigers’ Carlos Guillen would have suffered the steepest decline after Sunday’s game. In the seventh inning, when Guillen smashed a ball into the right-field seats, he lingered in the batter’s box to admire his handiwork and pointedly flipped his bat, a strictly prohibited form of grandstanding known as home-run pimping. He compounded the infraction by trotting slowly down to first, angled toward the mound, taunting Weaver all the way.

Bear with me, because this is where the narrative gets a little convoluted. In Guillen’s mind, he was actually taking the moral high ground by paying Weaver back for disrespecting one of his teammates, Magglio Ordonez, earlier in the game. (In the third inning, Weaver had shouted at Ordonez as he circled the bases slowly after a home run, another variation of home-run pimping.)

Weaver responded to Guillen’s taunts by throwing at the Tigers’ next hitter, Alex Avila. The beanball has been an accepted part of baseball’s code pretty much since the game’s inception. But it’s one thing for a pitcher to make a rhetorical point with a knockdown or brush-back pitch. It’s another to throw near a hitter’s head, which is what Weaver did.

He was instantly kicked out of the game, and on his way to the locker room was so worked up that he had to be physically restrained from the umpire by his teammates. He was later suspended for six games. Considering the tightness of the pennant race — the Angels and the Rangers are running neck and neck — it’s entirely possible that the start he’ll miss will make the difference for his team’s season. Not that Weaver had any regrets. “I wouldn’t do anything different,” he said when he learned of his suspension.

So there you go. That’s what happens when dogma and misguided principle win the day.