What exactly are these unwritten rules, you ask? This Code?
Basically, it is a way for baseball players to self-police their sport: You hit our big guy, we'll hit yours. It's about protecting your teammate; it's also about intimidation. Sportsmanship. Payback. And most of all, secrecy.
A certain amount of cheating is okay (according to the Code), as long as it's not blatant, and as long as you don't get caught. When LaRussa caught the opposition cheating, he expected them to stop. They did. The Code was followed, no umpire involvement was needed.
If you are just a casual fan, The Baseball Codes: Beanballs, Sign Stealing, and Bench-Clearing Brawls: The Unwritten Rules of America's Pastime will open up a new side of baseball for you, and give you a new appreciation of what is actually going on between the lines of the baseball diamond. Authors Jason Turbow and Michael Duca do a good job of laying out the unwritten rules, using present-day as well as historic examples, as they liven up the text with pithy quotes from players and managers that add insight to the narrative: "Most of the time, you figure out a player's reputation early -- guys you could throw at, guys you could knock down. Guys who if you knock them down it makes them better players, and guys who if you knock them down you can make them cower," said Dave Henderson.
Now that's baseball!
If you're a serious fan, have faithfully watched your favorite team's games over the years, played some ball yourself, then the unwritten rules laid out in this book may seem familiar to you. An innate understanding that comes with enough hours logged in front of the TV or radio or on the field, as you absorbed the game within a game that makes baseball so unique and different than the other sports -- a romantic and nostalgic quality that connects the different generations of players and the different generations of fans. Almost like a language, the next generation of players absorbs the rules, maybe even make some revisions and updates of their own as the Code evolves with the times. Veteran players pass the Code down to the rookies, sometimes in an avuncular fashion, arm over shoulder, and sometimes in a harsher way -- like a fastball to the ribs.
Unfortunately, one of the rules of the Code is to not speak of it. So that's why you get a lot of dry, non-answers during post-game locker room interviews. Though that also makes it hard to write a book on the subject.
But here, Turbow and Duca get real answers -- salty language and all -- which really bring the fan into the minds of the players, and offer even more subtle examples of the Code. This is Pittsburgh second baseman Phil Garner taking exception to the way Bill Bucker slid into second.
The slide was clean, according to the Code, but it was Buckner's inconsistency that bugged Garner: "Buckner absolutely smoked me on a double play -- damn near broke my legs. This (expletive) slides thirty feet short for 160 ballgames, and now, in the 161st he's going to slide in hard? (Expletive) that!"
Many things can affect the Code -- the inning, the score, the time of season; if Buckner had gone in hard during a tied post-season game, maybe Garner wouldn't have been so upset. Turbow and Duca explain these subtleties well.
At times the writing can get a little repetitive as too many similar examples of the Code are shown. But when this book is good, it's good -- and funny.
My favorite stories are of a thirteen year-old Tommy Lasorda getting denied an autograph from a major league player, then getting his revenge on the player years later, when pitcher Lasorda was a young pro himself, on the way up, and the offending player was an older guy on the way down, trying to hang on in the minor leagues. Or when Bob Gibson finally got even with a batter a dozen years later -- in an old timer's game, no less! Now that's patience.
AHP Rating: 3 Balls
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