The book: “The Unwritten Rules of Baseball: The Etiquette, Conventional Wisdom and Axiomatic Codes of Our National Pasttime”
The author: Paul Dickson
How to find it: Collins, 256 pages, $14.99
Where we’d go looking for it: Amazon has it (linked here)
The scoop: Last year, we came upon the book “The Code: Baseball’s Unwritten Rules and Its Ignore-at-Your-Own-Risk Code of Conduct” by Ross Bernstein (linked here) which seemed to deal more about how pitchers retaliate and when it was right to get into a fight (hence, the cover shot of Nolan Ryan pummeling Robin Ventura).
In this one by Dickson, the go-to writer when it comes to defining baseball’s history based on his Daniel Webster approach for the last several years, there seems to be much more context — maybe not so many stories from players like Bernstein, but a better understanding of why things always lead to the real Two Commandments of baseball: Respect the game, and don’t embarass yourself.
Dickson, like Bernstein, interviews players, coaches, mangers, writers and fans for their take on what conduct is appropriate. But Dickson, who has also done recent books on “The Hidden Language of Baseball,” “The Joy of Keeping Score” and “Baseball’s Greatest Quotations,” seems to have more authority behind his probing questions.
“I can report that the unwritten rules are alive and well,” Dickson writes. “After spending considerable time thinking about the unwritten rules, I have come to my own conclusion, which is that they are neither archaic nor arcane, but simply exist. While some of the rules are immutable, others are open to interpretation and depend on circumstances. Over time, they have been modified, amended and occasionally dropped. But they still exist and — for better or worse — give the game its essential character.”
Dickson established a Joe Garagiola book from 1960, “Baseball Is A Funny Game” for helping give unwritten rules a voice, and then a 1986 list of 30 unwritten rules published in the Baseball Digest and credited to the Orange County Register’s Peter Schmuck and Randy Youngman.
Breaking unwritten rules can have a profound affect on society — like the Dodgers allowing Jackie Robinson to play on April 15, 1947, even though many were slow to follow the breaking of the MLB color barrier.
As for baseball’s rules — written and unwritten about steroid use, Dickson points out: “More than one editorialist made the point that if Major League Baseball was as serious about the written rules as it was about the unwritten rules, there would have been much less of a problem.’
So, what we really want to know: Is there crying in baseball? No, according to Dickson, who has numbered it 1.9.0. Nor is there rubbing a pitch that hits you in the batters’ box (1.11.0).
How it goes down in the scorebook: Rule 4.1.0: The Official Scorer Should Make Sure That the First Hit of a Game Is a Good One when There is Even the Slight Chance That the Pitcher Is In the Early Stages of a No-hitter.” This one’s a hit. No replay needed.
A review on “Unwritten Rules” we’d also recommend: On Ron Kaplan’s website (linked here)
What we also strongly endorse (maybe even more): Dickson’s updated and third edition of “The Dickson Baseball Dictionary: The Revised, Expanded and Now-Definitive Work on the Language of Baseball” (Norton, $49.95, 974 pages (find “>it here)
Why its a necessary part of your baseball library: Even if you have the 1989 or 1999 editions, this one is refined as most dictionaries become over time. Dickson says after his first one with 5,000 entries, many contributed new definitions or words. The next version had 7,000 entries. This one has 10,000 entries with more than 18,000 definitions — and more than 400 people helped with the process. “If someone told me at the very beginning of this undertaking there would be 10,000 terms to define, I would have said this was impossible,” he writes. Just think of the new terms that had to be added since the first edition: Wildcard, realighment, Executive Council, interleague play, greenie and steroid. Plus, sabermetrics. Oh, and that thing that Dice-K throws, the gyroball.
“I can only claim that this is as close as can be gotten to definitive; but given the nature of the game and the nature of the language, the collecting of information and the recruiting of new volunteers continues,” Dickson writes.