The book: “The Baseball Codes: Beanballs, Sign Stealing & Bench-Clearing Brawls: The Unwritten Rules of America’s Pasttime”
The author: Jason Turbow with Michael Duca
The vital stats: Pantheon publishing, 294 pages, $25
The pitch: Two years ago, we came across another book along this subject matter, Ross Bernstein’s “The Code: Baseball’s Unwritten Rules and Its Ignore-at-Your-Own-Risk Code of Conduct” (linked here). It also had a pretty cool cover: Nolan Ryan, giving Robin Ventura the noogie sandwich.
And what did we learn there? That the incident will never die.
In the Introduction to this one — page 3 — the Ryan-Ventura 1993 incident is relived in all its glory, with all the subtext, all the drama, all the explanation why “the Code” was involved.
Apparently, you can’t write about “Code” without dialing up that story.
Bernstein’s book had an entire page reprinting the 30 unwritten rules of baseball, according to Baseball Digest, in 1986. This one goes into detail about 23 codes, in more general, but with specific examples.
Because Turnbow and Duca have backgrounds with the Giants, maybe it’s better for Dodger fans to read this one and find out some of the more insider details about the L.A.-S.F. rivalry.
Start with page 107, on the subject of retaliation: In 2004, Dodgers pitcher Jeff Weaver got into a shouting match with Giants runner Michael Tucker, who had bunted down the first base line. Weaver fielded it in front of first baseman Robin Ventura — that guy gets around — and put a hard tag in Tucker’s face. The Giants pitcher that day was 22-year-old Jerome Williams. Earlier that year, Williams asked teammate Barry Bonds if he should retailiate after Randy Johnson hit him with a pitch. Bonds said no.
But this time:
“I’ll never forget what Barry said,” Williams recalled. “He said, ‘Dodgers players do not disrespect Giants playes, no matter what. So you take care of business.’”
What Williams interpreted that to be was: Get people out. Then Giants pitching coach Dave Righetti told Williams to “do wha the had to do.” Again, Williams thought it meant keep pitching shutout innings.
The Dodgers’ Adrian Beltre then comes up and hits a single, and the Giants’ bench is dumbstruck.
“I was like, ‘Dang, I was supposed to hit him,’” Williams said of Beltre, and was later chewed out by Bonds in the locker room.
The book is rich with stories like that, many involving Dodgers and Angels players.
There’s Tommy Lasorda, pitching for the Brooklyn Dodgers’ minor-league Greenville, N.C., team, and facing Buster Maynard, a former big-leaguer trying to hold his job with the Yankees’ Single-A team. Lasorda’s first pitch to him sailed inside, knocking him back. The next one did the same. Later, Lasorda buzzed him again.
The reason: When Lasorda was 15, in 1942, he was rebuffed for an autograph by New York Giants outfielder buster Maynard after a game at Philadelphia’s Shibe Park. Lasorda didn’t forget it.
“I wish I had hit you, you busher!” Lasorda screamed at him.
Another Lasorda tirade, when he was managing the Dodgers in the 1977 World Series, is documented — a transcription in a chapter on “Mound Conference Etiquette” — that’s worth the price of the book.
The bottom line about what constitutes a code and what doesn’t is given by Bob Brenly: “Respect your teammates, respect your opponents, and respect the game.”
It’s then a matter how much of a knucklehead today’s player act like in carrying that through. They aren’t the brightest of all the professional athletes. And as they are rushed up through the minor leagues to get to the big payday, they aren’t the most mature or learned people about how the game is played on the big-league level.
The lessons learned in this book seem to be lost on today’s players, and that’s covered in the final chapter: Too many players are friendly with each other now, sharing an agent, golfing or training together in the offseason; players respect money and paychecks now more than an overall respect of the game and its unwritten rules. Today’s media, with the TV analysts discussing it more, overplays much of the retaliation attempts that players used to get away with under the radar to keep the game honest, and the game has fundamentally changed.
In that regard, this book is timely, covering things that for some ridiculous reason, are lost not only by the fans, but by the players.
In the last chapter, there’s a great story told about Rex Hudler’s last at-bat, in a Triple-A game for Buffalo, at age 37, and how he was hit in the neck by a pitch. What did Hud-Man do? You can probably guess. He ran it out to first base.
How it goes down in the scorebook: These two books can coexist. There’s no code saying there only has to be one definitive book on the “Code.” Right?