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The game's unwritten rules


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The game's unwritten rules are sacred

Baseball rule books are filled with very detailed explanations of how to play the game; however, the unwritten rule book is sometimes more important to players.


Because we play games that are public and play the same teams over and over, the unwritten rules come into play more than the written rules. Sometimes they are obvious -- like not stealing bases when you are up 10 runs just to boost your stats, a third-base coach not waving in runners when the game clearly is in hand, and not stretching a double into a triple to jack up the score. The reason teams extend courteousness is because they want the same treatment when they play again 12 more times.


One of the more intriguing rules of the game really doesn't make sense. With trades and free-agency movement today, players often are on different teams each season. But they never indicate to their teammates that they already know certain tendencies of the pitchers on their former teams, even though it would help their current team.


Unwritten rules apply off the field as well. If you are a rookie on a team, you usually are the pack mule for the team. You help out by carrying things, or whatever may need doing. Another example: The back seats on the plane and bus usually are designated for older players. Rookies usually wait until veterans have a seat and then take what's left, usually doubling up with someone else.


If you are on the bench during the game and go into the clubhouse for water, gum, etc., you ask other teammates if they need anything. It is like the book All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten. It is just basic courtesy, like respect your elders. The game always has had a respect for "service time." This has nothing to do with salaries, or "Hey, I'm better than you." It's nothing like that. I think players realize how hard it is to remain in this game, how much work is involved, and they respect that.


Not knowing the unwritten rules can get you into a lot of trouble with your teammates, or the opposing team. I think most of it can be summed up by one word: Respect.


Very few guys can quote exact rules from the official book, but everyone knows you never steal second when you're up 10 runs.



Posted by Todd Jones at 06:34 PM | Comments (0)

June 26, 2005

Non-baseball fans can enjoy off-the-field activities

Some major-league parks have hit the nail on the head when it comes to entertaining the rest of the family so you, the baseball fan, can enjoy the game.


There are few parks where the game is the only thing that matters ? Fenway Park and Yankee Stadium come to mind. But for the others, you have to do a good job of making the game almost as entertaining as the stuff going on around the park. The Atlanta Braves have got the greatest atmosphere because of the way they present baseball.


In case you've never been there, the "Ted," as Turner Field affectionately is known, was about as lifeless as there was to watch a game. Before this year, you would fall asleep until Chipper Jones would hit. After the Braves played the Cubs in 2003 and got embarrassed by their poor fan support and the energy that the Cubs fans brought to the Ted, it was obvious the Braves had to do something.


Now the Ted is jumping with every pitch. It has a 71-by-78-foot TV screen in center field. It is the largest HDTV in the country and it is showing graphics, instant replays, hat shuffles, the kiss cam, highlights from when the ballpark opens until the last out is made.


But that isn't what separates the Braves from most other teams. The Braves' people who run the in-game entertainment lean on Atlanta players for a lot of interaction, and it's a nice touch. A few times a game the Braves will have trivia questions about their favorite players. Here's a novel idea: The Braves use the Braves to market the Braves.


Everybody on the roster is asked to read trivia questions and get involved in the game and it really feels like the fans respond to the interaction. They play upbeat music and show movie highlights that go with the situations on the field and at the precise moment. The fans have responded by increasing in attendance this season.


Some fans will tell you they don't like all the glitz around the game, but I'd rather go to see the game marketed well than just sit around and wait for a no-hitter.



Posted by Todd Jones at 12:51 AM | Comments (1)

June 18, 2005

On the debate about doctoring the baseball

The rules clearly state that you cannot use any foreign substance on a baseball to gain an advantage: pine tar, Vaseline, sand paper, whatever. It also says hitters cannot doctor their bats. Now that we have the disclaimers out of the way, let's get to reality.


As long as I've been around the game and way before my time, people have bent the rules, from the spitball in the 1920s to scuffing nowadays. Hitters will rub their bats on bathroom sinks now to make the wood harder, condensing the wood by applying pressure on the bat.


Isn't that doctoring the bat? I used pine tar every time I pitched in Denver during my two years with the Rockies. I never thought one thing about it. Was it cheating? My numbers would say no, since my career ERA in Denver is about 7.00 in 70 games. I was doctoring the ball, but in Denver it's dry and that makes the baseball slippery. I felt I needed the tar to hold on to the ball. I didn't want the ball to slip and hit a hitter. I never considered it cheating. I was breaking even.


Last week in Anaheim, a pitcher was checked before he ever threw a pitch and was subsequently ejected. Sounds like an inside job to me. Maybe Frank Robinson was tipped off. Make your own conclusions. I have played with guys that scuffed or used pine tar when I played with them. The next year I was told in not too many words that if that player got checked, that player would retaliate. To me that meant, "Hey, you didn't mind me scuffing or using pine tar when we were teammates. So don't rat me out now."


On almost every occasion it was left alone. What's funny is when the hitter that was just struck out on a pitch that moved 4 feet knows the pitcher scuffs. They usually get mad, then laugh it off.


Usually if you scuff, guys make two fatal errors. They use the scuff too much during the game. Use it when it's a big moment ? if you need a ground ball or a strikeout. There is a small window for the other team to be tipped off. The umpire doesn't usually check the pitcher on his own. He waits for the opposing manager to ask. If you record the next out or start the next inning, they can't contest the last inning.


The other mistake is the scuff is made too big. You just lightly brush the sand paper across the side, then put the scuff on the opposite side of the way you want the ball to break. If you want it to break left, you put the scuff on the right side of the ball.


If you are hung up ethically on pine tar, it's the same as steroids. It's cheating. Most people think there is a difference, but if you follow the rules of tampering with baseball, it's the same. Players shouldn't overreact. If you get caught, you pay the price. It's pretty simple. You have a good time with it till you get caught. Kind of like life, huh?


Posted by Todd Jones at 09:09 PM | Comments (2)

June 11, 2005

Spending time with your son at the ballpark

I am celebrating Father's Day early because I'm on the road next week. As a dad, let me tell you: My son has never had it this good. My daughter is only 8, and she is not allowed in the clubhouse because she's a girl, so she misses out. But as long as I bring her a slushy, I'm OK. My 10-year-old, Alex, is lucky.


The Marlins, like some but not all teams, have a wonderful kids policy. They say Jack McKeon is "old school" but not when it comes to kids. In his eyes, the kids have free reign in the clubhouse. Jack knows how important family is to players today. He knows how much time we have to spend at the park. In many ways, baseball is our job, but in more ways, baseball is our life. Jack is gracious enough to let the kids be part of the clubhouse life.


But we know that this is a privilege; if it's abused, it's taken away. There are horror stories about kids in the clubhouses when they're not supposed to be there. We have to have time to prepare mentally for that night. So about 45 minutes before the game, the kids get rounded up, get their snacks and it's off to the family room. Then if we win, most of the time the kids come filing in. It's cool to have your kid jump in your arms when you got the game-winning hit and he asked you if you won the game.


Alex's day starts at 2 p.m. The Marlins gave him his own locker. He gets dressed in his uniform, and it's off to the batting cage where he meets his buddies ? the other kids on the team that year. That's where he learns that he's got to play well with others. "The rat pack" meets every day in the cage to figure out what they're going to do that day. They're taught that the players have the right to kick them out of the batting cages at any time even if it's the "bottom of the ninth" in their big game. After they finish, they stretch with us, then go get loose for a game of 500 (where kids earn points shagging fly balls in the outfield. The first to 500 wins).


There they are taught the strong survive, and if you're not the strongest, you had better be the fastest. They know that the outfielders have to get their work in, like fly balls or ground balls to work on cutoffs. So they stay out of the way.


It's hard for me not to sit him down and tell him how unbelievably lucky he is and how thankful I am that I get to spend time with him this way, but I'd be messing up the big game of 500 and I don't want to do that. Then after batting practice, the visiting team hits, and we have to go meet his favorite players. This week, it was Ichiro Suzuki. I'm always hesitant to introduce Alex to guys ? I don't want to bother them or their routines ? but every player is more than happy to stop in between hitting groups and say hello. As a dad, I take full advantage of the opportunity I get to introduce him to everybody he wants to meet. There's something about sluggers and kids. After Alex says hi, he gives me the blow-by-blow of how it went and if he got an autograph.


Alex, like all the other kids, has his favorite players, and rest assured I'm not in his top 10. But that's OK, I'm just dad.

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