Once again, a series of on-field shenanigans – bat flips! finger pointings! voice raisings! fights! – have put us in mind of those principles and prohibitions known throughout the galaxy as Baseball’s Tacit Commandments, or, in layman’s terms, its “Unwritten Rules.” To wit: A’s infielder Jed Lowrie bunts while his team is up by seven, and Bo Porter’s head explodes so spectacularly that Michael Bay turns the ka-blooey into the whole of a three-hour film. Bryce Harper fails to run out a tapper, and Matt Williams is so managerially butt-hurt that he yanks his young star from the contest while tarring and/or feathering his very good name.
Now batting: Brycetar Harperfeather. For real!
Lastly but not leastly, Carlos Gomez admires his 400-foot piece of Expressionist art, an arc of deeply personal grandeur, and what happens? Well, what happens is that a hockey game breaks out. All of which shenanigania should convince the logical conclusion-maker of one logical conclusion: Write down the rules!
Before we take pen to paper or chisel to stone, however, let us examine the ways by which these Tacit Commandments managed to avoid writing systems in the first place … the ways, indeed, by which they evaded pictographs, hieroglyphs and morphemes, forerunners of the symbols I am using to convey this very message.
– In the beginning, chaos morphed into a cosmic egg from which Pangu emerged to create humankind, to whom he mentioned – but only mentioned, having failed to create from trees the notepad and from polymers the ballpoint pen – that a batter should never ever bunt while his team is up by seven points, even if the battle is still in its first period and even if the defense has employed the shift.
– In 15,000 B.C., a proto-Frenchman told a second proto-Frenchman to “stop nibbling the corners while your contingent is ahead by several scores. Just throw the bloody rock – literally bloody, because we just used it to kill an auroch! – down the middle so I can hit it with this recently obtained auroch rib.” However, just before the proto-Frenchmen could convey this principle by way of pictographs in a nearby cave, an angry beast exacted a bloody postgame revenge.
– In 1279 B.C., Ramesses the Great mentioned to an Egyptian soldier that even if he, the soldier, were to hit a one-hopper back to a mound occupied by a hard-throwing Hittite, that he – again, the soldier – should “bust ass” down the line lest he appear to “walk like an Egyptian.” What Ramesses failed to add was that the soldier should write like an Egyptian by chiseling into stone the image of Charliekenaten Hustlekenaten sprinting toward the bag.
– In 1949, using the so-called art of silence, legendary mime Marcel Marceau made a prophetic effort to thwart the Dallas Braden/A-Rod incident by drawing an imaginary mound and then coldcocking the invisible narcissist who’d suddenly crossed it. In his make-believe watchdoggery, however, the mime failed to conjure a Smith-Corona typewriter and 8 1/2″ x 11” typing paper.
– In 1958, a spoken-word Beat poet took to a smoky San Fran stage to declare, “I saw the best players of my generation destroyed by madness, steaming hysterical insane, dragging themselves through the green diamonds at 2, or at 8, depending on the time of the game, looking for an angry fix, angelheaded pitchers burning for the ancient hellish connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of the knight, who richness and triples and starry-eyed and fast popped up sliding in the supernatural sunshine of the warm-weather base sitting across the edges of diamonds contemplating revenge, for he should not have admired the arcing fly ball.”
Oh, and there’s more, like Sinatra singing “don’t steal during a rout,” and Miles blowin’ that you’d better not bunt when the pitcher is notching blanks, and Pollock painting that if he plunks your guy, well, you’d better plunk his, and now Streep, gazing such that you know not to swing at the first pitch after back-to-back jacks.
But no, not one of these idiots ever thought to write it down.
You’d think people would be smarter than that, smarter than to act so independent in the space between written lines.
John Paschal is a regular contributor to The Hardball Times and The Hardball Times Baseball Annual.