For perhaps as long as baseball has been around, it’s had unspoken customs and rules that have helped dictate on-field action. These rules have not necessarily been systematically cataloged, though multiple books exist on the subject. With the help of newspapers.com, it’s getting easier to find more of baseball’s unwritten rules, or at least what sportswriters perceived them to be for much of the game’s history, even long-ago.
Some of the following 10 unwritten rules of baseball history persist to this day. Others seem gloriously arcane. I’ll post them all without comment.
1. From the Topeka Daily Capital of September 25, 1891:
The ballplayer is as ticklish about his age as the maiden– of discretion– who has passed through many summers and hard winters, and that is perhaps the reason that there is an unwritten rule banishing beards from the baseball field.
2. From the St. Louis Republic of June 13, 1900:
True, McGann has been scoring runs, but Wallace, Criger and Robinson, who have been hitting well to date, batted him round very frequently. To be sure, McGann deserves no end of credit for his clever work in getting to first in spite of his most impotent stick work, but there is one unwritten, fan-enforced rule of baseball which cannot be abrogated. This rule makes it obligatory on a big man to hit.
3. From the Los Angeles Herald of October 5, 1910:
The rain at Portland yesterday will better the Senators’ chances considerably, as it is an unwritten rule of baseball that the traveling team must drop the first game.
4. From the Pittsburgh Daily Post of October 16, 1914:
Baseball magnates have a sort of unwritten rule which provides that salary figures shall be kept a secret, but there is no law that prevents them from intimating that certain players are drawing fabulous sums. It is claimed that Johnny Evers was paid $10,000 salary at Boston this year, in addition to the $25,000 he is said to have received to induce him to sign the contract. A bonus of $3,000 is also alleged to have been paid him when the Braves finished in first place. Evers also received a check for $2,708.86 as his share of the world’s series money.
5. From the Waco Morning News of March 21, 1915:
Jack Johnson is not the only superstitious person connected with professional athletics. Two members of his race yesterday were thrown into a panic at Katy Park by defying one of the oldest superstitions in baseball. The negro trainer with the New York Giants and a bat boy gathered all the New York bats together and placed them in the bat bag during Waco’s half of the ninth inning thinking the game was nearly over. Now it is an unwritten rule in baseball never to untie a shoe lace or give other signs of being through until the last ball is pitched, even if the score is absolutely safe. Some players take chances on the hoodoo and get their sweaters on in the ninth inning, but this is about as far as they dare proceed. When Waco started the fireworks in the ninth inning yesterday the negroes were well on their way to the hotel with all New York’s bats. They heard what was happening and made a sprint for the park, undoing the bag as they went. They not only opened the bag but put the bats back, all lined up just as they should have been. New York then won the game.
6. From the El Paso Herald of December 30, 1915:
Only the unwritten rule that bars negroes from major league participation has kept out of organized baseball one of Cuba’s most wonderful players– ‘Black’ Gonzales.
7. From the Washington Times of July 17, 1917:
A few years ago it was quite the custom to change a batting order or a lineup if the team lost a few games. Every manager, except the one with a title on his shoulders, followed this unwritten rule, the reason for it never was explained, and that it was just a hobby has been proven by the fact that successful pilots of the present year are not doing it.
8. From the Monroe News-Star of July 29, 1921:
There will be trouble in any community in the whole baseball world, if a catcher, for instance, violates the unwritten rule and endeavors to take up remarks made by fans.
9. From the Harrisburg Telegraph of April 5, 1923:
If the ball takes a twist, as it is likely to do upon contact with the surface of the diamond, and shoots to one side so that the fielder is able only to block it but not to get a grip on it by which he can pick it up and throw it to the batsman, give the batter a base hit and exempt the fielder from an error. The temptation has been strong in scoring to score this as an error, but I think that is a heritage of the old days, when it was the unwritten rule to give the fielder an error if he touched the ball.
10. From the Reading Times of May 15, 1929:
It is an unwritten rule when a pitcher is going after a no-hit game that no one on the bench mention a word about it. The [Reading] Keys said their bench was silent while Holley was pitching his shutout ball, but that when Conley got the lone hit, the Montreal players let out a whoopee of delight.
Thanks to Jena Yamada for suggesting the idea for this post.