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Relishing the Hot Dog

Former big-league pitcher Dirk Hayhurst tears apart baseball’s unwritten rules.

12:05 PM, Jun 6, 2014 • By LEE SMITH
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Recently at a funeral for a catcher dead too young at the age of 55, his college teammates recalled his showboating antics. One game, they recalled, the catcher homered his first time up. Watching the ball sail off into the distance, he tossed the bat away dramatically, embarked on an emphatic trot, and for the coup de grace sang out loud in his Boston accent, “Goodnight, Irene!”

The catcher’s next time up, an enormous din erupted, loud whistles and a call arising in unison for the pitcher to enforce one of baseball’s unwritten rules, stipulating that hitters shouldn’t show up pitchers after going yard. The cry to “stick it in his ear,” as one now middle-aged former infielder mourning a friend fondly remembered, came not from the gods of baseball, nor even from the adversaries that the catcher’s hot-doggery had no doubt affronted, but from his own dugout.

At ESPN, Tim Kurkjian has interviewed a number of big-league ballplayers to assemble a compendium of baseball’s unwritten rules.

“Thirty-five years ago,” Kurkjian writes in “The Unwritten Canon, Revealed,”

Wayne Gross hit a home run off reliever Ed Farmer, and took his time running around the bases. Farmer was furious, and immediately plotted revenge. But he didn't face Gross again until four years later, and by then they were teammates. On the first pitch of a batting practice session, Farmer hit Gross in the back with a 90 mph fastball.

"What was that for!" Gross screamed.

"That was for four years ago!" Farmer screamed back.

"OK," Gross said. "We're even!"

Rule number one, writes Kurkjian, is “Do not cross the home run pimp line.” Sure, Babe Ruth liked to admire his handiwork, but he was one of the game’s gods. For mere mortals, it’s another matter. As Nationals infielder Greg Dobbs explains, "When you pimp a home run, or flip a bat egregiously ... I'm not saying you have to put your personality in the shadows, but how far do you take it? When you do that, act selfishly, you are disrespecting the founders of the game, the guys that came before you. When you hit a homer, flip your bat, walk 10 feet toward first base and stare at the pitcher, showing bravado, you are disrespecting the other team, your team and the name on the front of jersey. That's the worst thing you can do."

Not according to Kurkjian’s list. Other violations of baseball honor include stealing when your side is winning by a large margin (rule #3), bunting for a hit to break up a no-hitter (rule #4), and taking a big swing on a 3-0 count (rule #5). Rule #2 describes the cost of violating any of these rules: retaliation.

Rangers southpaw C.J. Wilson recalls a game against the Tampa Bay Rays several years ago. "One of their relievers hit Gary Matthews Jr. in the neck at about 96,” Wilson told Kurkjian.

It was intentional. I was pitching in relief. It was the fourth inning of a 12-5 game. I know I have to hit someone. I know it has to be Carl Crawford because he is the equal guy. One of our veterans got in my face and screamed at me -- not because he didn't think I was going to do it, he just wanted to make sure that I did.

"He said, 'You hit him in the ribs as hard as you can!' I said, 'Yes, sir.' First pitch slider; then the next pitch, I threw behind him. Crawford yelled at me. I yelled back, 'Did you not see that our guy got hit in the neck? Are you watching the game? You're lucky, I could have hit you in the face.'"

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