The unwritten rules of baseball are an easily mockable codicil of the game's goofier aspects—a list of grievances so small, petty and strange that it's hard to imagine anyone involved can keep a straight face when getting mad about a breach of them. Don't flip your bat too exuberantly; don't steal bases in blowouts; don't bunt for hits when a pitcher has a perfect game or no-hitter going. Such tenets are enforced through gruff chats and, inevitably, fastballs to the back, as the players police themselves for the kind of minor violations that add up to nothing over the course of a season.
Still, this is the way of baseball, a sport that frustratingly conducts itself at times with the solemnity and forced decorum of a Senate subcommittee hearing. "Don't rock the boat" is pretty much MLB's unspoken motto, but the senior crankiness of the game's veteran types reached a truly silly point on Sunday afternoon in Baltimore, when members of the Twins took offense to Orioles rookie catcher Chance Sisco bunting for a hit in a game that was all but over.
To set the scene: Minnesota was on top of Baltimore, 7–0, in the ninth inning, with young ace Jose Berrios working on a one-hit shutout. With one out and nobody on, Sisco—who hits lefthanded and was facing a defensive shift—dropped a bunt that rolled down the third-base line, toward the deserted left side of the infield, for a single. Sisco's hit didn't end up changing anything materially: While the next two batters reached to load the bases, the O's couldn't cash anyone in, and Berrios still earned his shutout, albeit having had to throw a few more pitches than he would've had Sisco made an out. But despite that, Twins players were grumpy as all hell about the nerve of a player trying to reach base in a game that was still going.
There's a lot to parse there—I've read it a few times, and I'm still not entirely sure what Berrios means when he says that Sisco bunting isn't "good for baseball"—but it's hard to understand what exactly the Twins are upset about. This wasn't a no-hitter in progress, to cite the oft-invoked rule of not bunting for a hit in that situation. And while the game was more or less over, what with the Orioles down seven with two outs to go, does that mean Sisco is simply supposed to watch three pitches go by and head back to the dugout? It's his job as a major league hitter to get on base by any means necessary, not be a bit player in Berrios' fantastic day. (Interestingly enough, Sisco was, to that point, the only reason Berrios wasn't working on a no-hitter, as he had doubled back in the third.) And if the Twins were of the belief that the game was over and it was time to stop trying, why were they shifting on a rookie catcher up seven runs in the ninth?
In situations like this, it's easy to see the game disappearing up its own ass, twisting itself into a pretzel to try to protect some made-up sanctity that wasn't even being threatened here, with players trying to legislate a game using rules that don't exist and that sometimes seem made up on the fly because some guys are more easily aggrieved than others. Because of Sisco, Berrios had to work a little harder for his shutout, and the Twins had to stand out in the field a little longer while it happened. Is that really worth raising a stink over? What's funniest, though, is that Brian Dozier calling out the Orioles and telling them to police their youngsters over something pointless and stupid has now sparked a response from the Orioles, specifically ex-player and front office member Brady Anderson, who told MASN Sports' Roch Kubatko, "Is [Dozier] the arbiter of how the game should be played?.... [T]hat type of advice was not needed."
So there you have it: a controversy and war of words over a bunt single, and the very real chance that, when the two teams meet again in July, Sisco ends up wearing a fastball because he had the temerity to bunt in the first week of the season. Which raises the question of what's truly bad for baseball: a guy dropping one down for a hit to try to start a rally, or a bunch of grown men throwing tantrums about it?
UPDATE: Dozier has expanded upon his reaction to Sisco's bunt, and his comments this afternoon to the Pioneer Press' Mike Berardino helpfully clear up absolutely nothing:
While even some Twins fans wondered why the star second baseman and several of his teammates would make an issue of Sisco’s bunt, noting the Twins could have removed the shift if they felt their lead was safe, Dozier said critics are missing the point.
The Orioles didn’t hold Ryan LaMarre at first base after his two-out pinch single in the top of the ninth.
“When they didn’t hold our runner on, they conceded to the fact they didn’t want us to steal, so we didn’t steal,” Dozier said. “We could have very easily stolen and put up more runs, so therefore in return you don’t bunt. That’s what everybody is missing in this whole thing.”
So if you're following at home: Because the Orioles didn't hold a runner on in the ninth inning of a seven-run game, they had—I guess—conceded the game and thus were not allowed to bunt for a hit against a shift in the bottom half of that inning, and based on Dozier's reaction, that apparently should've been obvious, or something. That bit of logical hopscotch on his part pretty well illustrates just how convoluted and nonsensical all these unwritten rules inevitably become.