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The Bleacher Bums: April 28, 2008 Archive

Deciphering the code

Posted at 9:04 AM on April 28, 2008 by Chris Dall

20080428code_large.jpgOne of the common complaints made by those who don't care for baseball is that it's boring. Or, more precisely, that the action that takes place is surrounded by so much inaction. It's a fair gripe. And it's probably one of the reasons why baseball players, over the decades, have developed an encyclopedic assortment of unwritten rules to guide the way the game should be played. They have to be doing something between all those pitches, right?

Those rules are the subject of a new book by local author Ross Bernstein, "The Code: Baseball's Unwritten Rules and Its Ignore-at-Your-Own-Risk Code of Conduct." Bernstein's book, which includes interviews with more than a 100 current and former ballplayers (including several current and former Twins), takes readers deep inside the game-within-the game, detailing the intricate web of rules that players live by. If you've ever wondered what kind of behavior warrants a brushback pitch, why a pitcher need to retaliate when a teammate is hit, why it's wrong to steal a base during a blowout, and just how much sign stealing goes on in a baseball, Bernstein's book has the answers. What you'll learn is just how much is going on behind the scenes in baseball.

The constant refrain from players throughout the book is that the code is about respecting the game and playing it the "right" way. As Torii Hunter puts it in the preface, "I play hard, I stick up for my teammates, and I try to have fun." But what's interesting is how the code is starting to evolve. Several pitchers discuss their feelings about hitters "showing them up" by admiring their home runs, yet in the Sportscenter age, that practice has become commonplace.

I spoke with Bernstein last week about several topics in the book, and his answers can be heard in the following audio clips.

On why it is that baseball has so many more of these unspoken "rules" than other sports.

On why pitching inside seems to be a fading part of the game.

On the prominence of sign-stealing.

On the steroid controversy, and why certain forms of cheating, like sign-stealing, is accepted, while other forms, like steroids, are considered unacceptable.

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