McCarthy: Baseball’s unwritten rules are outdated, stupid

Emmett McCarthy

So, Jonathan Papelbon is a total a**hole. But not because he went after teammate Bryce Harper in the dugout Sunday – that just makes him an idiot.

No, he’s an asshole for beaning Manny Machado in a 4-3 Nationals’ loss just a few days earlier.


“It’s coward stuff,” said Machado, who apparently spent too much time admiring his home run earlier in the game, as least in Papelpon’s eyes.

And Machado’s right. Intentionally drilling batters is a cowardly move. But it often gets praised by baseball aficionados as self-policing and is viewed as a necessary part of the game. But even Papelbon’s own teammate Harper thought the shot was uncalled for, so what exactly is Papelbon protecting other than his own ego?

“I’ll probably get drilled tomorrow,” Harper said after the game.

Papelbon was actually suspended three games for the incident, but that hasn’t been the norm for intentional beanings. It’s kind of a shame that Harper, one of baseball’s brightest young stars, has to worry about pitcher’s trying to physically harm him as retaliation for something he had nothing to do with. It’s a part of the sport, but it shouldn’t be.

Two seasons ago, Bryce Harper took Braves pitcher Julio Teheran yard. After taking two seconds to watch the ball sore, he began his jog around the bases.

Harper’s home run trot actually took less time than Atlanta’s B.J. Upton had spent admiring a home run of his own earlier in the game. Didn’t matter.

The next time Harper stepped to the plate, Teheran drilled him in the leg (then stared him down, just in case there was any doubt as to whether it was intentional). The intent was clear to any observer. Teheran’s punishment for intentionally trying to injure his opponent? A warning. Benches cleared, but no one was suspended.

Washington had to take matters into its own hands, which could have ended terribly. Thankfully, Stephen Strasburg failed miserably and no one got hurt. In what was perhaps the least satisfying attempt at retaliation ever, Strasburg missed his target twice and was ejected without ever hitting anyone. Still, it was a bad look for baseball, and it never should have came to that.

Rather than criticizing Teheran’s actions, baseball analysts such as Buster Olney blamed Harper for bringing it upon himself with his celebration. Can you guess how old Olney is? Hint: he’s 51 years old. Olney he belongs to a generation that still clings to baseball’s unwritten rules. The irony is that these unsportsmanlike policies supposedly exist to ensure good sportsmanship.

This is a crazy theory, but maybe the best way for a pitcher to prevent over-the-top home run celebrations is to not give up home runs in the first place. If you give up a homer, you have got to live with it. That’s how it is in every other sport, and how it should be.


Baseball is the only sport where retribution is personal and detrimental, rather than productive and team oriented.

In basketball, if a player dunks of you, flagrantly fouling that person later in the game just makes you look worse. In football, when a cornerback gets Moss’d and gives up a touchdown, he can redeem himself by locking down the rest of the game, not by taking a cheap shot to injure the receiver.

Even in hockey, fighting is explicitly punished – there are no warnings. It’s also an inherently more violent sport, and fights are generally a mutual agreement between the participants. Fights usually spawn from prior physical altercations that occurred during play. I can’t remember any goalies going after an opposing player for scoring on them.

People wonder why baseball is struggling to appeal to younger generations. Amongst many other reasons, maybe part of the problem is that celebrating your best work gets your drilled with a 90-plus mile per hour fastball. Who the hell would be interested in that?

It’s time to move on from these childish, unwritten rules that were born back in a time when our schools were still segregated and players had nicknames such as “Oil Can”.

Machado summed it up perfectly after he was beaned by Papelbon: “It’s bulls**t.”

Baseball’s unwritten rules are outdated and it’s time we let them die out. It’s time for the sport to grow up.

Collegian Sports Editor Emmett McCarthy can be reached by email at and on Twitter @emccarthy22.