Ted Williams of the Boston Red Sox - Great Fenway Park Writers Series


Back to past speaker page...

Friday, July 30, 2010
The Boston Red Sox & The Great Fenway Park Writers Series Proudly Present:

Jason Turbow – Author of "The Baseball Codes:
Beanballs, Sign Stealing, and Bench-Clearing Brawls: The Unwritten Rules of America’s Pastime:

12-Noon Luncheon
Absolut Clubhouse
Fenway Park (enter off Brookline Avenue, next to Game On
$50 Per Person (price includes autographed copy of Mr. Turbow’s book)

To register for this event please click here.

Jason Turbow – Biographical Brief

Jason Turbow has written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, SportsIllustrated.com, and Slam magazine. He is a regular contributor to Giants Magazine and Athletics, and for three years served as content director for “Giants Today,” a full-page supplement in the San Francisco Chronicle that was published in conjunction with every Giants home game. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his wife and two children.

Honor Among Base Stealers – The New York Times Book Review

Illustration by Rodrigo Corral and Sabine Dowek
Published: March 25, 2010

Professional baseball is a society, of sorts, and “The Baseball Codes” is a book of casual sociology. The premise is that ballplayers, managers, coaches and various other participants in the culture of baseball are all clued in to a value system, a mode of behavior that defines a gauzy ideal: the right way to play the game.

Beanballs, Sign Stealing, and Bench-Clearing Brawls: The Unwritten Rules of America’s Pastime

That phrase in itself needs explaining. If you’re not fluent in sportspeak, you might think the right way to play would involve skills — techniques for a hitter’s taking the outside pitch to the opposite field, say. Or maybe it would involve rules. But no. As the savvy fan knows, the right way to play refers to being a proper baseball citizen — that is, showing respect for your opponents, your teammates and the game itself, whether or not you hit .300 or your team makes it to the World Series.

Jason Turbow and Michael Duca, obvious baseball obsessives from the San Francisco Bay Area, have collected dozens of stories from baseball history about situations that are not governed by the rule book but that pertain to the fuzzy notions of rightness and respect and that describe the contours of the so-called baseball codes. When is it legitimate for a pitcher to knock down a hitter? When is it unsportsmanlike for a base runner to steal a base? Spitballs may not be legal, but are they ethical? Why might a player lie to his manager? Is it ever O.K. not to join your teammates when a brawl starts on the field? And how about stealing your opponent’s signs? Is it proper? Always? Are some methods of thievery more tolerable than others?

For true baseball-niks, the discussions of these issues won’t be especially enlightening. With so many former athletes now in the broadcast booth, the unwritten rules of the game get a pretty regular airing. (Disappointingly for a book that devotes a substantial section to cheating, there is no discussion at all of steroid use.) But the stories the authors have unearthed to illustrate ballpark justice and morality are often delicious.

It won’t be news, for example, that when your team is ahead by seven runs in the eighth inning, it’s bad form to swing at a 3-0 pitch. (For the unimmersed: The pitcher will most likely throw the ball right down the middle in order to get a strike, and taking advantage of this when your team is way ahead is considered rubbing it in.) To do so is to invite retribution; sometime soon — that inning, the next inning, tomorrow’s game — the opposing team’s pitcher will be aiming a fastball at you or a teammate.

But it is entertaining to learn that in 2006, Torii Hunter, the splendid outfielder then with the Minnesota Twins (he now plays for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim), made just that mistake against the Boston Red Sox. And that after the game, to palliate the feelings of their opponents and prevent an act of revenge, the Twins’ manager, Ron Gardenhire, brought Hunter to the Red Sox clubhouse, like a parent teaching a 6-year-old a lesson, to apologize to the team’s manager, Terry Francona.

Gardenhire is quoted as having said that he wanted Francona “to know we didn’t give a sign for him to swing away, that Torii just made a mistake.” He added, “I thought that it was good for Torii to explain it to him, so I took him over.”

The authors offer stories like this in a spirit of romanticism, as though matters of violating and adhering to the codes of the game were enmeshed in its glorious tradition. But readers who are lesser fans may have limited tolerance for such minor episodes of baseball life, especially since what is collectively revealed is how thin-skinned, pouty, childish, vulgar and vengeful the baseball codes condition participants to be. The main dictum seems to be that even though you’re trying to beat your opponents’ brains in, you have to do it in a mannerly fashion, and if you don’t, you’re dead meat.

How players follow this principle takes some interesting forms, and in many ­places “The Baseball Codes” reads like a lab report by a psychologist who has been observing hostile toddlers whack one another with plastic shovels in a sandbox. Nolan Ryan was so put off if a batter dared to bunt and make him field his position, the authors write, that he’d knock him down with his 100-mile-per-hour fastball.

If a hitter smacks a home run and stands a little too long in the batter’s box admiring his feat, the pitcher — it doesn’t matter who — may be so ticked off that he’ll take the next opportunity to drill the guy. Ditto if a hitter tries to sneak a peek at the catcher’s signs. If one of your teammates is hit with a pitch, it’s incumbent on you, as a pitcher, to retaliate and nail one of their guys.

Bob Gibson settled a grudge against one player 15 years after the fact, hitting him with a pitch in an old-timers’ game. In 1976, Frank Robinson, then a player-manager with the Cleveland Indians, sent a pitcher, Bob Reynolds, to the Toledo Mud Hens, a minor-league affiliate, and when the Indians played the Mud Hens in an exhibition game, Reynolds, still miffed, threw a pitch over Robinson’s head.

“Robinson’s response wasn’t standard fare for most management types,” the authors write. “After grounding out, he walked to the mound and punched Reynolds twice, felling him with the second blow.” No punishment for Robinson was forthcoming. The general manager of the Indians shrugged off the event. “Things like this happen in baseball from time to time,” he said.

Bruce Weber, a reporter at The Times, is the author of “As They See ’Em: A Fan’s Travels in the Land of Umpires,” which has just been published in paperback.

Copyright 2006© The Great Fenway Park Writers Series & DMX-direct, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Count on DMX-direct for Strategic and Creative Services, Direct Mail,
email, Printing, Inquiry Fulfillment and Inventory Management, eCommerce,
Web Design and Hosting and Campaign Management

Photos courtesy of Julie Cordero, staff photographer, Boston Red Sox.