Commentary

Baseball's unwritten rules

Updated: June 10, 2011, 12:19 PM ET
By Tim Keown | ESPN.com

It didn't take young Dylan Bundy long to make a headline, did it? The Orioles' top pick in Monday's draft took the call from a Baltimore radio station the other day, and for some reason the conversation wound its way to the topic of one Bryce A. Harper.

[+] EnlargeBryce Harper
AP Photo/Timothy JacobsenBryce Harper's base-path antics became a "teaching moment," according to a Nationals source.

The scolds and moralists are turning Harper into baseball's version of What's Wrong With America, and the latest installment came earlier this week, when he hit a home run and sent a big air smooch toward the pitcher as he neared home plate.

You're probably going to hear more about Bundy in the years to come. His high school fastball was clocked at 100 mph and there was occasional talk of him being taken with the first pick of the draft. If you're a 6-foot high school right-hander, and you go No. 4 overall in the draft, you are an absolute beast. Baseball people do not look kindly on vertically challenged right-handers, which means anyone under 6-foot-4 is suspect.

Anyway, Bundy was presented with a hypothetical scenario: One of his teammates was the recipient of Harper's amorous intentions and he happened to be pitching the next night. Tell us, young Dylan, how you would handle it.

It's hard to tell which was Bundy's bigger mistake: answering the phone, or answering the question.

Because he said he'd drill Harper all four times up.

And the talk-show jockeys thought it was the greatest thing ever. Which, depending on how you feel about Harper, it might be.

But the bigger point is this: Baseball's the best. You could write a pretty accurate history of pent-up frustration in the human race by documenting the way baseball players respond to perceived insults. They're like the mafia or something. Even when, like Bundy, they're being insulted hypothetically.

It's been a big week for perceived insults. Usually we have to wait for the second half of July or early August for the anger to build and the sensitivities to heighten. Not this year. It's like early sweeps or something.

[+] EnlargeHector Noesi
AP Photo/Frank Franklin IIYankees pitcher Hector Noesi waits for David Ortiz to finish rounding the bases after a two-run homer.

David Ortiz flipped his bat after hitting a homer off Yankees rookie Hector Noesi, and Yanks skipper Joe Girardi didn't care for it, presumably because it might scar young Hector for life. The truth is, young Hector is probably more likely to be scarred by home runs than their aftermath, but it's a manager's job to draw the imaginary line and identify those who cross it.

Ortiz responded by suggesting Girardi deal with it, or words to that effect, which is undoubtedly a second violation of one of baseball's unwritten rules. (But, being unwritten, it's kind of hard to tell.)

It really shouldn't matter that Ortiz flipped his bat, but it does. It shouldn't matter that Harper made himself look foolish by blowing a kiss to the pitcher (the guy had hit him the previous at-bat) but it does.

Baseball is so wonderfully hidebound that last month we were treated to 10-year-anniversary stories about Ben Davis' unwritten-rule-breaking decision to bunt for a hit in the eighth inning of Curt Schilling's bid for a perfect game.

And the best part? The Diamondbacks are still pissed.

You know why these things matter? Because they always have. They don't matter in football, and that's why Billy "White Shoes" Johnson begat Ickey Woods who begat Chad Ochocinco. It's why Shawn Marion can run his mouth the entire time he's guarding LeBron James in the Finals and nobody says a word. It's not wrong, it's just different.

There's always going to be a place for the sport of the uptight and hypersensitive. That's why people who bemoan the young'uns and their lack of historical perspective should love Bundy. He's only 18, but he knows that a blown kiss calls for the pitcher to test the tensile strength of the kisser's ribs.

And what happens when a violation of baseball's unwritten rules meets New Technology? That's where the Guillens enter the fray. Obviously.

Oney Guillen, White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen's oldest son, took to Twitter and expressed his displeasure with the White Sox organization by pointing out that the team took "another good athletic black kid" in the first round. This was seen as a veiled swipe at GM Kenny Williams for not picking Ozney Guillen, Ozzie's youngest son, in the draft. (They took him in the 22nd round last year, which caused the Guillens to complain about how low he was taken. Sometimes a guy can't win.) Oney's tweets caused serial tweeter Ozzie to be asked about the efficacy of his son's displeasure.

[+] EnlargeOzzie Guillen
Tim Boyle/Getty ImagesOney Guillen, left, has made his complaints and perceived slights public via Twitter.

Ozzie just told everyone to leave him out of it and stop encouraging his son, which sounded a lot like long-distance parenting from a guy who's written too many checks and gotten too little in return.

The problem is, Oney had a point. There might be no greater unwritten rule in baseball than the sanctity of draft-day nepotism. Over three days and 50 rounds, teams drafted sons of players (Pudge Rodriguez), nephews of general managers (Ruben Amaro), sons of ex-players (Dante Bichette, Shawon Dunston, Bobby Bonilla) and grandsons of ex-players (Al Kaline).

The A's even drafted one of Bob Geren's sons two days before they fired his dad. Consider it a fabulous parting gift.

Even if all those guys can play, why wouldn't Oney Guillen be furious? Being the only draft-eligible son of a big league manager and going undrafted must be like being the sixth-grader who gets braces and glasses on the same day.

Oh, and guess who got drafted by the Nationals? Bryce Harper's big brother Bryan, a college reliever with a good arm and a big ERA.

And if those Baltimore talk-show hosts really wanted to boost ratings, they'd call Bryan and toss him the same hypothetical they gave Bundy. Now that would be good radio.

ESPN The Magazine senior writer Tim Keown co-wrote Josh Hamilton's autobiography, "Beyond Belief: Finding the Strength to Come Back," which is available on Amazon.com. Sound off to Tim here.

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Tim Keown | email

Senior writer, ESPN.com

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