Angels proponents of game's unwritten rules
Hurlers Richards, LeBlanc believe respect is important between the lines
TEMPE, Ariz. -- It happens every season: A player will hit a home run, watch the ball for the duration of its flight and effectively rub the pitcher the wrong way in the process. That pitcher then beans the ensuing hitter and the snowball quickly turns into an avalanche.
Before you know it, an old-fashioned dugout-clearing donnybrook is occurring on the field. So what went wrong? The player who hit the home run didn't break any official rules by merely admiring his power at the plate, right?
But there's a separate set of unwritten rules that do their own governing of the game on a completely different level than the MLB official rulebook.
"They're something for you to know what to do and what not to do," Angels starter Garrett Richards said. "Like not stealing bags when you're up by a whole bunch. Guys will have a no-hitter and a batter will lay down a bunt. Interesting things like that are frowned upon.
"But this is still a game, and people are going to play the game hard, so you're going to get a handful of guys out there that don't really care about anything besides playing the game hard."
The line between playing hard and becoming disrespectful is blurred and completely subjective. Where one team might be offended by a certain player's actions, another might not.
Take starter Wade LeBlanc, for instance. The Angels hurler doesn't always find staring at a home run ball offensive.
"If it's 500 feet, you can watch it all you want; you earned it," LeBlanc said. "But if it's going to scrape the back of the wall, you should probably get out of the box a little faster."
No matter what the situation, the consensus among players is if someone on the other team truly disrespects you or another member of your team in any way, teammates will look out for each other.
Sometimes, problems arise and retaliation is in order. But the point, more often than not, is to reassure your teammates that you have their back, according to LeBlanc.
"You should want to protect the players on your team," LeBlanc said. "I would hope that they'd expect that out of me as a pitcher and a teammate."
Retaliation from the pitching end doesn't necessarily always involve intentionally hitting a batter with a fastball. The message could be easily sent with just a brush-back pitch off the plate inside.
"We have 25 guys on this team, and we all have the same common goal," Richards said. "When the situation arises, you've got to handle your business. You never go out there looking to hurt anybody or anything like that, but the game will police itself."
It's easy to get lost in the grey area looking in from a fan's perspective, but baseball players are ingrained with these rules from Day 1 in professional ball.
"You learn that stuff coming up through the Minor Leagues," LeBlanc explained. "You have coaches and teammates that have played in the big leagues, and they pass those things along to you when you're young. It's easy to pick up on, and they kind of just stick with you."
To put it all in focus, the unwritten rules of baseball are set upon the common theme of respect, where not showing anybody up is the main goal.
As outfielder Kole Calhoun explained, carrying yourself the right way on the field and treating the game -- along with the veterans -- with reverence goes a long way in the big leagues. It could be the difference between looking like a max-effort ballplayer, or an insolent knucklehead.
"There's a certain way you've got to act to make a good name for yourself among players," Calhoun said. "If you're the young guy coming up, you have to mind your P's and Q's. There's definitely a way to act and go about your business that gets respect by older players in the clubhouse. I think you'll have greater success being the humble player than you will as the guy that's flamboyant and being disrespectful."
Ross Dunham is a junior majoring in journalism at Arizona State University. This story is part of a Cactus League partnership between MLB.com and Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.