Houston Astros manager Bo Porterâ€™s reaction this week to what he perceived to be a breach of the code by the Oakland Aâ€™s Jed Lowrie was one of the more bizarre of recent years.
The Aâ€™s had jumped on Astros starter Jarred Cosart for seven runs in the first inning on Friday night and Porter decided to try to stop the bleeding by putting a defensive shift on with Lowrie stepping into the batterâ€™s box.
The Aâ€™s infielder saw the shift and attempted to beat it by laying down a bunt. Lowrie was put-out on the play but that wasnâ€™t enough punishment in Porterâ€™s eyes.
When his turn to bat came around again in the third inning, Lowrie had to dodge two pitches coming at him and Porter then came onto the field and started shouting at him at the end of the inning.
Clearly, Porter thought Lowrie was taking liberties by trying to bunt with his team leading 7-0.
There arenâ€™t many greater crimes in baseball â€“ perhaps any sport â€“ than deliberately showing up the opposition, but how the Astrosâ€™ manager thought that was what Lowrie was doing here is anyoneâ€™s guess.
Firstly, it was still only the opening inning of the game. The Astros arenâ€™t exactly an offensive juggernaut so their chances of coming back and scoring enough runs to win the game werenâ€™t great, but it was hardly insurmountable. Two runs scored in one inning, then another two in the next and they are firmly back in the game, with the Aâ€™s starting to feel the pressure of blowing a great starting position.
Had it been 7-0 in the bottom of the eighth inning then Porterâ€™s anger would have been more understandable. A bunt in that situation would be akin to standing near the corner flag doing step-overs when leading 5-0 in a football game, an act likely to provoke opposing fans to scream â€œtake him outâ€ or â€œput him into the standsâ€ and for one or two players to do their best to act on the advice.
However, had it been the bottom of the eighth, itâ€™s unlikely Porter would have shifted his infield and that was the only reason Lowrie attempted the bunt in the first place. He wasnâ€™t taking the proverbial, he was reacting to the way the Astros had lined up their infield to try to keep the inning going.
Itâ€™s always the way with this type of situation; the team leading has every right to keep playing to the best of their ability. They are letting themselves down if they donâ€™t.
To oppose this is to say either a) that the leading team should ease off to let the opposition back into the game, or b) that the team losing should give up and take the loss without putting up a fight. Whilst neither option is getting close to match-fixing, they are starting to stray down the route of one or both teams not doing all they can to win the game and thatâ€™s a bigger injustice to the sport than any perceived slight caused by contravening an â€˜unwritten ruleâ€™.
Baseballâ€™s unwritten rules are similar in essence to the spirit of the game in cricket. At heart, they are about creating a culture in which teams play to win but do so in a fair manner, what you would call the â€˜sportingâ€™ way. Maybe some would call such niceties a relic of an amateur age out of place in the billion dollar/pound industries that the sports have become; however, they are an intrinsic part of the charm and character of the games.
The â€˜unwritten rulesâ€™ are no bad thing, yet sometimes those involved in baseball could do with injecting a bit of common sense into their thought-process before applying them.
Maybe Porter was just trying to gee-up his young team with a show of defiance? If so, youâ€™d like to think there are better ways of doing it than acting like a 5-year-old who has been told to share their toys with their friends.