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There are some rules in Major League Baseball that have "evolved" over time. One such example is the checked swing rule. Announcers talk about the bat "breaking the plane of the plate" to judge whether or not the batter checked his swing. The official MLB rules, however, say that a strike should be called if the hitter made an attempt to hit the pitch. It makes no mention of an imaginary "plane" that the bat must not break, yet it is common that this imaginary delimiter is used.

What other "traditions" like this exist in Major League Baseball that are not in the official rules, but have existed for so long that they are treated as such?

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There is an interesting unwritten rule that actually gets contradicted in the official MLB rules. The "tie goes to the runner" claim is one that most baseball fans have heard.

Rule 6.05j states that "a batter is out when after a third strike or after he hits a fair ball, he or first base is tagged before he touches first base."

So in this case the rules claim the ball must arrive first. Giving the tie to the runner.


Rule 7.08e states that "any runner is out when he fails to reach the next base before a fielder tags him or the base"

In this case it is the runner that must reach the base before the ball, giving the tie to the defensive team.

So the tie goes to the runner, you know, sometimes or something.

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In the eyes of many umpires, a tie actually goes to the fielder. The rationale is that the umpire makes his judgment by comparing the sound of the ball hitting the glove with his view of the runner's foot hitting the bag. Because sound travels much slower than light, if the sound is perceived at the same time as visual contact, then the ball actually got there first and the runner is out. – Tenner Jun 28 '13 at 16:34

There are a bunch of "Unwritten Rules" for example you don't steal when you have a large lead, don't put your bat on the plate after a walk, a runner shouldn't run over the pitching mound when going back to their dug out after an out. These are generally silly ideas and almost a type of etiquette.

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This is more of an example of sportsmanship or superstition, which is different than what I was referring to in my original question. – MDMarra Oct 9 '12 at 20:09
That's odd, because this is exactly what we think of when we talk about baseball's unwritten rules. – wax eagle Aug 10 '13 at 2:32

A few that come to mind:

  1. The "neighborhood play" at second base, where the fielder doesn't actually touch second base during a double play attempt.

  2. Batters going to first base if a pitch that they made no effort to get out of the way of hits them. According to the rules, a batter must attempt to get out of the way of a pitch.

  3. An outfielder using the wall itself as support when trying to catch a would-be home run. This doesn't happen often but it's against the rules to boost yourself up using the wall. I have never seen this called as a home run when the fielder catches the ball.
  4. Of course, the strike zone.

I'd also add another version to your example - I often hear that it's a check swing if the batter didn't "break" (i.e. turnover) his wrists.

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These aren't what we're typically talking about when we talk about unwritten rules. Usually what we're thinking of is beaning an opposing player when one of your guys get hit, not showboating after a homer, that kind of thing. – wax eagle Aug 10 '13 at 2:31
@waxeagle - I agree that they're not "unwritten rules" - however I think it's exactly what the question was asking for (see the example given in the question about check swings). Perhaps the question can be edited to refer to "rules that have become customary despite not being in the rule book." – Jer Aug 12 '13 at 16:07
You're right. Good edit on the question. I'm going to edit your answer to remove the downvote – wax eagle Aug 12 '13 at 16:55
Update: as of 2016 the "neighborhood play" has been banned in the major leagues. The fielder must actually touch the base while in possession of the ball in order to put the runner out. – Nate Eldredge May 1 at 15:50

To add to Hennish's list, don't bunt when you have a large lead. Bunting is a strategy to gain advantage. When you clearly have an advantage is gives a bad impression.

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This is more of an example of sportsmanship, which is different than what I was referring to in my original question. – MDMarra Oct 9 '12 at 20:09

A lot of what is listed here: is more about sportsmanship but the article (even if it is a bunch of slides) seems to be cited elsewhere several times. Also cited elsewhere is this: which lists a bunch of "unwritten rules" most of the first article repeats, but once again deals a lot w/ sportsmanship.

  • With a right-hander on the mound, don't walk a right-handed hitter to pitch to a left-handed hitter
  • Never mention a no-hitter while it's in progress.
  • A manager should remain detached from his players.
  • Hit the ball where it's pitched.
  • If one of your players gets knocked down by a pitch, retaliate
  • Hit behind the runner at first.
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We used to call "The neighborhood play" "The Phatom double". It was allowed when the runner from first was attempting a break up.

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So, "The neighborhood play" was also called the "The Phantom Double", or do both have the same meaning? Or are they two "rules" that were called when the runner from first was attempting to break up? Perhaps you can edit your answer and add some references as well. Welcome to Sports Beta !! – Jacob Jan Tuinstra Oct 5 '13 at 21:12

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