The Boston Red Sox inflicted the New York Yankees biggest ever post-season defeat. (AP: Frank Franklin II)
Every sport has them, a swathe of unwritten rules that govern the way the game should be played, outside of the official rule book, although most have since been discarded as a relic of a more Corinthian age.
Baseball is a good example of a sport with a huge collection of unwritten rules, but this post-season the league is making a concerted effort through their promotional material to show these unwritten rules are now rarely enforced.
Bat flip celebrations are now about as ubiquitous as over-sized hotdogs and pretzels at ballparks around the US, however the sport is still finding it hard to convert the traditionalists to the modern way of thinking.
In the Red Sox’s resounding victory over the New York Yankees earlier this week, the Red Sox broke two of baseball’s unwritten rules.
With the Yankees trailing by nine runs in the fifth inning, Red Sox outfielder Andrew Benintendi stole second base, putting him in a better position to score a run, with two outs already recorded.
Later, in the seventh inning, Benintendi swung at a 3-0 pitch — something that is frowned upon as disrespectful to the pitcher.
Essentially, the Red Sox were accused of trying to run up the score and embarrass their opponents.
TBS commentator Ron Darling, a former major league pitcher who won the World Series with the New York Mets, immediately called out Benintendi’s actions.
“I found [Benintendi stealing second base] unusual, but you know, you can still keep pushing the envelope. But boy, swinging 3-0 in the seventh with a 10-1 lead…
“There used to be a book, there’s no book anymore. Everything’s grey, but I would find that offensive, personally.”
Whether Benintendi had read the hypothetical, albeit lengthy book or not, the very concept of an unwritten rule (apart from it not being written down) is that it can be exploited.
The Spirit of Cricket
Cricket is another sport with an expansive, phantom rule book, covered broadly under the Spirit of Cricket preamble to the official laws.
The under-19 World Cup exploded with controversy after this controversial ‘Mankad’ dismissal. (Youtube)
Like baseball, most of these unwritten rules — such as not bouncing tail-enders — have virtually disappeared. However, the controversial Mankad dismissal is one that still prevails.
The act of running-out the off-strike batsman as the bowler runs in has been called everything from “disappointing” to “cowardly” when it has been intermittently applied in recent years, but is there an argument to say this reticence is outdated in the modern, Twenty20 era?
With scoring increasing within a reduced timeframe, batsmen now look to gain every possible advantage in running quick singles, whereas in times gone by batsmen rarely needed to steal a march for a single, holding their ground rather than risk being run out.
Removing the stigma surrounding the Mankad dismissal could help serve to keep batsmen honest.
Kicking it out
In football, some unwritten rules, such as not celebrating when scoring against your former team, are still loosely observed, while others, such as transferring to a bitter rival, are becoming more prevalent.
One of the clearest unwritten rules in football relates to kicking the ball out of play so an injured player can receive treatment, supposedly safe in the knowledge that you will receive the ball back.
The good intentions of this charitable gesture are increasingly exploited however, with teams looking to play on the good sportsmanship of their opponents to get a breather or chew up time, such as when the Socceroos played Saudi Arabia in Jeddah in 2016.
In 1999, this rule was spectacularly disregarded by Arsenal player Kanu in an FA Cup tie against Sheffield United, who ran onto a throw intended for the defence, before squaring to Marc Overmars who scored what would become the winner in a 2-1 victory.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger averted something of a crisis by offering to replay the game 10 days later (which Arsenal incidentally won 2-1).
The Football Association allowed the game to be replayed, applying the “unsporting behaviour” rule, a veritable sporting band aid that accounts for a multitude of sins, but in recent years the onus has been taken away from the players and placed on the referee to stop the game if he deems an injury severe enough.
Don’t attack the leader
Alberto Contador was eventually stripped of the 2010 Tour de France title, but not for breaking an unwritten rule. (Reuters: Eric Gaillard)
Cycling’s unwritten code of ethics dictate that the leader of the race is to be respected and not challenged in the final stage of a grand tour. Leaders can also expect not to be attacked should they suffer a mechanical issue or crash.
The former convention has not been challenged since Pedro Delgado attempted to bridge a 40 second gap to Stephen Roche on the final stage in 1987, although the later was conveniently ignored by Alberto Contador in the 2010 Tour de France, “stealing” a 39 second march on Andy Schleck when his chain slipped in the Pyrenees.
Contador’s digression from the norm was both condemned and supported by former professionals and commentators, and eventually proved decisive, his overall winning margin in Paris being 39 seconds.
However, the Spaniard was later stripped of his title for a doping infraction, handing the title to Schleck.
Uncontested scrums here to stay
Scrums in the NRL are rarely contested, instead used simply to create more space for the forwards. (AAP Image: David Moir)
One sport bucking the trend of unwritten rules is rugby league and the uncontested scrums.
There is nothing in the rules that say contesting the scrum is illegal, but the unwritten rule is that neither pack will push, a feature that has been in place since the mid-90’s, with a few notable exceptions.
The scrum is much maligned in both codes of rugby, but for very different reasons.
Frequent resets blight the version used in the 15-a-side game, whereas the uncontested scrums in league are a shadow of their former selves.
Despite fans often reacting favourably when packs do give a bit of a shove, a return to full-blooded contests is perhaps a thing of the past.