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The Baseball Codes: Beanballs, Sign Stealing, and Bench-Clearing Brawls: The Unwritten Rules of America's Pastime

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Everyone knows that baseball is a game of intricate regulations, but it turns out to be even more complicated than we realize. What truly governs the Major League game is a set of unwritten rules, some of which are openly discussed (don’t steal a base with a big lead late in the game), and some of which only a minority of players are even aware of (don’t cross between the catcher and the pitcher on the way to the batter’s box). In The Baseball Codes , old-timers and all-time greats share their insights into the game’s most hallowed—and least known—traditions. For the learned and the casual baseball fan alike, the result is illuminating and thoroughly entertaining.
At the heart of this book are incredible and often hilarious stories involving national heroes (like Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays) and notorious headhunters (like Bob Gibson and Don Drysdale) in a century-long series of confrontations over respect, honor, and the soul of the game. With The Baseball Codes , we see for the first time the game as it’s actually played, through the eyes of the players on the field.
With rollicking stories from the past and new perspectives on baseball’s informal rulebook, The Baseball Codes is a must for every fan.

294 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 2010

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Jason Turbow

7 books26 followers

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5 stars
821 (26%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 308 reviews
Profile Image for Mark Mitchell.
157 reviews1 follower
July 9, 2017
This book is so far "inside baseball" that by the time you've finished reading it you've penetrated through the cowhide, made your way through a tangle of yarn, and bored into the cork center.

Chapter after chapter provide a detailed guide to the unwritten rules of player etiquette -- everything from not stealing in blowouts to taking a pitch when a pitcher has given up back-to-back home runs to what happens to players who don't participate in a bench-clearing brawl. The appropriate punishment for many violations is a high hard one -- but there are other creative enforcement techniques ranging from hard tags to clubhouse kangaroo courts. (And, apparently, lighting shoes on fire.) Turbow illustrates general principles with specific stories, including interviews with a pantheon of famous players.

As a Little League coach, the book serves as a useful (if occasionally disturbing) reminder of the somewhat violent nature of the professional game. One of the chapters is entitled "If You're Not Cheating, You're Not Trying" -- an inversion of the Little League injunction to "play fair." Desperate players trying to make it to The Show, or to hang on to a fading career, do whatever they can to gain an edge.

Turbo describes "The Code" of baseball with reverence and a bit of nostalgia. He feels that some of the unwritten rules have been watered down or forgotten by the latest generation of players. And, yet, he points to examples of youngsters honoring older customs and agrees that the rules have always been in flux. Players should know these things and so should committed fans.
Profile Image for Steve Bennett.
71 reviews9 followers
January 24, 2012
This is a quick, fun read. I have never understood the unwritten codes of baseball and I guess I still don't. But they exist nonetheless. The book at length discusses my least favorite unwritten code--that when a team has a lead that the other team thinks is "too much" the winning team should stop trying. As a recent player on an adult softball team that regulary lost games by scores like 35-4 and 28-3, I can kind of empathize. But I still don't really support the unwritten rule. The book discusses Bob Brenly's hissy fit when Ben Davis broke up Curt Schilling's perfect game by bunting for a hit. The one incident I wished the book recounted was Pete Rose's crying when Gene Garber broke Rose's 44 game hitting streak by striking him out on a changeup. Rose complained that throwing a changeup to break someone's hitting streak was somehow unmanly and was certainly against the unwritten codes.

There are a few unwritten codes I understand. One, if you are caught trying to steal the catcher's signs to the pitcher, the next pitch is going right at your head. Two, if your teammates are involved in a brawl on the field, don't just sit in the dugout chewing sunflower seeds. Those two I can support. The rest not so much.

I'm definitely ready for the spring and the 2012 baseball season.

Profile Image for jeremy.
1,123 reviews278 followers
April 11, 2010
baseball, perhaps more than any other sport, can appear deceptively simple to the outsider or casual fan. it is, however, a richly nuanced game governed for more than a century as much by the written rulebook as by a constantly evolving tacit philosophy referred to as "the code." the code concerns itself with nearly every aspect of the game and can be considered baseball's moral compass, in place to engender loyalty not only to one's teammates, but also to the game itself.

the baseball codes, written by jason turbow (with michael duca), is an anecdotal glimpse into the game's unwritten rules. intimidation, retaliation, cheating, and general etiquette are all covered at length, and even the most devout fan will learn something new. the many unbelievable stories employed to illustrate a particular tenet of the code make this book a must-read for any sports lover who has ever spent the long winter pining for the month of april to come again. in an age of sports media often dominated by tales of performance-enhancing drugs, multi-million dollar contracts, off-the-field improprieties, and superstar diva personalities, it's refreshing to read about the game beyond all of the sensationalized headlines. while the baseball codes is at times too repetitious, it's hard not to get caught up in the authors' obvious enthusiasm. the book, at its core, is a collection of unforgettable moments that help to define the often misunderstood principles underlying the greatest game ever played.


Profile Image for Eric.
401 reviews31 followers
July 10, 2019
The Baseball Codes is an anecdotal catalog of the mostly unwritten do's and don'ts of professional baseball. The author provides a well detailed reciting of historical events throughout the years in baseball of the many entertaining personalities that have played the game.

While it is an entertaining recounting of these unwritten rules, most of these "baseball codes" are well known by the more serious baseball fans and won't come as too much of a surprise.

One interesting aspect of the book is how the author contrasts how baseball was played in the past to that of how it is played today and how modern influences (i.e., money, salaries and the media) have changed the entirety of professional baseball.

Profile Image for Roger.
290 reviews
December 21, 2018
My first encounter with THE BASEBALL CODES came on a long drive on I-90 in Minnesota, listening to what was undoubtedly a pre-taped interview with the author during a Twins rain delay. The interview was entertaining enough to prompt me to read this book. It's been a long haul. There are interesting tidbits in THE BASEBALL CODES, but it would have been better suited to an article, and not even a NEW YORKER or THE ATLANTIC length piece.

One dilemma Turbow faces is the amorphous state of his subject matter. There is no written baseball code. It is a product of a culture that changes over time, always depends on context, and is interpreted differently by individuals, even when they may be discussing the same incident. Thus, it is impossible to define universal patterns precisely, and instead the focus is on a litany of examples that may be ascribed to baseball players enforcing or living by "the code". It can make for some long, sometimes tedious chapters. At times, the examples presented in this book can be readily explained by factors other than the putative baseball code. In the book (pp. 137-41), the author describes at length a rift between the Red Sox and the Rays that lasts for nearly the entirety of the first decade of the 21st century. The supposed catalyst is the baseball code, but a quicker summary is that the two teams did not like one another. Earlier, on pp. 98-9, there is an in-depth explanation of how Nolan Ryan threw a "bow-tie" pitch to Lenny Dykstra as a lesson on baseball decorum. Dykstra had shown too much on-field emotion after a close play according to the author. Except, the bow-tie pitch occurs in the middle of the next game, after a bunt. Yes, Ryan seems to be communicating something to the younger Dykstra, but the author's causal sequence seems convoluted.

The book is not without its charms. A chapter on the etiquette of no-hitters is entertaining. There is also a funny story about the pitcher Jose Nunez and his first official at bat (pp. 168-9). The book also reveals the centrality of cheating to the major-league game. The example of the 1960 Chicago White Sox institutionalizing their sign-stealing is telling, especially given the stark contrast between their home and road winning percentages. I suspect the White Sox were doing the same thing in 1959, which puts a damper on their pennant that year. This topic does lend some complexity to discussions of how MLB and the Hall of Fame should treat acknowledged steroids abusers. I have strong opinions on this topic, but the history indicates there needs to be more nuance to the suggestion that Bonds, Clemens and Sosa cheated so they are out.

The concluding thoughts on how the code has been minimized in recent decades sounds mostly like old guys yelling at the kids for not doing things the way it was done in the olden days. Yes, you can argue that big salaries and television contracts and other financial considerations have replaced the love of the sport as the primary definition of how baseball life is conducted. However, in this case the argument is undercut by using spokesmen such as Pete Rose to suggest it was much better in the old days. There is a man who always did and always will scrape for the last buck and who treasured "the code" in large part because his teammates covered up his road-trip infidelities for years.

Lots of anecdotes
can be found in baseball's lore.
Doesn't explain though.
Profile Image for Kevin Hogg.
267 reviews7 followers
January 19, 2020
This book shows a ton of research, and the list of interview subjects in the acknowledgements section backs this up both in sheer volume and by including some of baseball's all-time greats. While some reviews criticize the book's premise, as baseball has no written "code," I think that actually makes this book more valuable. It contains the insights from those who have enforced the code (and had the code enforced against them) for many years--a true insider's account.

As you can see, I gave the book five stars, but I'll start with a couple of criticisms. Perhaps my biggest criticism of the book is that I just wanted more. More anecdotes, more details within the anecdotes, and more Bert Blyleven. The section about practical jokes could have been five times as long, and it would still have maintained my attention. As an example, there is a story about a pig. There are a significant number of details left out of the middle of the story. It's hard to fault the authors, though, particularly as they say that the book leaves out about 75% of their source material due to editorial decisions. I get the need to remain concise, and it's probably the right call, all things considered, but I could have read much more in some parts. The other thing that stood out from time to time is telling part of the same story more than once--it could feel a bit distracting when an incident is alluded to, and then it's discussed in full during the next chapter, which is focused on a different topic.

With that said, there are some great sections. I read the chapter on sign stealing right as the aftermath of the Astros scandal hit, so it was nice to have a lot of context and history readily available. I learned more ways that a pitcher could scuff a baseball, and I really enjoyed getting so many perspectives on the rules. While that as mentioned in some reviews as a weakness, I think it's really neat to see how various managers interpret the rule about stealing bases when your team already has a large lead. The multiple versions highlights the oral nature by which the rules are passed on. I also loved the kangaroo court section, and I could happily read a book that just dealt with that topic.

The section on the changes to the code (and it's partial disappearance) was interesting and had some good evidence and analysis. It helps to understand why something like a bat flip can go from an unforgivable offence to something that MLB is actively promoting. It's sad to see money taking away from the game's heritage and history, but I can also see a great argument for moving away from the intentional hit-by-pitch.

Longtime fans will know many of the rules, but examples from various eras come together to highlight athletes both changing with the times and preserving tradition. The book does a good job of showing how the rules may be broken, as well as the possible consequences for violations. In addition, there are comments from some players about their dislike for parts of the code. All of this, plus some of the lesser known rules, makes for an entertaining read for any baseball fan.
Profile Image for Suziqoregon.
693 reviews32 followers
July 6, 2018
3.5 Stars
This was fun and interesting and you don't have to be a rabid baseball fan to understand or enjoy it. I'm a casual baseball fan at best and I liked this book. It was good to read the stories about some of the players who's names I knew.

Some of the 'unwritten' rules were things I already knew about but others were rather obscure. The authors interviewed many players and had many stories to tell. Some were funny. In the chapter about cheating and stealing signs this one made me laugh out loud.

If the warning works, there's rarely reason to escalate things. Some pitchers, however, like to ensure that their message has been received. In 1993, when Blue Jays pitcher Jack Morris was clued in to the sign-tipping efforts of a baserunner at second, he spun on his heel, walked toward his opponent, and, pointing toward the plate, said, "I'm throwing a fastball and it's going at him. Make sure you tell him that." Then he delivered the pitch, as promised, knocking the hitter down. At that point, Morris made a second trip toward the runner. "Did you tell him?" he yelled. "Did you?"

I liked this one and I'm keeping it out from the library so The Hubster can read it.
Profile Image for Jay Hinman.
122 reviews20 followers
February 2, 2020
Easily the best book about baseball I’ve read in a decade - and I’ve read a few. Lively, funny and exceptionally well-written.
Profile Image for Sarah.
142 reviews5 followers
September 11, 2021
I always enjoy the vibes of baseball books, but they also can disappoint me. Even when neatly organized around themes and sub-themes like this one is, at the end of the day it's just a collection of very brief little stories, which doesn't really hold my attention like a single story does. But I did finish this one, and I'm glad I did; I learned a lot about how baseball was (and to a lesser extent, is) played. It was a great look at the game within the game.
260 reviews11 followers
February 10, 2020
Based on glowing praise from someone whose taste I trust, I picked up this book and then could hardly put it down. And I'm not a big baseball fan. "The Baseball Codes" is a fascinating exploration of the ethos of baseball as contained in the vague "codes" that are used to enforce respect among players. Turbow does a masterful job of illustrating not only the codes, but also their nuanced exceptions. This is a good companion piece to "The Lords of the Game" which explored the history of the clash between players and owners in professional baseball.
Profile Image for Spence.
212 reviews3 followers
March 9, 2022
If you like baseball, you will love this book. It is right up there with Big Hair and Plastic Grass: A Funky Ride Through Baseball and America in the Swinging '70s. Couldn't recommend it more. My only gripe is there is a little language (Tommy Lasorda) that while I get, I was hoping to let my 13 yr old listen to the audiobook and now I'm a little hesitant. Other than that just really enjoyed it.
Profile Image for Steven.
472 reviews19 followers
October 30, 2021
Enlightening discussion of the "Codes," baseball's unwritten rules governing such things as beanballs (when to throw them and at whom), bench-clearing brawls (if you're on the bench, you better get out there!), and the many ways pitchers might doctor a ball and how opposing teams are likely to feel about it and why.

The book bears extraordinary research, dropping names from nearly every generation of the sport. It is an amazing and thorough text. As a life-long Astros fan, I found the authors' discussion of the history of sign-stealing not only fascinating, but a huge help as I prepared an essay defending the Astros--not defending their prohibited use of mechanical devices, but defending them in a general sense, as one team among very many who have been caught or forced to admit to doing the very same thing. (Four years later people continue to act like the 2017 Astros are the first sports stars to ever do anything scandalous. It's ridiculous.)

The book may run a tad long for some, but it is filled with so many great stories--alternately funny, touching, horrifying, and tragic--that it is hard to complain about its modest length.

One bit that I did NOT expect was the discussion of KANGAROO COURT toward the end of the book. My son, currently the captain of his junior college baseball team, was unanimously chosen as the judge for the team's kangaroo court. Yet to hear him tell it, this is the first year they have had such a court (he never mentioned it last year) and my understanding was that he and some other sophomores thought the whole thing up themselves, right down to the curiously ironic name. Then I read the lengthy discussion in THE BASEBALL CODES and realized someone in Odessa, Texas, must have known something about this tradition. Apparently all the pro teams have them. I will definitely have to revisit the subject with the boy!


1. The WHOLE story on Robin Ventura charging Nolan Ryan—including the way his own team put him up to it (and he didn’t really want to).
2. All the rules in the Baseball Code summarized: “Respect your teammates, respect your opponents, and respect the game.”
3. Number one rule of the Code—keep your mouth shut, because outsiders will NOT understand the code; don’t open that can of worms. AKA—what happens in the clubhouse stays in the clubhouse.
4. The Code even has rules about when to swing, bunt, not swing at all, etc., most of them related to whether one of the teams has an insurmountable lead. Also—no steals when you’re team is already out of reach.
5. Rules for when to run into the catcher.
6. Rules for how to tag opposing players.
7. Rules for when to throw at a batter.
8. Nolan’s rules: If you dig in, hit a home run, or watch a home run—you’re asking to be hit.
9. Story of Dock Ellis who took the mound one day in 1974 and planned to hit every batter, thus cementing his reputation as a man to be feared (p.40).
10. Story of Nolan Ryan hitting Doug Griffin behind the ear. Griffin was unconscious and Ryan was scared—says he actually did not mean to do it, but to pitch it where Griffin could not lay down a bunt.
11. Story of the rare pitcher charging a batter, p.51.
12. Rule: don’t rub or massage an injury, no matter how bad it hurts. Don’t give the pitcher the satisfaction.
13. Rules for the take-out slide.
14. Story of Craig Biggio learning that the Code no longer allows the “roll-block” slide into second to break up the double play. Every time he did it, he began getting beaned during his next at bat. He got the message.
15. Rule: don’t show people up: no bat flips, no watching your homers—although when needed, either is better revenge than charging the mound.
16. Story of Yankees GM calling a rainout when there was no rain, just to protect Lou Gehrig’s record streak of consecutive games, knowing he was at home with the flu.
17. Rule: the more a pitcher mows down the opposition, the more the opposition is required to respect the feat.
18. Rule: don’t lay down a bunt just to break up a no-hitter. That’s bush league.
19. Rules for trick plays, pantomimes, the hidden ball trick, the deke.
20. Rules for mound visits.
21. Rule: when a manager asks a pitcher how the pitcher feels, he lies. “If you don’t say the right thing, it’s perceived as a lack of heart.”
22. Story of Billy Martin’s love of throwing at batters. “Tell Stanley to throw at him until he hits him.”
23. The story of Clemens throwing a broken bat back at the batter, Mike Piazza, and Clemens later crying in the clubhouse, overcome with the whole mess—and the feud with Mets that lasted about two more years (p.116-20).
24. Story of the man who actually was killed by a fastball in 1920—Yankees Carl Mays hit Cleveland shortstop Ray Chapman in an era before helmets. Mays was a known headhunter.
25. MLB umpires once got a memo—if a pitcher hits a batter in the head, the pitcher is probably too good at his craft for it to be ruled an accident.
26. Problem—players have forgotten how to bail out. Jeff Bagwell broke his hand in 1993, 1994, and 1995.
27. Andy Pettite was known to abhor the practice of throwing at people—and hit no one in over 200 innings pitched. But when Bernie Williams was hit in the head, retaliation was in order. Pettite hit the next batter in the hip. When asked, he simply told reporters, “I don’t want to talk about that” p.126.
28. Bob Gibson owed a vendetta to Pete LaCock and had to save it for the old-timers’ game fifteen years later, p129.
29. Stories of feuds.
30. Stories of spiking middle infielders.
31. Jackie Robinson (and others) settled the score with pitchers by laying a bunt down the first base line, then crashing into the pitcher when he fielded the ball. Eventually, pitchers stopped fielding his bunts altogether and he got his base.
32. Numerous rules and stories of sign stealing.
33. Rule: don’t peak for the sign while you’re standing in the batter’s box.
34. Analysis of all the substances used by pitchers. What do they do? Some add friction, others remove it.
35. Funny story—when the spitball was outlawed, the old-timers still using it were allowed to keep throwing it through the remainder of their careers—but no new pitchers could use the pitch.
36. Nolan Ryan used to begin from the stretch an entire foot closer to the batter than the rubber would allow p.194.
37. Stories of “cheating” by the grounds crews—doing things to influence the way balls would bounce, for example.
38. Analysis of the difference between resin (allowed) and rosin (prohibited).
39. Rule: don’t talk about a no-hitter in progress.
40. A clubhouse actively protects players from (1) media, (2) management, and (3) women.
41. But invariably, management has an insider, someone known as “the pipeline.” Anything you tell them will be reported back. He might be a player, but more often is a trainer.
42. Rule: everybody joins a fight. If you’re down in the showers, don’t come out to the dugout and stand watching. Either come to fight, or don’t come at all. If they see you in the dugout, the team will never forget the betrayal.
43. But there are lots of funny stories about pitchers running from the bullpen. They don’t know what the fight’s about, and by the time they get there, it’s nearly over.
44. Rules for Kangaroo Court, rules for practical jokes.
45. Funny story about Babe Ruth pretending to be shot (p.243).

The writers conclude with an interesting discussion of the way adherence to the Codes has waned as money and commercialism has infected the game. Finally, the book ends with such a great story--the tale of Rex Hudler's last day of professional baseball. Beautifully played--and beautifully written.


“There’s nothing wrong with being paid, but you can still have a great love and desire and dedication and passion for the game. And that’s the thing—have a passion for the game. It’s an honor to wear a frickin’ major-league-uniform. It’s an honor.”
--Red Sox pitcher, Al Nipper.

Because Dusty Baker is the Astros manager, I posted a quote on Facebook:


"When Dusty Baker first came to the Braves as a nineteen-year-old September call-up in 1968, he learned a quick lesson in big-league hierarchy. The Braves were in San Francisco, staying at the Jack Tar Hotel, and manager Lum Harris had set a midnight curfew. Baker was at a nearby bar with teammates Hank Aaron, Joe Torre, and Felipe Alou, who at ten minutes to midnight told him to head back to the hotel. 'I said, 'What about you guys?' recalled Baker. 'They said, 'Don't worry, we'll get there in time.' '

"Baker made it back with two minutes to spare, and immediately ran into Braves coach Jim Busby who was checking off players' names as they arrived. When Baker scanned the list, he saw that Aaron, Torre, and Alou had already been checked in. 'I'm a dumb rookie and asked the guys the next day, 'How'd you get back so quick?' But it didn't take me long to figure out that there's certain things you have to earn. The Braves knew those guys were going to be ready and would come prepared to play."

Profile Image for Linda.
236 reviews86 followers
November 5, 2012
So I've wrapped up another baseball season by finishing another baseball book, one I first picked up out of curiosity, mostly expecting it to be an entertaining look at the game from another angle beyond the rules and the stats. It is that, but rather than being a mere diversion The Baseball Codes has provided an essential stage in my baseball education. Learning about the unwritten rules, their evolution over time, and the history of their practice and their breach, does as much to help understand the game as getting into the details of the formal rules and stats.

Looking at baseball from the perspective of the codes transforms the beginner fan's understanding of the game. For example, some of the rules you might think you could intuit -- it doesn't take a big leap of logic to conclude that stealing signs isn't cool -- are actually far more nuanced in practice. It turns out that sign stealing is widely attempted and almost expected; as the saying goes, "if you're not cheating, you're not trying". The real offense is persisting in sign stealing once you've been caught.

Many of the other unwritten codes are more surprising -- such the intricate calculations behind the determination of which offenses merit retaliation, how that retaliation will be carried out, by whom, and when (which eventually leads to the realization that the beanball you just saw might not have been a response to some untoward showboating by the batter in his previous at-bat, but rather could be the consequence of some distant offense committed in another game, by another player, in another league altogether even).

I have only one aesthetic quibble with the writing, which is that when the authors provide a series of examples to illustrate a point, the transition between anecdotes is usually constructed as a variation on the theme of, "As amazing as X was, it wasn't anywhere near as shocking as Y". This stylistic tic is repeated so often it gets old, and intrudes on the flow of the narrative. In the grand scheme of things, though, this is a trifle. The detailed, exhaustively sourced Baseball Codes is a fascinating inside look at baseball that will hold the attention of casual spectators and seasoned fans alike.

360 reviews1 follower
April 7, 2013
I thought this would be a bit more historical and less anecdotal. I was hoping for background to this "code" and even researching some of the lesser known rules.

It wasn't good the first 3/4 of the book but it got overly sanctimonious when, for whatever reason, the authors go into this righteous indignation of why baseball "isn't as good as it used to be" rhetoric. The author cites several reasons including money and this quote:

"The overall respect for the game has declined. The only thing that guys respect now is money."

That quote was from Pete Rose. I like Rose, but I don't need to be preached to by him about "respect" for the game. Two, let's quit pretending that athletes from previous eras weren't getting paid. Mickey Mantle made $60,000 in 1957. Christy Mathewson made $10,000 in 1909. A fortune for both eras. Professional athletes, especially those of the major sports for that era, have always gotten paid. They haven't played for free in 110 years.

Furthermore, we get this quote from former pitcher Al Nipper: There are players no who, if you ask them about guys even 10 years ago, they'll say, 'Who?'" You've got to be shitting me. When you don't know the history of the game,you're going to repeat history."

Umm, what?

What does any of this have to do with a bunch of whiney rules and "codes" that aren't there to "protect" the game as much as put certain players in their place and not showing up others. It's all inconsequential and to attempt to connect to modern times and money is stupid.
Profile Image for Jay French.
2,041 reviews74 followers
August 6, 2012
Fun stories, but there's a lot of them, and they start to run together after a while. I most liked the practical jokes section for the anecdotes and the sign stealing section for the shear institutionalized cheating it described. Makes you wonder about what home field advantage really means. This is told as the code of the players, from back in history, but it made me wonder whether the baseball owners also were behind some of these "codes". For instance, not piling on runs when ahead provided for more entertaining games for the fans, which is in the owner's best interest. Brawls could also be considered in the owner's interest if it drew fans (or news reports/advertising). There wasn't much discussion about owners (beyond Steinbrenner, but what baseball book can avoid talking about Steinbrenner). The audio narration was a bit dry given the similarity of the stories. This would have benefited from additional audio features like music, sound effects, more distinctive voices, or real game description.
22 reviews1 follower
August 8, 2022
A very entertaining read. Ever wonder why brawls start, the "right" way to take out the shortstop at second base (or the catcher at home), or the unwritten rules around "doctoring" the baseball? This book has this and a lot more. Our best friends live next door to the author, so I got a surprise, signed copy of this book for my birthday. Thank goodness. I probably would have never read it otherwise since I have mostly given up on baseball. This book tests that "giving up" by recreating fun memories of baseball's glory days. Nolan Ryan v. Robin Ventura brawl---check. George Foster's reticence with the '86 Mets---check. Frank Robinson's flat-out hard edges---check. There were several times when I was audibly laughing out loud (hard) because (1) the descriptions of my past memories were so dead on and (2) the situations and secret rules are priceless. I can't wait to send it to my dad so he can enjoy it with me. A gem for true baseball fans.
Profile Image for Rich.
15 reviews
May 20, 2010
An entertaining and often insightful glance into baseball's sometimes ambiguous moral universe. While some of the codes--never talking to a pitcher during a no-hitter, what happens in the clubhouse STAYS in the clubhouse--are still firmly in place and rarely disputed, others, like when stealing becomes a matter of rubbing it in or when it's appropriate to give a hitter a "bowtie" with an inside fastball are constantly up for debate. Players from those in the HOF to the many dusted off from the shelves of obscurity are crisply depicted in a collection of entertaining stories. Some of the anecdotes used to demonstrate said codes are well-known others less-known, but the authors enrich them both with detail, humor and the authenticity of first-hand accounts and interviews. A definite must-read for the baseball fanatic, and a telling glance inside the world of baseball to novices.
Profile Image for Nathan.
523 reviews4 followers
July 4, 2010
One of the things I love about baseball is the subculture that has grown up within and around it. That subculture is the raw material of this book. Both the well-known "codes" as well as the more obscure traditions are covered, from not mentioning a no-hitter in progress, to the finer points of clubhouse etiquette. Supplemented with generous amounts of player interviews, this book feels like a day-in-the-life tour of a major leaguer as much as anything. There is a slightly distracting tendency to reference a specific game without providing enough background, but that's all right, since the point is always obvious from the particular code being discussed. Entertaining from start to finish. And I love the cover art, too.
Profile Image for Thom.
1,566 reviews47 followers
November 5, 2013
The authors conclusion, summarized - The unwritten rules of baseball primarily exist to promote respect for other players, the team, and the game itself, and the most common enforcement of those rules were the bean ball and the kangaroo court fine. Both these rules and their enforcements are fading away because players are more focused on their paychecks.

That conclusion was from the end of the book. Before that, the authors offer anecdotes - and nothing but anecdotes - for 250 pages. Other than a loose clustering by the superstition or unwritten rule broken, they are unsorted - 1916 sits next to 1996. As a whole, this book wears thin quickly.
Profile Image for Ed.
Author 42 books2,693 followers
July 28, 2011
Top-story baseball book, ranking up there with Ball Four. Jason Turbow looks at the cheating, pranks, rookie hazing, kangaroo courts, and the whole shebang. He uses lots of MLB players and relates their anecdotes. What I got from the book was baseball is played a certain right way, and "THE CODE" is what makes it the great game it is. I recognized many of the names like my all-time favorite pitcher, Dick Bosman, and the casual fan might not enjoy the detailed narrative as much as I did. Lots of inside stuff makes for a fun read, though.
Profile Image for zumiee.
29 reviews1 follower
February 25, 2013
Baseball's so-called "unwritten rules" are examined here, with a subtle mixture of seriousness and humor. There are lots of great baseball stories in this book, and baseball fans everywhere will find much to enjoy here.
Profile Image for John-Michael Pahlavan.
31 reviews7 followers
March 6, 2015
Tedious, but decent. Anyone who finishes Turnbow's 'Unwritten Rules' manifesto will come away with a deeper understanding and appreciation for America's pastime.
Profile Image for Clem.
496 reviews6 followers
May 29, 2022
As I write this review, the baseball community is still in a bit of shock after the Houston Astros cheating scandal that was revealed by a former player that caused two managers and a general manager to be fired. Sports commentator Stephen Smith brazenly proclaimed that the Astros should have their World Series championship title stripped away from them. Quickly to rebut Smith are celebrity athletes such as former NBA ballplayer Charles Barkley. “All. Ballplayers. Cheat.” Barkley asserts. Rather crass, and possibly unbelievable. All ball players cheat?? Really?? Well, sadly this book by author Jason Turbow leads the reader to believe this sad fact about Major League Baseball is, in fact, true.

This book was written seven years prior to the Astros championship, and I think that if every fan had read a copy of this book before the accusations started flying, the Houston ballclub might not have been viewed with quite as much scorn. That’s not to say that this behavior should be encouraged, let alone tolerated, but when a sport has existed well over a century with a certain “code” that everyone is expected to follow, stopping such events isn’t as easy as flipping off a light switch.

Let’s say you’re a young pitcher in the Major Leagues and your manager doesn’t like a player on the other team. The reason? Something stupid like the guy hit a home run against your team three months ago. So the manager instructs you: “Hit them hard with a pitch”. Well, what would YOU do? Refuse your manager? If so, have fun being demoted to the minor leagues. Bring this accusation to the attention of the higher authorities of the sport? Well, you might as well kiss your career in the big leagues goodbye.

Now, this book isn’t only about cheating in the big leagues, but rather the many codes that exist and are followed just because these codes have always existed. Does the pitcher have a no-hitter going past the 5th inning? If so, you better make sure NO ONE on the bench says the word “no-hitter” out loud. In fact, don’t even talk to the pitcher at all. God help you if you violate this code. Such idiotic “codes” have always been in-place, and rarely do you encounter a testosterone-filled jock that will speak against the code and say something like “Isn’t this all kind of stupid?”

So the author gives us plenty, almost too many, anecdotes throughout the game’s long history of these codes and who the main perpetrators have always been – both the enforcers and the code breakers. It’s quite a harsh book, but perhaps I’m naïve. Let’s just say I have lost a lot of respect for such Hall of Famers as Don Drysdale and Nolan Ryan after reading such accounts. Most fans probably remember the Nolan Ryan / Robin Ventura altercation where Ventura charged the mound. Did Ryan hit him with a pitch on purpose? Yep. Why? Well, Ventura has the nerve to hit a home run off him. You may ask: “Well isn’t that his job???” We also read about how Nolan Ryan could be particularly nasty if any batter tried to get on base by bunting off him. You want to say “Gee. Nolan. That’s kind of what they’re supposed to do.” Sad when we find out our heroes are made of clay.

After reading a whole book of incidents like this, I can’t help but be rather turned off by such barbaric accounts. Some of these stories were brutal in the reflections. And yes, baseball teams (not individual players, but entire teams) were stealing signs long before the Houston Astros were banging on trash cans. Remember the guy behind the outfield wall who updated the score by placing the numbers in the slots? You could always see him behind the scoreboard through one of those empty slots. Well, what the home teams used to do is to get the guy involved in the cheating, even though he’s not even a player. If the pitch coming up will be a fastball, the guy is instructed to recline one of his feet on the ledge of a vacated slot. Curveball? Both feet. Change up? No feet at all.

Although this is an interesting book that keeps your attention, someone like me felt disgusted quite a bit. If you’re a pitcher ticked off at a hitter because he bunted against you, shouldn’t you avenge yourself by, say, striking him out as opposed to hurling a fastball at his head? Well, I guess some will continue to insist that boys will be boys.

For someone like me, the one thing that gives me a bit of hope is that the game as started to become stricter concerning these incidents. Now that teams spend tens of millions of dollars on a player, they’re not going to damage their investment. They’re not going to let a cranky infielder on the other team slide hard into their shortstop trying to break up a double play by grinding his filed shoe spikes into the shortstop’s calf. I find such refinements refreshing, but for a lot of old school players who have hobbies such as eating raw meat, these new restrictions come across to them as something that is “ruining the game”.

As a kid I always fantasized about being a major league baseball. After reading this book, a huge part of me is glad that my dream never came true.
Profile Image for RICK "SHAQ" GOLDSTEIN.
699 reviews8 followers
May 1, 2023
Anyone who was raised with a love of baseball… when the grass was still real… when baseball was still truly America’s pastime… and was governed by “THE UNWRITTEN RULES… or CODES” as much if not more than the actual written rules… will love this book. Anyone that was raised when much of the grass was ASTRO Turf… but was lucky enough to have a prior generation’s lover of baseball teach them the way a professional really played AND RESPECTED this great game… will love this book. This is a true unveiling of what really went on between the lines… in the clubhouse… and away from the field. The great game of baseball had its own unwritten laws… and thus the players and managers were able to police themselves… when the official rule book didn’t provide proper justice. When should one team throw a bean ball at the other to reciprocate for a hit batsman? Who should be hit by a retaliatory pitch… the offending pitcher?… the hitter who watched too long as his ball flew out of the park?… the hitter who “hot-dogged” around the bases?… the guy who slid too hard into a base?... the batter who took too long getting into the batter’s box?... the batter who walked in front of the catcher?... the player who was stealing signals? The questions and situations are almost endless… and almost all of these questions are answered in this book. When there’s a fight on the field which members of the team should join in?... Should any of the team not engage? What type of cheating is ok? Spitballs?... Scuffed balls?... Pine tar/Vaseline/slippery elm?... Corked bats?

How long should a *PAYBACK-GRUDGE* be carried and still be acted upon. In one such case fireball Hall of Famer Bob Gibson waited for fifteen years AFTER HIS RETIREMENT to hit a batter he felt he owed… in an old-timers game. Now don’t get me wrong some of the “RULES” still exist today… but the author makes it clear that due to the enormous money in today’s games… agents… and most players becoming more like “visitors” on a team as compared to lifetime veterans in the old days… the full book of rules are no longer enforced.
The author astutely points out major sections of the *CODE* such as when is it okay to steal… when is it okay to plow into the catcher… and of course if a “code/rule” is broken there… the resultant verdict leads to “bean-ball” retaliation rules. Interspersed with rules and historical proof are great quotes from players like Hall of Famer “BIG-D” Don Drysdale who said: “THE PITCHER HAS TO FIND OUT IF THE HITTER IS TIMID, AND IF HE IS TIMID, HE HAS TO REMIND THE HITTER HE’S TIMID.” There is the sage wisdom that Hall of Fame pitcher Satchel Paige passed on to future Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan that would help shape Ryan’s record breaking career: “ONE OF THE BEST PITCHES IS THE BOW-TIE PITCH.” “Ryan had no idea what Paige was talking about. A bow-tie pitch, explained the ancient ballplayer, was “WHEN YOU THROW IT RIGHT HERE” - HE THEN MIMED A HORIZONTAL LINE ACROSS HIS ADAM’S APPLE, AS IF SLASHING HIS OWN THROAT- “WHERE THEY WEAR THEIR BOW TIE.”

A true fan will be mesmerized when many of the great baseball fights are re-created including the game on August 12, 1984 between the Atlanta Braves and San Diego Padres. SAN DIEGO INFIELDER KURT BEVACQUA LATER CALLED IT “the desert storm of baseball fights.” “TOTAL DAMAGE: SIX BRUSH BACK PITCHES, THREE HIT BATTERS, FOUR BENCH-CLEARING INCIDENTS, TWO FULL-ON BRAWLS THAT NEARLY SPIRALED OUT OF CONTROL WHEN FANS RUSHED THE FIELD, NINETEEN EJECTIONS, FIVE ARRESTS, AND A NEARLY UNPRECEDENTED CLEARING OF THE BENCHES BY THE UMPIRES.” Additionally one player out of uniform on the disabled list was sitting in the broadcasting booth… and he even wound up down on the field fighting.

There are also codes on how a pitcher being removed from the game by the manager should act. There is an absolutely hilarious transcription that covers parts of three pages (90-92) involving Dodger manager Tom Lasorda removing pitcher Doug Rau (Lasorda was miked) that has more four letter words than would be emitted by a drunken sailor who hit his finger with a hammer. The enjoyment derived from this book for any old school baseball fan is limitless. I’ll just list the chapter descriptions and you will have an idea of the fun awaiting you here.

Profile Image for Matt.
16 reviews3 followers
September 4, 2020
This book was recommended during a forum thread about the recent Fernando Tatis Jr. "fiasco", where Tatis Jr. dared to swing at a 3-0 pitch with the bases loaded and the Padres having a comfortable (but not insurmountable) lead over the Rangers. Many people, including myself, were mystified as to why the Rangers decided to whine about Tatis violating the "unwritten rules" of the game. Now, after reading the book, I'm even less sympathetic to the Rangers than I was before (I'm a Jays fan, so my sympathy level was zero), because: 1) the Padres weren't up by that much. A seven run deficit is definitely attainable. 2) Tatis didn't showboat the grand slam that much, and 3) Don't get in the hole 3-0 with the bases loaded and force yourself to throw a fastball over the plate - problem solved. Yes, Tatis blew through a sign from the manager, but c'mon Texas.

But I digress.

Many of these rules I was familiar with before (don't talk about a no-no/perfect game in progress, don't recklessly slide or crash into the catcher, don't sell out your teammates, don't be 'that' guy, etc.), but the stories that went behind them were definitely enjoyable reads. The deep dive into the politics and sociology of throwing a fastball near the batter's chin was a great read into an aspect of the game that, for some, is as incomprehensible as fighting in hockey. I would have enjoyed a deeper dive into the origins of the game (dead-ball and prior) to get a bit more perspective about where the rules came from, but I enjoyed the examples and candid interviews nevertheless. My personal favorite is Buck O'Neill covering for his team-mate Satchel Paige by pretending to have the nickname 'Nancy.'

My one complaint about this book is that it was written in 2010, because between the Bautista batflip in 2015 and the Astros' sign stealing scandal of 2019, among other things, there is so much more material to work with! Reading the chapters on showboating and sign stealing I was almost getting frustrated knowing that these two pieces of baseball lore wouldn't be mentioned. Updated edition, perhaps?

Fun read, definitely a great addition to my baseball bookshelf.
Profile Image for Ken Heard.
598 reviews10 followers
July 10, 2019
We all knew about the 1951 NY Giants stealing signs during their chase and eventual capturing of National League-leading Brooklyn Dodgers by using telescopes, lights and relayed signals. But Turbow shows many, many more instances of complex schemes teams used to know what pitches were coming, including the burial of a buzzer beneath first base years ago.

That's just one of the dozens of anecdotes found in The Baseball Codes that makes this a fun read. And cheating is only one portion. There's the "code" of playing too hard when a team is leading, fights, brawls, brushback pitches, trades, etc. The research in this book is amazing; while there is actually no real set "code" for all things baseball, Turbow uses plenty of stories to back up ideas and how some codes change over the decades.

I recently read his book "They Bled Blue" about the L.A. Dodgers' 1981 season and was amazed at the amount of research he put into that book. I read his book about the 1972-74 Oakland As, "Dynastic, Bombastic, Fantastic," but got it out again to read simply because I now have a favorite baseball writer (Kevin Cook and his books also rate up as favorites).

At first glance, for the non baseball fan, the book may seem a tad boring and maybe too long. Perhaps a decent magazine article would suffice. But after getting into the book and enjoying the scores of stories, I wished this was a longer book.

This is definitely a great book to read during baseball season because it puts a new perspective on the game. Although I've followed baseball for nearly 50 years (I'm old), I was stunned at all the ways teams try to take advantage to win. Many of the stories come from when I really followed the sport and knew the players. It was fun seeing the behind-the-scenes look at some of the games and players I remembered.

Any baseball fan who has yet to read any of Turbow's stuff should quit reading this review and immediately find one of his books. It doesn't matter which one, you'll be amazed at the depth of research and the intelligent, yet fun and light, way he writes.
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