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Unwritten rules in sports give athletes an excuse to commit assault during games

It was July 25, 1989. The Pirates were leading the Dodgers, 6-2, in the bottom of the seventh inning at old Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh. Pirates outfielder R.J. Reynolds reached first, before immediately stealing second and third base. Los Angeles pitcher Tim Crews then threw up and in to batter Gary Redus, striking him in the face, just below his left eye. The benches cleared, as Redus was being taken off the field on a stretcher. Redus was transported to a local hospital for observation, but no serious damage was done.

The Pirates objected to Crews’s actions because it seemed obvious that he was upset that Reynolds had stolen two bases late in the game with his team up by a fairly sizable amount. Was Crews justified in gaining some form of retribution for an opponent disrespecting his team by trying to run up the score?

If you think so, you likely thought Toronto Maple Leafs’ defender Morgan Rielly was justified in his actions in a game against the Ottawa Senators last weekend. With the Senators ahead, 4-3, in the final seconds, forward Ridly Greig scored an empty net goal to put the game away for his team. But instead of allowing the puck to glide into the net, as is the custom, he took a slapshot from close range. Rielly immediately took exception to this and cross-checked Greig in the head, knocking him to the ice.

Rielly was ultimately suspended for five games by the NHL. However, that doesn’t mean the hockey world was unified against him for what he did to Greig, who thankfully was not seriously hurt. If anything, the views on Rielly’s actions have been split right down the middle, with many thinking it was perfectly acceptable that he assaulted an opponent for showing up his team.

Isn’t that usually the case with stuff like this? Remember when Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista hit that dramatic game-winning three-run home run late in Game 5 of the 2015 ALDS against the Rangers? Bautista didn’t just hit a home run. No, he dramatically flipped his bat right before rounding the bases.

Yes, the home run allowed the Blue Jays to advance to the ALCS, but Bautista’s antics were all anyone could talk about afterward. The Rangers never forgot Bautista’s post-home run celebration. In fact, they waited until the next season to get revenge on Bautista by hitting him with a pitch in the last game played between the two teams in 2016. Bautista then tried to break up a double play with an aggressive slide, which led to pushing, shoving and a Rangers player getting more revenge in the form of a punch to Bautista’s face.

Naturally, the debates for this were split right down the middle, with many people saying the Rangers were justified in their physical retribution against Bautista.

Of course, it’s common in baseball for a pitcher to exact revenge when a hitter enjoys a home run a little too much as he rounds the bases–never mind that a hitter doesn’t get nearly as offended when a pitcher strikes him out and then wildly pumps his fist as he runs to the dugout. Another familiar theme in baseball is for pitchers to hit batters who have had a little too much success against them or their teammates. “You gotta intimidate them out there. You gotta let them know that they can’t just stand in there without fear of getting drilled with a 90-mph fastball.”

Is that a form of intimidation, though? I suppose it is, but it’s much easier to be an enforcer when the opponent just thinks he’s up there to try and hit your pitch, not dive out of the way of it.

I don’t think there’s ever an excuse to physically harm someone over showing you up on the field, court or ice. That kind of stuff may have been acceptable in the past, but this is 2024. We should be better as a society.

More fans should be appalled by that kind of stuff, but, sadly, way too many still applaud it.

To me, these unwritten rules are just an excuse to commit assault and battery on your opponent. It’s saying you’re a sore loser without saying you’re a sore loser. If a seven-year-old assaulted an opponent during a game–for any reason–we’d likely question their parents.

We should scrap these unwritten rules or actually write them down. But even if they were official rules, there is still no place in sports for assault and battery.

You don’t like how someone scored an empty net goal? You should have played better before your coach decided to take the goalie out. You don’t like how the batter celebrated a home run? You should have thrown a better pitch.

You don’t like that your opponent kept trying to score with a huge lead? Why? Did you throw in the towel? Did you stop trying to make a comeback?

I’ll leave you with an anecdote involving former Pirates skipper, Chuck Tanner, that may be true or it might be an urban legend. Pittsburgh was ahead by a huge amount late in a game, and Tanner called off the dogs. Unfortunately, the other team came back to tie things up. Tanner then reportedly looked over at the opposing dugout and screamed: “Are we allowed to try and score again?”

I’m not sure if the Pirates eventually won the game, but they may have given themselves a better chance had they broken one of baseball’s unwritten rules.


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