Scorekeeping: Making Sense of the Nyjer Morgan Mess and the “Unwritten Rule”

This is another part in the on-going “Scorekeeping: Subtle Racism in Baseball” series. You can view it from the start here.

It’s tough to really parse out what’s being said about Nyjer Morgan, the Washington Nats’ outfielder who started a brawl yesterday after charging the mound, but unwritten rules were brought up again.

Just so we can get the storyline down, here’s what happened:

-Morgan ran over the Marlins’ catcher and injured him.

-Nats were down by 11 in the 4th inning.
-Morgan was plunked.
-Morgan stole second and third.
-Morgan, in his next at-bat, was thrown at again.
-Morgan charged the mound and Volstad threw his glove down. Morgan got a good shot in and Sanchez ran in to knock Morgan into last week.

One of Florida’s broadcasters with Fox Sports Florida said:

[Morgan] has some serious problems. If Major League Baseball doesn’t do something about Nyjer Morgan, they’re coming up short.”

Morgan said this about himself:

I’m a hard-nosed player. I’m gonna grind it out. If it happened again, I’d do it again.

Sanchez argued that stealing the bases was against an unwritten rule in baseball, where the teams in a blowout are supposed to concede and finish out the game without taking advantage of situations.

“When he got to first he ends up stealing second and then stealing third, down by 11,” explained Marlins first baseman Gaby Sanchez, the man who later clothes-lined Morgan, on SIRIUS XM’s MLB Network Radio. “And that’s the whole gist of the conversation that I heard. You really don’t do that in baseball. I can understand if it was a four-run lead and they hit you on purpose and you go ahead and steal second and steal third, then I don’t think it’s anything of a big deal.

I don’t really get that, but OK.

There wasn’t any argument against Morgan starting the fight from the Marlins players as far as I can find, but against Morgan stealing the bases in the first place. Kind of an odd thing to nitpick about, since steals don’t have that much outcome on the game, and especially in an 14-3 game, but there you go.

Sanchez then, for some reason, projected what he thought Morgan was thinking.

“Yeah, I definitely understand both ways of it,” Sanchez said. “I definitely believe — know — that he was stealing because he got hit. It wasn’t because of anything else. It wasn’t, ‘Oh, we’re down by 12 or 11, I’m gonna steal to get to third.’ It was you guys hit me on purpose, so now I’m gonna steal second, I’m gonna steal third. I know that that was his mindset.”

The funny thing is, Sanchez seems to be advocating for lazy play. Perhaps it is he who lacks hustle.

Just a minor thought, but it’s interesting that we’ve seen three different black players do something that outlandish characters do and there was heavy inference, sometimes even explicit mentions, of the player needing to work on his attitude (in Morgan’s case, all of the mentions of how wrong he was for stealing the bases, charging the mound, trying to truck the catcher, etc., are implicit arguments that he needs to adjust his attitude).


Going back to “unwritten rule,” this phrase was also used when Alex Rodriguez, as a baserunner, crossed the mound jogging from 3rd to 1st after a foul ball against the Oakland A’s–Dallas Braden was pitching. Braden said Rodriguez violated an unwritten rule by stepping on the mound.

This doesn’t involve race so much as it involves a stupid cliche. It’s the players’ prerogative to do what they want, rules are in place to define the game and limit confusion as much as possible. You’ll notice unwritten rules are by definition not in any sort of rulebook.

Morgan also received attention for knocking a catcher sideways in a play at the plate last week and being suspended for seven games for throwing a ball at a fan.

On Around the Horn, today, JA Adande defended Morgan for this incident while Cowlishaw and Jackie McMullen said Morgan was at fault. Michael Wilbon and Tony Kornheiser defended Morgan and faulted the Marlins for throwing at Morgan twice. Tim Kurkjian says Morgan was in the wrong. ESPN for some reason is ALL over this.

These incidents are all happening really quickly together, so it’s hard to see these out of context, but Morgan’s been doing mostly rational things. The catcher was kinda blocking the plate, so he knocked him over–granted, he didn’t have to, but he’s not the first person to have done this. The next day, Morgan got thrown at. Then he stole two bases. Morgan got thrown at again, he charged the mound. Volstad threw his glove down and waited for the charging Morgan and Sanchez defended throwing at Morgan twice, so it’s not like the Marlins were irrational either. The things Morgan deserves to be criticized for, charging a catcher when he wasn’t blocking the plate and throwing a ball at a fan in the stands, were NOT part of this incident.

I think fighting and brawls are the stupidest thing in baseball, but both sides did their part in this.

The worst this can be described as is a series of emotional blow-ups, arguably ameliorated by Morgan’s short temper. Nobody, as far as I’ve seen, has said this yet.


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