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26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
I belong to the church of baseball, along with Annie Savoy. If you don't know this comment, and even if you do, this book is for you. The dean of baseball lexicographers and a superb writer overall, Paul Dickson, has given us in "The Unwritten Rules of Baseball" a wonderful meditation on all of the rules that are not written down anywhere but are just as real and inviolate as any in the official baseball rule book. Why does the team not speak to a pitcher in the middle of a no-hitter? Why does a player on one team get hit by a pitcher after one of the pitcher's teammates had been hit by a pitch? Why do both benches empty whenever there is a brawl between two players on the field? Why is there no crying in baseball? Dickson's thoroughly enjoyable account will answer all of these questions and many more.

As he works through these unwritten rules, divided up as rules for players, rules for managing, rules for umpires, rules for official scorers, and rules for fans, Dickson offers insightful and sometimes humorous anecdotes about the application of these unwritten rules. Most of them, of course, are common sense, such as fans not throwing anything on the field except opposing team home run balls. Some of them are based on superstition and custom such as rule "1.4.2. Ballplayers have routines that are to be honored and not interrupted" (p. 37). Others are nothing more than good manners: "1.1.1. A player's locker is off limits to everyone save for the man whose name appears on it" (p. 27). Still others are recent additions based on nostalgia as in "7.2.0. New ballparks: Baseball should be played outside on real grass in a stadium designed strictly for baseball" (p. 148). I find this last unwritten rule especially germane after suffering baseball games for more than two decades in saucer-shaped, multi-purpose, astroturfed stadiums that did not suit the game well. I am so glad that the advent of Camden Yards and other single-purpose baseball fields have replaced the likes of RFK, the Vet, Riverfront, Three Rivers, and other cookie-cutter stadiums.

A second part of "The Unwritten Rules of Baseball" captures in one place a series of axioms and adages that many have heard but never seen discussed in any depth. Some of these are stupendous. I especially liked "Alston's Truest Axiom." He said in 1975, "Perhaps the truest axiom in baseball is that the toughest thing to do is repeat. The tendency is to relax without knowing it, the feeling being, `we did it last year, so we can do it again'" (p. 157). There is also Charley Lau's conclusion: "There are two theories on hitting the knuckleball. Unfortunately, neither of them work" (p. 191). George Plimpton also captured this truism about sports journalism: "There exists an inverse correlation between the size of the ball and the quality of the writing about the game in which it is used" (p. 207). And finally this one from Bill Veeck, "I try not to break the rules, but merely to test their elasticity" (p. 221).

In many instances Dickson tells us a lot about the origins and development of the unwritten rules and how they have been applied or violated over the years. This is a superb work, witty and charming, funny and smart. You will love it, running into the next room to tell your spouse, partner, or kids key phrases from it. Enjoy!
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
1). It's fun.

Dickson's latest foray into the national pastime looks at baseball's conventions and traditions (many of which are decidedly quirky) and its "culture" (far from straight and sober in so many ways), and in doing so reveals the underlying charm and seductiveness of baseball.

At the same time,

2). It's full of the wisdom that can only come from experience.

Dickson doesn't just string a bunch of bon mots you might overhear hanging around a sports bar and call it a book: far from it. Rather, he has exhaustively researched and gathered a staggering amount of insights and acumen from a virtual army of individuals with immeasurable experience in and understanding of baseball (from Yogi Berra to Don Zimmer, and all points in between).

Furthermore,

3). It's sharp, energetic and witty.

Some have said that a good sense of humor is a sign of intelligence. If that's so, Dickson is one smart guy, and he shows it with this book. Moreover, it's also obvious that many - if not most - of the players, coaches, managers and assorted baseball people quoted in the book have something more than air between their ears as well.

In short, no one who buys and reads this book will ever feel any remorse or regret in having made the investment of money and time to do so. It delivers what the title promises, in spades, and - like all the many other books that Dickson has penned over his long and prolific career - it's altogether sound, rock solid in its execution, and simply delightful in every respect.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on April 13, 2009
Wonder why noone mentions the term "no hitter" while one is underway? What determines who-sits-where in the dugout? What an umpire is supposed to never do, and what a player can and cannot say to an ump? How Ty Cobb still influences baseball conduct? Dickson's delightful book answers these questions and hundreds more, with anecdotes and quotes to keep you learning and laughing. Perfect read, perfect gift.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
My wife is Canadian, which means many of her friends are Canadian, and I've been trying to explain to them for years how similar the great sport of baseball is to their beloved hockey insofar as the code of conduct beyond the official rules to which players adhere is a deeply-layered set of tradition and justice based in an abiding respect for the game. I'd compare how hockey stars get protection via their team enforcers much like pitchers are obligated to protect their best hitters by plunking the other team when appropriate. Or I'd draw an analogy between the silly, but reverent superstitions like not shaving during the Stanley Cup run and making no mention of a no-hitter in progress. Some of it would make sense to them, while other stuff would fly right over their toques.

Then it occurred to me: As much as I love hockey, I don't know that any sport could have as much unwritten etiquette as baseball simply because of its pace and longevity as a mostly unchanged game over the past hundred years.

I really wasn't sure how I could convey that to my Canucks, but this book is probably a good start. Though it won't lead anyone by the hand through the sport (I'll still have to explain some of the nuances and plays referred to), I feel like I could give it to any of them to read and understand how much more there is going on than simply what they're seeing on the field. Now, I'm not one to keep score at games, but I do try to keep a close eye on the little things not reported on the Jumbotron. I'm hoping that even reading some of this collected wisdom will help my wife and her friends draw more from the game than drunken idiots slapping beach balls or instigating 'the wave' could ever see.

(BTW - Dodgers games are probably the most unpleasant ballpark experience in one of the best ballpark settings: horribly rude, often violent fans who show up in the fourth and leave after the stretch, which, I might add, has to have its lyrics on the Jumbotron and repeats the verse twice. Abomination! The ghost of Harry Caray should torment these impostors for the remainder of their days.)

I actually ordered this book shortly after Dallas Braden's perfect game since much of the etiquette came up while the wife and I were watching the highlights of it (last year, I tried without success to convey the rarity of the perfect game and the genius of DeWayne Wise's catch in Buerhle's gem). When I winced at Longoria's bunt attempt, but then hedged on whether it was technically 'wrong,' I knew I'd confused her. Referencing the bunt that killed Schilling's perfect game a few years back certainly didn't help. Personally, I think the bunt has very limited application and breaking up a perfect game ain't it (though we did go to the Japan-Korea final of the 2009 WBC and I thought Ichiro's late bunt was one of the most brilliant pieces of hitting I've ever seen). Then again, if you're giving up on the score halfway through the game, you should probably find another profession.

When I got the book, I opened it to rule 1.17.2. Don't Bunt to Break Up a No-hitter or Perfect Game. Sure enough, the Schilling game was referenced as a very gray area in the rule. While I don't know that this cleared anything up for my wife, I was actually happy to see the nuanced examples and contrary wisdom ("I'm getting paid to hit and he's getting paid to pitch. He never gave me any breaks at the plate. Why should I give him any?") that exemplify why all these rules are unwritten: to fix them in recorded form would take away from the excitement of knowing whether they'll be observed.

(Oddly enough, Braden is quoted in rule 1.19.0. Rookies Are the Lowest Rung on the Ladder, though his name is misspelled 'Breden.' I'm sure it will be corrected in future editions now that he made history.)

Wow, I've really digressed. What I meant to say is that I think the book is a very complete list of the unwritten rules we baseball fans think we know along with a few that I probably would have never known (the section on how far you can take your jawing with the umpire seems like something tough to gauge from the fan's distance from the field). The little vignettes attached to most of the rules are often informative and fun, though, again, I don't know that they'll translate well beyond the already entrenched fan (of course, this book isn't really general interest, so I guess that's the point). The rules did feel a little brief, however, as the second half of the book consists of collected adages, wisdom, and cliches from the game that are alternately truisms, banalities, and contradictory. Still entertaining, but I might have better enjoyed more examples of the 'rules' in action. Overall, a fun, easy read that can be put down and picked up without loss of flow. To quote from Plimpton's Correlation ("The larger the ball, the less the writing about the sport"), there are "very good books about baseball" and this is among them. It's worth adding to your baseball shelf.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on March 26, 2012
My entire childhood was dedicated to baseball. I spent hours at practice, hours in the backyard with the pitch back, and hours in front of the television watching ESPN. It was my life. Unfortunately, like most kids, I had to grow up and realize the dream of being the starting catcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers had faded away. But the love of the game did not die.

It is the minute details, the small intricacies, the strange oddities, the weird obscurities, and so on that make baseball a beautiful game. There are countless documentaries, books, and memoirs about baseball because they are countless aspects to the game.

I did not expect a lot from this book. I knew it was going to be a lot of overused and tired anecdotes I have already heard. I was hoping for some newer insights from modern broadcasters, writers, and players. Unfortunately, the book is exactly what I feared. I feel like ninety percent of this book was written by Joe Garagiola, since the majority of this book quotes or references Garagiola's Baseball is a Funny Game.

The biggest takeaway from this book: find Joe Garagiola's book.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on August 9, 2009
i can't yet comment extensively on the book, i gave it as a gift, but the recipient, who is an avid and astute fan of the game, was very well pleased and showed me a few examples of why he was. i like concise, anectdotal glimpses of any subject, especially a sport, and this book seems to be aimed at that kind of reader. although it's not going to take long to finish, it is the kind of book which can easily be re-read; it will also serve as reference and an arbiter of the occasional heated discussion. i look forward to reading it through.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on June 16, 2009
Dickson is able to write about baseball in a way like no other. His love of the game and his great humor comes through in this book.

If you have ever watched baseball you will hear announcers refer to the unwritten rules that are part of the game. Rabid fans know many of them, while the casual one knows some of them. They are all pretty much here.

So the next time you see a player raising the ire of an announcer, or players on the other team, for things like trying to get on base via a bunt at the improper time, reach for this book and not your copy of Emily Post.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on June 26, 2009
It is what the title implies. That's what I wanted, that's what I got, and then some. Dickson continues his masterful baseball writing, this time providing a long, detailed list of unwritten baseball rules, traditions, superstitions, etc. If you follow the game, play the game, or coach the game, you need to know these 'rules.'
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
This is a book about the unwritten rules of baseball. For those steeped in the sport, many of these will be familiar. Nonetheless, a nice little volume. The author, at the outset, says (Page xii): "I am convinced that the game runs on a code of behavior, a set of beliefs and assumptions and practices that gives it both strength and character. . . ."

Some examples of rules from a player's perspective: "The clubhouse is a sanctuary"; "Do not criticize a teammate in print"; "It is the pitcher's job to protect his hitters and enforce many of the unwritten rules"; "Respect the other team--Do not 'show up' the opposition."

There are also rules for other key actors--managers, umpires, official scorers, fans media, and so on. There is also a segment under the rubric "Axioms, principles, adages, rules of thumb, instructions, and seemingly immutable laws that define the national pastime" (whew!).

All in all, a slight work, but quite amusing.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on March 30, 2009
Here's a book that will make fascinating reading for all Little Leaguers -- and their Moms and Dads and every other baseball fan, too. Well, the book might be a bit advanced for the youngest players, but, like the game itself, one is never too young to learn the rules, written and unwritten. This book, like Paul Dickson's classics on "Official Rules" could be the "Official Unwritten Rules", since he backs up every unwritten rule with identified sources, published references and humorous stories of games, plays, players, managers and sports writers. The book is nicely divided into sections, with unwritten rules for players, managers, umpires, fans, and others. From the very first "The Clubhouse is a Sanctuary" to the last, "The Yin and Yang of Baseball", fans young and old will discover new lore about the game and will have their well-known unwritten rules confirmed and explained.
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