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Bob Ryan

Throwing the book at baseball’s ‘rules’

I can’t find it, and believe me, I’ve looked everywhere. Guess I’ll have to try Amazon.

I know it exists. It has to. I keep hearing about it.

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I’m talking about the Book of Baseball Etiquette.

You and I think we know something about the game, but there is another level of understanding we are not privy to. There are things known only to the professionals. I suppose the whole thing could just involve an oral tradition passed on from generation to generation, but I suspect it’s all down on paper, and I would love a copy.

You. Me. Us. We need to know how the game is supposed to be played.

For example, when can you steal a base? Or, more importantly, when can’t you steal a base? When is stealing a base a positive, permissible, purely competitive aspect of baseball, and when is it the baseball equivalent of a mortal sin?

From long observation, I would safely state that in the first inning of a 0-0 ballgame stealing a base is allowed. I can’t recall a bench-emptying brawl triggered by an attempted steal of second base in the first inning of a scoreless game. Perhaps you can, but I can’t.

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Once again, from long observation I would safely state that anyone whose team is ahead by three runs in the seventh inning is likewise allowed to steal a base without risking the outbreak of WWIII. I can’t recall that act stirring up hostilities, not even between the Red Sox and Rays.

I think a stolen base with a four-run lead is kosher, as well, but that might be as far as it goes. I think five is entering danger territory. Was not the theft of a base with a five-run lead enough to make a villain out of Joe Maddon a while back? Oh, and he was ready with chapter and verse about a far more, as he put it, egregious violation of Baseball Etiquette in last year’s American League Division Series when Jacoby Ellsbury stole a base with, omigod, a six-run lead. Well, OK, then. Maybe that was the baseball equivalent of spitting in someone’s face. But I can only be sure if I actually see the Book of Baseball Etiquette and turn to the chapter covering Stolen Base Rules. There might be exceptions.

I think any of us who’ve been paying attention to baseball for 30 years or more were aware that there were indeed unwritten rules covering stolen bases, but it wasn’t until a few years ago that I learned that there were rules covering at-bats, too. I want to find that book so I can see exactly where it says it is a no-no to swing at a 3-0 count in certain situations. Like, say a 10-0 game in the eighth inning. What about 8-1 in the fifth? Is swinging at 3-0 a sin in that circumstance, too?

If we’re playing in Fenway, isn’t it a given you never have enough runs? So, where is the cutoff? The answer must be in the book. If only I could find one.

Then, of course, there is the big one. Can’t wait to see the chapter on Brushbacks and Retaliation.

First of all, aren’t you as tired of all that nonsense as I am? In Ye Olden Days it was pretty straightforward. It may have been stupid, but it was straightforward. If a batter dug in a little too flamboyantly or conspicuously, he was going down. If a batter hit a home run, the next guy was going down. The second batter got up, dusted himself off, and it was over. The guy who hit the home run might go down, too, in his next plate appearance, but once he got up it was over. Point made. Life goes on. Juvenile? Perhaps. But everyone understood the rules.

It was the same when someone was crowding the plate. The pitcher would throw what Joe Garagiola used to call a “purpose pitch” aimed at the batter’s torso, not his head, and that point was made, and again life went on.

No longer. Now if a pitch drifts a bit too far inside many batters brandish their bats and stare at the pitcher and sometimes they even charge the mound. Warnings are issued for both teams and perhaps order is restored or perhaps not because retaliations are the order of the day. It’s hard to tell exactly what the rules are, but damned if I know just what they are. That’s why I need the book. You, too.

Of course, the recent David Price-David Ortiz brouhaha had to do with Papi’s violation of another rule, this one concerning how one is supposed to conduct oneself after hitting a home run. The intriguing aspect here is that Price had to wait seven months to make his statement. Papi knew right well what it was all about. The pitch wasn’t aimed at his head, arms, elbows, or wrists. In the old days he would have shrugged it off, jogged to first, and vowed to make the SOB pay with a bomb in his next AB.

I bet it’s all spelled out in the book. See, Papi needs it, too.

Bob Ryan’s column appears regularly in the Globe. He can be reached at ryan@globe.com.

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