Cover the Bases Interview with Jason Turbow

by on May 6, 2010

Baseball Codes and unwritten rules have been a part of the game since pitchers and batters started dueling.  On this episode of Cover the Bases, we welcome author Jason Turbow to discuss his immensely popular new book The Baseball Codes: Beanballs, Sign Stealing, and Bench-Clearing Brawls: The Unwritten Rules of America’s Pastime.  The book is published by Pantheon Books and has been receiving critical acclaim from a wide array of media outlets.

We joke with Jason about his impeccable timing, releasing a book about unwritten rules, just prior to an on the field incident occurring with New York Yankees star Alex Rodriquez taking a detour across the mound of Oakland A’s pitcher Dallas Braden. Braden’s reaction and the subsequent controversy called attention to the Baseball Codes that Jason and his co-author Michael Duca detail in the book.  One of the common responses about ARod’s act is that it is an unknown code.  Jason counters that argument by stating that during his book research, many had discussed the responsibility of a player to stay off the mound.

The genesis of the book came from a laminated sheet of unwritten rules that Jason and Micheal posted during their own brainstorming session.  They next set out to get some confirmation of the codes by talking to players, managers and coaches while collecting anecdotal stories to demonstrate when they have appeared in practice.  Jason discovered at first that the more open responses came from those who are now out of the game, since they would not have to face any possible retaliation if they spoke out of turn.  Later in the research they were able to get some current players to help fill out the pages.

Respect teammates, respect opponents, and respect the game are the three tenets that form the basis of all of these unwritten rules.  Simultaneously, Jason points out that these codes work as “release valves” for any bad blood that has built up over a period of time. When the situation occurs where one of these tenets has believed to have been disregarded, players will make sure to enforce the code in their own way.  When the ability for retribution gets taken away, whether from equipment or umpire warnings, that build up can accumulate to even greater levels.

An interesting passage in the book discusses the relationship between Rickey Henderson and a common part of the baseball code, which insists you do not steal bases on an opponent when you have a large lead.  Simply doing the math, Jason explains that in order to achieve 130 stolen bases in a season, Rickey had to be running at inappropriate times.  Teams and players often overlooked this breach because it was “Rickey being Rickey” and understanding that he was a player with a singular focus on himself.  He was never accused of being disrespectful to anyone.  Rickey even gets a bit of a sympathetic treatment in the book, detailing how his throwing skills were diminished by the number of times he was hit on the left arm, especially early in his career.

A surprising aspect of doing the research for the book, was how late in the development of a player they will be exposed to the baseball codes.  It is quite possible that teaching scenarios in the minors will require a player to be running up the score or being aggressive at the plate, when under Major League situations these actions would be considered disrespectful.  It takes experience and mentoring at the big league level for many of these players to gain the wisdom of the codes.

The book also address the act of sign stealing.  There are many forms of sign stealing and some are considered a part of the game while other forms are not allowed and will be dealt with directly.  Jason details each type and how they are addressed in the unwritten rules.

Although these codes are understood throughout baseball, when and how they are going to be enforced is not as clear.  Game situations and even the player taking the retaliatory act will have a bearing upon the measure.  A current day case in point of a player NOT taking appropriate action is Pittsburgh Pirate pitcher Zack Duke.  The question, now that he has publicly made an apology to his teammates, is whether the pitcher didn’t understand a response was required, had a brain freeze, or was waiting for managerial direction.  When the opportunity presented itself to pay back the exact pitcher who had hit his teammate, why didn’t he do it?  And will it wait until the next time these teams face each other, which is not until 2011?  Only Zach Duke knows that answer.

Jason has a web site with updated, day to day reporting of The Codes at You can keep up with his take on any current activities taking place, and start a dialogue yourself by giving your opinion of events.

We have to extend our sincerest thanks to Jason for appearing on Cover the Bases to talk about his book The Baseball Codes: Beanballs, Sign Stealing, and Bench-Clearing Brawls: The Unwritten Rules of America’s Pastime. Please let us know in the comment section what you think about this unique analysis of the game, as well as any other suggestions you might have for future editions of the podcast.

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  • Shawn Collins

    I really enjoyed this show – that is some timing on the book.

    As far as ARod, I think he's exhibited bad sport tendencies in the past, but that the mound thing was overblown.

    I'd imagine it was just to rattle Dallas Braden, and nothing more sinister and/or complicated.

    Personally, I wasn't aware of it being an unwritten rule, but I would think players regard the mound at the pitcher's “house” and that should be respected.

  • joemagennis

    Shawn .. What drives me crazy about ARod is that he can be the best
    player in the game without doing all of these things.

    He could be writing a much better legacy for himself.

    There is certainly a reason that he is not shown the same amount of
    respect among ballplayers as Jeter is for example.

    ARod should just stick to his pursuits of the all-time record books.

    Thanks for checking out the podcast! Jason is a great guy. I am happy
    for his success with the book…


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