"The Baseball Codes: Beanballs, Sign Stealing, and Bench-Clearing Brawls: The Unwritten Rules of America's Pastime" (Pantheon Books, 304 pages, $25), by Jason Turbow with Michael Duca: Major League Baseball is a complex, intricate game with a thick rule book that covers everything from balks and bunts to force plays and foul tips.
MLB's "Official Rules" is a thorough and well-considered treatise that governs America's pastime.
It's not nearly complete, however.
That's because baseball is a game with as many unwritten rules as written ones.
For instance, where in the rule book can you find a discussion of when it's OK to throw at a batter?
Or administer a hard tag at second?
Which passage addresses by how many runs one team has to lead before it stops trying to steal or take an extra base?
These principles are "less strategic than moral" and "collectively drive the game, forming not just a code but the Code, the ultimate measure used to shape ballplayers' attitudes toward themselves, each other, and the game they play."
So writes journalist Jason Turbow in "The Baseball Codes," an entertaining and informative look at the sport's least understood traditions.
If ballplayers adhere to a series of informal doctrines, then consider Turbow the ultimate code breaker.
The codes "are in a constant state of development and evolution," the author writes, and often are fueled by revenge and intimidation.
A few examples:
_ Don't play aggressively with a sizable, late-inning lead.
_ Don't disrespect the game.
_ Don't show up an opponent.
A failure to follow any of these could result in a hard tag on the base paths, a knockdown pitch or a spikes-up slide.
Sure, his book is a well-considered and crafted examination of the motivations behind how hitters and fielders ply their trade.
At its core, though, "The Baseball Codes" is a fun read because of the dozens of great stories that detail how the game really is played – tales of bench-clearing, headhunting, bat-flipping and sign-stealing.
Turbow and his collaborator, Michael Duca, conducted hundreds of interviews and did exhaustive research, and it results in some shocking and hilarious anecdotes that are so outlandish you'd think they were made up.
For instance, future Dodgers manager and then-minor league pitcher Tommy Lasorda once threw at a guy who denied him an autograph seven years earlier when a teenage Lasorda attended a game at Philadelphia's Shibe Park.
If you think Lasorda's memory was long, check out Bob Gibson's.
The Hall of Fame hurler gave up a grand slam to Pete LaCock during a game in 1975. Gibson planned to knock down the slugger the next time he came to the plate.
However, the 39-year-old faced only one more batter that game and then retired. Fifteen years later, though, Gibson finally achieved his objective.
He plunked LaCock in an old-timers' game.
Turbow pulls back the curtain and breaks through the game's shroud of secrecy to deliver a grand slam of a book – timed to the start of spring training when the latest generation of code-adherents brush up not only on baseball's official rules but also the ones known only to those who play the game.
(This version CORRECTS spelling to Lasorda from LaSorda in grafs 20-21.)