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Right on Q: Baseball's Fun Police

The guardians of "baseball's unwritten rules" are trying to suck the joy out of the game.

THIS is "playing the game the right way."
THIS is "playing the game the right way."

I stopped reading the comics section in 1995. That was the year the two greatest newspaper comics to ever grace the medium went to the Funny Papers in the Sky. "The Far Side" and "Calvin and Hobbes" were both retired by their creators.

Among the many running gags in "Calvin and Hobbes" was "Calvinball," a backyard baseball game in which the rules always changed depending on the situation.

I feel the rules of "Calvinball" apply to the unwritten rules of baseball.

Baseball etiquette is whatever we say it is. When a player on your team admires a home run or celebrates a little too much, it's an example of playing hard and leaving it all on the field. When the other team does it ... well, they're a bunch of hot dogs and they're going to get their comeuppance because karma is a....

Baseball's unwritten rules got quite the workout during the NLDS and the NLCS. The Atlanta Braves and the St. Louis Cardinals both deputized themselves as baseball's Fun Police.

The Braves had been playing the part of Buford T. Pusser all season long. Brian McCann barked at Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez for the crime of admiring his first home run in the bigs.

Two weeks later, McCann did the same thing, blocking Carlos Gomez's path to home plate after he watched a home run sail into the stands at Turner Field. That led to a bench-clearing brawl and several ejections.

That continued into the NLDS, where the Braves, their fans, and the so-called moral guardians of the unwritten rules of baseball crapped all over the Dodgers and Yasiel Puig in particular.

Puig didn't do anything to earn their ire except play well and have fun in the process. When the Dodgers dispatched the Braves, the St. Louis Cardinals picked up the banner of Proper Baseball Etiquette.

The Redbirds, and their Midwest/Mid-South fan base, expressed shock and dismay about the "Mickey Mouse tactics" being displayed by the group of cocky kids from Southern California.

The Cards hit the fainting couch so hard that Deadspin, which was founded by Cardinal fan Will Leitch, called them out for violating those same unwritten rules ... in the previous game.

The problem with "Baseball's Unwritten Rules" is that they suck all of the fun out of the game.

It is a game, after all. It's supposed to be fun.

There are a lot of reasons why fans dumped on the Dodgers, and Puig in particular. Some of it is regional hate: the Midwest and the South hate Southern California and its laid back lifestyle. Some of it is racial, and no, it's not a new phenomenon:

"Roberto Clemente is now remembered as a saintly figure who died in a plane crash en route to deliver humanitarian aid to the victims of an earthquake. But during his career, Clemente (who was a black Puerto Rican) was often criticized by sportswriters who derided him as a lazy, ungrateful hypochondriac who faked injury so he wouldn't have to play. Vic Power, Clemente's contemporary in the major leagues who was also a black Puerto Rican, was criticized for a "flashy," "flamboyant" and "reckless" approach to playing first base. (Power would field the ball with one hand instead of two, something many first basemen do today because it's more efficient.)"

Baseball is a mixture of countries, languages, and cultures. That's what makes it interesting. The "unwritten rules" are an attempt to remove the flavor from the stew.

The list of people who "played the game the right way" consists of people who played baseball as if it were their own living Hell. Mike Schmidt would get so nervous before games he would vomit. If Bill Buckner didn't get a hit, he would slam his head into the dugout wall until he drew blood. Paul Konerko's nickname when he first arrived on the White Sox was "Slash," because he looked like he was going to cut his wrists after he made an out. Carlos Quentin played baseball like D-FENS from "Falling Down."

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Of course, everyone likes the players who look miserable every day of their lives because we probably feel that way too. Americans, as a group, are Frank Grimes. We think we work twice as hard for everything that we have, and when Yasiel Puig shows up with his effortless talent and lobsters for dinner, we get mad.

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Which is why we enjoy "acceptable fun." Acceptable fun includes playoff beards, good natured ribbing about SEC football teams, and firm handshakes. However, anything that suggests they enjoy being multimillionaires who play a game at an elite level (and all the trappings that come with that lifestyle) forces us to confront our own failures and that simply is not allowed.

"Acceptable fun" is also boring. There are many valid baseball reasons as to why the White Sox failed to go on a sustained run of excellence after 2005. I'd like to think that one reason (not THE reason, but A reason) was that "acceptable fun" settled over the White Sox clubhouse. The White Sox were run by older, married guys with kids - and if you didn't fit the profile, you were off the team. Brian Anderson, Brandon McCarthy, Orlando Cabrera, and Nick Swisher were young, single, or simply didn't fit the mold. They didn't buy into "acceptable fun" as practiced by Paul Konerko, Jim Thome, and Jermaine Dye.

A baseball team needs characters. A group of 25 guys who want to jump off the nearest bridge every time they screw up is not going to be very good for very long.

Swagger, cockiness, hot dogging, and good old fashioned confidence are the ingredients for a successful ballclub. The '86 Mets had it. The Bronx Zoo Yankees had it. The 2005 White Sox had it. When it comes to winning baseball games, characters are welcome.

And since we're playing "Calvinball," I reserve the right to change my opinion on all of this if the White Sox do something nutty like sign Brian McCann....