By Waiting Just A Second Too Long, Gomez Steps On An Unwritten Rule

Beyond baseball's numerous explicit rules, there are plenty of unwritten rules of etiquette, as well — one of which Carlos Gomez apparently violated recently. Jonah Keri of Grantland explains.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Baseball has lots of written rules, but it also has its share of unwritten rules of etiquette. For example, don't steal a base late in the game if your team is up by a bunch of runs. If the opposing pitcher is throwing a no-hitter, you don't try to break it up by bunting.

And then there's the rule that got Milwaukee Brewers centerfielder Carlos Gomez involved in a brawl with the Pittsburgh Pirates yesterday. Gomez hit a long fly ball off of Pirate starter Gerrit Cole. He took a quick moment to flip his bat and went into a slow home run trot. Only the ball never left the park. It went off the centerfield wall and Gomez had to hustle to make it to third for a triple. And that's when things got a little testy.

(SOUNDBITE OF BASEBALL GAME)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: And he is hearing it from Gerrit Cole. And he's trying to be restrained, and here come the benches. The third base umpire trying to hold them back. Gomez taking off his helmet. He's trying to get to Cole. And he's fighting off everybody. We've got punches being thrown at third base.

CORNISH: The call there on KDKA in Pittsburgh. Joining me now to discuss this is Jonah Keri of Grantland.com. Jonah, welcome back to the program.

JONAH KERI: I will not be throwing punches on this show.

CORNISH: I appreciate that. You know, I watched the film of this a bunch of times and I'm still not entirely sure what did Carlos Gomez do to get Gerrit Cole so angry?

KERI: Well, I think we need to start by talking about the reputation of Carlos Gomez. He is - in baseball parlance - a hot dog. He does stuff like this all the time. He flips his bat. He's a talker. You know, he does all kinds of innovative home run trots. Some of them are slow. Lately, he's been sprinting around the bases, which is sort of interesting. So, I think there was part of that. But the thing that got Cole ultimately set off was the style of it not really going well with Cole.

CORNISH: But I watched this video over and over again and, you know, Gomez stopped for maybe a second before he broke into that trot. Does it take that little time to break etiquette?

KERI: Yeah, I guess it does in the mind of Gerrit Cole. And it's a tough situation, you know, because you got to figure out who's culpable because there are going to be penalties handed down and so forth. I'm not really buying Cole getting that upset. He absolutely threw expletives at Gomez as he kind of walked over to third base and let him know about it. I didn't necessarily buy that. But by the same token, you know, Gomez has to just kind of keep it in check a little bit. And, you know, if the pitcher's mouthing off to you, then just say, hey man, I'm going to score in a minute so I'm going to do my thing and we're going to win this game.

CORNISH: When a player like Carlos Gomez has a reputation, does he essentially get a shorter leash? I mean, are opposing players seeing slights with Gomez when maybe there aren't any?

KERI: Yes. I would say that that's true. There are certainly players that have that reputation and they do get a little bit of backlash. But it's not a consistent standard. David Ortiz, when he hits a home run, he'll sit on his lawn chair, he'll have a couple of beers, he'll look at it then he'll take his good, sweet time going around the bases. And you know what? Nobody throws at David Ortiz. It's one of those funny things: some teams will enforce the unwritten rules; some won't. But it depends on everything, what's the score, you know, what's the situation and even who's the other player involved.

CORNISH: So, help us understand this idea of the code, right, a kind of, like, the system of respect and their on-field behavior and protocol. Where does it come from - I mean, I'm a fan of basketball. I'm used to trash talk.

KERI: Yeah. And, you know, I don't think there's anything necessarily wrong with that. It's just it's one of those things that's always been in baseball and has never changed. It's passed down from generation to generation. So, it's almost like a demographic shift has to happen.

CORNISH: The chief criticism I've seen from some sportswriters on this is that the idea of the right way to play is in effect the white way to play, that it's Latino players or players from outside the U.S. who come here who seem to be criticized the most for how they handle themselves on the field.

KERI: I think that's certainly true. There's a lot to that. And two guys in particular stand out to me. One was Jose Fernandez of the Marlins; two, Yasiel Puig of the Dodgers. And both of these guys are Cuban. And the stories of how they even got to America are unbelievable. You know, to go and say, well, these guys should have same standards as a kid who grew up upper-middle-class in Orange County, I'm just not buying. You know what, as long as you're not throwing punches, as long as you're not doing anything that's specifically inflammatory, go ahead. Go ahead and celebrate a little bit. That's fine. In some ways, as a fan, I say it's more fun to watch.

CORNISH: Jonah Keri of Grantland. Thanks so much for speaking with us.

KERI: Thanks for having me.

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