Each of the four major team sports have a set of traditions and rituals known by the game’s participants as “The Code.” The Code is made up of “eye for an eye” retributions for perceived wrongs.

Adhering to the Code can result in serious injury. For example, in the National Hockey League (NHL), Colorado Avalanche forward Steve Moore was sucker-punched from behind in 2004 by Vancouver Canucks winger Todd Bertuzzi, leaving Moore with a broken neck. The hit fell under the NHL’s “Code” because it was done in retaliation for a hit Moore put on Canucks’ captain Markus Nasland in a previous game. The NBA’s Code has long held that a strategically-timed-and-placed elbow was okay as payback for various offenses against the Code. NFL players have been known to set up chop blocks against opponents who acted against the Code. See The Code made me do it, Los Angeles Times.

However, of all the major team sports, baseball is perhaps best known for the power and supremacy of its Code among players. Los Angeles Dodgers’ broadcaster and former major league outfielder Rick Monday said former Dodgers’ pitcher Don Drysdale was a loyal enforcer of the Code.

“Don Drysdale had a real simple line,” said Monday. “You hit one of mine, I’ll hit two of yours. Let me know when you’ve had enough.”

Two recent examples illustrate the barbaric nature of the Code. Los Angeles Angels pitcher Jered Weaver felt he had been shown up by a couple Detroit Tigers who lingered in the batters box too long for Weaver’s liking after hitting home runs off Weaver. Per MLB’s Code, Weaver thought he was justified in firing a fast ball over the head of the next Tigers’ batter, Alex Avila. He was ejected from the game.

“When you do something a little too much there’s a line that needs to be drawn,” said Weaver. ‘If they want to play the game that way that’s the way it’s going to be.”

A few days later, San Francisco Giants’ pitcher Ramon Ramirez plunked the Philadelphia Phillies’ Shane Victorino in the back. Ramirez reportedly hit Victorino because he was upset that the Phillies’ Jimmy Rollins stole second base with a six-run lead, a perceived violation of the Code. See Three ejected after tempers flare in Phillies’ victory, ESPN.

Some players don’t buy into the Code but they ignore it at their own peril. In 2006, Chicago White Sox rookie pitcher Sean Tracey was pulled from the game by manager Ozzie Guillen after failing to hit Texas power hitter Hank Blalock as revenge for White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski being hit by a pitch earlier. Guillen demoted Tracey to the minors the next day.

It’s important to think about the Code from a larger cultural perspective. In what other part of society do we tolerate such small-minded behavior in the name of retribution? Why do we tolerate it in sports?

Here’s a novel idea, just play the game! If a guy hits a home run off of you, focus on striking him out the next time. There’s your retribution.

The archaic Code has survived too long in sports. It’s time to bury it.

The only “Code” we need in sports is a Sportsmanship Code.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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