Book Review: The Baseball Codes

The Baseball Codes:

Beanballs, Sign Stealing, and Bench-Clearing Brawls:

The Unwritten Rules of America’s Pastime


by Jason Turbow with Michael Duca
A Baseball Book Review
Gilbert D. Martinez



The Baseball Codes is a fun and entertaining read about episodes, many highly hilarious, throughout baseball’s history. The authors do a good job sprinkling stories from just about every era of the game, giving casual and passionate fans of the game something new to read.

The book opens with a recounting of the infamous decision by Robin Ventura of the White Sox to charge the mound in Arlington after being hit by Rangers pitcher Nolan Ryan in the last year of his Hall of Fame pitching career in 1993.

I’ve seen photos of Ryan holding Ventura in a neckhold with his fist pulled back, cocked, just an instant from pummeling Ventura’s unfortunate face. This incident is often used to described Ventura’s ill-advised decision to challenge one of the greatest and hardest-throwing pitchers of all time. Jokes are made about how Ventura’s face served as a punching bag.

But the authors of the book focus on the backstory, which they find much more interesting. They say that baseball’s unwritten rules are what compelled Ventura to rush the mound, whether he wanted to or not.

Three years before, Ryan had given up back-to-back home runs by Craig Grebeck and Ozzie Guillen in the second game of a double-header, which the White Sox swept. Seven days later, Ryan nailed Grebeck in the back and knocked Scott Fletcher down one pitch after Fletcher asked the umpire to inspect the ball for scuff marks.

Before the fateful game, the White Sox players talked about Ryan and agreed that enough was enough. The only thing they could do, they agreed, was something extreme, like charge the mound, to try to put an end to Ryan’s intimidation tactics.

So, when Ventura was hit, he really had no choice but to charge the mound. Either way, he couldn’t win. If he failed to respond, he risked alienating his teammates; if he did rush the mound — well, we know he took his beating.

The Baseball Codes is filled with similar stories about the quirky traditions and customs of baseball. Anecdotes about not running up the score, playing the game the right way, not showing up your opponents, retaliation and sign stealing. There are also stories about how players don’t talk to the pitcher when he takes a no-hitter or perfect game into the late innings.

Though the book is not filled with Sabermetric-type numbers, it makes for a nice complement by providing insights into baseball behavior that go beyond OPS+ and WHIP.


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Book: The Baseball Codes: Beanballs, Sign Stealing and Bench-Clearing Brawls: The Unwritten Rules of America’s Pastime

Authors: Jason Turbow and Michael Duca

Authors’ credentials: Turbow is a regular contributor to Giants Magazine and A’s Magazine. His writing has appeared in The New York Times,, Popular Science and the San Francisco Chronicle. Duca works in the Office of the Commissioner of Major League Baseball as an official scorer and for He has written for Sports-Ticker, Giants Today in the San Francisco Chronicle and the Associated Press and was the first chairman of the board of Bill James’s Project Scoresheet.

Published: 2010, Pantheon Books (New York)

Length: 304 pages

Price: Retail list – $25.00; Online – from $12.49 (used) plus shipping

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