​Breaking the unwritten rules, of baseball and politics

Rules - in baseball and politics - made to be... 02:52

Today is Baseball's Opening Day -- and not a moment too soon in the opinion of Mark Leibovich, chief national correspondent for The New York Times Sunday Magazine:

This week marks the start of another baseball season and, undoubtedly, the continuation of the ongoing beanball season that the Republican presidential campaign has degenerated into.

Over the years, both of these American pastimes -- baseball and presidential campaigns -- have been governed by quaint, but powerful "unwritten rules." They both now find themselves under great strain. There are written regulations, too, certainly, inscribed in the form of election laws, or an actual baseball rule book. But it's the unwritten ones that reveal the essential character of these institutions -- the moral codes and social expectations by which we play our games, and choose our leaders.

By the unwritten rules of baseball, for instance, a batter who hits a home run must not admire his work too much. Recently, however, a group of brash young stars have questioned these edicts, suggesting they have contributed to baseball's lagging appeal among younger fans.

"Baseball's tired," the defending National League MVP Bryce Harper, of the Washington Nationals, told ESPN The Magazine. "It's a tired sport, because you can't express yourself."

He does have a point. But it's also undeniable that part of baseball's allure is in its traditions. Yes, maybe that's a slightly tired view, but what the heck, I'm slightly tired, especially given all the havoc this presidential campaign has inflicted since baseball left us to endure this winter of political discontent.

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N.Y. Times reporter Mark Leibovich says the traditions of the baseball diamond and the presidential field are both being tested by brash upstarts. CBS News Illustration, from Getty Images

Donald Trump has tossed so many unwritten rules of campaigns out the penthouse window, it's hard to even keep score: the unwritten rule, for instance, that says a candidate's spouse should be placed off-limits to ridicule; or how about the one that says that if a high-level campaign staffer (in Trump's case, his campaign manager) is arrested for, say, roughhousing a woman reporter, he should at the very least apologize?

"I do believe in apologizing, if you're wrong," Trump said. "But if you're not wrong, I don't believe in apologizing."

It can be ugly, but people love watching the spectacle, like baseball fans transfixed by a bench-clearing brawl. You watch the bedlam, and part of the thrill is the slight wonder you feel that things might really go off the rails, that the game might never revert to its natural calm.

But that's the great beauty of baseball. It doesrevert. There's always another Opening Day to deliver the game back to us, safely awakened, the opposite of tired -- and, these days, the opposite of politics.

It can't come soon enough. Play ball!


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