Unwritten Rule (1912)

The umpire’s attentions were called to Merkle’s play by Evers of the Cubs. Merkle insisted that it was an unwritten rule and that hundreds of players in scores of games did the same thing, but the decision in this case at least was against him.Buffalo Enquirer, August 17, 1912, p6

  • Note: This was part of an answer to a question about the famous “Merkle’s Boner” of 1909 in a newspaper column three years later. (The question itself was not shown.) There were earlier uses of the term that referred to actions of teams or players but not to rules of play. Some of the earliest of these are below.

Previous earliest use (Dickson Baseball Dictionary, 3rd edition, 2009):
1ST USE. 1913. “The umpires of the American Association have an unwritten rule that the base runner is out whenever he slides to first base” (Christian Science Monitor, July 29). 

Earlier use of the term in baseball applied in ways that did not refer to rules of play:

‘I have already telegraphed Mr. Neff my opinion on this question. It is that the Troy Club in refusing to stay over violated an unwritten rule of precedent based upon courtesy and a willingness on the part of a visiting Club to assist as far as they can in swelling the home Club’s receipts on its own grounds.’” (Quoting National League President William Hulbert). Cincinnati Enquirer, July 24, 1878, p8

The ball player is as ticklish about his age as the maiden—of discretion—who has passed through many summers and hard winters, and that perhaps is the reason that there is an unwritten rule banishing beards from the baseball field.Lima Daily News (OH), September 18, 1891, p6

Ballplayers, as a rule, have a great deal to say about their contracts, and it seems to be an unwritten rule among them that before signing they must make some sort of a protest, if only to show their independence.Detroit Free Press, February 11, 1896, p2