Michael Munger on Sports, Norms, Rules, and the Code
Jul 1 2013

Michael Munger of Duke University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the role of formal rules and informal rules in sports. Many sports restrain violence and retaliation through formal rules while in others, protective equipment is used to reduce injury. In all sports, codes of conduct emerge to deal with violence and unobserved violations of formal rules. Munger explores the interaction of these forces across different sports and how they relate to insights of Coase and Hayek.

Michael Munger on Choosing in Groups
Michael Munger of Duke University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about his latest book (co-authored with Kevin Munger), Choosing in Groups. Munger lays out the challenges of group decision-making and the challenges of agreeing on constitutions or voting rules...
Gary Belsky on the Origins of Sports
Gary Belsky, co-author of On the Origins of Sports and former editor-in-chief of ESPN the Magazine, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the origins of sports--how various sports evolved and emerged into their current incarnations. Along the way he...
Explore audio transcript, further reading that will help you delve deeper into this week’s episode, and vigorous conversations in the form of our comments section below.


Aswin R
Jul 1 2013 at 9:27am

Great podcast – really enjoyed this one. As a cricket fan, immediately brought to mind on of the greatest scandals in cricket history – “Bodyline”. For a sport that highly valued gentlemanly conduct, this was a scandal about the violation of norms (it was all perfectly compliant with rules) that shocked everyone in the 1930’s and is still talked about today as one of the most important events in cricket history.

Nice to see Mike Munger back on this podcast after a while – definitely my favorite guest

Michael Munger
Jul 1 2013 at 9:57am

Aswin, that’s remarkable. I am ashamed to admit I knew nothing of that scandal/tactic in cricket. And I’m not sure I understand just what was going on. If that was always legal, why had no one done it before? I guess your answer was “The Code” prevented it, which is very cool. Anyway, here is the best explanation (“For Dummies”) I could find for those of us who have never heard of it.

Trent Whitney
Jul 1 2013 at 10:13am

Great podcast – as they always are when Prof. Munger is the guest.

Following up on his discussion of hockey rules and norms, I wonder how Prof. Munger would respond to the lack of violence in Olympic/national team hockey vs. the NHL. Given the hypothesis that allowing fighting actually reduces violence in hockey, why isn’t there more violence in Olympic/national team hockey, where there’s really no fighting allowed? Especially since it’s the same NHL players in these games (at least for the last couple of decades). Granted the rinks are larger in Olympic hockey, but almost all the other official playing rules are the same.

The only thing I’d quibble about on the sports discussion is that not every superstar is protected in the same manner. I’m guessing that Prof. Munger doesn’t watch a lot of Penguins games – Sidney Crosby (from Halifax) is not protected anywhere near so much as, say, Wayne Gretzky (from Ontario) was in his playing days. And that’s not so much of a shift in norms (80s vs. today), but rather an intra-Canada thing – Players from Ontario and the Western Provinces are protected much more than those from the far East, especially French-speaking Quebec. The referees allowed far more contact to take place on Mario Lemieux (from Montreal) than they ever allowed on Gretzky…..not even close. So there are norms within these norms, too.

Greg G
Jul 1 2013 at 10:46am

Mike Munger was a fascinating guest as always. It seems to me that there is also a racial element to how violence in defense of sporting norms is regarded in professional sports.

Fighting is most strictly prohibited, and most negatively viewed, in basketball and football, sports with very high percentages of African-American players.

In sports with much lower percentages of African-American participation, like hockey and baseball, brawls are more likely to be seen in a positive way as examples of players enforcing desirable norms rather than as examples of the innate violent inclinations of the participants.

I am not suggesting that these views are universal, just that they are common enough to influence the marketing and rule making decisions of these professional leagues.

Steve Fritzinger
Jul 1 2013 at 4:20pm

I was surprised there was no discussion of how scalable these norms are. If there were 300 NHL teams and two teams only met once a year would these informal mechanisms still work?

Jul 1 2013 at 6:36pm

Fantastic podcast and a great food for thought – I guess, a typical day in office for Mike. Many thanks!

Few observations:
Greg G, I was thinking the same thing – players’ race plays a key role in prevention of fights in team sports (i.e., NBA & NFL) dominated by black athletes. I vividly remember comments after the ruckus between NBA teams, Indiana Pacers and Detroit Pistons. One can still read racial slurs about Pacers’ PF Ron Artest (AKA World Meta Peace) after he punched some idiot fans and opposition player(s). Commissioner’s reaction was swift and brutal – season ban and a hefty financial penalty for Artest. Of course, ‘civilized white’ fans – sensitive to what their kids may see on the TV – were quick to dismiss Artest as an unrestrained Neanderthal (along with other racial stereotypes).

On the other hand, fistfights between white hockey players are tolerated as gentlemanly disputes. It does not take a genius to spot hypocrisy of mostly white fans (who in large majority fund professional team sports). Fights between black or white players are equally reprehensible. Either you collectively allow them or you collectively ban them – it is a matter of society’s taste. All norm-based explanations are just rationalizations that we like to tells ourselves to justify violence/entertainment.

In fact, I am convinced that fights in baseball and hockey are tolerated based on the cost-benefit analysis by the league, not players. Baseball, which is slow (full disclosure, I am European), needs an occasional dynamics to break the monotony. Hockey craves US-based rich TV audience, which has taste for violence, less so for a speedy puck. (I gave up watching hockey ‘cause I can never tell were the puck is.)

If the NHL commissioner wanted to prevent difficult-to-detect, dirty, and harmful plays — according to MM the main reason for tolerance of fights — he could easily apply the same rule that NBA applies to flopping: first offense $5000, second $10,000, and so on. Reviews of harmful plays are regular in English Premier League – league regularly watches replays of games and imposes financial and other penalties in the post-game period. (E.g., EPL recently punished Luis Suarez with 10 or 15 suspension games after he bit another player’s ear???)

Bribery in poor countries is a good analogy. Just because some societies excuse graft as a culture/tribal norm/local tradition/code, the rest of us should not view it as ethical or accept it under the pretense of culture.

Bribery, or by analogy head bashing in hockey, financially benefits many interest groups (NHL, entertainment industry and players) and until we eliminate the financial gains from the equation, we will have cultural apologists for the violent behavior.

Jeff D
Jul 1 2013 at 7:23pm

Thank-you for the interesting discussion as always with Mike Munger. (“Mr. Segue”)

I would like offer a few comments. The “goon” position in hockey has evolved fairly recently. This is not just a tough player .. this is a big individual with virtually no talent except his brawn. I think in concept it is similar to a neighbour having a big dog in his yard because next door has one .. or Pakistan wanting a nuclear weapon because India has one. However, the goon can’t really fight anybody but the team’s other goon .. or else risk breaking the code. The goon can’t go hit Wayne Gretzky but the goon can hit anybody who tries to cheap shot Wayne Gretzky.

It also effectively is a way to keep salaries down. By employing a goon on your roster, a team is essentially engaging in a form of disguised player reduction and cost savings. Nobody would ever call it that exactly but a roster spot being absorbed by a talent-less thug who can be easily replaced at the margin is saving money. A team can pay the person filling that spot on the roster very little for they are easily replaceable. Not that there is any real cost saving for teams but this is a way to cut costs so that teams can pay higher salaries to those players that actually have a degree of talent who might help in areas like scoring goals and winning games..

I also wanted to mention something that has evolved lately called “show fighting”. More or less, Team A goon and Team B goon line up beside each other at the face-off .. quite often the opening face-off. The puck is dropped and they immediately engage in a fight. There are no in game issues to be settled. There could perhaps be lingering issues from past games of course. Essentially, it appears to be two hockey goons drawing attention to themselves in a fight for the purpose of capturing some spotlight. It is as if both players understand they have little real value and in an effort to increase their marketability and recognition factor in order to remain a professional hockey player, both understand that they need to engage in the only activity they know for the purpose of garnering attention to themselves. They are not about to take the chance that the flow of the game may have no real call for an actual fight to take place.

(Just a note .. I hate hockey but am bombarded with it at close range being Canadian and have no place to hide from it)

David C. Ingram
Jul 1 2013 at 7:49pm

Thank you for revealing the Peltzman effect. I had hypothesized this in regard to American Football. Rugby is a blood sport that appears to have fewer long term injuries than American Football.

Josh Jeremiah
Jul 1 2013 at 9:23pm

Really enjoyed the podcast. I played tennis growing up and in college, and now coach and officiate tennis matches. There is a section in the tennis rulebook called ‘The Code’, which is kind of strange because the subtitle is ‘the unwritten rules of tennis’, even though they are clearly written right there.


One interesting aspect of tennis is that while there is almost never physical contact or fighting, players in tennis make they’re own calls. While there are some tennis matches that have officials (professional tournaments, division I college matches, some junior tournaments) the vast majority of matches are played without them and the players make the calls. This means that while ‘The Code’ states that players should make correct calls, my opponent can violate the code and have little recourse. My only options if a player is cheating me by making bad line calls are to either live with it, or cheat them back. I played division III college tennis for four years and almost never had an official. I quickly came to expect that my opponent was going to cheat me at some point during the match and that I could win anyway. As a Christian I never saw cheating my opponent back as an option, though I have had coaches in the past tell me that I should. They justified breaking the code in retaliation by saying “it is not really cheating but getting back what was wrongfully taken from you.” That being said I don’t think that retaliatory cheating has enough of a following to be part of the tennis code, written or unwritten.

Another interesting part of tennis is that when an official is present, they can call a ‘code violation’ on a player. When a normal rule is broken, like the ball bouncing twice, the official will just overrule the player who attempted to play on. However, if a player throws their racquet (breaking the code) then the official will call a code violation on them. A player’s first code violation in a match results in the loss of a point, second in the loss of a game, and third in the loss of the match.

One last observation is that if a player is making bad line calls, the official will overrule them, but once a third bad line call is made then the official will give the player a code violation for cheating (I have never seen this happen, normally a players line calls dramatically improve when an official is on the court). My dad officiates division I matches and can know a player is cheating with a bad call, but he can only overrule them and cannot give a code violation until the third offense.

As far as unwritten rules go for tennis, whether actually unwritten or in the rulebook, most of the time the only result of breaking the code is being labeled a cheater or some other negative term. Which honestly has very little affect on a person, except perhaps to reveal their character and what kind of a person they are off the tennis court as well.

Jul 1 2013 at 10:02pm

I’m a big hockey fan, and I will echo some of what Jeff D. wrote.

I think the NHL is is in transitioning between norms, and whatever benefits fighting might have had in the past are largely gone now.

For one thing, players don’t have to fight if they choose not to, and many players simply don’t fight anymore. A system of accountability won’t be effective unless all players are held accountable). Plenty of guys who engage in dirty play don’t fight.

For another, there are cases where fighting leads to more dirty play rather than less. One famous example of this was a decade or so ago, when Bruins’ goon Marty McSorley lost a fight with Canuck’s goon Donald Brashear. McSorley wanted to fight again, but in the closing seconds of the game Breashear would not drop the gloves. As Breashear skated away, McSorley dealt him a viscous stick blow to the side of the head knocking him unconscious.

More recently, a Colorado player named Steven Moore injured Canucks’ star forward Markus Naslund with a borderline-legal hit. The next time they played, Moore fought a player on the Canucks team. Later in the game, Todd Bertuzzi nearly killed Moore by jumping him from behind and driving his head into the ice. It came out later that another Canuck player had actually put a “bounty” on Moore before the game.

I’m not qualified to comment on whether fighting served a useful enforcement function in the past, but I don’t think it continues to do so in today’s game. (Another key point is that fighting virtually disappears in the playoffs, when the stakes are highest – dirty play does not disappear with it).

I think the primary reason fighting still exists (often in the “staged” form mentioned by Jeff D.) in the NHL today is because there is a portion of the fan base that will pay to see it. A lot of the talk of The Code, though it may have been true in the past, is just rationalization.

Jul 1 2013 at 10:26pm

Enjoyed the pod. I was surprised to hear no mention of the designated hitter in the discussion of baseball fights/mound charging. I believe that lots of players felt that once pitchers could not be directly retailed against charging the mound was their only option. It would be interesting to try to track the relative degeneration of the code/rise of charging the mound in the AL vs. the NL.

peter b
Jul 1 2013 at 10:53pm

[Comment removed pending confirmation of email address. Email the webmaster@econlib.org to request restoring this comment. A valid email address is required to post comments on EconLog and EconTalk.–Econlib Ed.]

Michael Munger
Jul 2 2013 at 7:55am

There were a lot of omissions, and things we could have said. Thanks to folks for pointing them out!

There are three, in particular, which I wish we had discussed. The first is the “instigator rule” in hockey, which had unintended bad consequences and almost certainly made the game more chippy generally, and certainly forced the enforcer role to be expanded and stylized.

The second is the designated hitter. In the “major” league, where the Cards play, we don’t have to deal with that, so I don’t often think of it. But it’s true that in the men’s industrial softball league where the Red Sox play, it did change things.

The other is the scalability question: it is quite true that (in all sports, not just hockey) the reduced frequency of contact between teams means that the chances for retaliation are reduced, allowing more petty violence. You may not see that team again, you may be out when you do see them, and so on.

I have to disagree with Michael about the McSorley incident. Ross Bernstein goes over the history of that incident in his book, THE CODE, and while McSorley should not have done what he did, that was a legitimate fight. The other incident you mention WAS wrong, but it was a consequence of the stupid “instigator” rule. The reason that there is more of the wrong kind of violence now is that dumb, well-intentioned rule change. Again, Bernstein does a great job on that point. Very interesting stuff!

Jul 2 2013 at 4:49pm

I’m confident the quote

“Rugby is a ruffian’s game played by gentleman; football is a gentleman’s game played by ruffians.”

was originally a British reference to the difference between rugby football and association football (aka soccer). Prior to turning professional in the 90s, rugby (union at least) was predominantly the preserve of the middle classes with many players a product of the private school system. Not only were the stakes of injury higher – many players, even at international level, maintained parallel professional careers – but the social implications of breaking “the code” extend far beyond the touchlines.

Fortunately the game is slowly becoming more egalitarian, be interesting to see if enforcement of the code changes too!

Jul 2 2013 at 7:34pm

I’ve always said the best way to reduce injuries in football would be to reduce the padding. The padding doesn’t protect joints, just bony prominances. The padding reduces the risk for the defender, who then becomes a 300 pound missile, and therefore actually increases the risk for the player with the ball.

That can be correlated with the Housing/Financial Crisis. Reduced risk generates more risky behavior.

I grew up playing sports at the YMCA. I started when the big sport was football, and after soccer was introduced grew up playing soccer. But they just one year introduced soccer to a bunch of kids who had never played and coaches who had never even seen the game. Needless to say, we played full contact soccer. Pretty much all contact was allowed as long as it wasn’t with the hands.
Before a high school game against a relatively inexperienced but aggressive team, the ref, fearing retaliation in the stands if the game was too lopsided, literally said, “No blood, no foul.” I was once punched in the throat and had many knee injuries from clips and illegal slide-tackles (still feeling those years later). And players can say most anything as long as they aren’t making ref calls. It’s a very dirty sport with almost no pads (we didn’t wear shin guards until high school).

Boxing is also distict given the heavily padded gloves (same as the football pad effect), and the ref that separates the fighters in a clinch. That separation is the distiction that creates the completely separate sport of mixed martial arts because you then have to be able to fight from different ranges and different techniques are required.

UFC and Pride Fighting would be a great source for these Code distinctions across cultures. Often fighters are very respectful during the fight, demonstrating skill, but others are out for the knockout and blood. There are rule distinctions between UFC and Pride, and both are called “no holds barred.”

Great podcast, as always. Thanks Russ.

Jul 2 2013 at 7:39pm

I’ve always said the best way to reduce injuries in football would be to reduce the padding. The padding doesn’t protect joints, just bony prominances. The padding reduces the risk for the defender, who then becomes a 300 pound missile, and therefore actually increases the risk for the player with the ball.

That can be correlated with the Housing/Financial Crisis. Reduced risk generates more risky behavior.

I grew up playing sports at the YMCA. I started when the big sport was football, and after soccer was introduced grew up playing soccer. But they just one year introduced soccer to a bunch of kids who had never played and coaches who had never even seen the game. Needless to say, we played full contact soccer. Pretty much all contact was allowed as long as it wasn’t with the hands.
Before a high school game against a relatively inexperienced but aggressive team, the ref, fearing retaliation in the stands if the game was too lopsided, literally said, “No blood, no foul.” I was once punched in the throat and had many knee injuries from clips and illegal slide-tackles (still feeling those years later). And players can say most anything as long as they aren’t making ref calls. It’s a very dirty sport with almost no pads (we didn’t wear shin guards until high school).

Boxing is also distict given the heavily padded gloves (same as the football pad effect), and the ref that separates the fighters in a clinch. That separation is the distiction that creates the completely separate sport of mixed martial arts because you then have to be able to fight from different ranges and different techniques are required.

UFC and Pride Fighting would be a great source for these Code distinctions across cultures. Often fighters are very respectful during the fight, demonstrating skill, but others are out for the knockout and blood. There are rule distinctions between UFC and Pride, and both are called “no holds barred.”

Great podcast, as always. Thanks Russ.

“I went to a fight and a hockey game broke out.” (Stephen Wright?)

Cowboy Prof
Jul 3 2013 at 12:49am

As usual, I relish any episode with Mike Munger.

Throughout the podcast, though, there one was elephant in the room that you never recognized relating to sports norms about violence — the New Orleans Saints “bounty scandal.” There may be several ways to look at this, and I would like to get Russ or Michael’s thoughts:

First, the Saints “bounty scandal” may illustrate how someone may “re-incentivize” norms if the relative prices are high enough. The NFL is probably one of the most competitive of the major sports leagues. Note how we see much more rotation in who makes the playoffs and how the last week of the season still determines who makes the playoffs. Given the bonuses, endorsement deals, and free agency benefits that can accrue to many players (and not just the star QB) and coaches on a Super Bowl team, there are huge incentives to make the playoffs. It would not be surprising, then, to see a greater incentive to violate “The Code” voluntarily or, as seemingly happened in N.O., for a coach to alter the relative prices of violating “The Code” by offering bounties or payoffs for injuring other players. It may be that a “covert” institution is designed to subvert this, and it is a function of the relative prices that emerge in highly competitive environments. (Any analogy to Wall Street financeers or mortgage brokers?)

Second, it may be that bounties are part of “The Code” (or were recently emerging), and it just happened that the Saints were the ones who were caught by the managers of the formal institution. Alternatively, this “bounty code” may have existed for some time, but when it became public it proved to be an embarassment for the formal institution (Goodell’s NFL) and had to be dealt with. You can’t have players wearing pink cleats to raise awareness for a deadly disease seeking to intentionally injure one another!

Finally, and just a random thought, I’m wondering how free agency affects “The Code” and whether it was important in this situation. If players lose loyalty to a certain team because they are always on the market (or perhaps add that they are being traded), a “covert institution” such as payment of bounties for injuring players would not be an optimal norm and hence it was revealed quickly when the Saints implemented it. The “bounty scheme” would likely be known to all players for the team in a given year. But if any player is traded to another team, they would have an incentive to “rat out” the Saints. “Hey, guys, watch out when we play New Orleans because they have a financial incentive to violte the old code.” It would seem that the institution of free agencies (and player trades) would mitigate the effectiveness of the “bounty system.”


Jul 3 2013 at 1:38am

Great podcast. Although it may be old news, I wonder what Mike’s thoughts are on the New Orleans Saints “Bountygate” scandal and how that fits into his discussion.

Michael Munger
Jul 3 2013 at 7:57am

The first place I heard, “I went to a fight, and a hockey game broke out!” was Rodney Dangerfield, in the 1960s. Of course, as hockey team owners put it, “If we don’t stop all this violence, we are going to have to build bigger arenas!”

On the bounty system: It’s inevitable. In baseball, the “kangaroo court,” described by Jim Bouton in Ball Four and elsewhere, metes out punishments for small and silly infractions. These could include the failure of a pitcher to retaliate against a team that had knocked down or disrespected “our” team’s star. The move to inducements for “good” actions is not a big step. The problem is when the bounty is not about “the code,” but about gaining an advantage through injuring another team’s player. It’s not clear to me that the Saints’ system went that much beyond what other teams do. It’s just that they didn’t bother to pretend that it was secret.

I don’t really like American football, because the “code” doesn’t really work. People are openly trying to injure other players and get them out of the game, to an extent unknown in other sports. The code is not about preventing violence, but regularizing it. Hockey after the instigator rule is now much closer to this (bad) system.

So I don’t know if I blame the NOLA players as much as the bad system that US football has become.

Michael Munger
Jul 3 2013 at 8:45am

Got this email…. Very interesting.

I enjoyed the Econtalk podcast. When you started talking about baseball brawls, I immediately thought of Jim Bouton “wrestling” with his roommate. So, I enjoyed it when you told that story.

Here is another example, ripped from the headlines as they say, about a rule designed to improve a sport but has now backfired badly.

In an effort to cut costs, Formula 1 instituted strict limits on testing, making it difficult for tire manufacturer Pirelli to test their tires with the current cars. As a result, several tires exploded last weekend at the British Grand Prix. Teams knew the lack of testing was causing problems, so they secretly held tests earlier this year and were recently punished by F1 for doing so.

With the tire problems last weekend, F1 has changed its mind regarding the ban on in-season testing to try and deal with the problem. I thought this fit perfectly with your hypothesis.

A failure of Formula One’s own making


Jul 3 2013 at 8:58am

The millionaire steroid felons of the NFL also seem to have more legal troubles generally than other sportsmen.
Except for the Black Sox Scandal, Pete Rose betting, recent Major League performance enhancing scandals(*) and the occasional pitiable exploits of people like Dr. K, baseball seems to retain it’s All-American clean image.

There would seem to be some connection to observing the Code in sports and observing the Code in society generally.

Trent Whitney
Jul 3 2013 at 11:51am

In response to the Formula One tire story that Prof. Munger posted:

The tire situation is more complex than the testing ban. Earlier this decade, F1 decided to move to a “control tire” philosophy and away from tire competitors.

It used to be that you’d have multiple tire competitors, say Michelin and Bridgestone, and they would sign contracts with the teams and compete against each other to produce the fastest, most durable, longest-lasting tire for each track. Some tracks would favor the Bridgestone teams, while others would favor the Michelin teams.

In moving to the control tire, F1 put out bids for a single tire manufacturer who would construct tires designed to degrade after a given number of laps. The theory was that you’d have more pitstops, and that would shake up the race a bit. I believe Pirelli was the only bidder (maybe Continental bid), so they won the deal. They are required to bring 2 dry tire types to each track – 1 tire that degrades at a faster rate but is “stickier” and produces faster lap times, and 1 tire that degrades at a somewhat slower rate and produces relatively slower lap times.

So as teams race with the control tires, they typically leave drivers out on the track longer, not wanting to lose time from a pit stop. For example, let’s say you lose 30 seconds on a pit stop…..if you have 15 laps remaining, and you’re losing 1.2 seconds a lap with worn tires, the delta says to stay out. So you get more tire failures from this effect.

Also, teams are experimenting with different tire pressures and mounting the rear wheels on the opposite sides of the cars in an effort to slow the degredation. Pirelli claims that mounting the rear tires on the wrong sides caused the 5 tire failures at Silverstone last Sunday – the teams say differently, and the F1 ruling body (FIA) has asked Pirelli to change their tire compounds for this weekend’s grand prix in Germany.

I think a clearer example from auto racing that supports Prof. Munger’s point is that as cars have become safer (in F1 and in NASCAR), you see drivers more willing to take chances, and you’re seeing more accidents (and more spectacular-looking accidents). Jackie Stewart (F1 champion/racer from the 60s-70s) has said many times that he’s amazed at the chances drivers take, and the number of accidents today that would have killed drivers in his day. As for NASCAR, there’s almost never a lap where you don’t have cars bumping into each other. If the consequences to drivers for making contact were higher, as in ‘olden days’, we’d see less contact as we saw back then.

Eric S. Harris
Jul 5 2013 at 7:06am

Lately we’ve seen increasing militarization of the police in terms of gear and equipment and training. And apparently there are more incidents of police misbehavior, such as shooting dogs for no reason. Maybe the patterns from rugby and baseball and other professional sports have counterparts in police departments.

The podcast would be worth another listen anyway, but as I do I’ll keep “the code” in mind. It could be that informal norms were curbing behavior that is now tolerated.

Michael Munger
Jul 6 2013 at 10:52am

I thought this was interesting. A “code” among bar fighters?

Michael Munger
Jul 6 2013 at 6:29pm

An interesting email, just sent to me (quoting from now on):

From A Terrible Splendor, which is centered around a famous 1937 Davis Cup tennis match between Don Budge and Gottfried von Cramm:

“You know, Don,”he said, gazing evenly into Budge’s eyes, “I watched your match today, and I must say I thought you were a very bad sport.”

Budge couldn’t even speak. He was dismayed, and also stunned: he could have sworn he had been the very paradigm of sportsmanship against Austin…Austin had hit a strong passing shot right by him, landing close to the sideline. The linesman called it out, but Budge felt sure it had hit the line. It seemed that Austin had thought so too, though he had given it just a slight second look before walking dutifully back to the baseline to serve the next point.

Then Budge did what he thought was the proper thing when an error had gone in his favor. Austin served the ball, and Budge deliberately, obviously, hit it into the net. The crowd applauded appreciatively, and the match continued on.

“Yes, I remember,” said Don. “It was a terrible call. I did the right thing, didn’t I?”

“Absolutely not,” said Gottfried. “You made a great show of giving away a point because you felt the call had wronged Bunny. But is that your right? You made yourself an official, which you are not, and in improperly assuming this duty so that you could correct things your way, you managed to embarrass that poor linesman in front of eighteen thousand people.”

Don had never thought about it that way. He had been following the example of the great Tilden, the Barrymore of tennis, who never let a linesman’s error go unrectified. First he would stride up to the offending judge, hands on his hips, with a glare that could only be described as withering, and ask, “Would you like to correct that error?” If penitence was unforthcoming, he would approach the umpire and loudly declare, “I won’t accept that point.” If even the umpire wouldn’t overturn the call, Tilden would take matters into his own hands and theatrically throw the next point. On at least one occasion, when a linesman’s incompetence was simply beyond the pale, Tilden threw an entire set before calmly finishing off his opponent-and this was in the Challenge Round of the Davis Cup. What’s more, he expected everyone else to act accordingly. If you were playing Tilden, and a shot of his, which he thought was good, was called out on your side of the court, he expected you to throw the next point. It didn’t matter if the linesman, umpire, you, and the entire crowd agreed that the ball was out. If you accepted the point, you faced the ire of Tilden.

Cramm had learned much about tennis from Tilden, but apparently he did not share his imperious views regarding etiquette. And Budge recognized that when it came to tennis etiquette, Cramm was the one to emulate. By the time their conversation ended, the young American was convinced that they should always “play the points the way they’re called.”

–Marshall Jon Fisher (2009-04-04). A Terrible Splendor (Kindle Locations 1502-1528). Random House, Inc.

Jul 7 2013 at 1:45pm

Great podcast. Here’s a recent piece of news from Brazil about a case of extreme violence involving a player, a referee and audience members:


Jul 8 2013 at 6:28am

Great pod, made me think deeply about sport. An interesting few points.

In rugby league in Australia there is an elite competition called State of Origin where regular NRL team members are selected to play in a 3 game competition based on where they first played, sort of an all stars concept. It is interesting the relaxation of rules, both on field and in any following judiciary action. Fights are very common and in the last series there was a fight where the guy who started it would have been sent off in a regular game. All the players afterwards commented it was ok and part of the game.

Players who are too violent are usually shoulder charged, or heavily tackled by three or four players for extended periods.

In cricket it is acceptable to bowl the ball at the batsman’s head, just not too often. A fast bowler will reach speeds of 95mphr, and with Chin Music, as it is known, is always the batsman’s job to avoid being hit. If he is ever injured, the bowler never checks how he is, all the other fielders can go and check, but the bowler always goes back to get ready for the next delivery. Intimidating batsmen is part of the bowlers arsenal.

Batsmen wear a lot of padding these days, as a previous poster mentioned, in the Bodyline series in the 30’s, hardly any padding was worn. It led to the quote “there’s two sides out there today, and only one of them is playing cricket”.

As all bowlers also bat, there is always payback for bowling too aggressively.

Jul 10 2013 at 12:18am

Thought last night about Australian cricketer Adam Gilchrist, who was renowned for being a “walker”, giving himself out if he knew he had hit the ball and been caught behind but the umpire considered he had not hit the ball and given him a “not out” decision.

I now wonder how many times having that reputation worked from him by walking in unimportant games, so that when it was critical he could stay at the crease after a small nick and the umpire would take into consideration that Gillie was a walker, after all if he had hit it he would walk by himself!

Thanks Mike for opening my eyes to the rampant possibilities!

Jul 11 2013 at 1:25am

I couldn’t help, but think about the civil rights movement and institutional racism in the South. The incentives to hire the best person at the best price, attract consumers of all races, and make a profit were up against some very deeply held (evil) social norms and customs. I’m not sure libertarian minded economic theory fully appreciates the difficulty of norms vs. capitalism. (I’m thinking of Milton Friedman in Free to Choose.) I think this podcast changed my appreciation of that relationship.

Joe Kash
Jul 11 2013 at 3:19pm

The comment about Olympic Hockey and the lack of fighting is interesting. It is still very likely that an instigator will eventually pay for breaking the code. He may just have to wait until the NHL season to get his hit.

When Raffi Torres came back from suspension one season later after hitting Marion Hossa, within a few minutes of the first Blackhawk game the gloves dropped.

Jul 11 2013 at 4:56pm

The difference between formal and informal rules is interesting, especially in dopball baseball.
The informal rule agreed on by owners, coaches and players, PED use is ok as long as you are smart when you use them. The testing is pathetic and the discussion among baseball journalists about doping is just sad. Being caught doping in MLB is equal as being criminal prosecuted if you work on Wall Street. Everybody cheat but you are stupid if you get caught.

When it comes to international sports, different countries have different rules and informal rules. You do not have fighting in hockey in Sweden, so saying you need fighting in hockey in North American hockey is just wrong. Maybe Hayek does not work in Sweden………

In Europe you have a very physical sport, team handball (you can see it in the Olympics). The sport is popular with both men and women, and yes they play under the same rules (not like lacrosse here in the US), but you will find no fighting. So a dangerous sport does not need fighting.

Good discussion but it was really US based, most sports are international.

Russ Roberts
Jul 15 2013 at 6:35pm


I often point out on EconTalk that norms are emergent and that bad norms can emerge as well as good ones. I am willing to believe that the state can hasten the end of bad norms. But the state can also keep bad norms alive longer than otherwise.

Jim Crow was a system of legislation–the state enforced the norms you’re talking about. Yes, they were evil norms. But commercial dealings had a chance to weaken those norms. Jim Crow was a way to stop that weakening from happening. See this paper on streetcar segregation by Jennifer Roback in the Journal of Economic History.

Charley Fuchs
Jul 18 2013 at 1:11am

Hi Russ,

Back in the early 90s when we were both still at Olin, I took my mom to Germany for a pre-season hockey tournament and Craig MacTavish was on the other NHL team invited, the Edmonton Oilers. We had connected with the Blues front office prior to the trip and got seats with the rest of the team’s management and player families. During one game, my mom was sitting next to Mrs. MacTavish and at one point told her that she really ought to make her husband wear a helmet. She agreed in principle, but never was able to get her husband to agree.

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Podcast Episode Highlights
0:33Intro. [Recording date: May 31, 2013.] Russ: It's May 31st--I just want to mention before we get started: It looks like we are going to be talking about sports, but we are going to be talking about a more general set of economic principles and insights related to institutions, incentives, unintended consequences. But I just thought I'd mention that both of our baseball teams are in 1st place this morning. Guest: All is right with the world. Russ: Ironic you said that. I was going to introduce with "God's in his heaven, all's right with the world." Which is Browning, for those of you interested. But, they are both the Red Sox, my team; and the Cardinals, Mike's team, both in 1st place. Mike, your team will probably stay in first place; mine probably won't. But let's enjoy it while we can. Guest: I'm enjoying it, absolutely. Russ: So, what do you want to talk about today? Guest: I have become more and more interested, maybe because I'm in a political science department, in the subject that James Buchanan became more interested in towards the end of his career, and that is: How do groups of people accomplish the creation of value through exchange in non-market kinds of settings? Now, markets are still at work, but it's not direct exchange; we have to work as a group or team--and obviously that's the connection to sports. But teams play against each other. And it turns out, and I've been thinking about this for a little while now, the set of institutions and the set of formal rules--so the distinction that Hayek made between law and legislation--those two things may be very different and yet everyone is aware of their interplay. So, I wanted to talk about: Where do those things come from? Why do they survive, and why are they so different in different sports? Russ: Why don't you start by talking about that law-and-legislation distinction of Hayek's. Guest: The thing that Hayek pointed out a number of places, but he pointed it out really quite clearly in the 1945 paper on information-- Russ: "The Use of Knowledge in Society." Guest: He said:
We make constant use of formulas, symbols, and rules whose meaning we do not understand and through the use of which we avail ourselves of the assistance of knowledge which individually we do not possess. We have developed these practices and institutions by building upon habits and institutions which have proved successful in their own sphere....
Russ: And that's what he considers 'law.' Guest: That's what he considers to be the laws that we have come up with over time that we use to create value. Or that we use to protect ourselves from injury. And 'legislation' is formal rules. Those are things that legislators come up with, and in the case of our analogy to sports, those are the rules you would get by looking at the rule book. Now, there's always an interaction--and I think that there's a third. Let me propose that there's a third; and that's equipment. There's an interaction between these three things. So there's the equipment we use to protect ourselves from injury; there's the set of formal rules; and then there's the set of informal rules that may be more important, that Hayek would call 'laws'--all interact together. If you change any one of them--it's difficult to change the law, it's difficult to change what some people call 'the code.' In fact there's an interesting series of three books by a man named Ross Bernstein about football, hockey, and baseball; and the title of all three of them is: The Code. But it's about each of the three sports. Those may be the more important rules. Russ: The unwritten rules. Guest: The unwritten but really important rules that all the players are sort of inculcated into. And if a young player acts badly, somebody will take him aside and say: Look, you can't do that; you're violating the code. They may even use those words. So if you try to change equipment or if you try to change the formal rules, there's probably going to be an adjustment in the informal rules, or the law, and it may have unintended consequences. So the interaction between those three things determine the way, I think, different sports have different sets of--if you ask people, what constitutes correct behavior, what's the code that you as a player live by, they are really dramatically different in ways that are surprising.
5:28Russ: And, the code is an example of these unwritten rules, or an example of emergent order, that no one controls. And as you pointed out a minute ago, that are very hard to change. But as you pointed out a minute ago, they do change. But they don't change at someone's beck and call. There are a lot of norms and rules in baseball--the code--that are different today than they were in 1940 or 1960. But if you said, I want to go back to that, you couldn't. Guest: Part of the changes is in equipment, and part is in the formal rules, but part of change is also the amount of value that's being created. And some of that is--people get paid more now, there's more television revenue, and so the cost of injuries has changed. One of the things that got me thinking this way was Pete Leeson's book about pirates. Because they also--they had the pirate's code. Russ: And we did a podcast with Pete. Guest: And I use this in class, in the movie [Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl], the video segment where Captain Barbossa and Elizabeth Turner are talking and she's negotiating, trying to use the code. And then finally he turns away; the bargain is made; and Elizabeth says: "Wait, you have to take me to the shore, according to the code. And the captain interrupts her and says: First, your return to shore was not part of our negotiations, nor our agreement, so I must do nothing; secondly, you must be a pirate for the pirate's code to apply and you are not; and third, the code is more what you'd call 'guidelines' than actual rules. Welcome aboard the Black Pearl, Miss Turner." It's a perfect statement of what Hayek means. These are guidelines, in the sense that they are not formally enforced. But, if you violate them, in a way they may be even more powerful than the formal rules. If you violate the formal rules, the empire assesses some sort of--maybe you get thrown out-- Russ: if you get caught. Guest: If you get caught. And maybe you have a suspension or a fine. If you violate the informal rules, it makes other people reassess their notion of your character, of your reputation. And that's what these things turn on. All of the three sports that I looked at--and I actually think the most interesting one is hockey. Maybe it's because I knew more about baseball and I sort of understood the code. So I'm hoping we can talk some about the hockey code today. What's interesting is you want to substitute damage for something else. And what hockey in particular has done is honor and character. There's a reputational hostage. If you lose the sense that other people think, you know, he's a good guy, he's a hockey guy, you've lost something that's much more important than a fine or penalty minutes or anything that the formal rules could take away from you. Russ: I inserted that little 'if you get caught' because formal rules are monitored typically--not always, but typically--by a small set of people appointed as the monitors. That would be the umpire, the referee, the policemen. In the case of norms and informal rules, they are monitored by lots of people, and the costs are imprecise. You could get shunned, thrown out of the club, implicitly; you can lose your reputation, as you point out. And so it's different both in how it's monitored and the cost of failure. Guest: And the enforcement mechanism, because everyone is watching and there are replays. The umpires may not catch you. So, you may not get caught by the formal rules. The enforcement mechanism behind the informal rules, or what Hayek would call 'the law', I think is much more effective. And that's part of the reason that it's so important, particularly in hockey and baseball, which are really dangerous sports. So you have to control this aggression. Because there's the potential you'll be killed--in hockey or in baseball. They are very dangerous sports. So, somehow, you have to control that aggression and yet allow these teams to continue to create value.
9:57Russ: So, let's talk about baseball first, if that's okay; and then we'll go on to hockey and add some--I have some football thoughts, also. And then we'll apply it. Just for those listening we're going to then try to apply it to a wider set of applications. Guest: That's great. Russ: So, baseball. Guest: Baseball. There's an anecdote that I wanted to start with, an interaction between the formal and informal rules. And this is possibly apocryphal. But several people claim that it would be like Woodstock, a million people that were among the hundred thousand that were there. But people claim to have actually heard this. Rogers Hornsby was a very famous St. Louis Cardinal, by the way--not surprising I would bring that up--who had a very accurate batting eye and was one of the best hitters in the National League. Russ: Second all-time. In batting average. Guest: Which is, maybe averages used to be higher, but part of the reason that he had such a high average was he only swung at strikes. And everyone recognized that. And one of the themes we are going to come back to over and over again is that one of the informal rules is that the superstars may find the formal rules relaxed for them. So, in the NBA [National Basketball Association], maybe you don't get a foul call. Maybe you don't get travelling called. On balls and strikes, if you are Rogers Hornsby, maybe you get a break. If you Sidney Crosby or Alexander Ovechkin in hockey and somebody cross-checks you, there's going to be trouble. You don't get to touch the superstars. Well, apparently there was a rookie pitcher. And he threw a ball and it was clearly outside, and Rogers Hornsby took it. And the rookie was kind of nervous and he threw another pitch. It was even further outside. It was a ball, and Hornsby took it. Then he threw a pitch, the rookie pitcher threw a pitch, and it looked to him like it hit the outside corner. And the Ump [Umpire] called it a 'ball'. And the rookie pitcher said, "Hey! That hit the corner." And the Umpire stepped out from behind the plate, took off his mask, and said: "Young man, when you throw a strike, Mr. Hornsby will let you know." Russ: That's spectacular. That's a great--I didn't know that story. Guest: Well, but the Ump was actually complicit. This rookie needs to be told the actual rules. And so you don't worry about calling actual balls and strikes. Mr. Hornsby will do that. Russ: If he doesn't swing, it's obviously not a strike, not in the strike zone. Guest: Yeah. He has earned this position of respect, people come to the ballpark to see him. Nobody's coming to the ballpark to see you, young man. Maybe someday, you'll get that same. Well, so the, you know, that position of respect and character, it seems like an advantage to the individual, but it's actually an advantage to the team. You don't want balls and strikes called randomly on the superstars. You want to see them hit. Maybe they make an out--that's okay. Maybe a superstar in basketball misses the shot. But you want to see him be able to take the shot without being hindered. And the hockey player. You want to see him be able to take it without being hurt, cross-checked. So this norm, that the superstars are protected by the informal rules, often is actually internalized by the formal rules. And the way that the umps, the referees, call the rules are actually going to be different. So there's a sort of seamless connection between the informal and the formal rules. And a good umpire recognizes that. And a good pitcher knows. He doesn't complain. He was actually showing the umpire up.
13:57Russ: Right. So, my favorite example of this, and I think it's interesting how it's changed in response to the point you made earlier about increased value, is that in the old days, if one of your players got hit by a pitched ball, your pitcher was duty-bound to retaliate. Depends on how he was hit, but in general it was thought to be intentional--sometimes maybe it wasn't--was duty-bound to retaliate against, I think the rule was, a player of comparable ability. So, if you are a superstar in baseball, got hit by a pitch, particularly after you hit a home run at a previous at bat, the other pitcher would hit their superstar when he came up. And in the old days, sometimes they hit them in the head. Today, it's generally that you try to hit him in the middle of the back. Or the fleshy part of the arm, to the extent there's a fleshy part on a major league baseball player these days. But that code, interestingly to me, is somewhat diminished. Hitting a player is now a much-more dramatic statement than it was 30 years ago. Because, as you said: It could end a career; it could kill you; it's happened once--Ray Chapman was killed by a pitched ball hurled by Carl Mays, that was pre-helmet. Tony Conigliaro was hurt very, very badly by a pitched ball in 1967, and it may have contributed to his death. It's an incredibly dangerous thing, and hard object going up to 100-something miles an hour. And that norm has changed somewhat. And the other point I want to make is, what I find fascinating, is that, generally, not always, the manager of the team that retaliates pretends it is not retaliation. And everyone inside the park, everyone inside the clubhouse, knows that it was. Guest: That's part of the code. You have to say it was unintentional. And in fact, even the pitcher who threw it and everybody knows has to say, yeah, it just got away from me. Even though no one is confused about the real reason that it happened. Let's think about the Ray Chapman example for just a minute, because it's really interesting. There were three things at work there. One is, and this was in 1920, I think. Russ: It was in the 1920s for sure. Guest: They didn't wear helmets, and in fact people didn't wear helmets until 1970. It wasn't universal until 1970, and even then they wore those little things that had a flap. So rather than a full batting helmet. But also, before then there had been no rule about doctoring the baseball. And so as soon as the pitcher got it, he would put grease, blacken it, maybe cut it with a ring. So the baseball--and spit on it. So it was all lumpy. So there were two formal rules changes that followed immediately. And we're interested in the interaction between the code and formal rules. Two things were outlawed. One was you couldn't darken or soften the baseball. You couldn't do anything to damage the outside of the baseball. That was done within a month of Ray Chapman being hit. And the following year they outlawed a spitball. That is, you couldn't take saliva and put it on the ball. Although, interestingly, it was grandfathered. So people who had thrown the spitball before were allowed to throw the spitball for the rest of their career. Which is a fascinating rule change. So, unless you had thrown the spitball before that, you couldn't. But other people, you know, that's what their career, that's what value depended on, you could continue to do it. So there were two formal rule changes to try to make it safer. But not a helmet. So, part of the reason is that there was an idea that if you wore a helmet and you can see the extensions of this now, if you wore a helmet you were somehow protected from retaliation; and that would actually make the game more violent. They were worried that being protected from the retaliation that made the game relatively safe, because I would be hurt if I hurt someone else. If I protected against that, then I would just be free to do it. So, those rule changes about Chapman put us in the position we are in now, which is, it's much less acceptable for the pitcher to hit a batter. The question is: Why? Well, the value that people have, the value that most players have--they have very large salaries, very large television revenues. Umpires now go out of their way to ensure that if they think a pitcher has thrown a ball, they'll throw him out of the game. So, this is a formal rules change, where they are trying to compensate for the fact that it's less acceptable to use what used to be the code of retaliation. And what's the difference? The answer is: Batters charge them out now. That was completely unacceptable in the '1920s, 1930s, and 1940s. You got hit, just go down to first base unless you couldn't move and then be carried away on a stretcher. Russ: No ice. This is what they call it in my kids' games. When somebody gets hit-- Guest: Rub that. Well, if you charged the mound, that meant you were giving up. And what I think was one of the most interesting ones, one of the examples of this recently, rather than charging the mound, Torii Hunter famously picked up the ball and threw it back. And hit the pitcher by it. Torii Hunter got hit by the pitch, he picks it up and throws it back and hits the pitcher with it. So, the batters have said: We will not accept what used to be the code because there is too much of a chance that we'll be injured. And I think the reason is the amount of salaries that pitchers earn now, what they would give up by being hit and actually injured, has changed. So, in economic terms, a change in relative prices. That is, a change in the harm that's done by being hit and being injured. Even when you are wearing a helmet. And a lot of guys wear armor. They wear something on their elbow, they wear something on their leg, to try to protect themselves from being injured, they are still a change in relative prices. And now umpires are in the position of having to legislate--that is, they have to decide what happened. Whereas before you are right. If the superstar got hit we would just assume that it was on purpose. And if the guy was wild, well that's tough on you, because you still have to pay the penalty. Now, since batters charge the mound--the problem is, like, um, recently several pitchers got hurt, one got a broken collar bone as a result of a batter charging the mound--we can't have pitchers injured. So if a pitcher throws at a batter, the batter charges the mound, the pitcher gets injured, that means we are losing value. So we are searching for a new equilibrium. That code broke down. Because of the change of relative prices. Now we're trying to do something else. It's not clear what's going to happen. And you and I talked a bit from a blog post that I did. Pittsburg pitcher gives up a home run to again what then happened again to be the Cardinals; second batter for the Cardinals hits another home run; the third batter hits a single; the pitcher is pretty unhappy by this time; and the pitcher throws a ball and hits Allen Craig, the number 4 hitter, the number 4 batter is an important guy for the Cardinals; the Ump immediately throws the pitcher out. And it wasn't retaliation. He just said: I think it was on purpose. Now, the guy had been kind of wild. But the code has broken down--we are substituting legislation for law. And it will be interesting to see what new happens.
21:31Russ: So, let's talk about hockey. What goes on in hockey that you find interesting? For one thing, you make the observation in a blog post you did before this podcast that it's bizarre--I'd never really thought about it: There's fighting in hockey, and there's fighting in baseball. And there's really no fighting, it's really very, very rare that there's fighting in basketball, in football. What people might say, what do you mean, there's no fighting in baseball? But periodically there is over the issue of a hit batsman, there is this bizarre ritual where both teams sort of storm the mound, storm the field, and engage with each other. They usually--there's a mock violence to it. Usually no one gets hurt. If they do get hurt it's because they are at the bottom of a pile. There's a lot of wrestling. Whereas in hockey there are actually punches, literally punches thrown. That's one reason I don't actually like hockey. Talk about why--before you get into any other details about hockey--talk about the role of fighting in those two sports and why it's missing in the others. Guest: Well, you have made an interesting observation, so let me take a step back and say in evolutionary biology, one of the observations that biologists have made is that fighting is expensive. In the sense that if two males are fighting over mating rights or territorial rights, then if they get hurt, they lose because they can't possibly reproduce. And so there's a lot of fighting that's highly ritualized. That's really not quite fighting. So there are flies that walk up to each other and their eyes are on stalks. And the one that has the longer eye-stalk wins. The other one just leaves. And the one with the longer eye-stalks, he gets mating opportunities. For the big-horned ungulates--deer, sheep, rams--the large sheep that hit each other with their horns, that smack heads. Well, they are damaged a little bit, but it's not the same as fighting. Russ: They don't do as well in their SAT exams. But their life spans aren't affected. Guest: They get mating opportunities. They win. So value is created by this because genetically the relatively stronger group, the relatively stronger male, is the one who is going to produce offspring. Now, he may not live very long but he reproduces more. So, what's interesting I think about baseball is how stylized the finding is. It's understood that the entire team has to run out. Russ: And the bullpen--the pictures from the bullpen are usually sprinting, because they want to show they are committed. They are farther away from the mound area where the fight usually takes place. So they are usually seen sprinting from the--but they should, by the way, do by the way sprint over to the over bullpen. And they should have some ritual with the other bullpen pictures. But they don't. Both bullpens sprint toward the mound . Guest: Because you want to protect your player. You want to show team solidarity. And so, I found a video, and I'll send the link--there was a Korean baseball game-- Russ: I watched it, Mike. I thought it was a Monty Python skit for a minute. And it's quite extraordinary. I really was amazed by it. Guest: It was a charity game. But they are making fun of the fact that baseball fights are so stylized. And so the batter gets hit, and he charges the mound; and as soon as he gets to the mound, he does what the Korean version of chicken fighting--you pick up one of your feet and hold it with your hand to your waist and jump and try to ram the other guy with your knee, and the one who falls over is the loser. And nobody gets hurt. Baseball fighting isn't that different from that. Russ: No, that's correct. Guest: Well, a guy I know pretty well is Jim Bouton, the author of Ball Four. I've had him even several times for talks. And he talks about this in Ball Four and I talked to him about it at dinner-- Russ: Former New York Yankee-- Guest: But then Seattle Pilot. Russ: Yes. Guest: So, to be fair, and then finally a Houston Astro. So, he moved around a bit. He loved baseball fights. It was his favorite thing. He usually had a friend on the other team. They would run off and they would get fairly far from the main pile and they would pretend to punch each other for a minute, and they'd be giggling--how's the wife, we've got to get together--they would hang on; and the umps would come over and yell at them because they didn't want to break up the main fight. They might get hurt And so the umps would come over and yell at Beltman and Pepitone, who were basically waltzing out by second base. So, everybody understood that it's highly stylized. But if you stayed in the dugout, you would be shunned. If you said, this is silly, I'm not going to do this, that actually would be an outrage. You might get into a real fight with a teammate if you did that. So, baseball fights--sometimes there are real fights, and I give an example of a famous real fight that I think Ray Knight started, because I can't stand Ray Knight, but the idea of fighting in baseball is as a way of preventing people from showing you up, from disrespecting you; and to insure that the other team doesn't get to harm your best players. So, still, sometimes in baseball there are fights which, if they happened at a bar would result in people being arrested. So, why is it that baseball allows something which, if it happened outside of a baseball stadium would actually be criminal?
27:12Guest: And that's what brings us to hockey, because it happens almost every night. Some years half--in fact during the 1990s the average fights per game were 1. There was almost a fight almost every night, in almost every hockey game. And there have been a lot of calls to outlaw it, and I found a quote from Gordie Howe, who was a famous hockey player and a very famous fighter, and he said: If you get rid of fighting, you are going to have more dirty play and injuries. Let them fight and get rid of all the stick work. So, the difference is--well, to make baseball like hockey you'd have to have all 9 defensive players in the infield, and instead of gloves they would have bats. And as the guy tries to run around the bases they'd be whacking at him with bats. Which would change the game a lot, I'm pretty sure. So, the referees can't possibly see all of the times when I take the handle of my stick and I jam it into your ribs and break your ribs, jam it into your cheekbone and break the orbit of your eye. Russ: Or flick it across your cheek and slice it open. I think for nonserious hockey fans or certainly those of us who don't play hockey don't realize what an incredibly dangerous sport it is, played at incredible high speeds with tremendous potential for brutal injury. Guest: The players are so big, they are so fast; they are on ice skates-- Russ: Which are razors. There are razors on their feet, and the stick is extremely sharp. Guest: Baseball players have to face a 100 mile an hour rock and they have spikes. So a lot of times when you slide into second, if you are not careful you could certainly hurt somebody very badly. Baseball and hockey are fundamentally dangerous, and not just in ways that are obvious to a referee. And I think that's why fighting is allowed in those two sports. And not in the others. The others are dangerous, but referees can control the amount of violence to a much greater extent. And so you don't have to have the institution of fighting to allow the teams to protect themselves. And what's interesting is that hockey players don't say, we need fighting because we're macho guys. We need fighting in order to reduce the amount of violence. It seems paradoxical until you understand that over time, this Hayekian law has come about, this very complicated code. And what's happened in hockey is there's a set of rules, which, if I violate them, I'm going to be challenged by the other team's goon, or enforcer. The enforcer--there are a number of very famous enforcers who are enormous people who specialize in fighting. Some of them certainly score some goals. I guess the closest in baseball would be a pitcher like maybe Rob Dibble, who was understood to be a head-hunter. So he was one of the nasty boys, who pitched for Cincinnati. If you remember Rob Dibble, everybody said he always pitched inside; he hit a lot of guys. I looked it up. How many people did Rob Dibble hit in his entire 15-year career? And the answer is 12. He hit 12 batters total. Russ: But he threw very hard. He was very scary. He was big, too; he was very tall. Guest: Very big, very intimidating; and he threw the ball inside. Like Bob Gibson-- Russ: I'm just checking. As you speak, I'm googling Gibson's hit-by pitch. Guest: Gibson hit more than 12, but he was a starter, not a reliever, so in terms of number of innings, I bet Gibson had even fewer. But Gibson threw inside. And the reason to do that was--you had to have good control. Because if you hit the guy, there's going to be retaliation. So you can't always hit them. But you can throw inside, make them back out, and then throw the ball on the outside corner, and that's where you're going to live. That's how you'll be able to dominate batters. Well, for hockey, this is from Ross Bernstein's book, The Code, about hockey, there's rules for how to conduct yourselves. And beyond the official rules, what the officials would enforce. It was a marvelous system based on honor and accountability. If you did something dishonorable or disrespectful you are going to have to answer to that by fighting. The code went actually further than that. So, there was a time when a player, Pat Quinn, leveled Bobby Orr. And Bobby Orr was a highly skilled scorer. His job was to score. He wasn't a fighter. Russ: He was a defender. He was the first offensive defenseman. He was a superstar. One of the five greatest hockey players of all time. Guest: And was a great passer. So he had a lot of assists. So, Pat Quinn hit Bobby Orr, and it was perfectly fair, the way that he hit him. It was open ice, he saw him coming, didn't use his stick, it was a perfectly fair check. And when the other team decided that they would fight Quinn, Quinn's own team wouldn't defend him. Because he had violated the code. Nobody else would stand up. If you violate the code, you are going to have to answer for that yourself and you are going to have to fight the other team's big guy. And a lot of the times you are going to back down because you can't beat him. And that's humiliating. So that threat of humiliation is like the fly with the eyes on stalks. It's embarrassing to walk away. I lost. I have to admit that I lost. We're substituting honor for violence. So, I look forward and I say: If I check Bobby Orr, even if it's a clean check, the result is I'm going to have to fight a giant goon. I'm going to be humiliated; I'm not going to do that; I'm not going to check Bobby Orr. But, on the flip side, if the goon on the other side challenged me--there is a story about Tom Chorske, a speedy winger who played in the National Hockey League (NHL) for 11 seasons, in 1980 and 1990; and Bernstein asked him--you probably were in a lot of fights during your career; which one was the most memorable? And Bernstein thought that it would be some really violent one. And what Tom did was tell as story on himself. And the story was: I didn't understand the code. So, the other team had a big guy who hit me with his stick a couple of times; the referee didn't call it; he tripped me, the referee didn't call it. I got tired of it and I just decided I would stand up for myself. Now, everybody on Tom's team saw this, and it would have been taken care of. Under the code. But Chorske decide he was going to fight the goon himself. And he didn't win, but he did okay; he showed up and he thought the other guys on his team would congratulate him. And afterwards, his team's goon took him aside--I should say 'enforcer'--and said, look, don't ever do that again. And there's several reasons why. One is, you are embarrassing me. That's my job. Russ: He broke the work rules. Guest: Well, I can't score goals. I can't really pass; in fact, I can't really skate. And this is my job. Second, you are going to get hurt. Because you can't really fight like that. And third, if you do get hurt, we are going to lose someone important and people are going to say: Hey, he's a hot-head; we're going to send some guy who is worthless, some fat goon out there, who is going to challenge you and they can get you out of the game. Both sides are going to get fined for fighting. Or maybe a major disqualification for fighting. Because it's going to look like you started the fight. He chipped away with his stick a few times; it didn't get called; it's going to look like you started the fight. You may get a game disqualification. So, for these three reasons, please don't do that again. And other guys came up to him afterwards, after the game, and said: Don't do that. You have to let us stand up for you. Don't do that. So, what was interesting I thought was it comes down to other people's assessment of the correctness of your actions. And it might not be the way that you expect. Because in one case, a perfectly clean legal check of the other team's best player was not defended by the guys on his team. And in fact it was embarrassing and a violation of the code. And in the other, standing up and actually fighting--I think most people would say, yeah, that's what hockey players do; they have to be tough like that--well, that was a violation of the code. It embarrassed his team, and they didn't want him to act that way.
36:40Russ: I want to apply this idea of the code--I think we talked about this before but I'm going to bring it up again in this context--which is cheating. I'll stay away from steroids; we've talked about that before. But I want to talk about players who break the rules. What I find interesting is that certain forms of cheating are considered acceptable. But other forms of cheating are not. And so, for example, and again I think we've mentioned this: If you are on second base after hitting a double you are allowed to try to steal the signs of the catcher and relay them to the batter. There's no rule against it, no formal rule against it; and it's part of the code that you are allowed to do that. The catcher knows that, so the catcher changes the signs as to what kind of pitch the pitcher's going to throw when there's a runner on second base. But if the batter peeks back and tries to steal the signs, he gets thrown at and he'll get hit. Similarly, a player who, say, comes off second base early on a double play--there are a bunch of things that if you get away with them, the umpire doesn't see it, it's okay. But the things that are not okay--so, a few years ago, Alex Rodriguez, A-Rod, a player was about to--I think this is what happened. It's comical because it's like a 3rd grade baseball play. A player was about to catch a popup and I think he yelled: I've got it. Or something similar, to distract the player as he was running between 2nd and 3rd. That's not okay. You are not allowed to do that. That's "against" the rules. It fascinates me that certain things are allowed in the code and certain things are not. But there are all kinds of unsporting, or cheating, depending on how you look at it, yet some are okay and some are not. Maybe before we go on to the broader implications, you want to give an example of equipment and how it interacts with the formal and informal rules? Guest: One of the sports where fighting is not formally allowed but does sometimes happen is rugby. And I actually played rugby when I was in college. Which may explain a great deal. Russ: Yeah, it says it all. Guest: I was a post, which meant that I spent most of my time with my arm around the hooker. And of course the hooker, which I should explain, is the guy who has his arms around the two posts. And so his face is just exposed. He can't defend himself. So they tend to have broken noses. Posts have no ears, because they rub your ears all bloody. But the hooker takes his foot and is trying to pull and poke the ball back inside the scrum so that one of the halves behind him, one of the locks behind him can grab the ball and then they can start running. Well, rugby had moved towards more and more padding. They were allowing some shoulder pads and some helmets. Rugby outlawed those things because there were too many injuries. So, getting rid of helmets and getting rid of shoulder pads sharply reduced the number of injuries that rugby was suffering. Russ: It's the Peltzman effect. Guest: Yeah, it is. But, it also reduces the number of fights. Because the violence was partly in response to the fact that people were being speared. There were two things. One is there were more injuries. And the other is there were more and more rugby fights, because that was the only way you could defend yourself against someone who used the fact that his head was protected to make what wasn't really a clean hit, what was an injuring hit. So, they could have gone two ways. They could have allowed more fights to reduce the amount of violence or they could use an equipment change to reduce the amount of violence. And they decided to go with the equipment change. Which I think is just fascinating. That they actually outlawed the thing that American football, I think, a lot of people do blame for injuries. But we don't have fights there. It happens some; but they are dreadful. Russ: Very rare. Guest: Well, and you really can hurt somebody. Russ: There's dirty play in the line where you can't see what's going on. And going back to our earlier points about cheating and monitoring: Linemen in football who wrestle--they do everything except fight each other. But there are occasional ones who actually do fight when they can. And those people are known, and they have a "bad reputation." They are considered dirty players. [more to come, 41:29]

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