It’s not officially an oxymoron or an imaginary concept, such as “political transparency” or “Maine spring,” but “baseball etiquette” is equally silly.

Do I really need to explain this? Baseball is still the purest and most beautiful game ever created. It isn’t a wedding or a debutante ball.

The rulebook is sufficient. When we start injecting a bunch of unwritten laws into the equation, we reap utter foolishness. It’s the equivalent of Adam and Eve messing around with apples, or their descendants looking for loopholes in the Ten Commandments. Rapidly the entire world heads to hell in a wheelbarrow.

If you think I’m exaggerating or sensationalizing here, clearly you haven’t been paying attention to the rampant stupidity that overshadowed almost every encounter between the Boston Red Sox and Baltimore Orioles during April and early May.

I used to think hockey was the standard-bearer for testosterone-fueled, eye-for-an-eye male posturing. The Sox-Orioles saga is a stark reminder that Major League Baseball has rapidly closed the gap.

For those who were stranded on a cruise ship or too entranced by the NHL or NBA playoffs to care, let’s review.

Budding star Manny Machado made a grievous error in judgment and slid spikes-up into the lower leg of increasingly fragile Dustin Pedroia.

Pedroia was out of the lineup for a few days but escaped with his dignity and knee ligaments intact. He defused the situation by behaving as his usual crotchety, indefatigable, overachieving self.

His first home run of the season even came at Baltimore’s expense late last week. Those of us who believe that living well is the best revenge, or presume that sports customarily delivers its own karmic beauty, flashed a knowing smile.

Ah, but that wasn’t enough in a world that demands immediate retribution for every perceived wrong. Machado’s aggressive slide would’ve, could’ve and probably should’ve put Pedroia’s season in danger.

The “baseball police” (called out by Pedroia in not-so-subtle fashion after the original incident) simply couldn’t let that go, because, you know, rules and honor and blah-blah-blah. The issue was not if the Sox would retaliate, but when, and that question was answered mere hours later when Matt Barnes heaved a high-90s fastball in the general vicinity of Machado’s melon.

It was an intended punishment that didn’t remotely fit the perceived crime, like threatening a dude with federal prison time for a speeding ticket.

Not only was Barnes’ bid to settle the score ill-conceived and thankfully off target, it placed the burden of defending their manhood to the nation squarely back in the Orioles’ court. Suddenly they were “wronged.” Suddenly etiquette required them to offer a rebuttal.

And that’s when it all devolved into a modern-day Three Stooges flick. The past two weeks have featured the Red Sox putting thumb tacks in the Orioles’ chairs, and the O’s, in turn, attempting to slap a “kick me” sign on the Sox’s shoulder blades.

We’ve gone from spikes to the knee and fastballs at the helmet to plunking random guys with 77 mph curve balls and hoping the umpires won’t put two and two together.

Just stop it already. While you guys are playing patty-cake, the New York Yankees have led the AL East for most of the season so far, which makes it look even more ridiculous.

And I’m just enough of a conspiracy theorist to believe that’s why this all started to begin with.

Not that they have done anything to justify it yet, but the Sox were a consensus pick to win the division. Don’t think that was lost on the Orioles, who may realize they don’t have the talent to stand toe-to-toe with the Sox for 162 games.

So let’s turn to Plan B, they likely reasoned, and test Boston’s chemistry. We know dating back to the 25 guys, 25 cabs years and the chicken and beer season that disunity has been a recurring problem for the franchise over the years. Why not serve up a top-shelf distraction as early in the season as possible?

The right reaction would have been to sit on the revenge card. Make the Orioles wait until a game in July or September that actually mattered. Instead, the Sox’s desire for instant gratification wasted an opportunity.

It also shed light on a more pervasive issue. Baseball seems to have thinner skin than ever about how hard somebody slides, how aggressive a team with a substantial lead runs the bases, how conspicuously a guy flips a bat after cranking a home run or how quickly/slowly he subsequently runs the bases.

All of which leaves the game and its practitioners looking soft – the polar opposite from what it would appear all this exaggerated machismo aims to achieve in the Sox-Orioles rivalry.

That should read “rivalry,” in quotes. Speaking of imaginary concepts, since the comparison of jewelry in this century tells me the two teams don’t have a rivalry any greater than hammer versus nail.

Sorry if it’s bad etiquette to point that out.

-Kalle Oakes was a 27-year veteran of the Sun Journal sports department. He is now sports editor of the Georgetown (Kentucky) News-Graphic. You may reach him by email at [email protected]


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