Unwritten rules

ONE GLANCE at the massive rulebooks that govern sports -- the NFL has 112 pages in its guide -- and you'd think there's very little wiggle room. But players in every sport continue to find new and increasingly creative ways to gain an advantage. Here's our (dirty) laundry list of low-blow tactics, many of which are technically legal, presented on a scale of garden-variety a--hole tricks to full-on A-Rod moves. The Yankee warrants his own category.

The A-Rod File

Distracting a fielder
As baserunner Alex Rodriguez passed Toronto third baseman Howie Clark, who was camped under a two-out popup in a 2007 game, he shouted "Ha!" Clark thought shortstop John McDonald had called for the ball and backed off. The popup dropped safely for a run-scoring single. Jays manager John Gibbons called the move bush-league, and Yankees skipper Joe Torre didn't disagree. "That's not Yankees baseball," Gibbons said. No, that's A-Rod baseball.
Jerk meter: High

Crossing the mound
This has been a breach of baseball etiquette since Cy Young toed the rubber. But on his way back to first base after a foul ball in a 2010 game at Oakland, A-Rod crossed the pitcher's mound and even touched the rubber. Fiery A's pitcher Dallas Braden told A-Rod to "get off my mound." Rodriguez dismissed him and later claimed he had "no idea" he did anything wrong. The tactic backfired when Braden beat the Yankees and, still fired up, threw a perfect game three starts later.
Jerk meter: Medium

Opting out during the World Series
The commissioner's office frowns upon any baseball news that draws attention away from the World Series, but that didn't stop A-Rod from upstaging the 2007 Fall Classic between the Red Sox and Rockies. Through his agent, he announced during the decisive Game 4 that he was opting out of the final three seasons of his contract, the largest in baseball history at the time. "Strange timing," Red Sox president Larry Lucchino said. In the end, A-Rod wound up signing an even bigger deal.
Jerk meter: Low

Slapping the ball
Baserunners can flatten the catcher trying to score or slide hard into second trying to break up a double play. But A-Rod went a step too far when, trying to leg out an infield tapper in Game 6 of the 2004 ALCS, he slapped the ball out of Bronson Arroyo's glove as the Boston pitcher applied the tag. A-Rod initially was ruled safe, but the umpires conferred and called him out for interference. The Red Sox won the game, and the next night, they completed the greatest comeback in postseason history.
Jerk meter: High

Basketball: Foot fault
Bruce Bowen was a master of underhanded -- and underfooted -- defensive moves, so he knew exactly what he saw when he called out Hawks forward Dahntay Jones for sliding under Kobe Bryant as he went up for a jumper in March. Bryant, who sprained his left ankle after landing on Jones' foot, later tweeted: "Dangerous play that should have been called."
Jerk meter: High

Basketball: Trash-talking about a spouse
In Boston, apparently the latest method to get inside an opponent's head is to talk trash about his wife. Following a win against the Knicks on May 1, Celtics scrub Jordan Crawford appeared to make a crude remark about Carmelo Anthony's wife, reality star La La. And it wasn't the first time a Celtic tried to bait Anthony by bringing up his spouse. In January Kevin Garnett allegedly told Carmelo his wife tasted like Honey Nut Cheerios. Even teammates' wives aren't off-limits in Beantown: Former Pats linebacker Ted Johnson called lineman Vince Wilfork's spouse, Bianca, the ugliest wife in the NFL on his radio show in March. Ouch.
Jerk meter: Medium

Tennis: Faking an Injury to get a breather
Injury timeouts are for medical problems, not to stop an opponent's momentum. Taking one after you've squandered five match points, as Victoria Azarenka did against Sloane Stephens in the Australian Open semifinals, is suspicious, if not illegal. The world No. 1 said she had trouble breathing, which led to a panic attack. (It had nothing to do, she maintained, with the sudden loss of her serve and nerve.) After a 10-minute delay, Azarenka returned to win the next game and the match. Stephens' coach later called the tactic "cheating within the rules."
Jerk meter: Medium

Hockey: Snowing the goalie
A goalie's job is to keep an eye on the puck at all times. That's a lot harder to do through a blizzard. Senators left winger Kaspars Daugavins' 360-degree spin-o-rama shootout move against the Bruins in March generated buzz for that unique technique -- and for how he blatantly stopped and sprayed ice in goalie Tuukka Rask's face before the shot. But Rask somehow overcame the elements to reject the puck and extend the shootout, and Boston won on the next attempt.
Jerk meter: Low

Soccer: Time-wasting
Holding the ball after an opponent scores -- as Bayern Munich's Manuel Neuer did in a March match against Arsenal -- is a time-honored goalie tradition to preserve a lead or tie, but refs sometimes issue yellow cards for the move. So Swansea City's ball boy upped the game-delaying ante during January's Capital One Cup semifinal. Charlie Morgan threw himself on a ball that went out of bounds. Chelsea forward Eden Hazard kicked him while trying to boot the ball out from underneath the 17-year-old and was sent off. Even before Swansea City's win, Morgan had tweeted that he was "the king of all ball boys. #timewasting."
Jerk meter: Medium

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