The rules of baseball (written and unwritten) distinguish it from all other sports and establish the time-honored customs, rituals and etiquette that show respect for the game and how it is played. With help from famed writer Paul Dickson, author of ‘The Dickson Baseball Dictionary’ and ‘The Unwritten Rules of Baseball,’ we’ll challenge your knowledge of baseball’s rules and code of conduct.
Hey Blue! This is my first time being around the game of baseball. My son’s team was up by two runs the bottom of the last inning this past fall. The opposing team had runners on first and second with two outs and the cleanup hitter at the plate. Our coach decided to walk this batter to pitch to the next one, who had struck out three times already in the game. The instant this happened, nearly all of the dads went crazy and started yelling at our coach!
The next batter struck out for the fourth time and my son’s team won the game. After the game, the dads that were yelling continued to talk about the ‘coach’s dumb decision.’ What am I missing?
Answer: This is one of those times where you will never find a written explanation for the coach’s decision. Even if the next batter is having a horrible day, conventional wisdom and the ‘baseball code’ provide the answer. One of the most popular ‘unwritten rules of baseball’ is ‘never intentionally put the potential winning run on base.’
These unwritten rules are a collection of conventional wisdom, strategic thought and time-tested in-game decisions that are based on percentages and expert ‘knowledge’ that have guided coaches from generation to generation. Although many of these rules may not seem logical, they are part of the tradition of the game and when broken, can cause havoc among players, coaches and fans. For more on this unwritten code, visit www.insidepitchonline.com/groundrules
Hey Blue! I was watching a Cincinnati Reds game this past September and got completely confused with a particular play. In the top of the fifth inning, with one out and runners on first and second, Reds centerfielder Drew Stubbs roped one to Pittsburgh Pirate shortstop Ronny Cedeno, who fielded the ball on a short-hop. Edinson Volquez, the baserunner on second, ran back to second base, thinking the ball had been caught in the air.
Cedeno flipped it to second baseman Neil Walker, who stepped on second base and got an ‘out’ call from the umpire. Walker then tagged Volquez, but the umpire called him safe!
I figured out that Brandon Phillips, the base runner on first, was forced out when Walker stepped on second, so he should’ve just headed back to the dugout, but… not so fast!
Instead, Phillips, as befuddled as anyone, started bouncing between first and second base, back-and-forth like a ping pong ball and, of course, drew a throw from Walker. The Pirates eventually ran Phillips down, resulting in another ‘out’ call from the umpire. Edinson Volquez joined in on the fun and scampered to third during the fiasco.
What is going on?
Answer: The umpire gave the ‘out’ call so there would be no additional confusion and, just like how it happened in late September, everyone except the umps seemed to be puzzled.
The umpires conferred and correctly determined that Stubbs was safe at first and Phillips was out (but just once), but Volquez was sent back to second.
To understand why they ruled the way they did requires an analysis of MLB Rules 7.09(e) and 9.01(c).
Rule 7.09(e) states, in part, it is interference when “any batter or runner who has just been put out, or any runner who has just scored, hinders or impedes any following play being made on a runner.” Rule 7.09(e) Comment additionally states, “If the batter or a runner continues to advance after he has been put out, he shall not by that act alone be considered as confusing, hindering or impeding the fielders.”
Rule 9.01(c), as all umpires know, is the so-called elastic clause, which gives an umpire the “authority to rule on any point not specifically covered in these rules.”
Putting the two together allows for an explanation of why the umpires ruled the way they did. Phillips’ post-put out actions were not on their own to be considered interference (this is specified in Rule 7.09(e) Comment). However, the rundown clearly confused the fielders and allowed Volquez to advance to third base.
The Crew Chief that day correctly invoked Rule 9.01(c) to deliver a fair and just judgment: Phillips was out, Stubbs was safe at first, and Volquez would also be ruled safe, but fairly returned to second base.
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