Baseball’s 5 Dumbest Unwritten Rules

I won’t be the first person to rail on baseball’s unwritten rules. I won’t even be the first person to present my railing as a top five list; Jason Foster of Sporting News did that in 2015.

That said, a couple weeks back, I was basically dared on Twitter to write about baseball’s unwritten rules, which I interpret to mean that I have to do it.

I’m going to use this 2012 Bleacher Report post from Dan Tylicki on 25 of baseball’s unwritten rules as my source. Many of the “rules” therein are pretty standard baseball strategies and tactics. But some of them are dumb strategies and tactics. So my list won’t necessarily consist only of the obvious, player-vs.-player unwritten rules that Foster talked about. (Although it will.)

Here are, in my opinion, the five worst of BR’s 25 unwritten rules of baseball.

5. Don’t Talk About a No-Hitter in Progress

This one is pretty innocuous, but it’s also pretty dumb. Only a few people have control over what happens in a baseball game on any given pitch or play: the pitcher and hitter every time, and the umpire, catcher, fielders, and Lady Luck much of the time as well. Fans, announcers, teammates in the dugout or bullpen can say or not say what they want and have no effect on the game.

All of baseball’s superstitions are silly, but this is the only one Tylicki included in his article, so it’s the one I’ll mention too. At any rate, it is also probably the most conspicuous of the game’s superstitions.

4. Follow the Umpire’s Code

Tylicki speaks of a general code, which might be harmless enough, but when I think of an umpire having a code, it’s not quite like that.

I would guess that only some umpires really have a “code”–and I’m probably pondering what you’re pondering, but isn’t Angel Hernandez too stereotypical to be his real name?

If an umpire has a code, this rule can just lead to ejections, #umpshow hashtags, and general dissatisfaction as soon as the umpire makes a bad call and takes it out on the disadvantaged team. The umpires should follow the “Players’ Code” and the “Fans’ Code” before enforcing their own, and leave the entertainment to the players.

I guess the stupid part of this rule isn’t as much that the players sometimes follow it, but that they sometimes have to.

3. Don’t Step on the Pitcher’s Mound/Don’t Step in Front of Umpire or Catcher on Way to Batter’s Box

I’ll put these two together. I’m not sure why it matters where you walk. I didn’t realize pitchers were this sensitive, although I suppose throughout the years there has been plenty of circumstantial evidence that should have tipped us off.

I know that these are pretty minor rules. You hear about them only rarely; Tylicki points out perhaps the most famous incident, involving A-Rod and Dallas Braden. I was with A-Rod on that one.

If this list were about a combination of the rules’ stupidity and their prevalence, this wouldn’t rate. But when discussing only the former as someone who always prefers the quickest way from Point A to Point B, I will put this rule here.

2. Unwritten Rules Themselves

Yes, this is somewhat of a cop-out. But is there any other sport where you could make an article about 25 unwritten rules? Imagine such a thing as tackling too hard in footb–okay, maybe that’s not the best example. But still.

All of these things are just more trouble than they’re worth. This sounds almost libertarian, but players should play the game the way they want to, as long as it doesn’t infringe on other players doing the same. And no, walking on the mound does not infringe on anyone’s ability to play the game; getting mad at someone for walking on the mound comes much closer to doing that.

Basically, I’m just saying anything that is, a) within the written rules and b) doesn’t threaten another player, is fine to do on a baseball field. Which reminds me…

1. If a Pitcher Hits a Teammate, Hit One of Theirs

Or, as Foster put it, “Retaliate! Retaliate! Retaliate!” I’m going to broaden this one to including hitting a player for any reason, not just as a hit-back.

Five years ago, I probably thought any kind of retaliation was part of the game. Actually, that’s probably not quite true, but if there was a turning point, it came in 2012 during the Hamels-Harper episode. (Although Hamels wasn’t even retaliating for anything–which makes it waaay dumber, but not technically a violation of the rule, I suppose.)

Now, I consider the bluntness and density of a baseball to preclude any other use for it besides the intended one. This year’s Strickland-Harper incident only confirmed to me the stupidity of retaliation. Although, as with Hamels, that was a particularly ridiculous situation. But maybe being a Nationals fan civilized me in this aspect.

It’s a little cliche to say that intentional beanings would be assault in any other context, but that doesn’t make it untrue. Teams should play baseball, not kill-the-other-guy-because-he-made-me-mad.

I suppose this rule perpetuates because too many teams are worried that they’ll be the only ones disengaged and thus sitting ducks.

But retaliation for getting beat is a different animal than hit-me-hit-you, eye-for-an-eye mentality. I understand the latter at a base level; the former is just stupid. And even the latter is dumb if the HBP you’re reacting to was accidental. And, of course, there’s often no way to know for sure.

Just, this idea of increasing the odds that you severely injure or kill someone–leave it alone.

A Couple Other Rules

You may be wondering what I think of the “rules” regarding home run admiration and bunting to break up a no-hitter. (You probably aren’t.) I agree that both are dumb, but both also have mitigating circumstances.

I hate when a player gets a single instead of a double because he thought he had a home run. That’s especially annoying when he ends up stranded on third at the end of the inning. So I’d want my players running out of the box as just a precaution. But after the ball is over the fence? Do what you want to celebrate; you just hit a home run in Major League Baseball, and you may never get the chance again.

As for bunting to break up a no-hitter, yeah, this is probably a dumb rule…but as a fan, I don’t want no-hitters being broken up by a bunt either. I got mad enough at Jose Tabata leaning into an HBP against Max Scherzer in 2015.

Anyway, there you have it: a thousand words on baseball’s unwritten rules.

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Redskins; Twitter; Sporcle

Washington Redskins

There hasn’t been much noise about the Redskins’ nickname since the Washington Post took its survey on the name in 2016. However, the name has been an issue to some degree for at least forty years, so controversy will return at some point.

Alternatives have been proposed when the name controversy raged louder, but I’ve never found them to be satisfactory. Perhaps the two most circulated have been Warriors and Red Tails. Both seem forced.

I lot of my ideas were even worse: the Washington 33ers (after star QB Sammy Baugh), the Washington Joes (after Coach Gibbs), or the Washington Valley Forgers. That last one might actually be cool if Valley Forge hadn’t been an unmitigated disaster for George Washington’s army. The Washington Federals might work if the USFL team hadn’t been an unmitigated disaster.

I did finally come up with something that I like, and I tweeted it out the other day. Please check out the concept and see what you think. If there’s demand, I can elaborate on why I like this name in a future post, but for now, I leave it at that.

Twitter Handles

Here’s one where I’m interested in your experiences. If this subject turns out to be something you’ve thought about, I’d like to hear from you.

First off, as you might have guessed, “hscer” is not my real name.

My question is, do you use a pseudonym or your real name on Twitter? Did you originally have a pseudonym and then reveal or start going by your full name? If you did make a switch, what went into that decision–specifically, I guess, was it for professional reasons or different ones?

This last question might be the key because I see my account as a personal one where I tweet about personal interests. If I ever create a more professional account, that one would use my real name.

And then I would think I’d wanted to have kept my current account private, no?

A few of my followers do know me from real life, but it’s not nearly a majority. What might be a majority is my Facebook friends who know what I go by on Twitter and/or the blog here. I think there’s also evidence of at least my first name on this blog somewhere.

Anyway, my Twitter name/handle is something that’s been on my mind for a while and I’d greatly appreciate any feedback you might have to offer.

Sporcle

I really do want at least three sections in each of my posts, to maximize the chances that readers can find something they care about. I don’t think a third topic is always going to happen, but when none comes to me, I do have a plan for getting around it.

As the header implies, that’s Sporcle.

At the moment, I have over 700 quizzes (in all 15 categories Sporcle features), so when I don’t have enough ideas for a blog post, I’m just going to link to one or two of my quizzes. They are usually going to be ones that I like but that have fewer than 100 plays.

I also won’t post a quiz here that is in the same field as a prior section. In other words, using today for an example, I won’t post a quiz about the NFL or about Twitter right now. (I don’t actually have any quizzes about Twitter. It’s just an example!)

Today I’m going to go with a musical choice: Cities in Songs but not the Title. You get the song, artist, and a lyric containing the name of a city which is not in the title of the song. (So nothing like “New York, New York” or “Walking in Memphis.”) The goal is basically to fill in a blank with the name the city.

That’s all for today. Thanks for reading!

Blog Plan and Link Dump

TL;DR – Come to the blog every Monday and Friday for concise posts about multiple topics, at least one of which will hopefully interest you.

Like I said at an absurd hour on Monday morning, I am going to be posting to this blog biweekly now.

A couple days later, I even have a plan.

In the past, I’ve written about a broad, almost-random array of subjects, but only one at a time. In other words, I might talk about presidents one day and quarterbacks the next.

However, that becomes somewhat of a crapshoot for you, the reader. What if presidential history interests you, but sports bore you? Or you like football, but not basketball? It could take months before I write something you’d want to read.

My plan for the blog attempts to rectify that. I plan to make each entry to consist of 3-5 vignettes of no more than 250 words each. (They may be much shorter.) You can scour for the headlines and read the interesting parts.

The topic of each vignette will still vary, but chances are–I hope–that you will find one or two items that interest you.

This plan begins Monday. Well, actually Tuesday this coming week, seeing as it’s Memorial Day weekend. But most weeks the first post will come Monday.

What I’m doing instead today is linking to some of my older blog posts. They are longer than 250 words, but the idea is to give you a sense of what I’ve written about before. Some of you may already have a notion, but others may not. I may even have some new readers just for this post.

Again, these posts are longer than I am now planning for, but they will tell you the kinds of things I write about.

By no means am I going to limit the blog to these topics. Anything that strikes my fancy could become part of a post. I hope you come back.

Getting Back to Regularity

It is almost 2 AM eastern time. I meant to go to sleep hours ago. Weird things happen to me under these circumstances. Like short, lazily-written sentence fragments. And reading through seven years of old posts.

But maybe good things will happen too. I’ve decided I should update regularly. Daily is hard, but perhaps Mondays and Fridays to start. Like, something for the week and something for the weekend.

What will I write about? Pretty much anything. In the early going, whatever subject comes to mind may be all I can come up with in a week, forcing me to go with it. But sports, history, music, and television will be among the potential topics. Wait, that sounds familiar. *Looks up at blog header.*

Unfortunately, this post will have to suffice as the first product of my newfound motivation. But, as Washington Nationals television play-by-play announcer Bob Carpenter says on his home run call, “See. You. Later.”

New England’s 2001 Super Bowl Run

How little can a quarterback do and still get credit?

AFC Divisional Playoff: Patriots 16, Raiders 13 (OT)

We all know about the Tuck Rule. Yet that is just the beginning of the story. Never mind that Tom Brady’s tucking motion might already have been completed when he lost the ball and that the replay rule requires irrefutable evidence. Never mind the insane 45-yard field goal Adam Vinatieri made to complete that drive and reach overtime. Or that New England fumbled three times before the Tuck Rule play yet recovered all of them, all in their own territory. Even one Oakland recovery–say, after Brady got strip-sacked at his own 15 in the third quarter–could have made the 13-3 hole New England reached in the fourth quarter even larger. Or consider New England’s third fumble. With 2:19 to go, Zack Crockett of the Raiders was stuffed on third-and-one. Troy Brown fumbled the ensuing punt but New England recovered, leading to the drive on which the Tuck Rule was enforced. Had the play occurred 20 seconds earlier, it could not have even been reviewed because New England was out of timeouts and automatic reviews of turnovers were still years away.

Just in the final two minutes of regulation of his first playoff game, the Brady legend could have been nipped in the bud by a third-and-one conversion, a fumble bouncing the other way, a knuckleball field goal hooking left. Instead, the Patriots win after scoring 16 points on 14 drives.

Hey, playoff debuts can’t all go like Joe Montana’s. (Montana was 20-31 for 304 yards, 2 TD and 1 INT in a 38-24 win over the Giants.)

AFC Championship Game: Patriots 24, Steelers 17

Whenever someone cites “Brady’s” career W-L record in the playoffs, remember that they are including this game. New England led 7-3 thanks to Troy Brown’s 55-yard punt return when Brady was injured completing a 28-yard pass to Brown in the second quarter. Drew Bledsoe finished the drive with 3 completions and a rush for 40 total yards, extending the lead to 14-3. Brady never returned to the game. New England added another TD on a blocked field goal return in the second half and still won by just a touchdown.

Brady was a bystander for most of this postseason (we’re about to explain the Super Bowl). For about 32 minutes of game time, he was literally a bystander in this game. Pittsburgh could have scored 28 second half points and there was nothing he could have done.

Super Bowl XXXVI: Patriots 20, Rams 17

Now we get to the heart of the matter, a game people pretend began at the two-minute warning in the second half. The New England offense produced 267 yards, 130 of them on non-Brady runs, and 13 points on 11 drives. This game could easily have gone like so many of John Elway’s Super Bowls if the Rams offense had played to the level they were capable of. Instead, the Patriots’ defense held the Rams to 3 points on their first 8 drives and added Ty Law’s pick-six for good measure. Before the final drive, Brady was 11 of 19 for 92 yards. The TD drive he led was set up by a Rams fumble and covered 40 yards. A single field goal drive after a mediocre game–a mediocre 3 games–sets the foundation for the career for the best quarterback ever? It took 178 minutes and several strokes of luck, but the narrative had finally found its footing.

What kind of world is this? The same world in which the Tuck Rule is invented in the late nineties for no reason and abandoned a decade later.

The Stats

Brady completed 60 of 97 passes for 572 yards with 1 touchdown and 1 interception, and was sacked 5 times for -36 yards. That’s an adjusted net yards per attempt (ANY/A) of 5.01. No Super Bowl winning quarterback in the preceding 20 years had done worse than 6.30, which was Trent Dilfer’s mark the year before. (ANY/A requires sack numbers, which I can’t find before 1981.)

QB Year G Att+Sk ANY/A
Montana 1989 3 84 12.14
Simms 1986 3 61 10.36
McMahon 1985 3 70 9.57
Aikman 1992 3 96 9.50
Montana 1988 3 97 9.24
Aikman 1995 3 84 8.65
Rypien 1991 3 79 8.61
Young 1994 3 91 8.60
Plunkett 1983 3 97 8.26
Warner 1999 3 125 8.15
Williams 1987 3 86 8.13
Favre 1996 3 78 7.85
Elway 1998 3 90 7.53
Theismann 1982 4 95 7.09
Aikman 1993 3 89 7.00
Montana 1981 3 95 6.76
Hostetler 1990 3 83 6.46
Montana 1984 3 109 6.44
Elway 1997 4 102 6.39
Dilfer 2000 4 83 6.30

Trent Dilfer did more to earn his first ring than Brady did to earn his first. (By this measure, 26% more.)

Another way of looking at things is by drives. Here are the complete New England drives throughout Brady’s inaugural postseason that he played in full. The length in yards of scoring drives is in parentheses. Downs, Punt, Punt, Interception, Punt, Punt, Punt, Field Goal (62), Punt, Punt, Touchdown (67), Punt, Field Goal (26, tuck rule), Field Goal (61); Punt, Punt, Punt, Punt, Punt; Punt, Punt, Punt, Punt, Touchdown (40), Punt, Punt, Field Goal (14), Punt, Punt, Field Goal (53). That is 29 points on 30 drives in 3 games.

2002

The 2002 season was an interesting one for the Patriots. They started 3-0, during which time Brady played excellently: 7.4 yards per attempt, 9 TD to 2 INT, 115 Patriots points. They then lost their next three games; Brady: 6.1 Y/A, 5 TD to 7 INT, 37 Patriots points. After the bye week, the offense produced another dud as Brady went 15-29 for 130 yards in a 24-16 loss to the Broncos.

According to my pet alternative history theory, in a world without the tuck rule, it is at this point when Belichick grudgingly goes back to Drew Bledsoe, whom he did not trade, at quarterback, leaving Tom Brady to never be heard from again. (The best part is it is an unprovable theory either way!) At the very least, if Brady didn’t have the cushion provided by his team’s gift to him in the prior postseason, Boston’s infamous talk radio would have gone crazy during that bye week.

In Sum

Tom Brady is an all-time great quarterback, no doubt. But in the narrative-driven land of sports media, he got a huge lift from that 2001 season, where a sixth-round draft pick in his second season had the luckiest playoff run in NFL history. He didn’t play well, and every game had multiple moments in which he was totally uninvolved that could have changed the outcome.

The rest is history. We only get one of those. Try not to make a hagiography of it.

 

 

MLB Season Redesign

(A purely hypothetical one, of course.)

Have every team play every other team 6 times a season, 3 home/3 away. That’s 174 games. Make it a 30 week season (including a full week for the All-Star Break) so every team has an off day Monday or Thursday of every week. If you start this in the last week of March, you end in mid-October. And of course we are shortening the postseason to make this work. It’s back to the old days of just a World Series between the teams with the best record in each league. 

Even though the regular season is longer, it is easier on the players with the longer All-Star Break and a day off every week.

The shrinking playoffs decreases revenue, and this is the reason why these exercises are purely hypothetical, but the six extra home games would help with that.

The leagues remain in place mostly as a formality and excuse to play the World Series since the schedule is exactly the same for every team. So even the pennants would not be very meaningful, even though the regular season would take on prominence.

Basically, the team with the best record in all baseball would be the “real” champion of the season, but the other league gets a shot at beating them for bragging rights.

None of it is perfect, but I think I would like this setup better than the current one.

Strike 2 Zone

strike zone bill

This is from the “Hey Bill” Section of Bill James’ site. James’ answer makes it pretty evident he does not like the idea at all. And it is a pretty odd suggestion.

The weird thing is, I think it could work, with three caveats:

  1. Don’t extend the zone from head to toe and two feet off the plate, which seems to be what ventboys has in mind. Maybe expand it 2 or 3 inches up, down, and away? (Exact number is negotiable.) The inside corner would have to remain in place, however–otherwise pitchers are just going to hit the batter intentionally with two strikes.
  2. You would need robot umps for this, especially on the outside “corner,” since there would no longer be any corner for the umpire to use (unless you made it the near line of the opposite batter’s box). Even if you didn’t need robot umps, it would be a convenient excuse to bring them in.
  3. Lastly, foul balls are no longer strikes throughout the entire at-bat; they simply don’t count against the hitter at any point. (Although it’s negotiable for a no-strike count.) Without this third thing, 1-0 might become a high-scoring affair.

We should definitely try this system in an Italian league first.