Much ado about the rulesby Chris Lund
October 18, 2012
The rules debate has played a prominent role in the 2012 postseason. With the infield fly rule controversy, players diverging from basepaths into hard collisions, many rules have come under renewed scrutiny in recent weeks. While some of this is surely the result of fans and pundits reacting to adverse outcomes locally, much of the debate provides an interesting platform to progress the game on a fundamental level.
While some rules certainly need to be implemented or abolished outright (replay), and others need to be tweaked (collisions), the question of how to approach rules on an individual basis becomes an interesting debate.
In a case like the infield fly rule, the rule, on the surface at least, seems to have a deserving place in the game. The ability to essentially force an error for the greater good of the defense with no adverse consequences tilts the game in favor of the defense by putting baserunners at their total mercy. The rationale behind it is clear.
However, one could also argue that it’s entirely within the defense’s right to do that. If the pitcher has been able to force an infield fly, the offense ought to be at the mercy of the players behind him. It’s chincy, sure, but if you don’t like it, hit it further than that and until you do, don’t complain.
An interesting example of rules which are constantly broken was raised by Tom Tango at the The Book Blog earlier this week. Mr. Tango raised the rule which states a pitcher must keep a foot on the rubber through the duration of his delivery, and produced four images of prominent pitchers who do no such thing. The interesting issue with this rule is that, if a manager or player were to consistently protest a pitcher’s delivery, eventually it would have to be enforced and the offender would be called for an illegal pitch every time he breaks the rule.
Now, in this case it would be easy enough to argue that it is a victimless crime. The difference between a pitcher dragging his foot off the rubber mid-delivery and a pitcher leaving his foot back is virtually negligible. Surely if it were anything more than semantics it would be an issue raised more often. However, it also necessitates the question of how to enforce these rules. If, in this case, the back foot is a non-issue, why keep the rule in place? Or, if it ought to be there, why not enforce it stringently?
It’s easy to go down the rulebook and pick through what we think should be changed, implemented or abolished. Instant replay surely seems to be a no-brainer at this point, even with the theoretical delays it may pose. Perhaps a limited challenge system like the one used in the NFL would do well in this context with an extra umpire—much like soccer’s additional official—brought along strictly for manning the replay booth to cut down on conference delays. If a call is worth making, surely it’s worth getting right.
Additional examples may include the two mentioned earlier, the infield fly or pitchers’ deliveries—or perhaps abolishing collisions at the plate to cut down the risk of Ray Fosse or Buster Posey calibre injuries. Many would argue that you can’t bowl over a player at any of the other corners of a diamond, and home plate should be no different.
These are issues which must be looked at closely, and there are many more out there.
While the postseason has, thus far, provided a seemingly unusual amount of controversy in this context, it is equally an opportunity to be seized by baseball brass in order to guide the game forward. The NHL has made many strides on this level with their annual Research and Development Camp, which is held each year prior to the pre-season. The camp is used as a litmus test for rule change ideas with non-NHL players, and has birthed many ideas on how to alter the game of hockey.
Perhaps it’s time for Major League Baseball to pony up and do the same if we are to avoid confusion and vitriol when the most important games of the year are to be played.
If these rules have been subject to such criticism in a relatively short period of time, it’s only a matter of time before others leave us scratching our heads. Any problem can be addressed at a press conference after it happens, but the real work ought to be done in cutting them out before they rear their heads.
What rules would you readers like to see changed, implemented or abolished?
Chris is a writer-at-large and encourages you to talk baseball.
For further baseball discussion, you can follow him on twitter under @thechrislund or send him an e-mail at chris (dot) lund89 AT gmail (dot) com