Rules and quirks (coming back for more)

The response to my rules and quirks column, which was published a couple of weeks ago was nothing short of phenomenal. I had over 50 e-mails with pointers, suggestions and ideas that sow the seed for this and my next 25 columns. Okay, we’ll just keep it to one.

First a confession—quite a few of the e-mails I got were pointing out some inconsistencies and errors in my first column. What we’ll do today is review some of those inconsistencies and then launch into some additional rules and quirks put forward by THT readers.

Looking back

The subject I got the most e-mails about was the Pine Tar game … you remember the one … when Billy Martin got a home run call overturned because George Brett‘s bat had more than the requisite 18″ of pine tar on it. My column claimed that:

After the game the Royals protested and it was eventually overturned by Major League Baseball. However, it was too late to help the Royals.

It turns out that wasn’t quite right. According to Bob Rittner this happened:

As I remember it, the protest was upheld by the AL president (MacPhail) on the grounds that the bat was not altered to increase the distance of balls hit and the ruling should have been to throw the bat out of the game, not call Brett out. Thus, the game was replayed later in the year from the point after the home run (which now counted). The Royals won the game when the next batter (McRae) struck out, and the Yankees did not score in the bottom of the ninth and the Royals won the game 5-4.

Actually that wasn’t the full story either. Perry Sailor picks up the baton:

Once the game restarted the Yankees protested that Brett missed first base. The umps (a different crew than the original game) had anticipated that Billy Martin would try something like this, and quickly whipped out signed affidavits from the original crew stating that all runners had touched all bases.

Quite a few of you took issue with my six-strikeouts-per-inning quirk. And rightly so. If the catcher flubs every third strike then the game can go on indefinitely with an infinite number of strikeouts. However, the rule is a little more complicated than often believed. If there is a man on first base and less than two outs then the batter is out! The reason for this is to prevent catcher’s dropping a third strike on purpose and thereby starting a double or triple play. However, once there are two outs this isn’t necessary and the rule doesn’t hold. I’ll amend the quirk to the maximum number of strikeouts in a no-no is 54—six per inning.

The other primary objection I received was about the 23 ways to get on first base. This is what David Clemmer says:

In your (or ESPN’s, as the case may be) list of ways to get on base, I had a couple of quibbles. First, aren’t 15 [force out at another base], 16 [preceding runner put-out allows batter to reach first], and 17 [sac bunt fails to advance runner] just special cases of 14 [fielder's choice]? Certainly, a force out at a different base doesn’t automatically allow the batter to reach first, or the majority of double plays wouldn’t be possible. Second, isn’t 18 [sacrifice fly dropped] just a special case of 20 [error]? After all, a sac fly doesn’t become a sac fly until it’s caught. Until then, it’s just another ball in play (or nearly in play, I suppose, if it’s a foul ball). Third, I don’t see how a runner being called out on appeal makes a different runner safe. Am I missing something there?

THT contributor Brian Gunn wrote me a very nice e-mail in which he outlined the nine ways that he believed a batter could get on first:

In my opinion there are really only nine ways to reach first: hit, fielder’s choice, error, dropped third strike, HBP, BB, catcher’s interference, and pinch runner.

On reflection Brian is correct. I guess ESPN was trying to highlight the possible events that cause someone to get on first. Oh well, it was a fun list and made me look popular for a couple of days when family peered over my shoulder to see me furiously reading e-mail.

Looking forward: more quirks

Many of you wrote in with some of your favorites quirks that I missed. Brett Franey was watching the College World Series last year where this happened:

I’ve searched for awhile now but cannot find a summary of the play, but I believe the following happened during the College World Series this last year (in one of the later games, I believe)… Runners at first and third, one out. Batter hits a line drive to right field. Right fielder makes the catch and throws to first, successfully doubling up the runner. Runner on third tags and crosses home plate prior to the completion of the double play … And the rule (in the NCAA at least), is that the run counts. Getting an out on a runner advancing without tagging up is not a “force,” so crossing home plate prior to this scores a run.

Well, I don’t know about you but I don’t watch that much college baseball, and I’m certainly not clued up on the rules.

Time to get the rule book out it seems, and at 150-odd pages it isn’t straightforward to track this rule down, but it is there on page 94 section 5.

Brett also muses:

I’m wondering if the following has ever happened … Bases loaded and two outs. Score tied in the bottom of the ninth. Batter hits a “single” to the OF. Runner on third crosses home plate, yet in the excitement of the moment, one of the other runners on base fails to reach the next base and is forced out by the OF picking up the “single” and throwing to the infield base.

Yes Brett, it sure has. It is most commonly known as Merkle’s boner after Fred Merkle made this error in the heat of a Cubs-Giants pennant battle—although in that particular instance the bases weren’t loaded. Glory of the Times has a nice excerpt on the topic:

As soon as the game was over at the Polo Grounds, all of us fellows who were sitting on the bench were in the habit, when the last out was made, of jumping up and running like the dickens for our clubhouse, which was out beyond right center field. We wanted to get there before the crowd could get on the field… And that was precisely the reason why Merkle got into that awful jam. He was so used to sitting on the bench all during the game, then at the end of the game jumping up with the rest of us and taking off as fast as he could for the clubhouse, that on this particular day he did it by force of habit and never gave it a second thought.

Next up is Tribe fan Andruw Rathbun:

I was at an Indians home game in 1999 and they announced the lineups and Charles Nagy the starting pitcher was set to bat—there was no DH. I don’t remember the exact circumstances, but it was something along the lines of Mike Hargrove turned in the wrong scorecard (he was practicing for interleague or had just had an interleague series). Nagy went 6 inn and had 2 AB. No one around us had a radio and the announcer didn’t give an explanation. We didn’t find out why until after he left the game.

Yep it did happen, here is the boxscore.

Mark Stacy reports from a Pirates game 25 years ago—back when they weren’t a half bad team!

This one is from a Pirates game maybe 25 years ago, so I’m a little vague on the details and I don’t know if the rule has been changed since then, but anyway, all disclaimers out of the way, here it goes as I recall seeing it:

Pitcher throws batter two balls. Manager A brings in relief pitcher. Manager B brings in pinch hitter. They complete the at-bat to a walk.

My recollection is that the original pitcher, the one who threw the first two balls, gets credited with the walk from Team A’s perspective, but the pinch hitter gets credit for the walk from Team B’s perspective. So a pitcher can walk a batter without ever throwing him a pitch, or even being on the mound.

Finally we overlooked Jeff Schmitt’s favorite quirk. Here it is:

I wanted to see if you overlooked one of my favorite quirks. The one where a pitcher can get a win, but never actually throw a pitch! Maybe you thought of this, and left if off on purpose. If not, here’s the situation. Top of the 9th, man on first, 2 outs, tie game. A new pitcher is brought in. The pitcher arrives at the mound, and instead of throwing home, pivots, and fires to first, picking off the runner on first. Inning Over. The home team goes on to win in the bottom of the ninth. The last pitcher of record (who only threw to first, never actually tossed a single pitch) gets credit for the win. I know this has happened in the last couple of years, but I’ll be damned if I could give you more details than that.

Yup, it certainly has happened but is rare. On May 1, 2003 precisely this happened in an Orioles/ Tigers match up. B.J. Ryan snared the win for the O’s after picking off a runner in the bottom of the 7th. The O’s went on to win without Ryan ever throwing another pitch.

Wrapping up

And that’s a wrap. The nature of baseball means that it has more rule quirks than most other sports. They are just a bunch more reasons to love our National Pastime.

More, more, more
If any of you guys have any more odd little rules or quirks that you have seen, please let me know and later in the year I’ll return with a new column.

References & Resources
Thanks to Baseball-Almanac and Baseball-Reference for their great data. Also a big thanks to all the THT readers who wrote in with their suggestions. Sorry that I could not mention all of you by name or reply individually, but I did read every email.

Also thanks to the THT crew, in particular Sal Baxamusa, Studes and Craig Brown, who provided some useful input on Merkle’s boner.

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