Monday, August 1, 2011

Where's The Line? A Look At "Unwritten Rules"...

Yesterday provided some interesting drama in the Tigers-Angels game.  It was a matchup of two high-level pitchers, Justin Verlander and Jered Weaver.  Verlander pitched well and had a no-hitter going into the eighth inning.  Fireworks broke out in the 7th inning when Carlos Guillen flipped his bat and mouthed off to Weaver when he hit a home run.  Weaver got ejected when threw at the head of the next batter.  

When the game moved to the eighth inning, Erick Aybar attempted to get on base via a bunt; he succeeded, although the play was ruled an error.  Later in the inning the Angels got a hit but would fall short, 3-2.  After the game there was a lot of talk about the so-called 'unwritten rules' of baseball.  Fans will remember Curt Schilling and co. getting sore when Ben Davis of the Padres bunted to break up his perfect game ten years ago. My brother and I had a variation of this conversation, and unsurprisingly, we were in a lot of agreement about the big points.  However, as with a lot of things, the devil is in the details.

The disagreement we had to the degree by which particular actions 'cross the line', so to speak into the territory of bad taste, or as they would say in baseball, 'bush league'.  In other words, almost all actions that are spoken of in the 'unwritten rules' are perfectly legal, but are considered by many to violate the 'spirit' of the rules.  Easy example - it's perfectly legal to steal a base when up by a score of 25-0 in the 9th inning, but it would be considered almost universally to be bad form to do so.  

What about no-hitters and perfect games?  I think Jim Leyland and Mike Scioscia have it correct - it's a close game and baserunners are needed.  Therefore, it is perfectly fine to bunt in order to try and get on base.   It was a 3-0 game at that point; the Schilling perfecto mentioned above had a score of 2-0.  Lest the defenders of the so-called 'unwritten rules' forget, baseball is first and foremost about....winning!  I know, I know, it's a tough concept to grasp.  

My brother and I were in agreement with the managers there.  Where we broke apart was whether it is always ok to break up a no-hitter in the name of 'saving face', or as he put it, 'to avoid becoming the answer to a trivia question'.  I think there are times when it is absolutely wrong to do such a thing.  When your team is down by ten runs in the last two innings of a game, it is bad form to bunt.  Legal, of course, but it is also 'bush league'.  You have no chance of winning the game and it just demonstrates a particular selfish desire to look good even as that player is putting himself and teammates in danger of retaliation.  He said that it doesn't matter what the situation is, you should bunt to break it up.  I advise the words of St. Paul - 'everything is lawful, but not everything is beneficial' (1 Corinthians 6:12).  

Yes, there is no rule against it, and is thus permissible, but it doesn't look good and it doesn't reflect well.  So a good rule of thumb in regard to situations like these is to look at the score.  A grand-slam proof game (i.e. a lead of five runs or more) would make it look bad.  If the lead is four or less, then it is entirely permissible.  Reasonable people will disagree, but when it comes to 'rules' that are not written down, this is the best that we can do.

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