Saturday, October 08, 2011

Why some official MLB rules are widely ignored-Wall St. Journal

10/8/11, "Step Up to the Plate—and Stay There!" Wall St. Journal, Jared Diamond and Mike Sielski
  • "Baseball has 120-plus pages of rules. For playoff season, a guide to some that are widely ignored."
"The official rulebook of Major League Baseball lays out all things game-related in 123 pages. Some of the rules are fairly obvious: "The objective of each team is to win by scoring more runs than the opponent." Others are more obscure: "An indentation in the end of the bat up to one inch in depth is permitted and may be no wider than two inches and no less than one inch in diameter."

The MLB rulebook also contains a number of unenforced rules that umpires don't seem to care about and of which players are blissfully ignorant. As the playoffs progress this month, here are five rules that you won't see intruding on the action:

Rule 3.09: No Fraternizing

"Players of opposing teams shall not fraternize at any time while in uniform." They are also forbidden from mingling with or addressing spectators.

Why It Exists: An early effort to contain the threat of corruption and collusion, the rule is supposed to maintain baseball's competitive integrity.

Why It's Ignored: Because of free agency and trades, players now move frequently from franchise to franchise. They have so many friendships with ex-teammates that it's almost impossible to keep them from socializing on the field. "They warn us about that one in spring training every year," Baltimore Orioles catcher Jake Fox said. "Nobody ever listens." Joe Torre, who became MLB's executive vice president of baseball operations in February, has made the enforcement of 3.09 a priority and has sent letters to teams to remind them of the rule, according to an MLB official.

Rule 2.00: The Strike Zone The rulebook defines the strike zone as the area above home plate from "the midpoint between the top of the shoulders and the top of the uniform pants" to "the hollow beneath the kneecap." But the strike zone has shrunk in recent decades to the point that the "high strike" has essentially disappeared from the game.

Why It Exists: So that strikes meet a clear standard, regardless of the size of the batter or the umpire behind the plate.

Why It's Ignored: Former umpires offer different theories. One is that the high strike started to disappear as a way to encourage more offense: Batters can wait for lower pitches that are easier to hit. Others think that umpires stopped calling high strikes as pitchers began to rely more on sinker balls and sliders.

Former big-league umpire Larry Barnett notes that three decades ago, umpires went from using outer chest protectors—giant balloon-like shields—to modern chest protectors inside their shirts. The new equipment allowed them to crouch lower, which made more high strikes look like balls.

Rule 8.04: Twelve Seconds to Pitch

When the bases are unoccupied, a pitcher must deliver the ball to the batter within 12 seconds or an umpire may assign a "ball" to the batter's count.

Why It Exists: The intent, says the rulebook, is "to avoid unnecessary delays."

Why It's Ignored: The irony of 8.04 is that to enforce it strictly, an umpire would have to stop play to penalize pitchers for dawdling, thus slowing down the game even more. "The fans aren't going to be giddy about that," an MLB official said.

Rule 6.02 (c) (d): The Batter Must be in the Box

An umpire may call a strike on any batter who "refuses to take his position in the batter's box during his time at bat." The minor leagues go further, requiring a batter to "keep at least one foot in the batter's box throughout the batter's time at bat."

Why It Exists: To speed up the pace of play.

Why It's Ignored: Big-league umpires almost never penalize batters for wandering out of the batter's box between pitches. Stricter regulation would lead to constant confrontations between players and umpires. "In the big leagues, are you going to tell a .340 hitter to change his style of batting?" former major-league umpire Jim Evans said. "If you tell these outstanding hitters they have to get in the box sooner, do you know the kind of grief they cause an umpire?"

Rule 4.03(a): The Catcher's Balk

A catcher can be called for a balk if he does not "stand with both feet within the lines of the catcher's box until the ball leaves the pitcher's hand." Like a pitcher's balk, it allows any runners on base to advance one base.

Why It Exists: Mr. Evans said that the rule stems from when baseball wanted to prevent pitchers from "working around" hitters—that is, giving a batter a free trip to first base to avoid the possibility of a big hit.

Why It's Ignored: Intentional walks are now considered a legitimate strategy. As for a pitchout (in anticipation of a stolen-base attempt), it doesn't really benefit a catcher to vacate the box early; it might tip off the runner.

Most of today's catchers aren't even aware of the rule. The Yankees' Russell Martin is—but only because an umpire called it against him in amateur ball. "I didn't know what the hell he was talking about," Mr. Martin said." via Lucianne.com


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