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Anyone who knows me will tell you I am not the world’s biggest sports fan. But I do enjoy sports and mostly know the rules of football, basketball, tennis, and baseball (soccer not so much—I will never figure out what constitutes being off sides). I tend to watch sports in playoff and finals season but enjoy a good game and especially good baseball games, having grown up with grandparents and parents who were loyal to the Detroit Tigers.
But few sports have rules quite as complicated as baseball. The “in-field fly rule” is the classic example of a rule that even some fairly ardent baseball fans might be hard pressed to explain if asked to do so without notice. But there are many such rules. Not surprisingly there are also lots of videos available on YouTube and elsewhere that detail the strangest plays but also the strangest application of the rules in baseball games.
My own favorite is from October 14, 2015, in a playoff game at the Rogers Centre in Toronto between the Texas Rangers and the Toronto Blue Jays. The best of 5 series was tied 2 games apiece so this was the decisive game to advance in the World Series. Top of the 7th inning the game was tied 2-2 and Texas had no outs and a runner named Rougned Odor (pronounced Oh-Door) on third base. The Toronto pitcher threw a ball high to the batter in the box, but when the catcher threw the ball back to the pitcher, he accidentally threw the ball right into the bat of the batter still in the batter’s box. The ball careened off the bat and went into fair territory in the direction of the shortstop.
The Texas baser runner Odor on 3rd base, in a good head’s up play, ran to home plate and scored. The home plate umpire called the ball dead but it quickly became clear the real situation was far more complicated. I will keep describing this but you can watch the whole 12-minute series of events right here.
This was a play that was novel as plays go. And then some. When Texas’s manager challenged his call, the lead umpire eventually called in the other 5 umps overseeing the game from elsewhere on the field and after huddling for a bit with his colleagues, the lead umpire signaled that the run counted and now Texas led Toronto 3-2.
Chaos ensued. The Toronto fans went crazy and began to throw beer cans, beer bottles, and anything else they could find onto the field, endangering fans below the upper decks from which some projectiles were coming but certainly also the players still on the field. The managers went ballistic and inquired of the umpire what the heck was going on. Although technically not a reviewable play, eventually the home plate umpire got onto a headset with his higher-up umpire authorities in New York who watch all the games.
Well, turns out this strange scenario—that 6 umpires with who knows how many decades of collective experience among them did not immediately know—is covered in the rules. Rule 6.03 states that if a pitcher throws the ball into the bat of a batter still in the batter’s box—and assuming the batter did not intentionally interfere with the catcher—and if the ball stays in fair territory after bouncing off the bat, then the ball is in play. In this case, Odor was correct to run home and score a run. I suppose also the batter could have tried running to 1st base as well, though in the confusion he did not do so.
So the go-ahead run scored on this strange play in this strange scenario. Turns out Toronto still won the game and the series and so advanced in the World Series that year since they managed to tack on 4 more runs from the bottom of the 7th inning until the end of the game and so won 6-3 for the game and 3-2 in the best of 5 series.
But I like watching the video clip now and again for reasons of which I am not fully certain. But there is something interesting about watching a situation so unusual that even people with long experience and expertise are set back on their heels. Yes, in this situation there was a little-known and seldom-invoked rule that helped to cover the scenario, but even that was complicated by several other rules, not the least of which was whether the batter was trying to interfere with the catcher or whether he was still actively in the batter’s box or whether something this odd was a fair ball at all. Real life is sometimes messy and complex, rules or no.
Why am I writing about this today? Not sure other than to say that sometimes we all encounter things that seem novel and that may or may not be neatly covered by any rules or guidelines of which we are aware or that involve a principle that we seldom see invoked or applied precisely as we might expect in a given situation. But when this happens—with all due respect to my Canadian and Toronto Blue Jay friends—throwing things onto the field that endanger others is not helpful and we could better wait to see how it all pans out.