Tuesday, May 11, 2010

5/11: Unwritten Rules Are Unwritten For A Reason

Dallas Braden: Defender of the Unwritten Rules of Baseball

We all now know Oakland pitcher Dallas Braden as the guy who threw the 19th perfect game in the history of Major League Baseball. He did so against the best team, by winning percentage (minimum 30 games), to ever be thrown a perfect game. The Tampa Bay Rays are still the best team in baseball by record, but on Sunday they were kept off the base paths for 9 full innings of baseball.

Before Sunday he had gotten off to a good start this year, a 3-2 record with a 4.14 ERA, but was most known for his spat with Yankee third baseman Alex Rodriguez over an unwritten rule of baseball. Braden felt the unwritten rule was broken when Rodriguez walked over the mound during a game he was pitching. Rodriguez passed off Braden's claim by calling him out a joke, questioning if he was good to enough to be talking smack to one of the superstars of the sport.

Since that game Rodriguez has seen his batting average drop from .315 to .200, slugging percentage drop from .593 to .400, and OPS from 1.032 to .600. Braden has not only thrown that perfect game, but also had a solid 7-inning appearance vs Texas giving up 3 ER. So funny enough Braden has seemed to step up his game following the very public bout with Rodriguez, while the Yankee slugger has slumped a bit since the controversy.

The best part of the story is that Braden threw the perfect game on Mother's Day. It's the best part because Braden's mother died when he was young and was raised by his grandmother. Braden hugged his grandmother on the field in a scene that brought tears to Braden, his grandmother, and any human being who can even remotely fathom the emotion of the moment.

Oh yea, and his grandmother said "Stick It, A-Rod."

Unwritten Rule Broken During the Perfecto?

Through four innings Braden had yet to give up a run, a hit, a walk, an error, a hit batter, or anything resulting in a batter reaching base. In other words, he was perfect through four. The A's were ahead 4-0, nothing insurmountable by normal standards of offense, obviously in this case it was a bit tougher.

The deeper a pitcher goes into a no-hitter or a perfect game the more you start to believe it will happen. The longer it goes the more each inning, each at bat, and each pitch reach a feverish intensity. More people flip over on their satellite or internet package to see the game progressing. Eventually ESPN will cut into programming if it keeps going.

It wasn't that far into the game yet, the fifth inning was not the time to start thinking it was for real. It was also time for Tampa to try to get something started. So to lead off the top of the fifth Rays third baseman Evan Longoria attempted to bunt. It was nearly perfect, but rolled foul.

Another unwritten rule of baseball is to not attempt to bunt to break up a no-hitter or a perfect game. Who says so? Well, Bob Brenley for one.

Now the commentary...

They're unwritten for a reason

The unwritten rules are unwritten because they'd laugh you out of the building if you wrote them down.

Another unwritten rule of baseball is that you don't swing at the first pitch after a pitcher has given up back to back home runs. Which I'm sure would be called for when you're trailing 4-3 in the eight inning. I'd still say you should ignore this rule in any situation, but the rules don't allow for situations in this case.

Braden's public shouting match with Rodriguez over pitching mound was something entirely revolving around respect. No advantage was gained, only respect not shown. It's clear Rodriguez was either unaware or unconcerned about this unwritten rule. Braden clearly took the rule seriously. The real issue was that the slugging third baseman chose the route of ad homenim attack against Braden. What became clear was that Rodriguez didn't respect Braden, the pitching mound being almost secondary to his verbal trashing of Braden.

It is likely most people chose their sides based on how they felt about Rodriguez. If you think he's a disrespectful prick, you added this to the list. The few of you who don't think that are probably Yankee fans.

The respectful thing would've been to avoid the pitching mound, and it's unlikely this rule will be broken again anytime soon. It's not like it's come up in a while anyway, as most of the baseball public were unaware this was even an unwritten rule. Yet we would still not do it because it seems like the wrong thing to do.

As for Longoria's bunt attempt, it's like Herman Edwards says:

The Rays bunted for a hit 20 times in 2009, and have already done so 5 times in 2010 (keep in mind the fastest player, Carl Crawford, doesn't bunt because he's terrible at it, so none of those are him). They thrive on using speed to bunt and steal their way onto and around the bases. Their strategy shouldn't change just because there's a perfect game in affect. In fact, that they had yet to get on base should increase their desire to use just such a strategy.

It wasn't that late into the game, and it was a normal strategy for the Rays. This isn't the slugging Yankees we're talking about, but the speedy Rays.

A bunt is a perfectly legal and legitimate play, so you can't decide it's not depending on the situation.

To me this rule says this: You might as well just let the bat rest on your shoulder, take three strikes, and walk back to the dugout.

It's the pitcher's job to pitch, the fielder's job to field, and the hitter's job to hit. They are to do so however they have to within the rules. The written ones that is, because those are the ones for winners. Losers can sit idly and observe the unwritten rules, until they are fired or demoted to be replace by a winner.