Reviewing Rules

Editor’s Note: In the spirit of the World Series, with our native Nationals entering Game 7, we bring you a debate that escaped from the Faculty Lounge onto the pages of The Forum. While everyone is talking about the “bad call” from Game 6, we have a couple teachers offering their perspective on some of the larger issues at stake in this rule violation and interpretation. 

First, this in from Mr. Dan Sushinsky.

What do communism, squirrels, and Major League Baseball have in common?  Rules and Regulations.

Last night an umpire made a controversial call in the World Series–a potentially series-changing call. Trea Turner was ruled “out” for interfering with a play at first base, turning two players on second and third base with no outs into one out with a player on first. I guarantee you that everyone in the upper ranks of MLB was relieved that the Nats pulled off the win, because if they had lost, this would be discussed for years. The fact that the Nats won, however, does not turn a bad call into a good one. 

I am neither a rules expert nor a Nationals fan (go Orioles!), but I was extremely upset by the call, not because it was an incorrect call according to the rules, but because it was an egregiously incorrect call according to common sense. In some ways, I don’t even care what the rule actually says because I know what its effect is supposed to be. If the umpire cannot use his common sense when calling a game, the game has ceased to be for man and now man serves the game, leaving his reason behind as he does so. Side note: umpires do, from time to time, use their common sense. This occurs, for example, with the infield-fly rule when the ball is hit just to the beginning of the outfield grass.

It also occurred last night when the officials reviewed the controversial call in question with New York.  The play was, according to the rules, not reviewable. The league said that the umpire was just informing New York of the situation, but not actually reviewing the call. So why did it take so long, and why were the umpires listening to New York without speaking for so many minutes?

I understand that Trea Turner was not on the right side of the baseline.  This could be interpreted as interference according to the letter of the law. However, the rule should be interpreted to go against players who, whether intentionally or not, go out of their way to get in the way of the first baseman making his play. You see this from time to time: a player running in an arc on the way to first base, blocking the throw from getting to the first baseman’s glove. Trea should not have been called “out” for running in a direct line from his batter’s box to the middle of the first base bag, which is exactly what he did. For him, or any other right-handed batter, to run outside of the baseline would put him at a disadvantage to every left-handed batter in the league. Look at where the batter’s boxes are and use your geometry skills to see this. 

I think we can all agree that some rules do not work as intended all the time. This does not mean necessarily that we should disobey them, but I think this is where the idea of apologies and forgiveness alleviate the injustice created by those flawed rules. This ability to know when we should apologize also sets us apart from lower life forms. If the rule was interpreted correctly by the umpire, then that rule should never have been created. Despite this, I know my ire would have been alleviated if the umpire or some baseball official said, “Look, the umpire followed the rule correctly according to its definition, and the rule isn’t perfect, so we will be looking into changing it next year. Mr. Trea Turner, we are sorry.” However, after a very long wait while reviewing the call—something that was itself against the rules (here leaning on common sense but breaking the rules)—the umpire simply put up his fist, signalling that Trea was indeed “out” and confirming that MLB lacks uniformity in using common sense and has no sense of justice.

Last March, I had the great opportunity to visit Poland with some students from our school. One of the tour guides grew up under a communist regime, and in discussion with her, she said something that I will never forget. She told me that her mother felt sorry for us nowadays, with all the things we have. Back then, she explained, life was quite simple. They spent most of their day only concerned with how to eat that night. This occupied so much of their day that there really wasn’t time to worry about anything else.  Nowadays, she continued, we have all this stuff and too much time to do other things, making life complicated. Sure, it was simpler under Communism, but how does that make those living under Communism any different from a squirrel?

As Mr. de Vicente, our headmaster and 12th-grade Religion teacher, remarked in his Apologetics class today, you don’t often hear squirrels discussing how to get to squirrel heaven. Humans, while “suffering” from all the great things in life that makes it complicated, have a higher calling than squirrels; we are the pinnacle of God’s creation, and we should use our gifts of intellect and will to interpret rules to promote the common good. 

Capitalism has its faults, but it is way better than Communism (something I think most of us as Americans already acknowledge). If good people who care about others are running companies, then we will all be better off. Capitalism fails when those in charge do something unjust while hiding behind the excuse that they are in line with what the rules allow. Rules do not make society good, or humans human. Using common sense for the good of others is what makes us better than squirrels. Life should be about using our common sense for the betterment of others. Capitalists, Communists, and MLB officials should think about what the rules are intended to do, not just what they do and do not allow. Squirrels, you are off the hook.

Editor’s Note: Mr. Joel Sellier begins his response below. Enjoy!

Common Sense vs Judgement 

With regard to the controversial call that went against Trea Turner and the Nationals in game 6 of the World Series, there are questions that will not be answered by MLB officials:

  • Did Trea Turner interfere with the throw to first? 
  • Was he running in the correct place per the rules? 

There are, however, questions that “we the people” can bat around over lunch:

  • Do rules, and their interpretations, even matter? 
  • Is this a bad rule?

To that end, I offer the following reflections.

Rules are not perfect. They probably never will be. But in the 150-year history of the MLB, I’m sure the rules have come a long way.  Moreover, I would disagree with anyone who assumes that they know better than the experts who have decades of experience with how the game is played at every level—that would be an egregious error. Should the rules read clearly? Yes. Should they be written in a way that can be applied evenly and fairly? Yes. Should all of this ultimately be left to the “better” discretion and common sense of the umpires? No.

Is the “Turner rule” the “most stupidest” [sic] rule in baseball? Perhaps. But if you are expecting and waiting for umpires, referees, and officials to apologize for their mistakes, don’t hold your breath. There is a much simpler question at play: What is best for the integrity of the game and those playing it? Not fluid rules that are open to the interpretation of each individual umpire.  That opens the door to Sports Relativism!

Right or wrong, the benefit of the doubt should be given to umpires (referees, parents) with respect to rule interpretations. That’s what authority is originally, authorship.

This particular rule is left up to the umpire’s judgment.

As with any rules of law, interpretations of the rules should be subject to a common-sense approach. This only applies, however, when the question arises whether or not to change or amend the rule.

The rules of the game, when it comes to baseball, football, dodgeball, or even house rules should be strictly obeyed. Right or wrong, in the midst of a disagreement, the validity or “common sense” approach to the law should not be up for discussion.

By the very nature of rules – to enjoy the freedom of the game – played in the confines of the rules, rules must be rigid, enforceable, and not constantly subject to varying, and thus unpredictable, judgments and interpretations. Any questioning of the rules or “revisiting” undermines the integrity, and flow, of the game, or the household!

When the season ends or the gym class is over or a heated family debate has subsided, that is the time to examine the purpose and phrasing of the rule or law in question. To do otherwise would be a fruitless endeavor for all parties involved.

 Loosey Goosey rules make for a bad game!

I came across this many times as a PE teacher, especially during games of dodgeball and capture the flag. With young boys, when any flexibility is allowed and any rule-enforcement by the players is allowed, constant questioning and quibbling ruin the game. Take dodgeball for example: for a successful game, if boys are to play by the rule that the thrower of the dodgeball says that he hit you and calls you out, you are out. No matter how much you think you are in, how sure you are that the ball bounced first, how confident you are that you caught the ball that ricocheted off you before it hit the ground…You’re out! To make a single exception to this rule during the middle of the game ruins the game! If a teacher is relying on the average 10-year-old boys to call themselves out, I’ve got a newsflash for you: no one will ever be out. Your jails, my friend, shall be empty.

When players agree to play the game, they agree to play by the rules of the game. All of them. This is the game you are playing. Those are the rules, smokey. Mark it a zero.

As Matt McCarthy from 985TheSportsHub.com so eloquently put it (full article linked here):

Is this a bad rule?

Yes, yes, yes. The base is in fair territory and we expect the batter-runner to run in a lane in foul territory? How absurd is that?

But the umpire’s job is to apply the rules as written, and Holbrook did that.

Yeah, but I hate umpires! I want robots!

The RoboUmp 5000 would have made the same call.

Which leads me to my ultimate point: “If the rule is bad, change the rule.”

Well, I think we have our answer… Let’s revisit this in the spring. Or the winter. Whenever the right time for rules changes is! 

 

Dan Sushinsky

About the author:

Dan Sushinsky


Dan Sushinsky is an alumnus of and teacher at The Heights School who likes to think of ways to build up practical skills, learn new things, and save money at the same time.

Joel Sellier

About the author:

Joel Sellier


Joel Sellier joined the faculty of The Heights School in 2004. He is currently the Director of Summer Programs, as well as an upper and middle school math teacher. Mr. Sellier’s classes include algebra II for ninth and tenth graders and algebra I for eighth graders. He coaches the varsity golf team and the middle school wrestling team. Mr. Sellier graduated from The College of William & Mary in 2004 with a degree in psychology. He lives in Herndon, Virginia with his wife Charlotte, and four children, Felicity, Poppy, Margaux, and Blaise.

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