In the wake of the Erick Aybar play on Saturday night, an article in today’s New York Times attempts to debunk the notion that there are any unwritten rules:
But as often as Major League Baseball umpires have been caught
making the wrong calls this October, Layne’s call could help eradicate
the notion that umpires make certain calls according to historical
precedent, and not what actually happened on the field.
instance, there is no such thing as tie goes to the runner. And pitches
are not strikes if they go over the so-called “black” part of the plate
for the simple reason that there is no black part of the plate in Major
And umpires do not give credit to a fielder for
making a good throw, [MLB’s VP of umpiring Mike] Port said. If a tag is not made before the runner
hits the bag, then the umpire is supposed to call him safe.
The gist of the article is that if any of those plays are called, it’s simply a matter of the umpire getting the play wrong, not a matter of umps enforcing rules from some unwritten rule book or based on tradition or whatever.
I won’t deny that they’re technically wrong calls, but we see those plays called all the time, right? I mean, the assertion that “there is no such thing” as balls on the black being strikes or the neighborhood play runs counter to our obvious experience watching games. In light of that, one of two things has to be the case: (a) there really is an unwritten rulebook; or (b) umpires get way more calls wrong than they’ll ever admit to because, like I said, we see that stuff called every single day.
So here’s the question I’d really like to see answered by umpire czar Mike Post, who is quoted in the article: are umpires disciplined or deducted points in evaluations or whatever when they call an out on the neighborhood play? Or when they call a consistent but technically wrong strike zone? I have this feeling that they aren’t or, at the very least, that “we’ve been calling it that way for 100 years” is viewed as an acceptable defense when umps are being graded and evaluated by their bosses.
If so, then there truly is an unwritten rulebook in practice. Which may or may not be a good thing (I’m split on some of these things), but it certainly means the linked article is more of a propaganda piece than anything else.