Ripping the unwritten rules a new one

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Dirk Hayhurst does just that today over at Deadspin. He takes Tim Kurkjian’s recent article on the unwritten rules and, combined with his own professional baseball experience, explains why they’re simply incoherent.

The strongest observation: that there is no one set of unwritten rules. It’s all about what young players learn from veteran players on their team. And that every team has a slightly different variation on those rules. Some veterans are OK if you have flair and personality as long as you do your job. Others are stricter about decorum and behavior. There is no uniform standard. If there were, then no one would fight about these things. Everyone would know. But they do fight:

Some of those players will get traded to other teams where other leaders with different views have imprinted other rookies. Lockers rooms will face a an unwritten code schism. Sects will form. Doctrines will mutate. In many ways, unwritten rules are like religious views, with different values assigned to different doctrines, all of which must be taken on faith. And just like with many religions, believers will embrace things for which they have no clue of the origins, just because they’ve been told to believe them, and that there will be hell to pay if they don’t.

It all boils down, basically, to arbitrary values with said arbitrary values being justified by a seniority system in which veterans try to dominate young players out of fear or inertia or habit or tradition. The key is that there is no way to ever truly get a good explanation for why things must be a certain way. Or why things could be a certain way on one club but a totally different way on another. At its core it’s an irrational system even if the desire for generalized traditions and decorum is understandable.

I’ve met Dirk and talked with him a lot. I’ve read all his books and most of his articles. I think I get him pretty well. At least I get this much: guys like Hayhurst tend not do well with irrational rules and can’t help but call such irrationalities into question. There’s a grand tradition of that sort of thing in baseball. Unfortunately, those who partake in that tradition tend to get attacked on an ad hominem basis or have their criticisms fended off by appeals to authority. I’m sure some folks who don’t like what Dirk has to say here will dismiss it by talking about his writing career or the relative brevity of his major league career and say that those things disqualify him as a critic, QED.

If and when that happens it will only prove Dirk’s point, of course. For such appeals are, themselves, irrational and are designed to obfuscate the matter at hand and change the terms of the debate to one more favorable to the person on the defensive.

UPDATE:

Well then.

Aaron Judge was involved in a weird play in the fourth inning

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Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge found himself front-and-center in a weird play in the bottom of the fourth inning during Game 4 of the ALCS on Tuesday evening. Judge drew a walk to lead off the frame. After Didi Gregorius lined out, Gary Sanchez flied out to shallow right-center.

Judge must have thought the ball had a high probability of falling in for a hit, so he was past the second base bag around the time he realized his mistake. He retraced his steps, running back to first base. Reddick’s throw hopped a couple of times but first base umpire Jerry Meals called Judge out on the tag-up play.

Manager Joe Girardi requested a review and the call was overturned: Judge was safe. However, Astros manager A.J. Hinch wanted to challenge that Judge did not re-touch second base on his way back. Rather than issuing a formal challenge, the Astros had to appeal the play by having starter Lance McCullers throw to second base, at which point second base umpire Jim Reynolds would issue a ruling. McCullers was a bit hasty, though, and made his appeal throw before Greg Bird stepped into the batter’s box. Reynolds told McCullers that he had to wait. So, McCullers again made his appeal throw.

This time, Judge was running and he was simply tagged out at second base for the final out of the inning. No need for a review.

As Ken Rosenthal explained on the FS1 broadcast, the Yankees were trying to “beat the police.” They knew Judge would have been ruled out — replays clearly showed he never re-touched the base — so they had nothing to lose by sending Judge. If he was safe, the Astros would no longer be able to appeal the play. If he’s out, then it’s the same outcome they would have had anyway.