Baseball’s Worst Rule is Dead

11 days ago, I wrote about baseball’s new definition of a catch, and how the interpretation of the rule created some ridiculous problems for baserunners on fly balls to the outfield. Applying the transfer rule from the infield to the outfield was an unmitigated disaster, and simply made the game worse. In that piece, I guessed that, due to the slow pace of change in MLB, we would have to live with the rule for the rest of the year, and return to sanity in 2015.

In reality, though, we only had to live with the rule for those last 11 days, because according to Ken Rosenthal, MLB has already reversed course and the old definition of a catch will return to MLB in time for tonight’s games.

Starting Friday night, umpires will rule on catches the way they did in the past, using more of a common-sense approach rather than following the letter of the law, according to major-league sources.

A catch, forceout or tag will be considered legal if a fielder has control of the ball in his glove, but drops the ball after opening his glove to transfer the ball to his throwing hard, sources said. No longer will the fielder be required to successfully get the ball into his throwing hand.

This is the only reasonable definition of a catch, and kudos to MLB for fixing this so quickly. They aren’t exactly known for swift action or reasonable timelines on obvious decisions, but it took them less than a month to realize they had made a mistake and reverse course on their error. For as much grief as MLB got for changing the rule to begin with, they deserve credit for fixing it in an unexpectedly quick fashion.

I do wish we would have seen someone try the “drop the ball on purpose” play, though. Oh well.



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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.


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Phil Livingston
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Phil Livingston
2 years 2 months ago

I disagree with this. How much of an affect did the outs that were or were not made because of this rule have on the wins of said teams? What about the teams that haven’t dealt with this yet that probably would have later in the season? My opinion is that they should have waited until after the season. Although I do commend the swift action, I think this is one situation that should have been handled in the offseason.

Evan
Guest
Evan
2 years 2 months ago

That’s like hitting your thumb with a hammer and then deciding to hit the rest of your fingers so they don’t miss out on the experience.

MustBunique
Member
Member
2 years 2 months ago

Your thumb loves this line of thought, because even though it got smashed it would endure the potential of more smashings just so that fancy ring finger and all its bling just might get a taste.

No, wait! The thumb doesn’t want to get hit again, either!

Westside guy
Member
Member
Westside guy
2 years 2 months ago

… and then including all your toes for good measure.

Schuxu
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Schuxu
2 years 1 month ago

Actually you feel less pain in your thumb when you hit your other fingers. So in some way this analogy supports Livingstons opinion.

Dustin
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Dustin
2 years 2 months ago

Yes, it’s best to leave a rapist free until everyone has been f-ed. It’s only fair.

chuckb
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chuckb
2 years 2 months ago

Rape is not a crime about sex. It’s a crime about power. Rape victims, therefore, have not had sex with their rapist. I know you weren’t meaning to imply that there was some sort of consensual act going on, but I just felt like it was important to clarify that there is a huge distinction between rape and sex.

arc
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arc
2 years 2 months ago

This is neither the time nor the place, but despite its prevalence the “rape is about power” theory is unscientific nonsense.

…Baseball!

Dustin
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Dustin
2 years 2 months ago

Who was talking about sex? I’m talking about getting F-ed.

Kazinski
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Kazinski
2 years 2 months ago

Feminist theory is the opposite of sabermetrics.

Baltar
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Baltar
2 years 2 months ago

Feminist bullshit. Rape is all about sex. Power can be one of the motivations for sex, rape or not.

The Foils
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The Foils
2 years 2 months ago

Only thing dumber than some of the responses was eliciting them, Chuck.

BenRevereDoesSteroids
Member
BenRevereDoesSteroids
2 years 2 months ago

Chuckb,

Why did you feel it necessary to clarify something that he didn’t even bring up (being here, whether or not rape is about power)? Its like you left winged sociologist types actually have an autoreply when you see the letters R-A-P-E.

I’m not trying to tell you not to advocate feminist theory. If you want to, by all means go ahead. But when you spout out cookie cutter responses at the mere mention of a feminist trigger word, you are starting to make yourself a cheesy TV caricature of a feminist. And nobody actually likes to spend any time around those people, even if its on a Fangraphs comment section.

Yeah
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Yeah
2 years 2 months ago

The Foils you’ve said it better than I could. Let’s keep the uglier parts of the internet out of fangraphs. Go baseball!

Spa City
Member
Member
Spa City
2 years 1 month ago

“Rape is about power, not about sex” is just a cliched saying that people throw around. Robbery is not about forcibly taking money… it is about exerting power over the victim. Whatever… I don’t really care – I am just bored and taking out my boredom on the internet. I’ll move on.

Guy with a little sense
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Guy with a little sense
2 years 2 months ago

It’s inappropriate to make rape analogies. “Getting screwed” by a stupid rule is analogy enough.

Garrett's Mom
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Garrett's Mom
2 years 1 month ago

Otters rape baby seals

Wally
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Wally
2 years 1 month ago

Interspecies rape, whoa

Eminor3rd
Member
Eminor3rd
2 years 2 months ago

I cannot follow this line of thinking — it seems very much like cuting off one’s nose to spite one’s face. If something is wrong and problematic and you can fix it, you fix it. Mistakes are unavoidable, the best blanket policy for mistakes is to minimize their effect. Allowing bad things to continue for the sake of consistency is insane.

Emcee Peepants
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Emcee Peepants
2 years 2 months ago

It’s as Anne as the nose on plain’s face…

JimNYC
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JimNYC
2 years 2 months ago

I sorta-kinda agree, and sorta-kinda don’t. Like, baseball is all about its own history, and comparing its current players to previous players — more so than any other sport — and mixing up rules does kind of prevent you from being able to make analogies across time periods.

Like, as a kid, the first “star” baseball player I learned about was Ross Barnes, because I read a chronological history of baseball and he came first. It’s a shame to have to wonder what Ross Barnes would do in a modern baseball game, since his main skill is no longer legal.

Anon21
Member
Anon21
2 years 2 months ago

Sorry, but that’s a real dumb opinion you’ve got there, Phil. Because teams have already been screwed by the bad rule, we should keep it around until the end of the season so that it will randomly affect the outcomes of additional games? You do realize that just because the Indians (for example) were screwed once by this rule, that doesn’t give them immunity to being screwed 20 more times by the same thing over the course of the season, while the Tigers (for example) never have it affect the outcome of the game?

Consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds, but this is worse than usual.

Tom
Member
Tom
2 years 2 months ago

You know the phrase “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”? The other side of the saying has just as much wisdom. If it’s broke, fix it.

psualum
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psualum
2 years 2 months ago

I thought it was “if it is broke, sweep it under the rug and hope it doesn’t effect a big moment in the season and then quietly change it back in the offseason without admitting wrongdoing”.

Baltar
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Baltar
2 years 2 months ago

If it’s fixed, don’t break it.

baycommuter
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baycommuter
2 years 2 months ago

Or you can do what the NFL did with the tuck rule, leave a stupid rule in place for 10 years because they didn’t want to admit it tainted New England’s first championship, before quietly changing it.

LaLoosh
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2 years 2 months ago

just falls under the “you can’t satisfy everyone” category…

Jaunty Rockefeller
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Jaunty Rockefeller
2 years 2 months ago

I think the correction was warranted, but Phil’s perspective isn’t totally looney tunes. Teams are in a zero-sum competitive environment that is given structure by the rules. A change in the rules changes the environment. You might say that the effects of the rule were felt equally by all teams, but I don’t know whether as an empirical matter that’s true, though I’d be surprised if it were. At any rate, there’s at least a non-negligible chance that the effects of the rule asymmetrically benefited or harmed certain teams. Preserving the status quo until next season reduces this chance, because the likelihood that the rule randomly benefited or harmed certain teams goes down as the number of games played goes up. Ultimately the rule was so wrongheaded that I think it undermined the integrity of the game, especially with the risk that someone like Joe Maddon would exploit the strategic opportunity pointed out by Dave. But changing rules or interpretations of rules midseason inescapably carries with it risks to the competitive environment, even if those risks are outweighed by other considerations.

MrMan
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MrMan
2 years 2 months ago

I think eliminating the rule, so that it only affected ~15% of the games played, creates a more even playing field than keeping the rule for consistency sake.

Anon21
Member
Anon21
2 years 2 months ago

“I think the correction was warranted, but Phil’s perspective isn’t totally looney tunes.”

Well, it kind of is, unless you have some reason to think that “outcome-swaying dropped catches” will even out over the course of a season.

“the likelihood that the rule randomly benefited or harmed certain teams goes down as the number of games played goes up.”

So too does the likelihood of the aggregate effects of the pernicious rule change swaying the outcome of one or more playoff races. At this point, probably no team has lost more than one game, net, due to the bad effects of the rule change. Keep going, and a team could drop three or four games due to the effects of the rule. Sorry, but it is crazy to insist on holding on to the wrong rule for the whole season.

Jaunty Rockefeller
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Jaunty Rockefeller
2 years 2 months ago

I largely agree, but it’d be pretty easy to check whether the rule has had a random or systematic effect one way or the other, and what the magnitude of the effect was. Who knows, maybe a certain ump was calling it one way while all others were not, and maybe that ump worked a disproportionate number of games between divisional rivals. I doubt it, but somehow I also doubt that Joe Torre knows, either.

tz
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tz
2 years 2 months ago

And in the grand scheme of themes, no more unfair than the impact of the unbalanced schedule on the wild-card races, or even the timing of when you play the teams in your division (playing a decent foe in April when they’re still going for it vs. in September when they’ve thrown in the towel)

IDontThinkSo...
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IDontThinkSo...
2 years 2 months ago

I honestly cannot understand your logic as you defended a completely looney stance with one just as looney.

You both are saying hundreds of games should have had their outcomes altered on the off chance that all teams will have a roughly equal amount of games screwed up by the time the season is over. You claim this would be for the integrity of the competitive environment.

But seriously, what kind of environment do you really even have when you stubbornly have hundreds of games screwed up in desperate (and rather naive) hopes said screwed up outcomes might equally distribute over a longer period of time? Or what would you say about the integrity of the overall environment when every night the lead story is the two or three instances of this from that specific days games? You think the any environment will really survive everyone from commentators and fans to managers and players spending an entire year talking about how the suits in charge of the rule book have no clue what they are doing and are ruining the game?

Then what do you do in the playoffs? Do you spend all season with an unbelievably messed up rule that changes the outcome and affects the way players play the game (like the couple situations we saw where people were not attempting to turn two on fear they might not transfer the ball cleanly) then switch at the drop of a hat and have the rule change for the playoffs? Or do you allow the foolish rule to influence playoff games this year too?

Going into today’s games there were 331 games on the books. We have probably seen about 2 instances of this a day since the season began, which works out to about 50 games prior to this morning. If roughly correct, then 50 of 331 Games is 15% of games being affected. The thing is, at the start of play there were another 2099 games left to be played. That 15% then becomes another roughly 315 instances we should have probably expected to see the rule being a problem.

Overall that is about 360-370 times the rule would have probably come into play if left for the year. There are only 30 teams though, and 2 teams need to be on the field at the same time. Even if somehow spread perfectly evenly among them all, that becomes each team seeing roughly 24 of their games where this foolish rule, one even you admit needs to go away, would have been an issue just to make sure we didn’t change the rule in the middle of the season.

Again, how do your environment concerns stand up when it would have been expected that on average roughly 24 of each teams 162 games would see this ill-conceived rule become an issue one way or another had it stayed in place?

And all that is without even getting into the completely inevitable situation where some teams will see about 40 such games to other teams seeing in the range of 10 (162 games is way too small of a sample size to eliminate luck. In reality, we might go 5-10 years before teams truly saw a rather equal amount of such instances.)

m_pemulis
Member
m_pemulis
2 years 1 month ago

Everyone is hating on this guy (and his logic is certainly flawed), but you all know that if the commissioner of one of your fantasy leagues changed a rule mid-season, you’d have a fit.

LaLoosh
Guest
2 years 2 months ago

Hallelujah!

Johnhavok
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Johnhavok
2 years 2 months ago

This is one of the few times where changing a rule while the season is going on makes 100% sense. It sucks that a few teams got burned by it early on, but the vast majority of the season will now get to be played with the rule that actually makes sense.

MikeS
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MikeS
2 years 2 months ago

I am pleasantly surprised. I never thought they would admit they were wrong in the middle of a season.

Orsulakfan
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Orsulakfan
2 years 2 months ago

Wish we could replay last Sunday’s game against Boston where that ridiculous rule led directly to the Red Sox comeback against us (Baltimore). Good riddance!

Jonah Pemstein
Member
Member
2 years 2 months ago

The rule has cost every team runs. Let’s just be glad its gone and not look back on what might have been – I’m sure some things would be better for the O’s as well.

Jason B
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Jason B
2 years 2 months ago

“The rule has cost every team runs”

I’m not at all certain that’s the case. But totally agreed on the sentiment of “let’s be glad it’s gone.”

Orsulakfan
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Orsulakfan
2 years 2 months ago

I haven’t watched every inning to say the least but I don’t remember the Orioles benefiting from this rule, whereas the rule pretty much cost them a game against Boston. It’s one of those I will remember if things go down to the wire at the end.

But so it goes.

Jon L.
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Jon L.
2 years 2 months ago

The Orioles can always find a way to lose against Boston.

dave in gb
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dave in gb
2 years 2 months ago

And Boston finds plenty of ways lose against Baltimore too

Orsulakfan
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Orsulakfan
2 years 2 months ago

Wish we could replay last Sunday’s game against Boston where that ridiculous rule led directly to the Red Sox comeback against us (Baltimore). Good riddance to a dumb rule!

chuckb
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chuckb
2 years 2 months ago

I wish we could replay comments that were posted earlier on. Oh wait, we can!

TKDC
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TKDC
2 years 2 months ago

I was watching a game where Jason Heyward made the last out of an inning and he took about 3 or 4 steps and then tossed the ball into the stands straight from his glove. Even though I’m a Braves fan, I kind of wanted the manager of the other team (I think it was the Phillies) to come out and challenge that the play was not a catch.

jorgath
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jorgath
2 years 2 months ago

And have it ruled a ground rule double?

x
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x
2 years 2 months ago

Wouldn’t be a ground-rule double under old rules- Jason Michaels bobbled a ball over the Philly fence in 2004 and it was a homer.

gonzobob
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gonzobob
2 years 2 months ago

But it left his glove voluntarily so a challenge would not have overturned the catch.

Samuel P Sumner
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Samuel P Sumner
2 years 2 months ago

You never know

Robo
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Robo
2 years 2 months ago

It did leave his glove voluntarily, but wasn’t the problem that you needed to have it under control in your throwing hand afterwards?

jaysfan
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jaysfan
2 years 1 month ago

No, just needs to be intentional and voluntary, meaning you mean to take it out of your glove AND you take it out the way you mean to. So flipping it out is fine, as long as that’s they way you intend to take it out. In terms of the way the rule reads literally, the interpretation wasn’t completely bizarre, before/now intentional and voluntary are redundant. The traditional interpretation makes way more practical sense though.

Nick
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Nick
2 years 2 months ago

They should have changed it. And they deserve zero praise for doing so.

chuckb
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chuckb
2 years 2 months ago

Disagree entirely. It takes stones to admit you made a mistake, especially when you have to do so publicly. Kudos to MLB.

pft
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pft
2 years 2 months ago

So easy to get kudos nowadays. Do something stupid for no good reason and then reverse it when it blows up in your face. In the real world somebody loses their job over a snafu like that. Not so in government or MLB

dragnalus
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dragnalus
2 years 2 months ago

It’s not a surprise that the MLB has a reputation that’s so rigid to change and slow to accept fault when their fans are as curmudgeonly as this.

JRS
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JRS
2 years 2 months ago

Thank heavens! Besides the fact that a catch is a separate play from an ensuing throw, it seemed only a matter of time before they would require infielders to transfer a caught ball within x-seconds just to prove they caught it.

Brian Snyder
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Brian Snyder
2 years 2 months ago

I disagree that this is the worst rule. The worst “rule” is that an umpire calls balls and strikes according to his whim on a given night instead of how the strike zone is laid out in the rule book.

Johnston
Guest
2 years 2 months ago

They do that every night.

Matt Williams
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Matt Williams
2 years 2 months ago

This changes nothing. I still expect Bryce to give 110% and respect the game by running to first!

Mr Kreuger
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Mr Kreuger
2 years 2 months ago

(Looking at old picture of Matt Williams)

….well I’ll be. You have lost a LOT of hair.

Matty W
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Matty W
2 years 2 months ago

THAT’S WHAT THEY TELL ME!

Jon L.
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Jon L.
2 years 2 months ago

This is the undoing of a travesty.

Phantom Stranger
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Phantom Stranger
2 years 2 months ago

Ding Dong, the witch is dead!

Why they decided to change it as they were implementing a new replay system is anyone’s guess.

sarcasmftw
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sarcasmftw
2 years 2 months ago

It was the smoke bomb of rules changes, meant to distract you from the much more meaningful replay and catcher collision changes.

pft
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pft
2 years 2 months ago

Simple. The umps pushed for it looking for ways to reduce the rate of over turned calls . MLB and MLBPA caved to get their agreement.

Tim
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Tim
2 years 2 months ago

All right, no more three-minute commercial breaks!

Oh, wait, this is some more whingeing about runners being safe when fielders drop the ball.

Satoshi Nakamoto
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Satoshi Nakamoto
2 years 2 months ago

Glad that’s over with.

BenRevereDoesSteroids
Member
BenRevereDoesSteroids
2 years 2 months ago

The only good part about the transfer rule came from Ron Washington and John Farrell. Those two confirmed what I think most of us had suspected for a long time. That sometimes a manager just decides “Fuck it! I’m getting my ass thrown out of this damn game!”

Sean
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Sean
2 years 2 months ago

Pretty sure I DID see Yonder Alonso try to drop a line drive on purpose to get a double play the other day. Didn’t work.

frugalscott
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frugalscott
2 years 2 months ago

Does this mean that we go back also to the interpretation that a runner is forced out at second as soon as the ball hits the fielder’s glove whether he holds on to it or not? If so, I’m not sure we have actually solved anything here. While we all had fun inventing scenarios that never happened with the part of the rule that became ridiculous, the interpretation on the force play has actually impacted dozens of games over the last couple of seasons.

Johnston
Guest
2 years 2 months ago

Why fight about it? Let’s just all be thankful that this travesty is dead and buried.

Hoosier
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Hoosier
2 years 2 months ago

The reason that this rule was initially implemented was there was concern that teams would review as many close catches as possible to try and overturn a decision when it was not clear the player had ‘secured’ the ball in his glove, is this correct?

Do you expect there to be many disagreements going forward on what actually constitutes a ‘secured’ ball in the glove? In the past, without replay and the ability to freeze and zoom in it was much more difficult to argue this point.

pft
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pft
2 years 2 months ago

“This is the only reasonable definition of a catch, and kudos to MLB for fixing this so quickly.”

Why did they change it in the first place. Nobody dares to ask

majnun
Member
majnun
2 years 1 month ago

Only you, hero PFT!

Josh
Guest
Josh
2 years 1 month ago

Dave, in case you missed the Nats game last night, 2 days after LaRoche got screwed by catching a line drive and then, crazily!, trying to double-up the runner at second but dropping the ball, making everyone “safe,” FP Santangelo said that LaRoche told him in the clubhouse that the only logical conclusion to this dumb rule was that outfielders should do exactly as you suggested. That is, catch the ball, sprint to the infield, drop the ball, then throw all the runners out. You and Adam LaRoche think alike (or else he reads Fangraphs, but somehow I doubt that). Bravo.

Mr baseball
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Mr baseball
2 years 1 month ago

NFL would have taken over a year to change this.

Gribo
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Gribo
2 years 1 month ago

Absolute proof that MLB has no clue what they are doing. RIP America’s pastime…

Schuxu
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Schuxu
2 years 1 month ago

How was the rule supposed to be enforced if the player “caught” a ball for the third out and carried it in his glove back to the dugout. Just thought about the Smoke play to end the Ms – Rangers game friday night. Was that ball ever really caught?
Also a potential “funny” sequence: Catch, forceout via stepping on a base and subsequent drop on the transfer while trying to go for the triple play.

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