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Dispute a Rule: 7.05 and the Flinging of Leather

It’s the zenith of human folly to assume that mankind has reached perfection. This is especially true of baseball, which could be described from a perspective divorced of context as being a rather silly activity. Personally, I can’t think of a better forum for evaluating the various elements of baseball than at NotGraphs, where such discussions can be undertaken seriously and inconsequentially. But first, an aside:

This week, and I allow the reader to conduct their own amateur psychological analysis of the fact, I attended a Seattle Mariners game. I arrived early and found a spot in left field to watch the Yankees take batting practice. Rather than the hitters, though, my attention trained on a clutch of players, including C.C. Sabathia, Bartolo Colon, and Nick Swisher, shagging flies out in left-center. They began humbly enough, but soon they were throwing their gloves up to deflect the ball, and then at each other in order to distract them. It’s a boyishness buried deep in the genetic code of baseball, something every little leaguer does in practice, and it never really goes away.

Baseball has shown a resistance to the mitt dating back to 1875, when gloves were first made legal and mustachioed men still frowned on the emasculation of protecting their palms with leather. Even now, the rules of baseball would prefer to act as though the gloves weren’t really there at all. Curmudgeonly rules 7.05c and 7.05e state:

Each runner including the batter-runner may, without liability to be put out, advance —
(c) Three bases, if a fielder deliberately throws his glove at and touches a fair ball. The ball is in play and the batter may advance to home base at his peril.
(e) Two bases, if a fielder deliberately throws his glove at and touches a thrown ball. The ball is in play.

This in itself would be grudgingly acceptable, if not for the woe that is rule 7.05a:

Each runner including the batter-runner may, without liability to be put out, advance —
(a) To home base, scoring a run, if a fair ball goes out of the playing field in flight and he touched all bases legally; or if a fair ball which, in the umpire’s judgment, would have gone out of the playing field in flight, is deflected by the act of a fielder in throwing his glove, cap, or any article of his apparel.

This destroys almost any possibility in the game where a clever player might, knowing the rules, find it an optimal strategy to throw his glove. The only example was a minor league game in which center fielder Darrin Jackson ran in on a line drive by Raul Ibanez and found it soaring above his head. Knowing that the fleet (twenty-four year-old) Ibanez could very well round the bases as the ball rolled to the wall, Jackson threw his glove up in the air and knocked the ball down, resulting in a triple. It was a heads-up play, and an exciting one; it’s just a shame that those three bases are so stiff a penalty, because it’d be fun to see it happen more often.

The question: now that the baseball glove is here to stay, why not give the fielder the right to use it to the best of his ability? What could be more exciting than to see an outfielder, perched at the wall, aim a glove at the sky to knock down an anticlimactic 470-foot home run? Being able to throw one’s mitt accurately, when running down a triple in the corner, might add another tool, bring out another form of excellence to admire and enjoy. I say revoke 7.05, or at least 7.05a, and rediscover your inner little-leaguer.