An Unwritten Baseball Rule that Bothers Me

Baseball has many unwritten rules. If you follow the game you notice these things. Some of these rules I like, but one of them really bothers me. It’s the rule about not messing with a big moment. According to this rule it is not acceptable to bunt for a hit late in a no-hit bid. The mentality is that the hit should be earned and above board, as if bunting for a hit is not a fair way to reach base. I hate that rule. The goal of a hitter is to reach base. A bunt single is just as legitimate as a screaming line drive. Bunting for hits, and being a legitimate threat to bunt, moves infielders and increases a hitter’s chance at reaching base. By calling bunting a breach of etiquette the position of the hitter is weakened (unless the hitter defiantly bunts anyway, bringing on media outrage and likely retaliation from the other team).

A pitcher should earn a no-hitter by retiring hitters that are doing their best to reach base. It’s a matter of integrity.

Along those lines, something Joe Posnanski tweeted today made think about the unwritten rule frowning upon messing with big moments. Posnanski mentioned he watched film of Milt Pappas’ controversial walk in his infamous bid for a perfect game in 1972. Perfect games are a big deal in MLB. With two outs in the 9th inning and a 3-2 count, had the pitch been called a strike the game would have been over and Pappas would have thrown just the 10th perfect game in MLB history. But home plate umpire Bruce Froemming called the pitch outside for ball four. Video evidence suggests very strongly that Froemming was right (I have not seen this tape, but Posnanski said it looked like a ball).  Froemming has been adamant that the call was accurate. Pappas has insisted it was a strike.

I looked up some details about the story today, and my least favorite unwritten rule was invoked. Speaking years after the event Froemming mentioned that Pappas said to him after the event: “I know the pitch was outside, but you could have given it to me.” He felt entitled.

Recently an interviewer asked Pappas if he would like MLB Commissioner Bud Selig to reverse the call and award him a perfect game, Pappas responded with: “You’re [expletive] right, but it’s never going to happen.” My question is, why would you want to be credited with something that wasn’t legitimately earned?

Why do seven or more innings of no-hit baseball suddenly place a pitcher above the rules? The game is bigger than a moment. There’s nothing cheap about a bunt hit, a broken bat single, or a walk on a pitch that misses the strike zone.

The trouble with unwritten rules is that they’re difficult to erase. [1]

[1] I feel like I saw a similar phrase quoted somewhere recently, but I can’t find it.

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