Monday, July 21, 2014

Monday's Musings on Sports - Unwritten Rules

On Sunday a story broke about Texas Rangers pitcher Colby Lewis, who lost his cool after Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Colby Rasmus laid down a bunt when the shift was on. Lewis explained afterwards that Rasmus has broken one of the "unwritten rules of baseball" but no one seems to have bought it.

In addition to the overstuffed official rule book of baseball, there are certain "unwritten rules" which have developed over time. Some of these rules are gentlemanly, such as don't bunt to try to break up a no-hitter. Others are more like rules of engagement - if you hit one of our guys with a pitch, we will hit one of yours. Still others are superstitious, such as - don't mention a no-hitter while it is still in progress.

While the above mentioned rules are well known, the Colby Lewis rule of not bunting to the opposite side while a shift is in process is simply foreign to me. If a team is going to put all or most of its fielders on one side of the infield because the hitter has a tendency to hit to that side, why shouldn't the hitter force the issue by bunting the ball the other way.

I can recall how when my daughter Yael was in little league, she would hit everything to the left of the outfield. The coach of our rival team began to deploy all his fielders on the left side from the edge of the outfield grass and back a good forty feet. Although Yael and I practiced directional hitting, they were able to contain her by keeping the fielders on the left side...until the championship game when she hit the ball to the right and easily scored.

Its ironic to me that in a sport where the rule book is so thick and is constantly updated when players try to bend the rules, there is such high regard for the unwritten rules. To draw a parallel to Torah, there are halachos (laws) and there are minhagim which are customs that developed over time. The minhagim are not biblical or rabbinic laws, but people seem to honor the customs almost more than the laws themselves. Indeed, there is a statement which I have heard attributed to more than one Rabbi that if "Do not steal" was a custom, it would be more widely kept...

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