Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The second rule of Fight Club

I was watching the Yankees - Red Sox game last night. Heading into the late innings, the Yankees had used some pinch hitters and moved their roster around a bit, and it came to the point where the player hitting in the third baseman's spot did not have the physical fortitude to play the position when the half inning was due to come around. Because of this, Joe Girardi was forced to move Alex Rodriquez from designated hitter to third base. I understood the move. He was seemingly out of better options. I also knew the consequences of the move, namely that the Yankees would lose the designated hitter spot in the lineup and the pitcher would be forced to bat. Now, at the time, I was fully aware of this, yet, after time passed, I started to feel like I shouldn't have been. Why does this rule make sense? It is almost as dumb as the second rule of Fight Club.

Now, to be clear, if a position player gets moved from, say, left field to right field, this has no effect on the other positions. He is free to do so. Whomever was slotted in at right field could move to catcher or vice versa. It doesn't matter. However, for some reason, if the designated hitter is moved to any other position at any point in the game, no one else can switch to DH. The spot is lost and whomever is slotted in at pitcher is forced to bat next time that spot in the lineup comes up. Why does this make sense? Isn't the DH a player like everyone else? Why single him out as being weird and different, giving him different rules and regulations to follow? It is just another position in a lineup and should be treated as such. To think otherwise is lunacy.

However, baseball isn't finished with dumb designated hitter rules. How about the fact that the DH exists in one league and not the other! The national league does not use designated hitters in their lineups. If an inter-league game is taking place, it is determined whether the teams use a DH by where the game is being played, who the home team is. Now those of you who are trying to defend MLB by saying the DH was a rule added recently and the national league chose not to adopt it, this is true. But that is not a good argument.

Just imagine for a second that something like this existed in basketball. Imagine if the western conference did not use the three point line but the eastern conference did. The three point line was a rule added to the game relatively recently, but let's pretend only one conference agreed to it. If the Lakers played the Magic, the teams would find out beforehand whether they would get an extra point from shooting behind that line based on if the game was in Los Angeles or Orlando. This time, the game is in LA so no three point line. Too bad for Orlando, but now they might as well bench Rashard Lewis and J.J. Redick for the game because their only real strengths are shooting threes. What a shame.

How about if football did something similar? What if the NFC decided not to adopt the forward pass when it was instituted in the AFC. Anytime a game was played in an NFC team's home stadium, a forward pass would be illegal. Now if the Colts were playing....well, you get the picture.

But I shouldn't pile on major league baseball. They aren't alone in their use of dumb rules. In professional golf, in competition on the PGA tour, players are expected to call and enforce their own penalties. Now this is also the 'rule' in any form of golf, even playing with friends. If you commit a penalty during your swing or at any point during a hole, you are supposed to call yourself on it and add penalty strokes accordingly. If I am playing amongst friends, I can see this working out fine. Just like when I'm playing racquetball and I hit the ball back on a slight short-hop, I stop play and exclaim how my shot was no good. But on the PGA tour? These are professionals, paid to win, who yearn to win, who want nothing more than to win. In other sports, the same professionals are openly breaking rules (and laws for that matter) to cheat and get an edge to win. Why are golf professionals different? You cannot have a serious pro sport with a rule where players call their own fouls. How many players would foul out of an NBA championship game if they had to call their own fouls?

But what about basketball? They are not above this silly rule bonanza. The NBA instituted a rule where young men have to be out of high school at least a year before they can be eligible for the NBA draft. How does this make sense? Rather than going one way or the other with this, they chose the worst solution. It would be better if kids could still come straight from high school to the pros. The ones who made a bad decision would fail and have no degree to fall back on, but how is that different than the kids who only spend a year in college? It would also be better if kids had to be out of high school for at least two years. If they played in college an extra year, not only would it tremendously improve the college game, but the kids would not be able to find loopholes so easily. Let me explain. Right now, as the rule stands, a player has to spend a year out of high school before he can enter his name into the draft. Most people use this year to go to college and play (although they don't have to and not all do, see: Jennings, Brandon.) However, being a one-and-done, meaning going to school for one year, knowing you will leave for the NBA no matter what, means you only have to pass one semester of classes. And you don't have to pass by much. A kid can pass fall semester to be eligible for the entire college basketball season. If they go on to fail spring semester, it doesn't matter because the season is over already and they are leaving school. So the seemingly genuine rule by the NBA to force kids to go to college for a year now encourages those same kids to get even less out of college than seemed possible.

This past season's Kentucky Wildcats team posted a cumulative GPA of 2.02. Not only is that horrendous, but that includes the few players who posted GPA's over 3, meaning there were many who posted grade point averages below 2. Of course, as you may have guessed, Kentucky had five, yes FIVE, players leave early for the NBA. Four of them were freshmen and one a junior. So, technically, those four freshmen could have taken the minimum requirements to pass their fall semester classes and then fail spring semester and have no penalty forthcoming. They would be ineligible to play basketball next year unless they improved their grades, but they aren't playing next year. They skipped town instead.

I wouldn't want to leave the mighty NFL out of this rule stomping party. They have, well....let me think. (Thinking.) Their rules are actually pretty good. One of their more obvious rule blunders was actually adjusted just last year to correct for the previous mistake. Before, if a defender forced a receiver out of bounds while a catch was being made, the referee could decide that the player 'might' have come down in bounds had the defender not 'forced him out' and the catch would stand. Okay. But the defender DID force him out! He's a defender, there to defend. Shouldn't the rulebook reward a player for forcing the opposition out of bounds? Well, now it does. The receiver now has to come down in bounds for the catch to count because of the rule change, but also, because the opposite makes about as much sense as the rest of the rules on this list.

Well, that's all I have for now off the top of my head. If anyone can think of any other dumb rules in sports, let us know. Post them in the comments section. Just try to remember, if you can, not to talk about Fight Club in the process.


  1. In a sort of opposite look at the conversation, I was thinking that what if other leagues adopted the silly, yet ingenious, rule in professional soccer which allows one team to 'lone' a player to another team in a different league.

    If NBA guys want extra reps in the offseason instead of just summer league, their team loans them to NBA Europe. Of the NFL loans reserves or veterans to the CFL. I would watch those leagues if they had loaned players.

  2. Yeah, that would have been a good one to add to the list, although I don't know all the intricacies. I thought that it might just be soccer players could be loaned to play for their own countries in tournaments.

    But, I mean, baseball used to be the same way. Barnstorming was how players made money in the days of Dizzy Dean and Satchel Paige. They took contracts from all different teams; played year-round.