The Holy Book of Baseball

If you look closely enough at a rule, the cosmos will appear in all its physical, metaphysical, moral, and spiritual aspects, presenting you a life’s work.

–Ted Cohen

In the last post I recounted the exploits of Germany Schaefer, who once “stole” first base by running back to it from second to reset a possible double steal, with a man on third scoring. Baseball soon passed a rule against it. (I suggest you read that post before this one.) It got me thinking about philosophy professor Ted Cohen, renowned for finding a contradiction in the rules of baseball. The contradiction was eventually corrected—decades after Cohen told MLB about it. (See the post “No Ties at First Base?” from May 21, 2013.)

Cohen mentioned in an email to me last year that there was another contradiction in the rules, still unaddressed by the lords of baseball. It concerns the definition of “bunt,” the description of “infield,” and Rule 6.05(d).

Rule 6.05(d) says “a batter is out when he bunts foul on third strike.”

Rule 2.00 (Definition of Terms) says “A bunt is a batted ball not swung at, but intentionally met with the bat and tapped slowly within the infield.”

Rule 1.04 (The Playing Field) says “The infield and outfield, including the boundary lines, are fair territory and all other area is foul territory.”

Do you see it? A bunt, by definition, is a batted ball tapped within the infield, or in fair territory. Therefore, a ball cannot be “bunted” foul; therefore, a batter cannot be out if he “bunts” a ball to foul territory on third strike, because, by definition, it is not a bunt. A bunt, by strict definition, must be fair. (A simple fix is to amend Rule 6.05(d) by saying “a batter is out when he attempts a bunt on third strike and the ball goes foul.”)

Now you might say, “C’mon Chris, you and the professor quibble; you’re splitting hairs”. Yes, I concede that it looks like a quibble. However, if no one quibbles or splits hairs regarding the rules, precision is lost and ambiguity reigns. We end up with strange rules like the one passed in 1920 to stop the likes of Germany Schaefer from stealing first base:

Rule 7.08(i) says that “Any runner is out when after he has acquired legal possession of a base, he runs the bases in reverse order for the purpose of confusing the defense or making a travesty of the game.” (Italics mine.)

Note the tone of the wording. It abandons all neutrality and objectivity, qualities necessary in any legal document. The rule editorializes; a sort of scolding emerges in the last phrase, as if the rule makers wanted to posthumously chastise Schaefer. Brevity is also violated. The rule should end with the words, “in reverse order.”

Even worse, in terms of rule making, there’s a loophole so big that were Germany Schaefer with us today, he could run through it back to first base and be technically safe. Because if the umpire called him out, his team could appeal on the grounds that his purpose was not to confuse the defense or make a travesty of the game, but simply to reset a potential double steal.

Call it hair-splitting if you like, but you would be wrong—physically, metaphysically, morally, and spiritually wrong.

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One Response to The Holy Book of Baseball

  1. Philip Moore says:

    I know I am extremely slow in mailing you about this column. I have so enjoyed your pieces on Ted Cohen’s work on baseball. I am particularly keen to know about the epigram for this entry – where can I find it? Or, was it in a private message to you? I collect quotes like this – those that extol the virtue of seeing the big issues in the small things of social life.

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