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The Dumbest Rule in Professional Sports
by Asher B. Chancey, BaseballEvolution.com
July 3, 2008
I don’t know if you heard, but the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
threw a collective no-hitter and lost a few nights ago. After Jered Weaver threw six no-hit innings, he was lifted for a pinch hitter in the seventh. Reliever Jose Arredondo added two more no-hit innings to finish the game. Unfortunately, the Angels accidentally yielded a run in the fifth when Matt Kemp reached on Weaver's questionable error, as the right-hander failed to come up with a squibber past the mound. A stolen base, another error, and a sacrifice fly later, the Dodgers scored what turned out to be the only run of the game, and the Angels lost by a score of 1-0.
Also, because the teams were playing in the Dodgers' home stadium, the Angels pitchers didn’t have to pitch the bottom of the ninth, which means they only pitched eight innings and, under the dumbest rule in professional sports, they won’t be credited with a “no-hitter” per se.
The nine inning requirement for a no-hitter came about in 1991, one year after Andy Hawkins lost a no-hitter for the Yankees by the score of 4-0. Up until that time, a no-hitter was any legal complete game in which a team did not give up a hit. But after the Hawkins debacle (and perhaps more accurately the Perez debacle, because Melido and Pascual Perez prided themselves on being brothers who have thrown no-hitters even though both did it in rain shorted games [Melido in six, Pascual in five]), Major League Baseball decided to step in with one of the silliest and most unnecessary rule corrections in sports history.
MLB decided that in order to be credited with a "no-hitter," a pitcher (or group of pitchers) must pitch a “full” game. Ostensibly, this makes sense; no five-inning freebies. Indeed, how do you think Curt Schilling, who came one out away from a no-hitter last summer, would feel about Melido Perez getting a “no-hitter” on his resume, while Schilling, who went 8 and 2/3 innings without giving up a hit, does not get credit? Or how about Mike Mussina, who was once one pitch away from a perfect game?
But then the MLB went too far – not only must the pitcher (or group of pitchers) play a “full” game, but they must pitch at least nine innings as well. Thus, if a pitcher pitches eight innings on the road and his team loses, he can’t have a complete game, even though the game was full. But this is an unnecessary qualification of the rule. Never has it been said that a pitcher who pitches eight innings and loses is pitching less than a full game or, more specifically, a complete game, like Roy Halladay did on April 23rd of this year in Texas, when he went eight innings, gave up five runs, and lost in Texas. He was credited with a complete game.
This creates a logical paradox – how can a pitcher be credited with a complete game but not have pitched a full game by "no-hitter" standards. It just doesn’t make sense.
The other logical fallacy behind this rule is that a “no-hitter” isn’t a statistic, it is an accomplishment. We never talk about which player led the league in no-hitters at the end of the year. The number of no-hitters a team pitched is not part of any tie-breaking schematic for determining who goes to the playoffs. A “no-hitter” is just a name we have given to certain accomplishment, and to step in post-hoc and add regulations to the accomplishment is, for lack of a better word, kind of petty.
And this is unfortunate, because this is very much against the spirit of the baseball. Unlike the other sports, baseball doesn’t regulate its field of play so that every stadium has the same dimensions. It doesn’t require that every game be played in every season – if a team can’t make up a missed game, and the missed game won’t affect the pennant race, the game isn’t made up. More relevantly, unlike football, basketball, or hockey in which a team with no chance of winning the game must play out the final period/minute/seconds of the game, baseball says, “Hey, if the team in the lead bats last, we don’t waste out time by playing the bottom of the ninth inning.” Seems kind of silly to rigidly adhere to a strict construction of the concept of a “no-hitter” and then deny pitchers the opportunity to accomplish the no-hitter because of a rule which is symbolic of the spirit of baseball.
Perhaps the rule regarding completing games should be similar to the rule regarding completing a schedule. Maybe the rule should be thus: If that last half of the inning is important – i.e. a pitcher is going for a no-hitter, a batter has a hitting streak on the line and is due up in the inning, a pitcher with 18 strikeouts or a hitter with three homeruns want to chase history – then we should play the inning. Otherwise. we don’t. Doesn’t seem fair to not play the inning and then cheat a guy out of an accomplishment because he didn’t.
I’ve been kind of racking my brain, trying to think of parallel rules that MLB could create that would be as dumb as this one. For example:
Say a guy has an errorless games streak going, and he comes out of the game in the fifth inning for a pinch hitter. Is his streak over? What if Major League Baseball passed a rule that said any errorless games streak requires the player to play every inning of each game in order to not short change his way to an “errorless game.”
What if Major League Baseball suddenly decided that a homerun wasn’t a “homerun” unless the ball left the park? You still get the hit, the run, and the RBI, but it can’t be a “homerun” unless the ball actually leaves the yard.
And an intentional walk is no longer counted as a “base on balls.” You still get the base, but it doesn’t count as a base on balls unless the pitcher was actually trying to pitch to you.
And if a batter strikes out looking, he still has to go sit down, but the pitcher doesn’t get a strikeout. A strikeout can only occur if the batter tried to hit the ball.
And why stop at “no-hitters”? We constantly say that a pitcher who limits the other team to three hits pitched a “three-hitter.” Why not also make a rule that says you can’t have pitched a “three hitter” unless you pitched all nine innings?
We call left-handed pitchers “southpaws,” because traditionally, ballparks are aligned with home plate facing east, so the sun won’t be in the batters' eyes as it sets. Well, what if a domed stadium, for which such things are not a concern, is not so aligned? Perhaps Major League Baseball should pass a rule which states that a left-hander can’t be called a “southpaw” unless the stadium is traditionally aligned.
Frankly, if you are going to add a strict definition to the term “no-hitter,” you may as well start strictly defining things like “diving catch,” “good throw,” “line drive,” “slide,” and “a nice day for a ball game.”
Picture it – “Wait a minute; I’m not sure this is a ‘nice’ day for a ball game.”
“Well, let’s see: is the temperature 82 degrees? No, it’s 85 degrees. Is the wind gently blowing out towards the outfield? No, it’s blowing from first base to third base. Is it sunny with the occasional cloud to provide relief from the glare from time to time? No, there’s not a cloud in the sky.”
“Okay, it’s settled – it is not a ‘nice day for a ball game.’ It is a ‘fair day for a game, with a chance to cool off in the later innings.’ Glad we cleared that up. Go update the stats.”
At the end of the day, I think we can all agree that baseball is a game of nuance, of subtlety, and of rules that are logical rather than rigid. The infield fly rule, the bunt foul for strike three rule, the wild pitch on strike three rule, tagging up – these are all rules that strictly speaking, don't make sense, but logic requires them in order to keep the game in balance. But we don't need a rule defining the "no-hitter." Neither logic, nor the balance of the game, demand it.
I think we would rather be able to call a complete game in which a pitcher does not give up any hits a “no-hitter,” even if pitcher didn’t pitch nine full innings. This is especially true where the game itself is full, and the pitcher doesn’t get the opportunity to go nine simply because his team is behind. This rule has to make us all ask, “why be so rigid?” And frankly, giving a guy a complete game but not a no-hitter for an eight-inning no-hit performance is at best odd and at worst a bit tacky.
For a list of all major league no-hitters, including the shortened ones, Go here.
Questions? Concerns? Comments? Asher lives in Philadelphia, PA, and can be reached at email@example.com.