The Canada, Mexico brawl in the WBC, and the stupidity of unwritten rules


There was a fracas in the World Baseball Classic. Let's explore the reasons for the fracas.

There's a subset of baseball fans who like to complain loudly about how little they care about the World Baseball Classic, and they're like the people who tell you they don't own a TV within the first five minutes of meeting you. It's one thing to be disinterested. It's another to be actively offended by the very presence of the WBC.

And one of the major complaints among that subset is that the WBC is nothing but March baseball with a fancy title -- a series of meaningless exhibition games that even the players don't care about.

I think they care! I think they really, really care! It's not like you needed a brawl to know that. Not every active player cares enough to put the WBC ahead of their major-league career. But every player in the WBC cares enough to make it feel like important baseball.

When players care, baseball becomes exciting. It's a welcome sight in March, when we're used to pitchers working on new pitches and Double-A hitters hitting against non-roster invitees. But when players care, they also care about the stupid parts of baseball. And as much as I believe that baseball is the best sport ever invented, there are some stupid parts. Let's let Jose Bautista explain the stupid part that's on our minds today:

"I’m not buying the fact that teams are bunting when they’re up by six because of the rules of the WBC," Bautista told reporters Sunday morning.

That donnybrook up there? That was because Chris Robinson bunted when Canada was up 9-3, and Mexico found that a little hard to handle. Bunting with a six-run lead? Why, that's the same as making an obscene gesture at the wife of an opposing player. Or so the unwritten rules would have you believe.

When you read the unwritten footnotes, you'll know that the transgressions get worse as the lead increases. Bunting with a six-run lead is bad, like tearing a picture of the Pope on Saturday Night Live. Doing it with a nine-run lead is like licking the Pope's burger before you bring it out of the kitchen. You don't want to know what a 10-run lead is like, only that it involves a burro and Cool Whip.

And it's just so stupid.

The WBC shouldn't even count. Run differentials are used for tiebreakers. Of course teams are going to run up the score. It's written into the rules that they should. What, after all of the effort and hard work they put in, team Canada should be prepared to lose a tiebreaker because they're worried about Luis Cruz's feelings? Ludicrous.

But forget about the WBC's rules and apply the situation to a regular-season game. Six runs up, ninth inning, and the opposing hitter lays down a bunt with the infield back. Which of these options seems like a better way to save face:

  1. Pick up the ball and try to throw the runner out. If you don't get him, say "Aw, raspberries. Today sure hasn't been a lot of fun."
  2. Act like the bunt was a crime against god, family, and country.

This isn't a new debate. You've never heard an intelligent argument for the latter. The argument for people playing the game as it's normally played is simple: There's no clock. Remember the part about baseball being better than other sports? There's no clock. That's one of the reasons. If you need evidence of why this makes baseball beautiful, enjoy one of the better Flash-based baseball creations in Internet history. There's no clock. Every out is sacred, as baseball historian Michael Pain once reminded us.

Don't want teams stealing or bunting on you with a nine-run lead? Throw them out. Be better at baseball. And if you do, take an extra second to stare the runner down as he returns to the dugout. Make an extra-demonstrative fist pump. Pretend that you just rolled a strike in league play and dance like John Turturro. If you don't throw the runner out, resolve to be better at baseball when it comes to throwing runners out.

In a game without a clock, getting upset about another team trying is just bizarre. If the unwritten corollary to the unwritten rule is that teams down by a substantial margin shouldn't try to score themselves, maybe the unwritten rule makes sense. That is not the corollary. So the unwritten rule doesn't make sense.

Baseball's a beautiful game. One of the teams saying, "HEY YOU STOP TRYING TO SCORE HOW DARE YOU" is not beautiful. It's time to retire the unwritten stop-trying-when-you're-up-by-(undetermined-amount) rule. There's no point. I'm not sure there ever was.

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