In search of baseball's dumbest rule

Jim Rogash

Help us find the most pointless, silliest rule in the baseball rule books.

On Thursday night, the Mariners' interim manager, Robby Thompson, went to the mound to make a pitching change. He lifted one arm, then quickly realized he meant to raise the other arm. It was too late. By rule, he had to bring in the pitcher he originally signaled for.

This is a dumb rule.

When a manager wants to bring in a lefty, he has to make a move with his left hand or else. When he wants to bring in a righty, he has to make a move with his right hand or else. When he wants to bring in Pat Venditte, the rules quite literally say that the manager has to move his hips in a circular motion for three full minutes. The intent doesn't make a difference -- that he wants to deploy a specific pitcher for strategic purposes. The legalese matters more than the intent. It's like saying "We're going to the toy store today, wait, I mean tomorrow" to a 4-year-old and being bound by law to take the kid that very day.

Dumb rule. But probably not the dumbest! For example, once managers leave the mound, they turn into Moonlight Graham, unable to return. Unless they want to remove the pitcher. I can see that rule applying when they return to the dugout, or when they get as far away as the baseline. But leaving the mound? Dunno, seems pretty arbitrary.

There are all sorts of dumb rules in this beautiful game. Seventy-year-old men have to wear the same pajamas as the rest of the team if they want to manage. Runners already around second base have to return to second if the ball bounces over the fence. But when it comes to the title of dumbest, there are just a handful of contenders.

Contender #1: Making up unofficial rainouts

Mitch Moreland has hit two grand slams in his career. Here is a link to his one career grand slam. No, that doesn't make sense. But one of those grand slams didn't count because of rain. The Rangers played four innings, took a 7-0 lead, and then had to throw all of those stats away.

The Rangers did the same thing in the makeup game, so at least the loss of the phantom game wasn't that cruel. But Gio Gonzalez's ERA was spared, and Moreland's first grand slam really wasn't.

Why? Why not start the game where from where they left off? They didn't do it for the Pine Tar Game, and the universe didn't collapse. Instead, history is rewritten to play more baseball for no apparent reason.

Contender #2: Home-plate collisions

This is the easy winner for worst rule. But is it the dumbest? Not sure about that, because there is a scintilla of logic to the idea of the basepath belonging to the runner, which leaves him little other option. A lot of the dumbest rules seem like they were afterthoughts in a committee that wanted to end a 13-hour session so they could just get home. People will actually argue on the behalf of home-plate collisions. Even if they're bad people with bad opinions.

If you want more on home-plate collisions, there's all sorts of stuff for you. But I'm not sure if the collisions are dumb, or just awful. There's a distinction to be made, there.

Contender #3: Reaching base on a dropped third strike

When a pitcher throws a pitch that's so nasty the catcher can't handle it, the hitter is rewarded.

Or when a hitter swings at a pitch that's so awful it can't be caught, that hitter is rewarded.

Phrase it however you like, it makes no sense. It's like a basketball player airballing a three-pointer, but getting three points if he can touch the backboard before the ball bounces a second time. An NFL kicker getting two points if the defending team can't touch the ball first if it clangs off the upright.

This is easily my least favorite rule in baseball. It was invented before the automobile, but it deserved to die out shortly after. It's the most Calvinball, made-up-on-the-spot rule in the sport. I think it's the winner.

The rule that burned Thompson was dumb. But I don't think it can crack the top three. There's probably something I'm forgetting, so this is more of a request for crowd sourcing than an official manifesto. Baseball is the best sport. But it's imperfect. These dumb rules are a part of the reason.

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