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The boring unwritten rules (and interesting written rules) of the Blue Jays-Royals fight

Home-plate umpire Jim Wolf was in an impossible situation on Sunday, and he was the best and worst at his job because of it.

Peter Llewellyn-USA TODAY Sports

No unwritten rules were broken in the Blue Jays-Royals fracas over the weekend. Check that: no interesting unwritten rules were broken. Everything was pretty standard. By which, we mean "dumb," but that's the fun of it. Josh Donaldson either stared at a home run a little too long on Saturday, or he was a little too comfortable with the inside of the plate. Maybe the Royals were just tired of Josh Donaldson; pitchers across the American League sure are.

Whatever the reason, Donaldson was plunked by Edinson Volquez on Sunday. Warnings were issued, and a Blue Jays pitcher hit a batter later in the game. Other stuff happened in between, which we'll get to. But the actual rumpus wasn't very interesting by baseball standards.

There probably isn't anything left to talk about, sorry.


Oh, son of a ... well, there's no way I'm reading any of those.

I mean, I kind of want to.

Can't look away.

They're all quietly whispering to me, just one click away. If you close your eyes and listen closely, you can often hear Internet comments rasping read from us and live forever. And they make a good point. Okay, I'll look at just a few of them.


And now I'm sterile. I guess that comment saved me a few co-pays, really.

What can people argue about so vehemently in this admittedly boring case? For starters, the post-game quotes were atypically amusing, with Volquez calling Donaldson a "baby" and Donaldson calling Volquez "good hittin'." After the game Yordano Ventura tweeted and deleted some tough tweets directed at Jose Bautista (who didn't respond to my DM in time for this article). So there were a few things to talk about.

Mostly, though, the comments were about the fracas, and they followed a familiar format ... with a twist.

Sports fan on the Internet: Here's how the player from my sports team is not responsible, and here's why the player on your sports team is a dingus.

Other sports fan on the Internet: I disagree. Player from your sports team is clearly the dingus, and quite frankly, I'm questioning your intelligence.

Sports fan on the Internet: Is that so? Well, maybe we should take this to the right side of the screen.

Other sports fan on the Internet: Maybe we should.

Sports fan on the Internet: And we'll get there slowly, one unnecessary comment at a time, each one bringing us closer to death.

Other sports fan on the Internet: As it always has been. As it always shall be.

Except! This one had a twist! Peppered throughout, you had detours like this:

Sports fan on the Internet: At least we can agree that the home-plate umpire was incompetent.

Other sports fan on the Internet: Oh, yeah. No arguments here.

It was almost heartwarming. No one was happy with home-plate umpire Jim Wolf, who a) issued a warning for the first Donaldson HBP, b) didn't eject anyone after Donaldson got buzzed with a nostril-high pitch, c) didn't eject anyone when Troy Tulowitzki was hit with a pitch in the seventh, d) didn't eject anyone when Donaldson was buzzed again that inning, and e) ejected Aaron Sanchez in the eighth after the first Royals HBP of the game. That's four different instances of a Royals pitcher coming inside, no ejections, and one instance of a Blue Jays pitcher coming inside, and he was immediately ejected.

Seems weird. Watch it for yourself:

Did you know that this is covered by the written rules? Especially when Donaldson was buzzed a second time.

Rule 6.02(c)(9) Comment (Rule 8.02(d) Comment )

To pitch at a batter’s head is unsportsmanlike and highly dangerous. It should be—and is—condemned by everybody. Umpires should act without hesitation in enforcement of this rule.

In which "this rule" is describing what happens after a warning:

... (the umpire) may warn the pitcher and the manager of both teams that another such pitch will result in the immediate expulsion of that pitcher (or a replacement) and the manager.

The unwritten rules aren't interesting in this case. It's the written rules, which tell umpires to use their best judgment, that are more interesting here. In Wolf's judgment, it was so clear that Donaldson was hit on purpose in the first, a preemptive warning was issued. It was a quick warning, the kind that bugs managers who think a quick plunk-for-plunk solves everything. But if Wolf thought things were chippy enough from previous games, he had the right to squelch the kerfuffle before it started.

Then he kind of sat on his hands for the rest of the game.

It was weird, considering how quick he was with the first warning. Here's the thing, though: I'm not sure if he was wrong with any of those subsequent judgment calls.

  • Was Volquez really so mad at Donaldson that he was going to risk ejection in the third inning of a close game? If so, why didn't he actually hit him after buzzing him around the head, if he had already committed to it? Probably not intentional, unless it he meant it in a move-him-off-the-plate kind of way, not a die-die-die kind of way.

  • Why would Ryan Madson wait until the seventh pitch of an at-bat, with a two-strike count and a runner on second in a close game, to hit someone who was never involved? Probably not intentional.

  • Madson's 2-2 pitch to Donaldson in the next at-bat was timed poorly, to say the least. It buzzed his face again, but the situation again suggests it was a pitch that got away. Two runners already on, in a game the Royals still thought they could win? That's not the place where pitchers want additional runners, especially if there's a risk of ejection behind it. Especially considering the Blue Jays never retaliated to that point. Probably not intentional.

  • Aaron Sanchez came in, waited until there were two outs and no one on, and plunked a Royal. Probably intentional, and he was tossed.

That's all subjective, of course. Your view might be different. But eyeballing it, I'm pretty sure that two pitchers in the game meant to hit a batter: Volquez in the first (warned) and Sanchez in the eighth (tossed). When it comes to intent, Wolf got it right.

Which brings us to the open-ended question at the end of an article: Do you prefer the umpires who don't like to think critically after issuing a warning, tossing pitchers and managers after the next HBP, regardless of the game situation? Or do you prefer the umpires who really try to figure out what's intentional and what isn't?


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The former can ruin baseball games, you know. Close game, late innings, a reliever comes inside on a hitter diving over the plate ... plunk, auto-eject, a new reliever and manager have to come in. The quick-toss alters the in-game strategy and the team's chances, and you've seen it happen. You've seen pitchers get tossed, even though they clearly didn't mean to hit a batter. These umpires lack nuance, and they don't care. They don't want nuance; they just want to make sure the HBPs stop. Edit: This exact scenario was happening at the same freaking time the Royals and Jays were beefing. Amazing.

The latter's umpiring philosophy, though, seems dangerous. By letting things get chippier and chippier, more players are in danger of getting hit with a ball. Sanchez kept the ball low, and good for him, but what if he missed high accidentally? Even worse, what if he were a macho weirdo who thought, "Well, they buzzed Donaldson's chin, so," and winged a ball at the batter's face?

The Jays-Royals set-to made me realize something, after decades of watching baseball, that I never thought about: I prefer the umpires who mindlessly toss pitchers out after a warning. It affects the pitcher's ability to throw inside and alters the game, but it stops the nonsense, usually. We got to see what happened when an umpire used his judgment, and even though it's likely that Wolf got each judgment call right, it ended up being more dangerous by the end of the game.

Grown men in pajamas threw projectiles and pushed each other around on Sunday, as is their strange custom. In this case, though, the umpire was more interesting. I think he got it right, and by doing so, he got everything so very wrong. Our only consolation is that we'll have the thoughts of a beautiful Jays-Royals ALCS to keep us warm when the Yankees and Angels are playing and annoying us all.

SB Nation video archives: Baseball's unwritten rules (2013)