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Defensive indifference is dumb, and teams should feel bad for practicing it

Plus Bartolo Colon has a new tattoo, and umpires won’t stop getting in the way.

Chicago Cubs v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

The regular season is almost over. Soon, we’ll be in the postseason, which is a strange time when everyone is actually watching the same baseball games. There will be a shared conversation about baseball, and it’s always a jarring and welcome change. My curatorial services won’t be necessary, but the upside is that baseball will be more fun to follow.

Does this mean that if you’re reading this column, that baseball is less fun to follow, by definition?

It would appear so.

Look, man, I’m trying.

But just because the season is winding down, that doesn’t mean that there wasn’t dumb, beautiful baseball. Because, friends, there most certainly was some of that. And we begin with the same plea, which is to ...

Let us study this baseball thing

Earlier in the season, I opined that the dropped-third-strike rule was the worst rule in sports. What I found out is that a lot of people out there truly, deeply care about the dropped-third-strike rule. Not only was this surprising to me, but it allowed me to create a watchlist that I plan on turning over to the authorities. You people are freaks, and you should be ashamed of yourselves.

However, I have a nit to pick with the second-worst rule in sports, which is ...

Rule 9.07(g)

The official scorer shall not score a stolen base when a runner advances solely because of the defensive team’s indifference to the runner’s advance. The official scorer shall score such a play as a fielder’s choice.

It’s an ambiguous rule that requires the scorer to determine intent, but that’s not the biggest problem with it. For the most part, it’s pretty easy to calls ‘em as you sees ‘em: When the infielders don’t bother to cover and the catcher doesn’t bother to throw, it’s pretty clearly a case of defensive indifference.

Here’s the thing, though: The defensively indifferent team doesn’t announce when they’re unconcerned with a runner swiping a base.


The runner has to assume they’re not going to care. Because, in theory, there’s always a chance of humiliation.

Computer: Show me the Diamondbacks’ entire month of September, distilled into one play.

It’s dumb and beautiful, and, well, that’s exactly the brand we’re going for here. And it’s proof that there isn’t anything known as “defensive indifference” from the runner’s perspective. The guy who doesn’t want to be thrown out while down by a bunch had better scoot. Which means that if he makes it, he should be credited for a stolen base. Especially if he’s on my fantasy team.

I hate that rule, but not enough to ever write about it again. Feels good to get it off my chest.

But I would like to focus on the baseball part of this baseball play. When Paul Goldschmidt was thrown out, the Diamondbacks were down 5-1 with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. Stealing second while losing by a bunch is an attempt to capitalize on an extremely specific situation that isn’t likely to happen: a force play in the field where an out at first is impossible, but a play at second is not. So while I get the strategy, when a runner steals second with two outs in the ninth inning, down 5-1, his team’s win expectancy moves from one percent to ... one percent. You had better be damned sure that the other team is indifferent.

My suggestion for the teams with a lead? Stop being so damned indifferent. Try to throw the runner out! Have fun! Throw it with your left arm if you want! The worst that can happen is that the run scores, but it can’t be that important of a run if you were indifferent in the first place.

The point is there’s a significantly higher than non-zero chance of ending the game right then and there. Every subsequent pitch increases the odds of calamity. A rally, an injury ... heck, letting the runner go to second uncontested might even affect the ERA of the pitcher, who could want shinier numbers for his arbitration hearing. Just try to make the baseball play, and maybe you’ll end the stupid game.

The odds are higher of ending the game than they are for the base stealer to help his team win. The only argument for it is that you want the pitcher to focus on the hitter and not get distracted, but I find that to be weak logic. Major league pitchers should know how to chew gum and walk at the same time, and they’ll be the first to tell you that.

Death to defensive indifference as a scoring decision.

Death to defensive indifference as a concept.

Join my meaningless revolution.

Unless you’re indifferent. Which I totally get.

This week in Umpires Definitely Read My Column

Last week, I urged umpires to become a part of the on-field action beyond the outs and balls and strikes. They should become the Ump Show we’ve always suspected they’ve wanted to be.

Think about it. Umpires getting involved in the games like they were wrestling refs, inserting themselves in crucial moments, tackling players and tripping them, making sure that the narrative couldn’t move on until they personally approved. I’m not saying this should happen on every play.

Just a couple of them every year.

Literally seven hours later:

I have definitely been on the radio or TV while absent-mindedly scrolling through Twitter and chuckling to myself when David Roth uses words like “torpid pile of soggy Mallomars” to describe an awful person, then realizing that “AHHHH I’M LIVE, WAIT, WAIT, WAIT, I’M BACK, I’M PAYING ATTENTION,” so I’m no angel when it comes to doing my job.

Except Lance Barrett doesn’t have the built-in excuse of having a computer in front of him. He’s just sorta ... in the middle of everything, thinking about Handmaid’s Tale. I’ve never seen anything like it.

The rarity makes you appreciate how good umpires usually are at not doing this. If, one day, you find yourself watching a meaningless soccer, hockey, or football game, I suggest you watch the choreography of the referees. It is absolutely balletic, and it takes the fast-moving sports to appreciate it fully. Umpires have to figure out the choreography, too, but it’s a lot more subtle.

Anyway, to the larger point, I’m very pleased that umpires might be listening to me, but I’ll need a sign to make sure. If there’s a working umpire who wants to secretly let me know that they’re on board with my suggestion, please call a balk with nobody on base. It will seem weird to everyone there, but they’d all forget it after a few minutes.

I would know, though. And I would appreciate the confirmation.

Bartolo Colon is 45, and he got a badass new tattoo of St. Michael smiting a demon with the scales of justice, so I’ve decided that I’m not too washed to get one of Charlie Brown losing his socks on a line drive up the middle

I don’t have anything to add to the header, except a call for your love and support in this decision.

Baseball picture of the week

I try not to repeat the themes for this section. It’s not like I’ll ignore a beautiful picture of someone robbing a home run just because I lauded one earlier, but the bar will move higher for the next one.

This comes up now because I want you to know that I’m paying attention to this stuff. And believe me when I tell you that catchers who react to a home run like Ralph Wiggum getting rejected by Lisa on live TV is a sorely neglected genre.

MLB: Chicago White Sox at Cleveland Indians David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

You don’t need to know where the baseball is. It is far, far away. A picture that can give you that much information about something that’s out of frame is, by definition, a quality picture.

I mean, I guess Kevan Smith might have been about to throw up and Jason Kipnis might have been looking as the grounds crew was chasing a raccoon out in right field, so it’s not proof that there is an ex-baseball about 450 feet away. But you have a good idea.

The only thing wrong with this picture is that I might like this one better:

The ump and the crowd are nice touches, and I go back and forth. Kipnis’ home run was a walk-off grand slam, so the extra context is pretty cool. But if pressed, I’m going for the isolated catcher and batter. Here is the face of victory; here is the face of defeat. Here is success; here is failure.

My contract stipulates that I add this GIF to any section that deals with the disappointment of a catcher.

I am so, so sorry, Reds fans. Just know that it’s my contract that’s to blame, not me. I wouldn’t just keep bringing something up that’s six years old, just to lay it on thick. This is the last time it will come up, I promise.

Excuse for a Simpsons Reference


What Shohei Did

  1. Went 3-for-19
  2. Did not hit a dinger
  3. Postponed surgery for another week
  4. Sang “Despacito” in front of the whole Angels team

One of the best surprises of the year is just how fun Ohtani is. He just so happens to play for a team that is always reminding us that superstars don’t have to be a gregarious ball of unending mirth and fun. Some of them just play baseball, and that’s fine. That’s the first part of the job description, and it’s probably one of the last, too.

But it’s always more fun to have a player who’s ... more fun. By all accounts, Ohtani is a fun, well-liked teammate who isn’t above surprising us with a serenade or two. It doesn’t hurt that he’s willing to go along with the occasional moment of clubhouse chicanery.

MLB: Los Angeles Angels at Detroit Tigers Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Now if he could, uh, just get that elbow fixed and let us have nice things, that would be swell. Until then, though, let’s appreciate that Ohtani has a personality, and we haven’t scratched the surface of it.

This week in McGwire/Sosa

22 AB this week
487 AB for the season

3 HR this week
65 HR for the season

.364/.500/.864 this week
.294/.468/.737 for the season

31 AB this week
616 AB for the season

1 HR this week
61 for the season

.129/.156/.258 this week
.305/.373/.642 for the season

One thing that’s easy to forget about the chase is that even after the record was broken, there was still a chance that Sosa would re-break it. That moment of delirium — what with McGwire having to go back and touch first base, and all — would have been immediately superseded by another home run, one that didn’t come with weighty anticipation and a predictable release. If Sosa had hit no. 65 before McGwire did, putting him in the lead and giving him the temporary record, there would have been a true sense of excitement, of course.

But it would have been a much different sense of excitement, one that came with more mystery than closure.

Sosa slumped and McGwire stayed as hot as ever, so it was a moot point. But I always wonder what would have happened if they leapfrogged each other for the final two weeks. Would it have been even more fun? Perhaps.

Spoonerism of the week

Last week, we focused on the best MVP spoonerisms. This week, we’re looking at the Cy Youngs, and, yes, I am aware of Catfish Hunter. Through your tweets, and through talks with Human Resources. His name shall not come up.

As you would expect, there are more than a couple solid runners-up. Kandy Soufax had three tracks in the Billboard Top 100, but was unfairly pigeonholed as “club music” and never broke out in the mainstream. D.A. Rickey isn’t going to let these hoodlums get away with their crimes. And I’m forever feeling bad for our dear, dear Rutcliffe, who is quite Sick. I fear he has a touch of dropsy.

However, with apologies to Follie Ringers and Larky Spyle, I’m going to have to go with Paylord Gerry, notorious crime boss. The people who crossed him and came out the other side with fewer fingers? They’re the lucky ones.

He would also spit on people. Like, a lot.

I don’t know why you would mess with Paylord Gerry.