baseball rules - ever checked for consitency?

last week we had a discussion about baseball rules, and there was never a firm conclusion. Well, there was, but one guy seems to have some experience in the baseball rules community and didn’t get the weird special case. We await comments from MLB.

Hey I am just a fan, so what do I know? Maybe there really are 2 ways to interpret this edge case.

But I am also an engineer who has devoted his professional life to breaking down situations and presenting them as a series of rules or other components, testable in the sense that we can be sure each situation is covered once and only once.

It occurred to me that I don’t know if the baseball rules, by MLB or any other sanctioning organization, have been checked for completeness, in that they cover every conceivable situation, and uniqueness, in that each situation is covered once and only once by the rules.

Have they been so checked?

If so, can you point me to the records of it, and preferably the rules before and after?

Are there known cases where the rules can be applied to a single feasible situation in multiple conflicting ways?

I’ve been spending the last few minutes looking at the rulebook that’s available MLB’s website, and nothing jumped out at me. I think that, like any other sport, the rules are constantly evolving and it’s almost impossible to cover every single bizarre scenario that could happen. For instance, I’m thinking that prior to the bird getting hit by Randy Johnson’s pitch, there weren’t rules in place that govern what happens when a foreign object interferes with a pitch that has already been thrown (I still can’t find what the rule is now, however). That’s only a guess, though, and I’m sure that they do their best to make the rules as broad as possible to cover such instances, but, even in spite of that, I’m sure some imaginative person could create a hypothetical for which there isn’t a clear-cut rule.

Didn’t you used to be able to steal bases behind you, and they added a rule to prevent “a mockery of the game” or somesuch?

Well, I am not saying that the rules don’t change or evolve. They date back to games from teh 18th century. That is enough time to do an analysis.

The Randy Johnson bird example is a good one. Any computer programmer, software tester or software analyst (among other professions too) is perfectly capable of reading the rules and sussing out such edge cases.

For example, somewhere it must say in essence, the pitcher must pitch the ball. I would ask (having been trained in the above professions) what happens if the ball never arrives. Someone not so trained might say - of course if he throws it, it must arrive by the laws of physics. then you look for a counter example - it hits something in flight - what? a bird ? Or maybe he doesn’t throw it with sufficient force to ever reach the plate.

Even before the internet, it would be easy and relatively cheap for MLB to hire someone to prepare a list of edge cases and see if there is a rule or not.

In the case I mentioned above for the other thread, it was important - the issue was if a run scores or not in a particular situation when the third out occurs on the play. Common sense says no, but the rules as written appear to read yes. One holdout insisted the rules, when interpreted using different supporting logic says no.

Giving the second case the benefit of the doubt, a game can hang in the balance, and who gets to decide? The ump? Which ump? Is there a rule that specifies that all matters not otherwise covered in the rulebooks are subject to the judgment of the umps, and the ump’s ruling is final? That is pretty arbitrary and hardly necessary, if only an effort is made, over the course of 130 years or so of major league baseball to make sure the rules are both complete and consistent. There is a rules committee after all.

Do you really think that being an engineer or programmer means you can predict everything that will ever happen on a baseball diamond? I mean, I don’t see why baseball would be any different from any other human endeavor in this regard. If this is really possible, coming up with a thorough and complete set of instructions about what to do in every contingency, shouldn’t we just rewrite criminal and constitutional laws based on the same policy and be done with it?

And if you aren’t saying the rules don’t change or evolve, what exactly are you saying? They used to need to evolve but they don’t anymore?

Yes, there is.


The crew chief.

You can’t think of everything in advance. Saying that they should have considered the possibility that a pitch would strike a bird is unfair. How many times has it happened in the entire history of baseball? Once. Do you know how many different things can possibly happen just once? You’ll have a 1,000 page rule book for these things, and the vast majority will never happen.

Having the umpire be the final authority is exactly the right way to go, in these bizarre situations he makes the best decision he can in the spirit of keeping the game fair.

Uh no. Not all such engineers have sufficient skills, like any profession, but many many of them do just this in other areas every single day.

Because it is a game - a closed system. Tic tac toe is a simple example where the rules are both complete and consistent. So is chess, and checkers. No reason baseball can;'t be checked the same way.

Not that politics has anything to do with games, but yeah, our laws presumably do cover every situation already - the Constitution says (more or less) what is not covered here is left to the states, and at both Federal and State levels we have a judiciary to decide questions of interpretation, and we have legislative functions to add or refine as needed. IOW, in any case, the rules are clear as to whose responsibility (sometimes it is joint of course) to handle any situation that arises.

I am saying they do change and evolve, that the mechanism is in place to do a study such as a I suggest if it hasn’t been done already, and to consider and implement the recommendations.

Just as an example, the software that runs this forum is far more complex than the rules of baseball, and it would not work at all unless exactly the sort of study and testing I am suggesting is done. Any edge case that could actually arise is considered, and if it is not covered in the code, it would be a bug to be fixed, not evidence of the impossibility of checking for it.

My gut feeling is that the bulk of the rules are fine. Otherwise we could not have games played at all levels around the world the way that they are.

But I was surprised by the case we found last week, and the seemingly different conclusions based on different sections of the rulebook, even after more than 100 years.

The rules do contemplate the particular edge case that we were discussing. It looks like that was added at some point later. But it is less than clear as to the result, and it is also less than clear that at the time it was added, that other rules that might affect that situation were revised to make sure they were aligned with the new rule.

That made me wonder - does anyone check for that sort of thing is all.

[quote=“Cheesesteak, post:8, topic:495395”]

Yup.The crew chief.


Makes sense. But what spirit does he have to rule by if there is no rule?

It is not unfair to suggest that in a game based on physics, if a pitcher is required to throw the ball to the plate, to ask what happens if the ball doesn’t arrive.

As I said, maybe he doesn’t throw it with enough force. The ball squirts out of his hand for instance. Or Dave Dravecky breaks his arm while throwing. Or Randy Johnson hits a bird. You don’t have to enumerate the reasons why it doesn’t get to the plate, only address that it might not get there.

No different from new ground rules when the first domed stadium opened - for the first time perhaps, it was feasible for a ball to hit part of the structure in fair territory and ricochet. Someone had to sit down and think of what to do, it is not that hard. And it has a basis in the existing rules such as when a ball hits the base or an ump in fair territory.

So far, more than 755 home runs :slight_smile:

No you won’t, you just put clearer language in the existing rules. For the case of a pitch not arriving, you don’t care why, you either call it a balk, a dead ball, a ball, a live ball, etc. No big deal, whichever it is. We already cover the minutiae of pitching in the rules, this would not be any more complex than that.

So in the case of the other thread, the rules support either interpretation for if a run is counted or not, how is the ump to decide?

My own feeling in that case was that the rules are sufficiently clear, the run does score. Others felt otherwise, so while we await ruling from the MLB rules email address, let’s just assume that is one example.

My question here is, have the rules ever been checked for completeness and consistency?

The spirit of fairness and good sportsmanship. I hope that doesn’t require further explanation.

IMO, engineering has nothing to do with it. All it takes is imagination.

[ol][li]While a play is in progress, there’s an earthquake and the lights go out.[/li][li]Batted ball is snared in flight by passing Osprey, who takes it over the fence, then drops it.[/li][li]Roy Hobbs knocks the cover off of it.[/li][li]Siamese twins – one player or two?[/li][li]Man with three arms – allowed to wear two gloves?[/li][li]Now playing catcher: Moko the Chimp.[/li][li]Team hires Alyssa Milano as first-base coach. When one of her exes is pitching, she distracts him by talking loudly and unflatteringly about his penis size and sexual performance, and how much better the batter is. Legal?[/ol][/li]If your engineering background makes you better able to predict possible-but-unlikely scenarios, please provide examples.

On the one hand, you’re talking about general catch-all rules, which do exist already.

On the other, you’re talking about stuff like a pitch exploding a bird. In a freak case like that, there’s already a rule - the umpire decides what just happened. It seems to me that what you’re saying is that isn’t good enough, they should already have a rule about what happens if a pitch explodes a bird or gets shot by a sniper or a hurricane carries it over the left field wall, which is a different question from whether adequate gap-filling provisions are in place, and which calls for perfect recall of all events, past and present, and which is exactly the reason that “politics and games” have plenty to do with each other in this context. Shit happens. It isn’t always the shit you thought could happen.

But what you’re saying you’re saying is, have the rules been checked – and the answer is yes, they have a committee for that, and obviously they feel the rules cover all the contingencies as well as possible. But shit happens, and it isn’t clear whether (or why not) you accept that as a general principle.

Another way to say the same thing is, why don’t you read the rules and decide what isn’t in there, and then you’ll have the answer to your question.

There is no such thing as a ruleset which can cover every single eventuality, without a ‘if something weird happens, default to this’ section.

For baseball ‘let the ump decide’ is the default fallback position.

I am sure the rule already exists for if the lights go out - it is probably a local ground rule everywhere. Happens fairly often. Probably, ball remains in play until there is a dead ball, then the game is halted until situations improve.

Same for an earthquake, which probably happens routinely in the Bay Area, or possibly LA too. If the damage on the field itself prevents play, then stop at the first dead ball. If safety in the stands is a concern, for whatever reasons, then halt the game until safety is improved.

Note that the rules already cover what to do when a game is suspended. It doesn’t matter the myriad of possible reasons why it was suspended, just that it was.

Covered by existing (ground) rules regarding balls striking various things in fair territory - the field, the base, the wall, the ump, the players, and having its trajectory altered. No big deal.

A rule simply would state that a ball has to start a play (e.g. be pitched) in a certain condition, how it ends up is a separate matter. If the ball’s cover is gone, then call it a dead ball and runners take the base they are headed to, or some such thing. Again, no big deal.

I don’t believe the rules specify the number of appendages. We have had Mordecai Brown and Jim Abbot.

Of course we also had Eddie Gaedel too, and the rules were changed for that.

Are you suggesting that the existing rules don’t cover the number of gloves allowed or various features of them already?

[li]Team hires Alyssa Milano as first-base coach. When one of her exes is pitching, she distracts him by talking loudly and unflatteringly about his penis size and sexual performance, and how much better the batter is. Legal?[/ol][/li]
She can say whatever she wants. I doubt there are written rules about what a coach can say or not. Who cares if she wanted a pitcher, but instead got a belly itcher?

Not better, just experienced at such matters.

The situation from the other thread was this (and I don’t want to debate it here again):

  • 2 outs, 2 strikes, runner at third.
  • runner takes off from third stealing home.
  • runner safely tags the plate before the pitch arrives
  • the pitch does not hit the runner at all
  • the catcher handles the ball cleanly for strike 3, out 3.

Run score or not?

Common sense of course says no. That was my original answer. But on reading the rules as written, there is a strong case to be made that the answer is yes, the run counts.

That may not be the intended ruling, but it does appear to be the rules as they exist. The rules specifically deal with variations of this play at the plate, changing the strike count, and the out count, and whether or not the runner is hit by the pitch, and if so, where is he hit (In the strike zone or not).

Will my scenario ever happen? Very rarely if at all, just by the physics and strategy of the modern game in MLB. Maybe in lower leagues or even hs or little league if they incorporate the same rule though. Despite the rarity of it, it is in there, in all its glory.

Clearly someone put a lot of effort and imagination into this rule, incorporating many variations. But was it ever checked for completeness and consistency?

That is what led me to wonder about this. If this one rule seems to be incomplete and/or inconsistent, what about the others?

But in the case of baseball, it is certainly possible to identify and address any gaps that might exist in the rules. There are not that many rules really, google mlb baseball rules and you will see for yourself.

Also, is “let the ump decide” an actual rule? Is it final, or would a team have recourse, in theory at least, to appeal to the commissioner or league? Not saying they won’t get a rubber stamp there, but what are the actual rules?

I was not asking for your explantions to my absurd hypotheticals. I was

  1. Pointing out that I, who do not have any engineering background, could in 5 minutes come up with a few ridiculous examples of things the rules do not account for. By your responses, you seem to agree that at least a couple of my scenarios are not currently covered by the rule book. I submit that given time, any imaginative person could come up with a hundred such bizarre scenarios.

  2. I was requesting that since you are an engineering major, you submit some examples of the kinds of thinking done by “any computer programmer, software tester or software analyst (among other professions too)” but not the rest of us mopes. IOW, put up some examples of your asserted expertise.

Upon reflection: you err in thinking that baseball is a “closed system.” As I understand the term, it does not apply to baseball. The rules are a closed system, perhaps … but the game itself is played in the actual, physical world with all its attendant frictions. There are a hundred things that can intrude, from Alyssa Milano’s boobies to a low-flying seagull. Nobody can account for all of them.

I am not - someone else brought that up.

Maybe this is the differnece between an engineer and a non-engineer.

Non-engineer: Pitch could hit bird. Bird can be any of 1 million species. We need 1 million rules to cover it.

Engineer: Pitcher must throw ball to plate. There is a time gap between the time it leaves his hand and the time it arrives. Shit happens, shit that you can’t enumerate all of. But what happens if said shit happens and the ball doesn’t arrive at the plate. You need one rule to cover it all.

See the difference? You don’t need to enumerate every possible reason that the ball doesn’t arrive, only that it does.

There are already some rules that address this - a pitch that ends up on the backstop for instance. Rick Ankiel anyone?

The reason the ball does not get there is not so important, only that it doesn’t. the choices for how to handle it are limited and well within the spirit and existing rules of the game.

It is not a freak case, and the other players have to be able to play as though they know what is going on. If runners for instance don’t know if the ball is live or not, then they don’t know how to proceed avoid getting tagged out because the pitch landed in the middle of the infield.

This doesn’t require a bird - a ball could simply slip from a pitcher’s hand or the pitcher could stumble or whatever. Or the pitcher could purposely throw the ball otherwise legally but with insufficient force to reach the plate as a strategic matter.

I am not saying that at all. Rather, to me, it seems that is your position. It is definitely not mine.

I don’t even know what you mean by “perfect recall”.

Of course there is a rules committee. But why is it obvious the rules have been checked? Where is the record of that?

Maybe it exists, that is what my original question is. If you know that they have been checked, please point me to the evidence.

How will reading the rules provide me with evidence that they have been checked or not? Even if they were checked, it doesn’t mean they didn’t err, or that any recommendations were implemented.

So let me ask you this then - again, I don’t want to get into a debate, but what is your common sense feeling about what the rules say in the scenario offered above (essentially, runner on third steals home on 2 strikes, arrives before pitch, batter strikes out. run scores or not?) I think you will feel as I did, that the answer is the run doesn’t score. But if you look at the rules governing this situation, you will find it is vague at worst - the run does score. And it is separate from the case where a runner crosses the plate on a routine ground out for the third out, but the rules.

But someone else made a weaker (IMHO) and maybe plausible case that under interpretation of yet another set of rules than I applied, the run does not score.

I am sure you will agree that nothing is so fundamental to the outcome of a game as to whether a run scored or not before the inning was over, and that the two teams will have good reason to insist on opposite approaches. The ump has no middle ground. The run scores or it doesn’t. You can’t split the difference. It behooves the rules committee to make sure such situations can not arise in the rules they themselves publish.

Yes. MLB Rule 9.01©: “Each umpire has authority to rule on any point not specifically covered in these rules.”

A team can appeal any application of the rules that they like, but when the game is over there is little opportunity for recourse. On very rare occasions, the Commissioner’s Office will rule the game resumed from the point of the dispute, but normally even successful appeals obtain nothing more than an apology.

Realist: If we have “one rule” to cover all possibilities, someone will exploit that rule to their advantage, then we need another rule to cover that. A more robust approach will have specific rules to cover normal game play, and allow the umpires who are the impartial rule keepers, to make intelligent choices for abnormal situations.