Rickie Weeks made a huge mistake during Wednesday’s game against the Nationals. The Brewers led 4-1 in the top of the eighth. There was one out with Aramis Ramirez on third, Rickie Weeks on first, and Sean Halton dug into the batter’s box. Halton crushed a 1-2 pitch into deep center, which was caught on the warning track. The sacrifice fly would be an important insurance run and prompt response to the Nationals’ run scored in the bottom of the seventh. Except the run didn’t score. What resulted was a bizarre series of events that resulted in a TOOTBLAN (Thrown Out On The Basepaths Like A Nincompoop) and highlighted two problems that have haunted the Brewers – over-eagerness on the base paths and a lack of sound fundamentals.
After Halton’s loud out to center was caught, FS Wisconsin showed Aramis Ramirez jogging home slower than molasses. I knew Halton’s fly ball was deep but Ramirez’s lack of urgency shocked me. Then the broadcast cut to a wide shot of the infield and Rock’s incensed call filled in the blanks. Rickie Weeks, thinking there were two outs, had taken off from first when the ball was hit. Realizing his mistake, Weeks raced around second and scampered back to first, but the ball beat him. The double play ended the inning. The run didn’t score. And, from the Brewers’ broadcast booth, Rock worried that this mental lapse by Weeks, and loss of a run, might energize the Nationals’ team into making a comeback.
Fortunately, the lost run didn’t come back to haunt the Brewers, who held on to win 4-1. While Weeks earned an earful of anger for his little league mistake, most people, myself included, didn’t realize that Aramis Ramirez was just as responsible for the lost run as Weeks. After the game, Todd Rosiak of the Journal Sentinel wrote about the play and revealed that the run would have counted if Ramirez had simply crossed home plate prior to Weeks getting called out at first. After the game, Ramirez told Rosiak –
“I thought that double play, automatically the run don’t count. I had no idea. I don’t think anybody knew. I was trying to get Rickie’s attention to get back. It was a weird play.”
A surprising confession from Ramirez, a 16-year MLB veteran who’s been playing baseball at the highest level since he was 20. Then again, maybe Ramirez’s misunderstanding of the rules shouldn’t be so unexpected.
In mid-June, Jayson Stark wrote a piece — Do We Really Know Baseball’s Rules? – that broached this subject. He put together a ten question, true or false quiz that would test anyone’s understanding of the “nuances” of the game. (If you want to take the quiz, which I highly recommend, do so before reading Stark’s article in its entirety, as he delves into details behind some of the questions near the end.)
Amazingly, Stark’s quiz highlighted the extent to which baseball’s rules are strange and convoluted. Twenty players took the quiz. They averaged a score of 5.5 right out of ten. Four coaches and one manager averaged 6.5 correct answers. Finally, seven members of the baseball media took the quiz and averaged 4.4 right answers. Those outcomes would make for respectable batting averages but, instead, showed a lack of understanding of the game’s finer points. (Full disclosure — I only got four questions right.)
Of course, Weeks not knowing how many outs there are is an unforgivable error that has nothing to do with the rules of the game. That was simply an issue of bad situational awareness. But Ramirez could have helped Weeks save face, not by knowing the rule, but by following the old baseball axiom of running hard until the play is over. All those baseball clichés were coined for a reason. They create a shorthand that helps players learn to navigate the intricacies of the game. This way coaches only need to teach young ballplayers situational awareness and a handful of clichés instead of handing out MLB’s 132-page rulebook.
Two days before Weeks and Ramirez cost the Brewers a run, the Blue Jays Single-A team, the Lansing Lugnuts, lost a game in which they had a walk-off hit. Deadspin posted a video of the play that should have ended it all. The bases were loaded with two outs, in a tie game, when the batter smacked a single up the middle. The Lugnuts stormed the field and scrummed the batter as he rounded first. The runner on first base decided to join the celebration instead of advancing to second. The opposing team’s center fielder simply threw the ball to second to record a force out and erase the run scored. The video ends abruptly when it swung away from the celebration to see the umpires and opposing coach gathering at home plate. The umpires made the correct call and didn’t count the run. The teams played on and the Lugnuts lost 5-4 in ten innings.
In most cases, a run doesn’t count if a force out ends an inning. Otherwise, we’d see players running hard from third on double play balls with the bases loaded and one out. So Ramirez was not out of line in assuming his actions didn’t matter during the double play on Wednesday. Most of the time, his run wouldn’t count when a force out ends an inning. It’s just that, for what was probably the first time in his long career, Ramirez found himself in a one in a million situation. This was the exception to the rule. Buried deep within the part of the rule book that never sees the light of day.
In the end, we all learned something new and, at least, it didn’t cost the Brewers the win. The fact that Ramirez, a 16-year MLB veteran, is still learning new aspects of the game is further proof of one thing. If anyone says that baseball is boring because nothing happens, then they clearly have no idea what they’re talking about. Because baseball has a rule to deal with anything and everything that might happen.