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Though the Clayton Kershaw perfect-through-seven game somewhat buried it in the news cycle, a small controversy erupted -- again, unfortunately -- regarding the utter nonsense that are baseball's so-called "unwritten rules." The Giants had a huge lead, a Giants player bunted and the Padres were upset about it. The specifics are here, but do those really matter at this point? 

A succinct summary would be: 

  • One team is losing. 
  • Somewhere along the line, a bunch of "old school" baseball people decided the rules of decorum were that you have to stop trying at a certain point, otherwise it's bad sportsmanship.
  • No one can fully agree when you have to stop trying your best, but it's supposed to be assumed that we all know it when we see it. And if you don't know, you just "don't know the game."
  • This is all about professionals who are adults getting their feelings hurt, really. 

Thankfully, Giants manager Gabe Kapler put on his virtual cape to play superhero the following day in the dugout while talking to reporters. It is glorious. The best part is, he didn't mock, he didn't insult, he didn't condescend and he was completely respectful of the matter. That is, there shouldn't really be any avenue to argue against any aspect of this. 


Here's the full transcription for those who can't listen to the clip:

Everybody is competing on a Major League Baseball field. It doesn't make any sense how one part of the field stops competing and the other part of the field keeps competing. I can't think of a reason why that makes sense. The pitcher on the mound is trying to get you out, the batter at the plate stops competing with all the tools at his disposal? I've never quite understood it, I don't understand it now and I don't think that the best way to play this game is to take away any of your tools to be successful on a Major League Baseball field.

What's the threshold? One team thinks it's eight runs in the sixth inning. Another team thinks just keep going after it as long as you're early in the game. But there's no real cut off point. That's a tough place to be. I don't think that there should be any of that, personally, clearly, but at the same time I understand that we all have different opinions and vantages points and it's OK.

What we've always said as a club, and what we'll maintain is if we don't want a team to bunt, we will defend the bunt. If we don't want a team to steal, we will defend the steal. If we don't want a team to swing 3-0 late in the game, we'll throw a ball.

We have so much control on our side, we don't have to worry about what other teams decide to do or decide not to do.

I bolded the most important part, but the whole thing is a masterclass in how to discuss any suggestion that any player, ever, should do anything but his best. 

I'm even more thankful for Kapler's presentation here, since it allows me room to stray. I won't be quite as diplomatic. 

My message to all the people who get upset when a team with a big lead keeps trying: Quit being such a crybaby. 

One of the things that has long seemed such a curious contradiction to me in professional sports is how many people with an otherwise pro-toughness perspective become so delicate. People value toughness but all of a sudden someone on the other team drops a bunt or swings too hard or runs too fast and you get so infuriated the "tough guy" move is to sulk about it, make a scene and possibly throw a ball at someone from over 60 feet away? It's so backward. 

You can paint the picture another way if you want, but these are grown professionals and the responses are little more than whining. This isn't Little League. If you get angry because a player on the other team swung at a 3-0 pitch or bunted or stole a base, you are getting angry that said player is trying. 

In what world is the correct side the one who gets angry at opponents for trying

I'll make it easy: Should there be a mercy rule in Major League Baseball? 

I'm going to guess the answer is an emphatic no from pretty much everyone, as it should be. And if you said no, you're in favor of the game being played to completion. So long as the game is being played, the players should be giving their all. The fans paid full price to see a full game, so play hard. 

Players are paid based upon several factors, but their individual stat lines are a pretty decent part of it. A lot of the time in blowouts late, most of the players still in the game are backups. Often times, backups are either young players trying to make a name, older players trying to maintain employment or someone who shuttles back and forth from the minors. That is to say, a little bit of their livelihood is on the line with each plate appearance. Of course those guys should be competing their hardest all the time, no matter what. There aren't asterisks in the stat lines that say something like "he wasn't allowed to bunt for a hit on May 16, 2021, even though the left side was open." Right? How ridiculous does that sound to even discuss? 

What are we even doing here? 

I'm not sure we can call it unwritten, since I'm about to write it, but I have a suggestion for a rule across all pro sports: 

Play hard all the time. If the other team does something you don't like, suck it up, quit crying and play better. You are a professional. Act like it. 

It shouldn't be difficult. Let's just follow Mr. Kapler's astute words if any guidance is needed.