Commentary

Do we really know baseball's rules?

We asked players, coaches and managers to take our quiz, and you can too

Originally Published: June 18, 2013
By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com

Does anybody out there know the rules of baseball? Seriously.

If ever there was a year that made you wonder about that, this would be the year.

We've seen Jean Segura run the bases backward in Milwaukee -- and actually steal first base (sort of) -- only to learn five days later that it wasn't exactly legal.

[+] EnlargeMike Scioscia
AP Photo/Pat SullivanAngels manager Mike Scioscia protested Astros manager Bo Porter's pitching change on May 9. Turns out, he was right and the umpires were wrong.

We've seen an entire umpiring crew in Houston forget a basic rule on when a manager can change pitchers and when he can't.

We've seen Luke Hochevar save an 11-4 game for the Royals -- and admit afterward that he had no idea the save rule had just applied to him.

And on and on and on. So here at ESPN.com, we got to thinking … which is always a precarious development for the rest of civilization.

Suppose we gave a little quiz, we thought. A rules quiz.

We'd let players take it. We'd let coaches take it. We'd let any managers who were interested take it. And of course, we'd take it ourselves.

It wouldn't quite remind anyone of, say, the bar exam. Just 10 questions -- all true/false -- compiled by esteemed baseball rules expert Rich Marazzi.

And when the results were in, we'd have our answer. We'd find out how much all of us really know about the most convoluted book ever published -- the Rules of Baseball.

It ought to be a sacred book, The Almighty Rules of Baseball. Don't you think? Hallowed. Worshipped. Revered. Memorized. Heck, some of these darned rules go back more than 150 years. Back to a time that predates even Jamie Moyer.

Instead, what we've learned this year -- and what we suspected we would learn from this quiz -- is that many of these rules defy comprehension. Not to mention common sense. And some of the smartest people we know in this sport are out there every night, having their fates decided by a bunch of quirky rules that most of them have never read.

"Yeah, I read it," Marlins manager Mike Redmond said of the Almighty Rulebook. "I never used to read it when I was a player. But I read that book all the time now. I like to know about all the stuff that comes up every game. So I'm always thumbing through it.

"But let me tell you," he laughed. "It's kind of a dry read. It's not one of those books you pick up and read for 20 minutes because it's so interesting."

Heh-heh. No kidding. It isn't quite "The Da Vinci Code."

So you'd think an avid reader of the rulebook like Mike Redmond couldn't wait to take this quiz, right? Uh, wrong.

"Oh, no," Redmond said, through a you've-gotta-be-kidding-me grin. "I want no part of that."

Luckily, though, we did find 32 courageous folks who were willing. Some of them wondered afterward why they'd ever gotten themselves into this mess. But when the results were in, here was the verdict:

• We had 20 of the most astute players in the game take the quiz. Their average score: 5.5 out of 10.

• Four coaches and one manager (John Farrell of the Red Sox) joined the fun. They averaged 6.6 out of 10. Farrell represented America's managers in exemplary fashion. He got nine out of 10.

• And seven of us media know-it-alls tried our luck -- six ESPN baseball "geniuses," plus Twins broadcaster (and longtime former player) Dan Gladden. You'll be shocked to learn our average score was a spectacular 4.4. Then again, we were dragged down a little by our otherwise-all-knowing friend, Aaron Boone, who somehow got one out of 10. (Full disclosure: I took this thing, too – and put a "6" on the old scoreboard. I'll take it.)

Marazzi told us he considered six out of 10 to be a "passing" grade. By that measure, only 13 of the 32 participants passed -- eight players, two coaches, our designated manager and two media "geniuses" (including this author, he slipped in there nonchalantly).

But some guys had this nailed. Our valedictorian was Diamondbacks reliever Brad Ziegler. He was the only quiz-taker in his class to drill 10 out of 10. When informed of his honor, Ziegler said: "I'd say it's not as prestigious as being valedictorian of your high school class. I don't get a scholarship out of it, or anything like that."

Wow. That's for sure. Or his own autographed rulebook, either. In fact, Ziegler wasn't even allowed to give a valedictory speech. But he did thank his father, who used to grill him on the rules as a kid when he was just minding his own business, trying to watch TV. See how that fatherly wisdom can sometimes pay off in life?

"I'm going to guess that if you quizzed all 750 [players] in the big leagues, there would have been a lot more 10's," Ziegler said, humbly. "All it means is that I've got way too much useless information in my head. I tell guys about stuff like this all the time. And they always say, 'Why do you know that?' And 'How do you know that?'"

Well, we can think of two players who would definitely ask him that. That would be two of the headiest players we know – Sam Fuld of the Rays and Michael Young of the Phillies -- who answered exactly three questions correctly apiece.

"I used to think I knew the rules," Young said. "But over time, I began to learn I didn't know them as well as I thought. One time in a game, they called the infield fly rule, and I wasn't sure why. So afterward, I went over to the ump and said, 'Don't ever tell anybody I said this, but what's that rule again?'"

Ever-erudite Fuld, meanwhile, was pretty much mortified by his score.

"It was humiliating," he said, with a laugh that suggested he would get over that humiliation somehow. "I would have done better if I'd closed my eyes and picked randomly. It's pathetic to think that my 3-year-old son could have done better than that.

"Of course," he said proudly of 3-year-old Charles Fuld, "he knows his baseball."

Fuld -- who graduated from Stanford with a degree in economics and a GPA of 3.14 -- even admitted that, before he submitted his quiz, he "collaborated" with his father, Kenneth Fuld, dean of the College of Liberal Arts at the University of New Hampshire. And his dad was so devastated by their score, "it took him about a day to get over it."

"If you questioned about a hundred 5-year-olds, they'd get five out of 10," the Rays' human highlight reel said, dejectedly. "And my dad and I got a three."

Now think about this. Sam Fuld has to be one of the brightest human beings in baseball. He got better than 1400 on his SAT. He understands stuff like matrix methodology. But even he has a hard time understanding the rationale behind the rules of baseball. And can you blame him?

"Most of these rules are just illogical," he said. "I tried to base my answers on logic and reason. … But baseball and logic don't mix very well, in many respects."

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is one of the biggest lessons that came out of this quiz extravaganza:

[+] EnlargeJean Segura
Mike McGinnis/Getty ImagesMilwaukee's Jean Segura gave everybody, umpires included, the runaround on April 19.

The rules might be the rules. But that doesn't mean they have to make much sense.

You should have heard the complaining from players about stuff such as the balk rule … and the mysteries of why some wild throws give runners two extra bases but others are worth only one base … and on and on.

That, Marazzi admitted, is because the rulebook "is one of the worst-written documents ever published." It's way too complicated, he said. It's hard to navigate. And all in all, "it's terrible."

And that terrible-osity is exemplified by the actual existence, in that very book, of Rule 8:02 (a) (6) (a-b-c-d-e), which is then followed by two different official "comments" that attempt to explain what they've just defined. No kidding.

So, Fuld proposed: "I think we should take a collection of the smartest people in baseball and have them completely rewrite the rulebook, so, for the next 100 years, we'll have completely logical rules."

Well, guess what? That'll never happen. So, despite pleas from rational people such as Ziegler that the rulebook "needs to be altered and brought into the 21st century -- or even the 20th century," who the heck would want to take on that job? W.P. Kinsella? Ken Burns? Crash Davis? Whichever Molina brother happens to be free that week?

So what really needs to happen is a whole different approach:

Maybe somebody should actually explain these rules to the people who have to live and play by them. How 'bout that?

Somebody kind of like Rich Marazzi, for example.

"Almost nobody in the game has ever been taught the rules. They learned the hard way," said Marazzi, who works with the Red Sox, Yankees and Blue Jays to help improve players' knowledge of the rules. "And because there are so many rules, people don't talk about them and general managers don't bring in rules consultants to help their teams with them. Everybody thinks they know the rules. But they don't know the impact of them, or how to maximize their understanding of the rules to help them win games."

So, Marazzi, who spent 23 years umpiring in college, high school and independent leagues, gives video presentations to the teams he works with, plus quizzes -- much like the one we gave our contestants -- that open their eyes in many ways.

Let's give some examples. We asked Marazzi about the three questions players had the most trouble with and had him explain the big misconceptions.

(Important author's note: If you haven't taken this quiz yet yourself, now would be a good time -- seeing as how we're about to furnish the answers to the three toughest questions on the whole exam. So either take it now, or jump ahead about six paragraphs. Thank you. And now back to our regularly scheduled programming.)

• Ball-strikes-the-runner rule: This was a question about a ball hitting a baserunner with the infield in, so the runner was behind the first baseman when he was nailed and no other infielder had a play on it. Fourteen of 20 players thought the runner should still be called out. But the rules say a runner who is behind the defense should not be out if no infielder has a play on the ball at the time he is hit, once the ball has passed the closest infielder.

So what's the deal with that? "The misconception," Marazzi said, "simply is that it is a myth that a runner is always out when hit by a batted ball. This goes back to the days when we played ball in the schoolyard. I think some umpires would get caught by this one during a game."

• Fielder-catches-ball-and-falls-into-stands rule: This was a question about a fielder making a great catch against the fence in foul territory and then tumbling into the seats, while still hanging on to the ball. Thirteen of 20 players said a runner on third at the time shouldn't be allowed to score. But the rules say that, in a case like that, all runners should be awarded an extra base if the fielder carries the ball into the stands.

So what's the deal with that? "Players do not think in terms of base awards," Marazzi said. "In their minds, a catch is a catch is a catch … without a penalty being attached. Many do not know that the ball is dead when the fielder carries the ball into the stands. I've seen fielders try to make a play from the stands."

• The one-runner-pushes-another rule: This was a case where a baserunner thought a fly ball was going to be caught and was racing back to first, but the hitter realized it had dropped and shoved him back toward second. Thirteen of 20 players thought the batter was out for pushing his teammate. But the rules say one runner can assist another runner, as long as he hadn't already scored or been called out.

So what's the deal with that? It's possible, Marazzi said, that players are confusing this rule with "the coach-interference rule, which is sometimes invoked against the third base coach for assisting a runner. It creates the misconception that contact of any kind is illegal for players and coaches."

(Important author's note No. 2: OK, it's safe to start reading again now. We're done with that part. As you were.)

You can see why players (and everybody else) messed these up, right? These plays rarely happen. And these rules seem to veer in the opposite direction of almost identical situations that more commonly do happen. But here's the biggest question of all:

How would it change baseball if everyone (gasp) knew these rules?

"I think it actually would be detrimental," Ziegler said. "Not to the way players play the game, but to the relationship between players and umpires. All of a sudden, players would have a lot more knowledge, so they wouldn't always take the umpires' word for it."

Boy, that sure sounds like trouble. But maybe not. The last thing we're advocating is a development that would take us from, like, two player-umpire tiffs per game to 2,000. But you know what? In reality, ignorance is not bliss. Ignorance actually costs teams games.

Ask John Farrell. His team brings Marazzi in every spring for a little rules seminar. And he is convinced it has helped the Red Sox.

"We're talking about stuff inside the game," Farrell said, "that can affect the outcome of a game. Plays like interference, some of which can be initiated by the baserunner."

Marazzi swears the teams he has worked with have used these rules to win more games. And he says teams that don't know the rules really do lose games because of it.

For instance, "most baseball people don't know the difference between a Type A and Type B obstruction," he said. "Both are fairly common. Lack of knowledge of this rule, in my opinion, cost the A's the 2003 division series versus the Red Sox."

Hmmm. To be honest, most of us wouldn't know Type A interference from Type A blood plasma. But we'll spare you the definitions because that's not important now. Trust us on that. What's important is what we've proved here today:

That it's totally mind-blowing how few people who play or work in baseball can make sense of the gobbledygook in that rulebook.

Not that it's their fault. Not that we blame them. But now that we've made that clear, what should we do about it? Well, we have several options.

There's education, Marazzi says. That's a good one. Or there's the update-the-book-by-a-century-or-so school of thought, as espoused by Ziegler. Or maybe …

"What we need is a rules guru," said Sam Fuld. "One guy that MLB pays a bunch of money to, to be the rules guru, so every time one of these things comes along, he can figure it out, instead of everyone having to flip through 1,000 pages in the rulebook to figure out which one applies.

"All we need is one guy who would know every rule," Fuld went on. "Then we could just Skype him in every time we need him. He could be in Hong Kong for all we care, as long as he'd materialize on the scoreboard every time we needed him."

Wow. Beautiful. One all-knowing Rules Guru who would always be available, 24/7, to clear up, well, everything? Perfect. We can start the line for applicants at Jean Segura's house.

"Just," Fuld laughed, as we pondered this brilliant idea, "don't expect me to volunteer."

Jayson Stark | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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