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When They Change The Rules Because Of You

May 5, 2022

(WARNING: Baseball post. . .with some basketball thrown in.)

His name doesn’t immediately scream “Baseball Great!” It’s Shohei Ohtani. If you don’t follow baseball you’ve probably never heard of him. He’s Japanese. And he’s probably the best all around baseball player in the past 100 years.

Even if you don’t follow baseball you’ve heard of Babe Ruth. What made Ruth so special was that he could do it all. Baseball players are judged on five “tools.”

  • Hitting for power
  • Hitting for average
  • Speed
  • Fielding
  • Throwing

A player who is good at all five is called “a five-tool” player. But, it only applies to position players, not the Designated Hitter or the Pitcher.

Babe Ruth could obviously hit for power. He held the record for most home runs in a season and most home runs in a career for many years. Babe Ruth had a lifetime batting average of .342. That’s 8th all time. (Out of more than 15,000 players over 140 years.) He lost speed later in his career. Even early in his career, speed was never his strong point. You don’t need a lot if you hit home runs. And later in his career, he’d stop running on a home run between second and third and just walk the rest of the way. Fielding and throwing he was strong but without stats, it’s hard to quantify it.

But, Ruth is often considered the best player in history. And while known as a hitter, he holds some pretty impressive pitching records, including a career .87 ERA in the World Series. I know, it’s a geeky baseball stat. But, it’s an AMAZING geeky baseball state. That means if Ruth were to pitch an entire 9 inning game, he allowed on AVERAGE .81 runs. Right, he gave up less than 1 run for every nine innings pitched. And he was in the World Series A LOT. He pitched 31 innings. That puts Ruth at #5 all time for best pitching ERA in the World Series.

In fact, Ruth was an exceptional pitcher. But, as a starting pitcher, he would typically only play every fifth game. The Yankees needed him in the lineup more often than that, so he switched to playing the outfield.

Ohtani doesn’t have that issue. Because MLB changed the rules for him.

Sports are supposed to be the great equalizer. The field where each competitor gets to pit their skill against another equally motivated competitor. But, sometimes, once in a generation, a player comes along that is so much better than the rest, the league has to change the rules.

Shaquille O’Neal: Shaq was such a dominating force that teams couldn’t guard him with a single player. But, there was a rule against playing zone defense. The league finally got rid of what was called the illegal defense rule. Teams were allowed to play zone.

W.A. “Candy” Cummings: Okay, you’ve never heard of this guy. Neither had I. And I’m a baseball geek. But, Candy did something that is still impacting the game today. Candy threw the first curveball. You might think that calling a pitch a curveball is just hyperbole. Balls can’t really “curve” in the air. . .can they? They not only can, they do. A curve ball flies straight for a while and then it just “breaks.” For years it was considered an optical illusion. It was only within the last several years that physicists explained that the raised stitches on a baseball cause it to create a different environment. As it slows down the stitches catch the air and the ball breaks. Anyway, Candy invented it. And it was briefly banned. It’s now an important part of the game.

Michael Jordan: Jordan never became a major league ballplayer because he couldn’t hit the curveball. But, he could play basketball. In fact, he could play basketball better than anyone. He was so good that it was impossible for most defenders to stop him driving to the basket off the dribble. Jordan was just too quick. The league decide to allow hand-checking, where the defender was allowed to place a hand on the offensive player. Jordan still dominated the league, but at least it gave the defenders a chance to slow him down.

Wilt Chamberlain: Chamberlain was a phenomenal basketball talent. He was tall. Over seven feet. And he could move. But, he wasn’t a great free throw shooter. Rather than stand at the line and shoot, he would simply jump from the free thrown line and dunk the basketball. The league eventually banned that. And today, there’s a rule that the shooter must stay behind the freethrow line until the ball hits the rim.

So, what’s that have to do with Ohtani?

This year in Major League Baseball there’s an Ohtani rule. Baseball has what’s called the designated hitter (DH.) That’s a player who doesn’t play in the field. He just hits. But, there can only be nine hitters. So, the DH takes the pitchers spot in the batting order.

That’s a problem for the Angels, Ohtani’s team. Also, if a player leave a baseball game, he can’t return. On days Ohtani is not pitching he can be the DH. But, on days he is pitching he normally wouldn’t get to hit. But, he can just bat for himself, right? That’s allowed. But, what about when he’s replaced as a relief pitcher? Normally he’d have to leave the game and the Angels would lose his bat.

The Ohtani rule says that the pitcher can choose to stay in the game.

When your league makes a rule just for one player, that’s a pretty special player.

Shohei Ohtani is a special player.

Stay safe

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. Order Miscellany II, an anthology including his latest short story, “The Mercy System” here

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(c) 2022 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved

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