About a year ago, I was sitting in a restaurant with my family, discussing the college adventure I was preparing to endure. In between the immense nostalgia flying all around the table came the obligatory advice section of our conversation. It was then when my older brother, now about to graduate from the University of Wisconsin, looked at me and said, “Leave your door open as much as possible because the person you meet on the first day may be a friend for life.”
It may not have happened on the first day, but within the first week I found myself exploring my new surroundings when I came across an opened door with a kid watching an NFL preseason game. I quickly sat down, introduced myself and began dissecting what was happening in the Redskins-Bears game in front of us.
Fast forward to last night when I found myself in the exact same room with the same person. Along with a few other “colleagues”, we were partaking in a lengthy debate regarding a significant unwritten rule of baseball
Our debate stemmed from the 9th inning of Tuesday’s Astros-Rangers game, when Astros shortstop Marwin Gonzalez singled to spoil Yu Darvish’s bid at a perfect game. After watching the at bat and subsequent single up the middle (a solid base hit, I might add), the first words to come out of the “armchair analyst” to my right was that Gonzalez should have allowed Darvish to complete his pursuit of perfection.
You’re saying he should’ve given up?
Being surrounded by baseball my entire life, I am well accustomed to the unwritten rules of baseball. From the time I played t-ball to the final game of my high school career, I learned that there are specific baseball situations that are different than any other sport—areas of play that aren’t in the rule book, but are known entities, ethics of the game. “Don’t warm up parallel to the bench”, “have a mound conversation if the umpire gets hit with a foul ball”, “don’t step on the mound if you aren’t a pitcher” are just a few of these courtesies that have developed and evolved over many generations of baseball.
However, there is one specific unwritten phrase that is a hotly debated topic: “don’t bunt to break up a no hitter.” As our conversation grew contentious, all on the premises of perfection protocol, the ethical question of playing to the final out came into view. As our friends in the room began chiming in, unable to watch the verbal tennis match any further, the conversation grew to the topic of running up the score.
What is defined as running up the score? Aren’t they just playing hard? Why should you stop if they can’t stop it?
Having thought about the debate that burned within the dorm room from late Wednesday night into the initial hours of Thursday, lines between running up the score and simply playing hard until the last out have been blurred.
First off, the equivalent to running up the score in baseball is less significant as compared to the rest of the major sports. When a team has a insurmountable lead, around ten runs, it is often practice not to steal bases or score from second, acts of “calling off the dogs” to avoid embarrassment of the other side. Similarly, in football it is often customary to stop passing downfield with a large 4th quarter lead, or to stop full court pressing on defense in basketball.
Each act is unwritten; nowhere in the rules does it say that you have to stop playing your absolute hardest to avoid embarrassing an opponent. However, everyone in the dorm room last night (and this morning) marveled at the difference in practice when a team is trailing in a contest.
When getting beaten by three touchdowns, twenty point or ten runs, it is common practice for players to play for “pride” and continue to play hard until the final out or when the clock strikes zero, especially for those learning to play the sport when the scoreboard is not in your favor. Running out ground balls, carrying the ball with purpose or playing lockdown defense in losing situations aren’t just ways to get back into the contest, it’s a way for us to respect the game.
Again, respecting the game while competing is nowhere to be found in any rulebook. Still, playing for pride—both in winning and losing—is to play your best regardless of the situation.
So as I finally tapped out to go to sleep this morning, after a draining conversation, I walked down the hall to realize that, like a certain Certs mint commercial, we were both right. Playing as hard as you can until the horn sounds is the best way to play, even if you are the ones with a lopsided score. “Running up the score” and playing hard are two totally different entities, just like “calling off the dogs” and giving up aren’t the same. These two phrases are linked to a positive behavior in competition, actions that should be endorsed on the little league fields all the way up to the professional ranks. Instead, especially in a 24-hour news cycle that thirsts for stories, lopsided scores are often met with an extremely negative connotation, especially in youth or high school competition.
It was when I had my hand on the doorknob of my own room that I smiled at the fact that our debate took on a life of its own. Something so simple as a single up the middle sparked a tremendous conversation, full of emotion. It is these kinds of moments that become stories in the years to come, with people I may never have connected with, if their door had never swung open.