Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Joe Sheehan Newsletter, March 18, 2015 -- "Rule 21 (d)"

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The Joe Sheehan Newsletter
Vol. 7, No. 9
March 18, 2015

On September 28, 2013, the Rangers were trying to hang on in the AL wild-card chase, and were trailing the Angels 1-0 in the bottom of the first. Ian Kinsler led off with a single, and scampered to second on a wild pitch by Garrett Richards. Rangers manager Ron Washington had Elvis Andrus, ahead in the count 2-1, lay down a sacrifice bunt that moved Kinsler to third base. It was an indefensible decision by Washington, a play that he would put on a few times a year, and it made the Rangers slightly less likely to win the game and make the postseason. To Washington, though, it was the opposite -- he believed he was pulling the lever that he gave his team the best chance to succeed.

A week later in the NL Division Series, Don Mattingly was faced with a series of choices late in Game Two with the Dodgers down 2-1 in the seventh. He ended making a notably poor decision, walking Reed Johnson intentionally so that Jason Heyward could bat with the bases loaded. Even accounting for the platoon advantage, it was an execrable call that contributed to the Dodgers losing the game (Heyward singled in two runs). Mattingly was excoriated for his tactical blunder, but even in the moment it was clear that all Mattingly wanted to do was escape the inning down 2-1 and give his team a chance to win a critical playoff game.

With the Royals charging back in the AL Central and AL wild-card races, Ned Yost was faced with a tough call in the middle of September. Up 4-3 in the sixth, Jason Vargas put the first two Red Sox on to start the inning. Yost went to his bullpen and selected Aaron Crow, probably his fifth-best right-handed reliever at that point in the season. None of Yost's dominant relievers had pitched the day before, and neither Wade Davis nor Kelvin Herrera had pitched in three days. It was a mistake at the time, and it would blow up when Daniel Nava hit a grand slam off of Crow. Yost, however, believed that sticking to his set reliever roles -- and thereby using Crow in the sixth -- was the best way for his team to win not just that game, but to make the postseason. 

In 1985, the Reds were the Dodgers' closest challenger for NL West supremacy, closing to 4 1/2 games out with a bit more than two weeks left in the season. On September 25, with the Reds six games out and running out of time, they found themselves tied with the Braves in the ninth. Rose brought in his best reliever, John Franco, in the ninth to escape a minor Braves rally, then pulled Franco one out into the tenth. It wasn't unusual for relievers, or for Franco himself, to go multiple innings back then. Nevertheless, Rose brought in Ted Power, who escaped the tenth and then allowed two runs in the 11th to lose the game. Rose no doubt believed that with Dale Murphy coming up, he wanted to get a right-hander into the game. That's the decision he felt would give the Reds the best chance to win, to stay in a division race, and to put money in his pocket.

Maybe Pete Rose bet on the Reds every night, as he now claims. Maybe he didn't, as John Dowd counters. The truth is, it doesn't matter. From Major League Rule 21, covering misconduct, section (d):

(d) BETTING ON BALL GAMES. Any player, umpire or club official or employee, who shall bet any sum whatsoever on any baseball game in connection with which the bettor has no duty to perform shall be declared ineligible for one year.

Any player, umpire or club official or employee, who shall bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game in connection with which the bettor has a duty to perform shall be declared permanently ineligible.

Is it possible that Pete Rose didn't know the rule?

(g) RULE TO BE KEPT POSTED. A printed copy of this Rule shall be kept posted in each clubhouse.

Pete Rose played in more baseball games than anyone ever, 3,562 of 'em. he managed another 419 after retiring as a player. That's almost 4,000 games. Let's say, just to make the math easy, that Rose left the clubhouse twice every game, once for BP and once for the game itself. That's nearly 8,000 times walking past Rule 21(d). He was as exposed to the rule as anyone who ever put on a uniform.

He bet on baseball games in which he was managing one of the teams anyway.

Rose shouldn't have his ineligibility lifted. What he did is the crime that, in professional sports, cannot be forgiven. We have to be able to watch the games any believe that every player and every manager is in it to win for the success of the team, and not because he has money riding on the outcome, because once you lose that, you question everything. Washington and Yost and Mattingly were making bad decisions, but those decisions weren't motivated by the possibility of cashing a ticket. I can't say that about Rose. Maybe he pulled Franco because he was sweating the money and didn't want to risk letting Murphy face a lefty, and didn't think about the fact that to that point, Murphy had never hit a ball out of the infield against Franco in five tries. Maybe Rose was looking ahead to the next night, the next bet, the chance to use Franco in a situation where he could protect a lead and his money, maybe even getting better odds behind Andy McGaffigan, only recently called back up from Triple-A.

When you bet on a game you can influence, you invite the maybes. The industry of professional baseball can't have maybes. That's why the penalty is permanent eligibility, and why the rule is posted in every clubhouse.

Rose's ban has to hold. It has to hold so that Rose is the example for every baseball player who walks into a clubhouse knows that 21(d) is sacrosanct, and that MLB will end you if you violate it. It shows that no one is too big to lose his baseball life over it. Rule 21(d) matters more than three strikes and you're out, three outs and inning over, nine innings and we go home. It is the rule that let's teams charge for tickets and put the games on TV and sell gear and build stadiums and know that people will show up and invest themselves in the outcomes.

Rule 21(d) is the rule that lets me call Ron Washington an idiot without ever worrying that something else is going on. Pete Rose? Pete Rose isn't half as important, a tenth as important, as Rule 21(d). Let that be his legacy.