I really am excited to listen tomorrow to all of my favorite sports talk radio programs discuss Justin Verlander’s no-hit bid from earlier today. I am pretty sure I know which way each of the hosts I listen to will go which is funny because I still do not know exactly which way I lean in this whole situation.
CONTEXT: The Anaheim Angels played the Detroit Tigers today at Comerica Park. Justin Verlander, Detroit’s ace, took a no-hitter into the eighth inning. Anaheim Angels shortstop Erick Aybar led off the top of the inning with a bunt. Verlander fielded the play and made a throwing error. Despite the fact that it was not a hit (Verlander would relinquish his no-hit attempt later in the inning), Aybar’s bunt was very questionable at that stage in the game.
Whenever my brother and I would play our head-to-head “Ken Griffey Jr. Presents Major League Baseball” for Nintendo 64 back in the day, we had the understanding that once the fifth inning came around, if one of us had a no-hitter going, the other would not bunt. It was our nod to the unwritten rule baseball has about no-hitters which is well known amongst anyone who has grown up with the game. The rule is so prevalent and important to the game that my brother and I knew about it when we were very young and did not just honor it from the time we played little league on up but also in our video games! Okay, so the rule is well defined, but does that mean that ball players, especially major league ball players, should follow it?
Obvious answer that people who dismiss the unwritten rule of not bunting in a no-hit situation late in the game is this: Milestone feats and records be damned, you got to do whatever you got to do to win the game. Getting on base is paramount to winning the game and who is to say that just because some guy happens to be holding you hitless it means that one of your options for getting on base (bunting) is suddenly taken away? It is important to note that both the Angels and Tigers are in very tight divisional races right now. These races could be decided by a single game once the season is over. It is ludicrous to think that a team who has a legitimate shot at making the postseason has to concede one of their best weapons just because of a potential personal accomplishment of the OPPOSING team.
But we also have to remember that baseball is a special sport. Baseball is much different from football and basketball. There is no clock, rulings are much more subjective, and scoring is low. It is also a sport that is very much grounded in tradition. Players and teams are expected to conduct themselves in a certain way. You observe certain quirky rules and salute the greats who played before you. People who never really got involved with baseball or played it do not really understand the “Baseball Gospel” so to speak and I think many of those people are the ones who are shaking their heads the most tonight wondering what the big deal was about some guy trying to lay down a bunt to get on base. The point of the matter when it comes to this unwritten rule is this: After a pitcher has gone so many innings pitching a gem without allowing a hit, it is a cheap/bush league/desperate way to get on base. You had your chance to bunt in the earlier innings but now that you realize that this guy is about to accomplish something very special at the expense of your team, do not resort to a maneuver that breaks up the pitcher’s chance at glory that relies a lot on luck. Earn your hits!
Throughout the day I kept thinking about what would have happened if Verlander had a perfect game going in the eighth? Would Aybar still have bunted? What if Verlander had not pitched a no-hitter earlier this year or what if he had never pitched a no-hitter in his whole career? Would Aybar still have bunted? Obviously, if you subscribe solely to the philosophy of “get on base at any cost” these questions probably mean very little to you. But for someone like me who is on the fence, it got me thinking quite a bit.
I think the answer to this whole dilemma is one for the people of baseball to figure out. I know for a fact that tomorrow a bunch of blowhard talk radio people (the ones who I do not bother listening to) who really have no connection to the game of baseball are going to fill whole segments yelling about how stupid this unwritten rule is. If you are reading this blog and you do not have a strong connection to baseball, please do not listen to these radio/TV people. They have no real knowledge or context of the game and do not care one bit about broadening their horizons, they just want to jump on something and make a big deal out of it. Instead, watch the debates on Baseball Tonight, read Tom Verducci, catch Peter Gammons on the MLB Network, watch for the opinions of baseball hall of famers to come out. Take in their opinions and then form your own. I will do the same. Don’t Blink.