rules

Exit 235. Is it worth it for the game to lose its soul?

A couple years ago, I was watching a San Francisco Giants baseball game on TV.  The game was tied in extra innings (for my unbaseballed readers: if the game is tied at the end of the normal game length, they keep playing more innings until the game isn’t tied anymore at the end of an inning).  It is well known in baseball that some pitchers are better at pitching against certain types of batters; for example, pitchers tend to be better at getting out batters who bat with the same hand that the pitcher throws with.  Giants manager Bruce Bochy wanted to put in a left-handed pitcher (I don’t remember the names of any of the players involved here, nor do I remember the opponent) because the next batter was left-handed, but the existing right-handed pitcher would be preferable for the right-handed batters following this one.  Once a player is removed from the game, he may not re-enter the game, and being that this game had gone to extra innings, there were very few players left, especially pitchers, who could enter the game.

Something happened here that I had never seen in all the decades I’ve been watching baseball.  Instead of removing the pitcher, Bochy removed an outfielder from the game, and the right-handed pitcher moved to left field, where the upcoming left-handed batter would not be likely to hit the ball.  After that left-handed batter had finished his at-bat against the new left-handed pitcher, the right-handed pitcher came back to the mound to pitch, and a new outfielder entered the game.

Baseball, especially in leagues where no designated hitter is used, is a game of brilliant strategy.  This part of the game seems to be misunderstood these days by all but the most dedicated baseball fans.  For years, baseball executives have been pointing out that interest in the game is slowly declining, because younger generations see baseball as a slow and boring game.  I wouldn’t disagree with the slow part, but I disagree with the assumption that being slow is a bad thing.  I can go to a baseball game with someone and, because of the slow pace of the game, I don’t have to choose between spending time with my friend and paying attention to the game, as is the case sometimes with, say, basketball, where the ball is constantly moving and scoring happens often.  And, if you know enough to follow the strategy, baseball is not boring at all.  The number of strategic moves required to maximize the team’s chance of scoring, and the excitement of seeing whether or not a strategy succeeds, makes for a very exciting game.

Major League Baseball has proposed a number of rule changes for the 2020 season, and as far as I can tell, the brilliant strategy described above, in which the pitcher briefly moved to left field, would be against the rules for two reasons under the new rules.  Players would be designated as either pitchers or position players, prohibiting pitchers from playing any other position in the field.  This situation that I described would be uncommon, but it is fairly common to use pitchers as pinch runners late in the game, and this would seemingly be prohibited as well.  (For the unbaseballed: this means substituting a player when they are already on base, so if a slow player gets a hit, he might be removed from the game and replaced with a fast player to run the rest of the bases and have a better chance at scoring because of his speed.  I should also acknowledge that there are inconsistencies in the articles I’ve read about the rule changes, and I’m not 100% sure that using pitchers as pinch runners would be against the rules.)

But there is another rule that clearly would affect the game in profound ways: a pitcher will be required to pitch to a minimum of three batters.  In the scenario I described above, the pitcher only pitched to one batter, and this is far more common than any of the other unusual strategies I have described.  And this rule change affects so many aspects of the game beyond on-field strategy, extending to front-office decisions about which players a team chooses to sign and the value of pitchers in a trade or free agent signing.  Many pitchers have specifically built careers around being specialists who are brought in just to get one batter out, typically a batter of the same handedness.  This gives them an additional advantage of being usable in more games, since pitching to only one batter does not wear out their pitching arm or require resting over multiple games before pitching again.  Now, their skill sets will be rendered invalid with the stroke of a pen.

The justification for this rule change is to speed up the game.  Some of the proposals to speed up the game I’m perfectly okay with, like shortening slightly the breaks between innings.  But changing the strategy and the value of certain skill sets will change the game so fundamentally as to render it almost unrecognizable to some of us long-term fans.  And I’m not sure I buy the argument that the young have attention spans too short to appreciate baseball.  After all, younger fans have embraced soccer at levels heretofore unprecedented in the USA, and soccer is certainly a game requiring patience with so few goals being scored.  Or maybe the problem is that fewer kids are playing baseball, with other sports and activities such as competitive video gaming taking up their recreation time, so they never learn all the strategies involved with baseball.

Bruce Bochy and his strategic brilliance will not see these rule changes, since he is retiring at the end of the 2019 season.  But there is another generation of fans for whom the game will not be the same as it was before.  So how does baseball revitalize and reinvent itself for the younger generation?  I don’t know.  The world is a different place than it was a generation ago, and I realize that baseball has been through major rule changes before.  One theory I’ve heard is that MLB owners receive so much revenue from licensing deals that they have little financial incentive to put a winning team on the field, which makes some organizations perpetually not competitive. Maybe we need to look at that.  I don’t have a definite answer.  But is it worth it for the game to lose its soul over this?

Exit 44. I like to follow rules.

In all my reflections about opposite-sex interactions and dating, I’ve recently discovered something interesting and slightly unsettling: I like to follow rules.

That shouldn’t be surprising, given my logical mind.  Rules make things happen in an orderly fashion, leading to predictable outcomes.  I did well in school because I followed the rules.  I did my homework, I studied for tests, and I never showed up to class drunk or smoked pot in the bathroom between classes.  I got my college applications in on time, and I got an academic scholarship to study at UC Davis, one of the top public universities in the nation.  When I got to college, I attended class every day, except maybe two or three times when I was sick, plus one class I missed to see the Return of the Jedi Special Edition on the first day (midnight showings weren’t really a thing in 1997, so the first shows were around 11am) and two whole days of classes I missed for a church trip.  I graduated with honors in four years.

I became a Christian in college, and I learned promptly that Christianity isn’t about following rules.  The New Testament makes it clear that Jesus did not come to Earth to give us a bunch of new rules to follow (see, for example, Romans 3:19-26), and some of Jesus’ harshest words during his lifetime were directed at those who have an unhealthy preoccupation with following the rules (see, for example, all of Matthew 23).  I didn’t realize at the time that this was happening, but it’s funny that sometimes the churches who preach the loudest about how Jesus freed his people from living a life of following rules have some of the harshest rules to follow.  I didn’t realize at the time that they were rules; I just thought that those were just things that all Christians agreed on, since all those around me certainly did.  Don’t use the F word.  Don’t get drunk.  And of course, there were all sorts of rules about interacting with the opposite sex.  Don’t be in a serious relationship without marriage being the goal.  Don’t date a non-Christian.  Don’t have opposite-sex roommates.  Don’t stay overnight at your significant other’s house.  And the writings of Joshua Harris were very popular at that time, in the late 1990s, where he essentially says that dating is inherently un-Biblical and unhealthy.

After I left Davis, I found myself at Church I with the Problems, where I discovered much more that not all Christians believe exactly the same thing about everything.  This group was even more legalistic than anything I had experienced before.  One example that came up a lot in conversation was that that church taught strict young earth creationism.  (I have written about this issue previously.)  They had even more rules for how their members should behave, like not watching R-rated movies and not dating people who serve in the same ministry as you and not voting for candidates who aren’t 100% anti-abortion and anti-homosexual rights.  Next, at Church II with the Problems, I saw that some of the old rules didn’t apply there.  There were Christians who swore and smoked and drank and had tattoos.  I had other more serious problems there not related to legalism, but that is a topic for another time.

Some of these rules don’t work anymore, and some of them never did.  Life has changed, and the world has changed.  I wish I could throw my fear in the sea of no cares and just not worry about all this.  But the few occasions on which I did something approaching this didn’t work out so well.  I’ve written before about Mimosa, a much younger girl who I had a brief fling with in 2010.  A lot of things that happened that week broke the aforementioned rules, and that led to a lot of hurt, in the form of miscommunications and misunderstandings, creating a tension that seemed to overshadow our remaining friendship for some time afterward (although we are friends now).  Ultimately, the main issue was that we were at different points in our lives, and I blamed much of the misunderstanding on the age difference (13 years, 4 months).  I settled that by making a new rule for myself, which I called “Simpsons Rule” as an homage to the similarly-named theorem from numerical analysis.  The rule was this: If she wasn’t born yet on the day that the TV series “The Simpsons” first aired*, then she’s too young for me.  I chose this date somewhat arbitrarily in order to give my rule a clever name (although I don’t think I ever shared this with anyone), but also because one of the first things I noticed about Mimosa was that her date of birth is very close to the day that The Simpsons first aired.  (She falls just barely on the too-young side of that date.)

(*”The Simpsons” first aired on December 17, 1989)

But sometimes these rules I make for myself become arbitrary and pointless, and even counterproductive.  A couple years back, I saw a Facebook comment by a friend from college who I’ll call “Kallichore.”  We were still in touch for a while after I was done with college, I have one of those weird distinct memories of something she said to me that would have happened around 2001 or ’02, but we lost touch through natural causes shortly after that.  Anyway, I saw something that Kallichore posted to one of our mutual friends who I have stayed in touch with, and I thought about adding her because she was always a good friend who was nice to me.  I decided not to, though, because of an awkward incident that happened in 1997 involving a failed attempt by me to ask her out.  If she happened to notice me on Facebook and send me a friend request, then wonderful, it’d be great to hear from her, but I wasn’t sure it was a good idea to initiate anything.  A couple years pass, and just recently I saw something she said on Facebook to the same mutual friend.  I replied directly to what she said… and then I got to thinking.  Yes, I had a failed attempt to ask her out in 1997.  But that was more than seventeen years ago.  Furthermore, we were still friends long after that, and I even remember a conversation we had years later in which the 1997 incident came up, and she cleared the air about what really was going on in her mind at the time and why she turned me down.  So why would there be any lingering awkwardness so many years later?  I was over that by 2001-02ish, I’m over it now, and ignoring her after I specifically replied to something she wrote on Facebook just seemed rude at this point.  So I threw that rule out the window, sent her a friend request, we got to catch up over Facebook, and it’s been good hearing from her again, as well as reading funny stories she posts about her kids.  (Kallichore, if you happen to read this and recognize yourself in the story, I hope I didn’t make things weird by bringing up things from the past.  When I friended you on Facebook, I had no intentions beyond that you were always a good friend and I wanted to hear what you were up to now.)

So why not just throw the rules out and live free?  There were certainly other times I’ve thrown out the rules.  When I was dating Vega the Nice Ex in 2006, she lived 100 miles away, and sometimes I’d stay on her couch on a Saturday night and drive home Sunday morning, despite the fact that some legalistic Christians believe that such an action gives off the appearance of sexual immorality to the outside world.  During that same time period, I had a female roommate, despite that fact that legalists say the same thing about that.  There was never any sexual tension between that roommate and me, and for that matter, we kept to ourselves most of the time.  I was in my room grading papers and chatting online with babes, and she was in her room studying and playing World of Warcraft.

The problem is knowing which rules I should keep and which I shouldn’t.  Some of them kind of fall into Biblical gray areas.  Don’t get drunk, good rule, but do I really need to abstain from all alcohol?  I know plenty of Christians who occasionally drink enough that they could qualify as drunk; does that make them bad Christians?  I don’t think so.  Don’t kiss on the first date, that’s probably a good idea for me personally, since the one time I did break that rule (Mimosa), that made the heartbreak a lot more intense, but does that mean I should be afraid to, say, hold hands with someone I’ve been out with a few times?  Maybe is it even time to throw out Simpsons Rule, if I meet someone that young who I seem to click with?  Age differences become less significant over time, and a lot of women young enough to fall on the too-young side of Simpsons Rule (they could be as old as 25 now) can be pretty mature.  I don’t know.  Life is complicated, and the rules don’t always apply the same way in every situation.  How do I know which principles I should hold on to in every situation, and how do I know which ones don’t always apply?  There is no easy answer other than to keep seeking God’s wisdom.