Jim Henneman: MLB’s New ‘Tack’ For Old Rules — Using Umpires As ‘Inspection Police’

Now that the search police are officially in business, it would seem to be a good time to remind everyone that baseball really isn’t trying to reinvent itself. Reinforcement would be a better word/description.

You see, baseball has this history of ignoring rules that already exist — and then making it a big deal when there is an emphasis on enforcing them. Which is exactly what baseball has done by giving the umpires orders to search the gloves, belts, hats, etc. of every pitcher in the game — with starters getting frisked at least twice.

Wonderful. Just what the game needed — “Inspection Police.”

The decision to crack down on pitchers using an illegal foreign substance to get a better grip on the ball is the latest example. If only MLB had a firm grip on how the game is, or was, supposed to be played, a lot of this wouldn’t be necessary.

News flash: It has always been illegal to “doctor” the ball, which pitchers say is too slippery to effectively control.

News flash: Baseballs have always been slippery, which led to the discovery of Delaware River Mud, one light application of which generally solved the problem.

But that was before spin rates, launch angles, exit velocities and other generally unknown mathematical formulas were introduced to the game and “spitballs” were the most popular forms of cheating. Now, they say the balls are slicker than ever, the Delaware River Mud isn’t sufficient, and a tackier substance is needed for maximum control — for the health and welfare of the hitters, you understand.

The bottom line is that we never would’ve heard of “Spider Tack” if baseball had just enforced rules in existence that were sometimes violated — and abusers occasionally caught and punished.

But that’s often how baseball works when it comes to enforcing the rules — as four most recent examples show us. Two revolve around second base on potential double-play balls, where rules specifically stated the fielder had to have possession of the ball with his foot on the base and baserunners could not deviate from a direct line to break up the play.

That led to the “neighborhood play” where infielders performed required functions but not necessarily at the appropriate time, which in turn led to runners sliding out of the basepath, which is turn led to reinforcing the rules as they were written — one phase at a time, of course.

Like the chicken and the egg, I can’t remember which came first — reigning in gliding defenders, or toning down wayward runners. Suffice it to say, one led to the other.

Another clearly defined rule that was often ignored said that a defensive player could not block a base without having possession of the ball. Former Dodger catcher Mike Scioscia became known as the master guardian of home plate, usually while awaiting a throw. And anytime ex-Oriole Bobby Grich got to second base first on pickoff or stolen base attempts there wasn’t enough room for a runner.

Neither of those plays, as interpreted by the rule book, was legal but both were generally accepted — at least until San Francisco catcher Buster Posey suffered a broken leg on a play at the plate in 2011. That led to the current rule (not really any different than the old one) that a catcher couldn’t block the plate without possession of the ball.

Posey’s unfortunate injury led to the enforcement of what is now known as either the “Scioscia Rule” or the “Posey Rule” — which, in reality, is really no different than one already in the books.

It’s like baseball puts asterisks on certain rules that read like this: *please enforce.

This time they added a new tack, pun intended, by adding “Inspection Police” to the umpire’s job. I don’t think we need to worry about robots with this one.

Jim Henneman can be reached at JimH@pressboxonline.com

Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox