Friday, October 16, 2015

Rules are Made...

Dirty play or a hard slide...You make the call...

  In the second game of the National League Divisional playoff series between the New York Mets and Los Angeles Dodgers the Dodgers were trailing 2-1 in the bottom of the seventh inning after having lost the first game of the five game series. The Dodgers had runners on first and third with one out when Dodger second baseman Howie Kendrick hit a potential ground ball up the middle.

  Chase Utley was on first and should have been easily out as Met’s second basemen Daniel Murphy fielded the ball and threw it to shortstop Ruben Tejada for the force at second. Tejada was a couple of feet wide away from second base but never got a chance to throw to first base to try to complete the double play because Utley barreled into Tejada, breaking Tejada’s leg in addition to preventing him from attempting to throw to first. Because there was no double play, the runner scored from third to tie the game and the Dodgers scored three more times in the inning to win 5-2 and keep their championship hopes alive.

  Utley was clearly out of the baseline when he began his slide and it is against the rules to slide out of the baseline. There is even a specific rule against leaving the baseline to break up a double play. The umpires could have ruled the slide illegal and enforced a double play. Instead they opted to do nothing and even declared Utley safe at second because Tejada never touched second base even though Utley also never touched second and even walked towards the dugout after the play.

  After the game MLB’s chief baseball officer Joe Torre (the former Yankee manager who led the Yankees to four World Series victories last century and also presided over the 2004 collapse to the Red Sox) suspended Utley for two games, declaring the slide was illegal while also declaring that he did not believe Utley deliberately intended to injure Tejada.

  I’d be tempted to say that Utley was ‘old school’ and playing hard just like Pete Rose did in the good old days except that these aren’t the good old days where a pitcher would throw at a batter's head or a runner would launch himself into a catcher or second baseman. There’s too much money and too much litigation and too much scrutiny on violence in professional sports to allow indiscriminate injuries.

  Utley is known for his hard slides into bases – he even nailed Tejada in 2010. I couldn’t find out if Utley had ever been suspended for a hard slide before. If he had I’m sure it would have been in the news stories detailing this recent incident. The rule Utley broke is one has been very rarely enforced but once Tejada’s leg was broken MLB no doubt felt they had to do something to show they were concerned about player safety. I wonder if the rule about sliding out of the baseline will be enforced from now on or will MLB wait until the next crisis for it to be enforced.

  Another rarely used rule was put to the test in last weekends Millionaire Chess Open in Las Vegas. In order to promote fighting chess the tournament rules prohibited draws being agreed to before 30 moves had been played. There were plenty of exceptions built in to the rule to allow for draws but the no early draw rule was promoted as part of the event.

  This rule was put to the test when top seed Hikaru Nakamura and GM Luke McShane squared off Sunday in the final round of the preliminary tournament to determine which four players would play for the top prize of $100,000. Both players needed a win to guarantee themselves no worse than a playoff to make the Millionaire Monday finals while a loss would leave them out of the running and a draw would leave open the possibility of being shut out of the finals depending on how the other boards played out. After five moves a well-known position in the Sicilian Defense had been reached. McShane played his dark square bishop out to e3 and Nakamura immediately attacked it with his knight. McShane retreated the bishop to its original square and Nakamura likewise retreated his knight. McShane then brought his bishop back out to the same e3 square, Nakamura attacked it again with his knight, McShane retreated it once more to its original square, Nakamura again retreated his knight, and McShane brought his bishop to e3 and claimed a draw by repetition of position.

  While the game seemed to make a mockery of the early draw rule, it was a logical enough game with Nakamura unwilling to allow an unopposed bishop on e3 and McShane being unwilling to play without the bishop on any other square. After a 90 minute delay, the final result of a draw was allowed to stand with no penalty assessed. The possible penalties were listed in the rules as forfeiture of the game for the players, ineligibility for prizes, and the players not being invited to future events.

Hikaru Nakamura, Luke McShane, and Maurice Ashley discuss the nine move draw in the seventh round of the Millionaire Chess Open

   Both players and tournament organizer Maurice Ashley were interviewed on the tournament broadcast. Nakamura was unapologetic and pointed out that to either leave the bishop on e3 unopposed or retreat his knight to a different square would leave him at a disadvantage. McShane was also unapologetic but instead of talking about the game talked about how he was tired and had played nine hours the previous two days. Ashley (a grandmaster player himself) was visibly unhappy and talked about how short draws were a stain on the game and that chess would never become a spectator sport as long as short draws were allowed. Ashley also said that no penalties were assessed since he could not prove there was prearrangement between the players to make a short draw.

  While baseball's baseline rule problem was caused because the rule has been rarely enforced, Millionaire Chess’s short draw rule problem is that the rule is unenforceable. There were a handful of other draws in the open section that were less than 30 moves but because they were in earlier rounds there was no controversy. I don’t know how intent can ever be proved and don’t see how any two players can be prevented from repeating the moves of the McShane-Nakamura game and be penalized for a short draw.

  Ashley is one of the most innovative organizers around and I expect there will be a new rule to discourage short draws at next year’s Millionaire Chess Open. Many chess tournaments allow for ‘Armageddon’ games to resolve ties with the white side having more time but the black side being declared the winner in case of a draw. I could see short draws being resolved by an ‘Armageddon’ game. A problem with this is it could see some players being incentivized to make short draws so they could get to the Armageddon game and have a morning or afternoon off. But like I said, Ashley is innovative and will come up with a new rule or series of rules that will work better to eliminate short draws.

One of the most famous altercations in NBA history and the last time an entire team came off the bench during a fight.

  Since I've written about is rules that don’t seem to work I thought I'd point out a rule that does seem to work. In the 1970’s the NBA instituted a rule to keep on court fights from escalating by levying a $100 to $150 fine to any player that left the bench during a fight. In 1984 the fine was increased to $500. In 1993 the fine was increased to $2,500 per player and $5,000 to the team for every player that left the bench.

  None of these penalties did much to dissuade players making hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars from leaving the bench during a fight. In the 1994 playoffs between the Knicks and Bulls a fight between the two teams turned into a free for all directly in front of then commissioner David Stern. That offseason the penalty for leaving the bench was increased to a $20,000 fine and a one-game suspension (which entailed the loss of one game’s pay). Players leaving the bench during fights were reduced dramatically and almost eliminated entirely after a fight in the famous playoff game between the Heat and the Knicks where almost the entire Knick team left the bench.

  Five Knick players were suspended over the next two playoff games in shifts so the Knicks would have the minimum number of players required to suit up and they lost the last two games of the series to the Heat. The entire league was stunned that the penalty was not only enforced in the middle of a playoff series but also that Knicks superstar Patrick Ewing was one of those suspended. Starting the next season each NBA team had a coach assigned to keep players on the bench in case of a fight and players leaving the bench during a fight are few and far between which is the result of a rule with harsh but understood penalties that is understood to always be enforced.