Why Aren't the Rules the Rules?

Dear Sports Fan,

Reading about the bad call in the Pittsburgh/Atlanta game last night reminded me of something I’ve always wondered. Whether it’s because the ref is looking the other way (literally or figuratively), or because of just plain human error, the rules in sports are often either not enforced, or not enforced correctly. But in many cases, it seems like people just consider that an integral part of the game! Especially given the increasing ability of technology to settle disputes, why not just come up with what the real rules ought to be, and then enforce them as thoroughly as possible?



Dear Erik,

Great question! In fact, this is such an interesting question that I’m going to break my answer into a couple blog posts.

The bad call that you’re referring to is this one:

It won’t work:

Sports rules are complicated and the action happens very, very quickly. Assuming that there is no way that we’re going to be able to rework the rules to change something as integral as “if the catcher has the ball in his glove and touches the runner before he touches home plate, he’s out” then one has to wonder how technology will help. Setting aside video replay for a second, let’s look for another solution. Okay, so — let’s put a chip in the ball. Then, let’s put some material in the catcher’s glove such that the ball knows when it’s in the glove. Great — now we’re cooking with gas! Now we have to have either more material covering the runner’s uniform… and hands, arms, head, neck, etc. Or, I guess we could just monitor whether the glove is making contact by putting some sort of pressure meeter into the ball or glove. Except that won’t work because that glove could hit the ground, the ump, or the catcher’s own body. I’m not sure any of this will work, so let’s go back and examine video replay.

Video replay is the most common form of technology in sports. Football, basketball, hockey, even baseball (believe it or not) have some form of video replay in their rules. In baseball use of video replay is restricted to basically deciding whether a ball was a home run or whether it never left the ball-park, did leave but was subject to fan interference, or left but was foul (too far off to the side to count.) Other sports have more extensive video replay rules. You may have noticed NFL coaches comically struggling to get a little red flag out of their sock, pants, shirt, etc. and throw it onto the field — they are “challenging” the ref’s judgement and calling for a video replay. Every goal in hockey is reviewed by a team of video officials in Toronto. The NBA has been able to replay shots at the end of quarters and games and just recently added video replay for unclear out-of-bounds calls.

Tennis has a system called Hawkeye. This is probably as close as it gets to your suggestion. According to Wikipedia, “all Hawk-Eye systems are based on the principles of triangulation using the visual images and timing data provided by at least four high-speed video cameras located at different locations and angles around the area of play.” In tennis the rules are objective and there is technology which insures the calls are too. Or at least can be. The computer has not totally replaced the line-judges or the referee yet… although I could see a time in the not so distant future where they could.

Most other sports are not as tidy as tennis though. Take the call at home plate that started this discussion: here’s how Jonah Keri described it on Grantland.com

If you want to use replay to make a simple yes or no call, you won’t get unanimity. And no, the fact that Lugo acted as if he were out does not constitute iron-clad proof.

Watch the replay for yourself, with the sound off.

Here’s what I did see: Lugo starts his slide well in front of the plate. Home plate umpire Jerry Meals starts to make his safe sign just as Lugo touches home with his right foot. There’s no way Meals has time to process the play and rule that Lugo had already touched home. He’s also not looking at Lugo’s foot, but rather at the swipe tag. (It should be noted that Lugo did in fact touch home with his right foot the first time — the follow-up tap of home with his left foot was unnecessary.)

Either way, replay wouldn’t have resolved the issue. Not to the point where all parties, including a purple Clint Hurdle, would have been satisfied.

And, as Keri also points out, at the time of this call, the ump had been on the field working in a high-pressure environment for six hours and 39 minutes. Furthermore — even Baseball is a nice tidy game compared to Hockey or Football. No matter how many cameras, sensors, and computers you have, there is no chance in hell you’ll be able to figure out what happened at the bottom of a pile with thousands of pounds of angry football player fighting over the ball.

More tomorrow…
Ezra Fischer 


Come the fall, when the NFL is back in full swing and college football, playoff baseball, and the NHL are holding up their end of the bargain, this rating may be seen as a little bit inflated. For mid-summer though, this is a pretty sports filled day.

Soccer: Starting with 9 a.m. this morning, there are a series of good soccer games on today. The NY Red Bull play a French team PSG in London, there’s a full slate of MLS games, and then at 7 p.m. ESPN2 is showing a friendly between Manchester United and Barcelona, two of the best 5 teams in the world.

Baseball: Fox has a bunch of games this afternoon including another Cubs vs Cardinals game, Angels vs Tigers, and Devil Rays vs Mariners. The Mariners are coming off a record 17 game losing streak.

X Games: These are still happening. ABC will be getting in on the skateboarding action basically all afternoon.

Golf: CBS continues is quest to be the best network for geriatrics by showing something called the Greenbriar Classic today. The golf tournament might be livened up a bit by putting a hole in the no-longer secret bunker that was meant to house Congress in the event of a nuclear holocaust… but it probably won’t be.

The Life of an Agent

Interesting column from Rick Reilly at ESPN about a day in the life of an NFL agent – and not just any day in the life, but perhaps one of the craziest days anyone involved in NFL personnel will ever see. The highlight? An NFL player calling his agent, alarmed that he got a drug testing kit from the league and freaking out because…well…as Reilly says with masterful diplomacy, the player wasn’t “ready” to take a drug test. Turns out you can’t cram for those. Definitely worth clicking to see how it turns out, cause it’s phenomenal and there’s no way I’m spoiling the ending here.

9:44 a.m. Big crisis.

A prominent NFC player is freaking out. The NFL has dropped off a urine-testing kit at his house when he’s clearly not — how shall we say this? — ready.

Apparently, the end of the lockout came as a surprise to him. Schaffer talks him off the ledge.

“Hold on, hold on (blank). They can’t do that. They haven’t finished the language on drug testing yet in the CBA. They can’t test you if it’s not in the contract. This is still America, right?”

Schaffer calls the players’ union to check. A union lawyer gets on the line and Schaffer gets the player on the line.

“OK, listen carefully, (blank). We need you to have somebody videotape you putting the entire thing — the test tubes, the instructions, everything — into a clear, sealed bag. Then FedEx it to me immediately. Got it?”

“OK, OK,” the player says.

Then, just as a precaution, Schaffer says, “Read me the directions, will you?”

Click here to see what happens…

Enjoy this month of mostly green. With the NFL out of its labor dispute and the country about to hit the ceiling, soon all we’ll have is sports!

Baseball: The biggest game of the day feels like it’s the Chicago Cubs playing their rival the St. Louis Cardinals. This is an illusion. It’s not a big game, the Cubs are a terrible 42 – 63![1] What is behind it feeling like a big game? Well, the Cubs are something of a public team because they play in Wrigley field which everyone loves because it’s old and covered with ivy, they have an easily understood plot,[2] and because their local television station, WGN is a superstation so their games were on basic TV when you were a kid and no one had cable.

Football: The CFL (Canadian Football League) is back and plays two games tonight — Montreal at Hamilton and Toronto at Edmonton. You might remember from the post we did explaining downs that football in the U.S. has four downs per possession. The CFL plays with only three downs per possession, proving once again that regardless of the exchange rate, everything in Canada is 3/4 as good as in the United States.

If you don’t know what these color[3] things mean, read the key for TMI.

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)

  1. 42 wins, 63 losses so far in the interminable baseball 162 game season
  2. They haven’t won a championship in 102 years. In 1945 they offended a tavern owner by asking him to remove his goat for the stadium. He responded by cursing the team and despite various attempts to exorcize this curse, the Cubs have not been to a World Series since.
  3. “colour” for our Canadian friends… what? we don’t have any Canadian friends anymore?

What are my Cap Options at a Ball Game?

Dear Sports Fan,

I want to go to a baseball game and wear a baseball cap but I don’t like the home team’s colors. What are my options?

Unknown female name rhyming with Bill


Dear Jill,

It seems to be fashion week here at Dear Sports Fans.  If you missed it, glance back at Monday’s column when Dean Russell Bell helped you pick out the perfect sports jersey for your persona.  If you look closely he will also answer the age-old question of why baseball players wear belts. (Hint: the answer is not to hold in their rather athletic guts.)

Today’s question, though, is a hat of a different color, or to be more precise, whether or not it is acceptable to wear one to a baseball game.

In my mind, sporting events are in many ways, like a costume party.  You have:  your neighbor who has spent every waking moment since last October planning out and putting together the perfect customized costume; the group that upon receiving the invite spend about a week putting together a solid outfit; the couple in your office who will run to the store at the last minute and just pick up whatever costume is still available; the girl who shows up in lingerie and black fuzzy ears and tells everyone that she is a cat; and, of course, the guy who will talk non-stop about how stupid and juvenile it is to wear a costume every single day until the party and then show up without a costume at the party to continue his tirade

For you Jill, I think we can immediately rule out the first and the last.  Your objections to wearing a specific colored hat clearly indicate that you are not about to forgo the hat for a full mascot costume or body paint.  On the other hand, given that you are making the effort to wear a hat at all, I think we can safely rule out our costume curmudgeon.  Both are ok.  No one expects you to become super crazy fan overnight, and everyone is thankful that you aren’t going to attend the event just to be the downer in the corner.

That leaves you with three other options for finding the perfect hat:

First, if you see yourself as the last minute couple, willing to make the effort but not overly concerned about the result, I think we can find you a hat that would work.  These days baseball hats are not only a way to support a team but also a fashion trend.  As such, you can buy a team logoed hat in just about any shade or design you want.  If you don’t want to be completely off the wall in your hat choice, try to find a hat that has some relation to your team colors.  Many teams have accent colors that they incorporate into logos or gear that might be a good alternative.  In addition, all baseball teams have an alternate or third jersey that they have or will use on occasion.[1] Sometimes those jerseys involve very different colors that you could consider.

Or, if you are a kitty cat kind of girl, then there is a Pepto-Bismol pink hat with your name all over it.  Some marketing genius in the sports world decided that girls who watch sports are only comfortable doing so in a bumble gum pink hat adorned with rhinestones and glitter.  Despite what my derisive tone my lead you to believe, this isn’t actually a terrible option, if you happen to like pink.  They do have some more subtle pink options, and the hats are official team merchandise so they support your team and the league.

And lastly, and my personal preference, if you are a member of the group, you will realize that the best way to have fun at any type of social event, but especially a sporting event, is to get into it and let yourself have fun.  Go ahead and buy the hat in the official team colors.  The worst that happens is that you own an ugly hat that you will only ever wear when surrounded by a giant crowd of people all similarly adorned in ugly colored garb.  It’s just a hat.   You can easily hide it in your bag and then put it on when you walk into the stadium.   And who knows?  Maybe you will let yourself have enough fun that by the end of the game, you might just forget to remove that ugly hat before you walk out of the stadium.

Have fun,
Lisa Filipek

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)

  1. According to Wikipedia, the NY Yankees are the only teams without a third jersey.  I am  going to go out on a limb here and assume that the colors that bother you aren’t navy blue and white.

Right, so — I am not into the X Games but they do start today. I can see that if your sports fan is into Skateboarding, Snowboarding, Waterboarding,[1] surfing, or BMX, then he or she will probably be glued to the television tonight.

Baseball: The Pittsburgh Pirates play the Atlanta Braves again tonight for the third day in a row. Two nights ago they played into the 19th inning. That’s more than two times longer than a normal game! Last night their game only went into the 10th inning. It’s become a compelling run, so be aware of that if your fan is prone to interest in exciting baseball. The baseball trade deadline (last day in the season a team can trade a player) is coming up in a few days which also drives interest in the sport.

Soccer: The slew of interesting international friendlies continues with Juventus vs. Chivas Guadalajara tonight at 8:00 p.m.

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)

  1. not waterboarding

Why do Baseball Players Wear Belts?

Dear Sports Fan,

Why do baseball players wear belts?

Just sayin’,


Dear Ashley,

Baseball, to a degree not seen in other sports, is grounded in traditions that have been around for over a hundred years. To us, and even to the players, some of the traditions make no sense – but because baseball is perceived, or wants to be perceived, as “America’s game,” something that’s unchanging and consistent throughout history, the traditions remain.

Which is a roundabout way of saying there’s no good explanation for why baseball players do a lot of things and you can just add this one to the list. When you think about baseball players’ attire, they’re actually more appropriately dressed up to go out to the club than they are to play a professional sport. Their shirt is actually a button-down, unlike every other major professional sport, where they wear jerseys of some sort. The players are given a sartorial choice when it comes to their socks: some pull their pants all the way down to their cleats, some have their socks meet their pants at the knee like an 18th century landowner. So there’s an element of (attempted) style to the baseball uniform that speaks to how the sport sees, or saw, itself.

This is a good opportunity to discuss the uniforms from the major (American) (male[1]) sports. Not how nice they are, but on whether the components of the uniform – jersey/pants/footwear/hatwear – would look most appropriate on a teenager, someone from the 80’s, a yuppie, or one of Dr. Evil’s evil henchmen – ignoring all of the logos, etc. To whit:

Basketball: Teenager. Easiest of the bunch. Tank top with long baggy shorts and sneakers. I just described half of the teenagers in America. Headwear: Some players wear headbands by personal choice – the only one of the major sports where headwear is optional, come to think of it.

Football: 80’s . When you come right down to it, football players are wearing cut-off tee shirts and (long) cut-off shorts – two regrettable legacies of the 80’s. Among many.

Hockey: Yuppies. Hockey players wear sweaters. ‘Nuff said.

Baseball: Yuppie. As discussed above, it’s a button-down tucked into long pants, complemented with a nice belt. Equally at home on the baseball diamond or at happy hour.

Golf: European yuppies. The collared shirts, the tight fitted pants, the visors – throw some sweaters around these guys’ shoulders and they could be on a yacht docked somewhere off the Riviera.

NASCAR: Dr. Evil’s evil henchmen. The jumpsuit is worn by everyone on the team. The driver gets a dark, tinted helmet. If Dr. Evil was sponsored by Home Depot, this is how his minions would dress.

Dean Russell Bell

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)

  1. I’m barely qualified to speak on men’s fashion, so if you think I’m going to set my toe in the waters of commenting on women’s fashion, you’re out of your mind.

It’s like the Bermuda triangle of sports these days. We’re stuck in the doldrums!

Baseball: blah blah blah blah.

Tennis: Okay — this is a new one. There are several tennis tournaments going on today: The ATP Studena Croatia Open, the WTA Tour Bank of the West Classic, the ATP Farmers Classic, and the WTA Mid-Atlantic. None of these are a big deal though, they are early warm ups for the U.S. Open which starts at the end of August.

Soccer: Another set of warm-ups, this time for the European league seasons which start in mid-August. Today’s premier match is a friendly between the Italian team Juventus and the Mexican team Club America which is on ESPN2 at 8:00 p.m..

Football: As you might have heard, a deal has been reached in the NFL lockout. What this means for you is that there will now be a mindlessly extreme amount of hours of people TALKING about football on television. Last night ESPN spent three prime-time hours talking about football. There will be more today. At 10 a.m. teams will officially be allowed to start negotiating with free-agents. Rumor, speculation, and obsession will rule the day! See if you can convince your fan that these three horsemen are largely non-visual and therefore need not dominate the television.

What makes car racing a sport?

Dear Sports Fan,

What makes racing a sport? And why do Formula One drivers get paid so much?



Dear Sarah,

The question of what constitutes a sport will be a recurring one on this website as it is in bars and around water-coolers all over the world. In a recent post I made the only partially tongue-in-cheek comment that I consider baseball to be only nominally a sport. There is some combination of physicality, objective standards of winning, and tradition that defines an activity as a sport. In this case the element that is probably making you question whether car racing is a sport is the physicality. Certainly the objective standard for winning is clear. Whoever gets over that line first wins! As far as tradition goes, there were chariot races back in ancient rome and organized running races even before that.

I have to admit that I have been somewhat dubious of how physical the sport of racing is and how physically talented the drivers need to be. Crazy, true, but world-class athletes? I never thought so until I read this article on espn.com a few days ago. It all starts, as so much does these days with a tweet. A young NFL wide receiver named Golden Tate[1] tweeted about famous race-car driver Jimmy Johnson:

“Jimmy Johnson up for best athlete????? Um nooo … Driving a car does not show athleticism.”

During the slow summer sports season, this sparked a small controversy. Embeded into the ESPN article is a clip from their show Sports Science where they did some tests on driver Carl Edwards[2] and found that he tested very well when compared to other athletes in terms of cardiovascular fitness, reaction times, and mental focus. I came away from reading and watching with a bit more appreciation for drivers, especially because even if all they have to do 99.9% of the time is turn left, they still have to do it at 200 miles per hour and the .1% when they have to do other things like avoid a crash ahead of them while talking to their crews about whether or not to get new tires is WAY beyond what a normal person could do.

As far as why Formula One drivers get paid so much… it seems like it has something to do with sponsorships. According to this long discussion on ferrarichat.com[3] even to make it into Formula 1 as a driver, you need to have some serious financial backing. There seems to be a history of “gentlemen drivers” in Formula 1 who we’re more rich guys who drove than drivers who wanted to become rich. In the last 10 to 15 years the money seems to be driven by the 500+ million people who watch Formula 1 on television and scantily clad women — a well known symbiotic relationship. It’s not all sunny though, there have been several bancruptcies of Formula 1 teams lately. Like many sports it feels like the value is largely habit and I worry about it collapsing sometime.

Thanks for your question,
Ezra Fischer

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)

  1. Yes, I’m going to draft him onto my fantasy football team just for his amazingly cool name…
  2. Okay… Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards? Can we please get a funny name? Oh… Wait… there was a race driver named Dick Trickle? Point retracted.
  3. It exists!


According to sportsnetwork.com which is where I’ve been getting most of my sports television scheduling information from… there is NO sports on TV today except for Baseball. A green day indeed.

Baseball: It seems like the marquee matchup of the day is the Pittsburgh Pirates at the Atlanta Braves. At least that’s what our ESPN overlords have decreed. The Atlanta Braves have been famous for having won their division 14 times in a row and only winning the World Series once. The Pittsburgh Pirates have been famous for having had 18 consecutive losing seasons — a record in any U.S. sports league. Also they had a guy named Doc Ellis who claims to have thrown a no-hitter (pitching a whole baseball game without ever letting the other team get a hit) while on LSD. Time magazine ran an article about this with a really nifty animated video to go along with Doc’s description of the day which I recommend watching. Recently A.J. Daulerio of deadspin.com tried to recreate this on the newest baseball video game.