Baseball’s triple play is one of the more rare occurrences in the game. It has only occurred 681 times since 1876. Twice has a season gone by without a single triple play, and only one occurred in nine other years. Some teams will go decades without turning one.
More rare, however, is turning a triple play that is not the number-one highlight of the game. Such was the case last week when the Yankees turned their first triple play since 1968. In the top of the sixth inning in last Thursday’s Yankees-Athletics game in Oakland, just a half inning before he began the 5-4-3 triple play, Alex Rodriguez found himself between second and third base after a Robinson Cano popup fell into foul territory. Trotting back to first base, Rodriguez crossed over the mound instead of going around it. By no means did he go out of the way to cross the mound, but he made no effort to avoid it either, as he seemed to have gone right over the top of it, coming close to, if not touching the rubber.
Oakland’s starting pitcher, Dallas Braden, was not pleased. Stepping off of the rubber during the next at bat, Braden stared Rodriguez down. After he induced a ground ball that became an inning-ending double play, Braden began yelling at Rodriguez, walking off the field in a fit of anger, throwing his glove down violently and kicking a stack of cups across the dugout.
Braden, citing an “unwritten rule” in baseball, believed A-Rod’s actions were inappropriate and mocked both Braden and the game of baseball.
Braden told the Associated Press, “The long and short of it is it’s pretty much baseball etiquette…because you don’t run across the pitcher’s mound in between an inning or during the game. I was just dumbfounded that he would let that slip his mind…I was just trying to convey to him that I was still out there, that ball’s in my hand and that’s my pitcher’s mound. If he wants to run across the pitcher’s mound, tell him to go do laps in the bullpen.”
Rodriguez has said he thought that the whole thing was “pretty funny actually,” and that he has run across the mound before and didn’t think much of it. Replays of the incident show Rodriguez condescendingly shooing Braden away at the end of the inning.
It should be no surprise that A-Rod is once again breaking the rules, written or unwritten, and getting in trouble. After reports came out in February of 2009 that Rodriguez had used performance-enhancing drugs, Rodriguez confirmed the reports saying that he had used them in 2001 and 2003 while playing with the Texas Rangers and facing enormous pressure to perform. Few baseball fans will forget Rodriguez slapping the ball out of Boston Red Sox pitcher Bronson Arroyo’s glove on the way to first base in game six of the 2004 ALCS, a series the Yankees would lose after being up 3-0. Rodriguez does not limit his foul play to obvious rules violations, however. In 2007, A-Rod yelled “Ha!” at then Toronto third baseman Howie Clark as he camped under a popup. He didn’t say “I got it,” but this is certainly a no-no in baseball etiquette.
Yet how does baseball distinguish what is and isn’t allowed? The answer, actually, is quite obvious—a rule book. In that rule book, you won’t find that a baserunner cannot yell “Ha!” or even “I got it!” at an opposing fielder. You also won’t find that you cannot barrel over a catcher in Spring Training, that you do not steal in the late innings up by a ton of runs, that you do not bunt to break up a no-hitter (or perfect game), and neither do you find in the book of rules that a baserunner cannot run across the pitcher’s mound after a foul ball. Last I checked, isn’t the point of a game to win? Why shouldn’t a team steal up 8-0 in the ninth if they have a good chance? 8-0 deficits are overcome in the ninth, albeit rarely. If a guy is throwing a no-hitter but your team is only down one run and you have serious speed and good bunting ability, not only can you bunt, but maybe you should.
Is A-Rod a jerk? Of course, we all know that. Rodriguez told Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci in 2006, “When people write [bad things] about me, I don’t know if it’s [because] I’m good-looking, I’m biracial, I make the most money, I play on the most popular team.”
The highest paid player is not very likeable, even by his own fan base. When I asked a Yankee friend of mine if he thought the incident with Braden was malicious, he said, “It’s A-Rod. He is always doing stuff like this on purpose.”
Braden has every reason to not like the guy, but did A-Rod do anything wrong? No. It’s not a rule. Not only that, but it doesn’t even affect the play. It is one thing to call A-Rod “Bush League” like Blue Jays former manager John Gibbons did over the “Ha!” play, it is quite another to throw a Zambrano-esque tantrum over some guy jogging over “your mound” when you are not even on it.
However, Braden does make a good point that I can relate to as a baseball fan and purist and that should not be ignored. To Braden, it was not just about breaking up his rhythm (which, by the way, Braden only aided Rodriguez in doing by freaking out). It was about the integrity of the game itself.
Braden told ESPN, “Ultimately, he’s making a mockery of the game I love. That’s just not going to be stood for.”
While I do not think that running across the mound after a foul ball will make a “mockery” of baseball, constantly violating The Baseball Code has serious consequences to a sport rife with tradition, superstition, and courtesy. Perhaps baseball should actually codify some of the more egregious rules, like making spring baseball safer, allowing umpires to make judgment calls about calling the runner out if he yells something at a fielder during a play, and maybe even make the mound a “no-man’s zone” for anyone except the pitcher during the inning. The point is, there are rules for a reason, and if Braden wants to protect the game he loves, he should lobby the commissioner’s office, not yell at a petty, selfish player with a history of obnoxious actions.