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Want to Solve the Unwritten-Rules Problem? Let Teams Give Up

When their teams fall hopelessly behind, managers should be allowed to declare the mercy rule on themselves.

Baseball is a game of outs—or put another way, it’s about getting the other team off your lawn. So we should not be surprised when grumpy old baseball folks scream about unwritten rules being broken. It happened this week, when White Sox designated hitter Yermín Mercedes smacked a home run on a 3–0 pitch when his team was beating the Twins 15–4 in the ninth inning. The sporting thing, we are told, would be for Mercedes to … um, stop trying.

Fine. Take that thought a step further.

Let teams give up.

Yeah, give up. Concede. Call it a night. If a team falls hopelessly behind, it should be allowed to call the team bus driver instead of the bullpen. Let managers declare the mercy rule on themselves.

The notion might seem antithetical to one of the draws of baseball, which is that there is no clock, and therefore anybody can come back from any deficit at any time. I find that notion incredibly charming. The problem is that it’s not actually true. Sometimes a game is out of hand, and managers wisely decide not to waste any real pitchers in a game they won’t win, anyway, so they send an infielder to the mound and ask him to throw some slow fastballs and half-curveballs until the game finally ends.

That is a silly, cartoon version of baseball, and invariably, somebody does what Padres star Fernando Tatis Jr. did last year and Mercedes did this week: Swing away at a 3–0 pitch in a blowout. This ruffles a few feathers, including those of Mercedes’s manager, Tony La Russa, a man who, admittedly, seems to have extremely sensitive feathers. La Russa thinks it was disrespectful to try to hit a home run you don’t need, which makes me wonder: If you don’t need it, why bother?

The Twins trailed 15–4 in the ninth inning when Mercedes hit his home run. They sent first baseman Willians Astudillo out to pitch only because they had to send someone out to pitch. Astudillo’s fourth pitch to Mercedes was traveling so slowly that if it hit a pigeon, the pigeon would have laughed. Mercedes jumped on it.

But imagine a world where the Twins could just concede and hit the showers. Then nobody would hurt anybody’s limbs or feelings. And if the Twins decided to keep trying, then Mercedes would be free to keep trying, too.

Would it be weird to watch a team ask the ump for the check in the eighth inning? Sure, at first. But MLB has already decided seven-inning games are fine when teams are playing doubleheaders. So what’s the big deal about letting teams concede if the game is over?

This happens in other sports. The two best golfers ever, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods, both conceded short putts at the end of Ryder Cups—Nicklaus, in 1969, to allow Great Britain to tie, and Woods, in 2012, to allow Europe to wrap up a win. Competitive chess players resign when defeat is inevitable. It happens in cricket, though please don’t ask me how. Curling fans accept that sometimes you have to let the other side win. Boxers (and their trainers) can decide not to go out for the start of a round. It even (kind of) happens in special circumstances in baseball, like when players in a rundown finally give themselves up.

So let them quit. It’s O.K. Really. The republic will survive, and as Americans have learned in the last few months, there is honor in conceding when you lose and danger in refusing to do so.

Teams should be forced to play at least six full innings, mostly so that, in the final days of the regular season, if nothing is on the line and a team wants to save pitchers for the playoffs, fans still get their money’s worth. But once that seventh inning starts, let the losers quit.

I don’t know how often managers will actually throw in the proverbial (and perhaps literal) towel. But it will happen occasionally, and baseball will be better for it. Solve the unwritten-rules problem with one simple written rule: Once the seventh inning begins, the losing team can concede at any point. Call it the Yogi Berra rule: When it’s over, it’s over.

More MLB Coverage:
Apstein: Tony La Russa, MLB's Keeper of the Unwritten Rulebook
Verducci: What's Behind Baseball's Hit-by-Pitch Epidemic?
Laws: MLB Must Act Before Beanballs Hurt Players and the Game

Martell: MLB Must Amend Three-Batter Rule After Scary Situation