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"Bush League" Or "Gamesmanship": You Make the Call

Since it seems like I've been talking about Alex Rodriguez's "Ha!" play at third base in last night's Yankees-Blue Jays game for most of the day (especially with my buddy Rob), I thought it might be worth posting on a baseball blog such as the one you're currently reading.

If you're not familiar with the play, here's a brief recap. In the top of the ninth, Jorge Posada hit a pop-up to third base. A-Rod was running from second to third, and just before he got to the bag, he apparently yelled out something. Howie Clark, the Jays' third baseman, thought his shortstop, John McDonald, was calling for the ball and backed off. But McDonald wasn't, so the ball dropped to the turf and everyone was safe. (Check out the Pinstripe Alley and Bluebird Banter game threads.)

Was the distraction/deception the difference in the game? Well, the Yankees already had the lead, so you could argue it didn't. However, that would've been the third out in the inning, and the Jays would've been down by two runs in the bottom of the ninth instead of five.

But the larger question is whether or not A-Rod messing with Clark was a cheap play - or "bush league," as many of us like to say. Obviously, the Jays thought so, calling it "classless. McDonald was ready to throw down (and probably would've wanted to fight with closed fists, a preference we know doesn't suit A-Rod). His manager, John Gibbons, implied that it wasn't a tactic worthy of the Yankee's great history.

Rodriguez mustered a rather weak defense, claiming that he yelled "Ha!" not "Mine!" His third-base coach, Larry Bowa, corroborated the story, but what would you expect? Perhaps more telling is that A-Rod admitted it was a "desperate" play, an attempt to score a much-needed win. And if you look at his reaction when the Jays are protesting, it seems like he knew he was wrong. If he thought McDonald and Gibbons were just splitting hairs, he likely would've just stood on third base with his hands on his hips, shaking his head, or rolling his eyes. But instead, he tries to plead his case. "What? What did I do?"

I guess I'm just curious what other people think. When I first heard about the play this morning, my first reaction was surprise that this sort of thing doesn't happen all the time. In basketball, a defender might clap his hands, trying to fool an offensive player into passing the ball in that direction. Of course, a player wouldn't yell "Ha!" as someone was attempting a free throw. And in that situation, you're not talking about a baseball potentially smacking someone on the head.

Captain Obvious alert: I never played Major League Baseball. But John McDonald does. And if he says it was a "bush league" play, and so do his teammates and manager, then I'd tend to believe them. You might speculate that A-Rod's fellow New York Yankees feel the same way, since none of them came to his defense in any of the game stories I read.

Since Rob played baseball at a higher level than I ever did, I wanted to get his opinion on this. He said it was a play you wouldn't even see in softball. Now that I can confirm. I usually play third base, and no one's ever tried that on me. But I'm already bad enough at catching pop-ups, so maybe the other team figures they don't have to bother.

Baseball's "unwritten rules" are such murky waters. What's "fair" and what isn't? What's actually considered a rule? As Rob said to me, why is it (somewhat) acceptable for a runner on second base to steal signs and relay them to the batter, yet the batter can't sneak a peek at the catcher making those same signs?

If you want to stick to the letter of the law, however, A-Rod did break a rule. Again, this comes from Rob, via the MLB rulebook:

(a) Offensive interference is an act by the team at bat which interferes with, obstructs, impedes, hinders or confuses any fielder attempting to make a play. If the umpire declares the batter, batter- runner, or a runner out for interference, all other runners shall return to the last base that was in the judgment of the umpire, legally touched at the time of the interference.

I'd love to know what you guys think about this. Or maybe you'd rather just get back to Tigers talk. We all know one thing: Neifi would never stand for this $#!+. A-Rod would've been sipping his meals through a straw for the next month.