Roenicke’s New Rulebook


Team off-days are always an adjustment for me. I am usually gearing up for watching the game or trying to figure out an angle to write about, but when the team has a gap in the schedule I’m kind of out of things to do in my free time. In that way, days like this are like another day off for me. I get to relax and not worry about trying to impress you folks for a day or so.

But sometimes, I happen upon a piece of news that I just can’t resist. Today, Carrie Muskat and Adam McCalvy gave me just that.

If you haven’t read the post yet, I highly suggest you check it out. But since you’re already here, let me give you the long and short of it.  With the Brewers up 5-0 on the Cubs, Carlos Gomez came in to pinch run for Mark Kotsay. The fact that Kotsay was on base was exciting enough, but the fact that Gomez stole second and third may be even more exciting.  After Gomez casually waited on third base, Cubs pitcher Jeff Samardzija walked the bases loaded, and then trotted Gomez home. Not the flashiest way to go up 6-0, but you can’t argue with results.

Or can you?

Cubs Manager Mike Quade had a bit of a bone to pick about the situation, citing the much touted “unwritten rules of baseball.” The scuffle certainly isn’t serious, but enough to add a bit more fun back-and-forth to the slugfest that is the I-94 rivalry. To understand Quade’s exception to Milwaukee’s strategy, we need to understand more about the fascinating underbelly of baseball’s rules.

Baseball has always been something of a gentleman’s game, where sportsmanship is put on a premium and ‘showing up’ your opponent is rarely tolerated by other clubs. It’s a subject deeply rooted in baseball history and the rules themselves can be as confusing as they are ever-changing. Forgive my “Reading Rainbow” moment, but if you’d like to know more about the unwritten rules of baseball, check out The Baseball Codes for an in-depth look at the subject and some of the best baseball stories ever put on paper. For now, though, we are focusing on one distinct aspect of the rules Roenicke decided to ignore – or at the very least rearrange.

Running and stealing bases on an opponent when you have a lead is always a touchy subject. Everyone has a different view on what is and is not acceptable. For instance – I always heard that you shouldn’t run when you have a lead bigger than six, later than the 6th. Some people will tell you flat out if you are leading by more than a grand slam you shouldn’t be running. Still others will say regardless of the run count, if you are up in the 8th and 9th, keep your runners where they are. Confused yet? You aren’t alone. Quade did not like the situation, but conceded to the fact that Roenicke probably wasn’t trying to show up the Cubs. Few Brewers fans would be upset if he was.

To put it more bluntly, Ron Roenicke just plain didn’t care. The skipper told the press:

"If my concern with my team is I need more runs to make sure we win this ballgame, or, more importantly, to make sure I don’t have to use certain people in my bullpen, that’s what it comes down to."

Ronny is scratching at the surface of a sort of crossroads in baseball right now. Older managers – and baseball purists – will tell you that the ‘codes’ of the game are in place to preserve the game and keep it in line with the traditions that made baseball America’s Pastime. Newer managers and players will tell you that the game’s changing and the unwritten rules have to change with it. To be fair, a five run lead is not really as safe as it used to be, especially if a pitcher is worn down or the bullpen is thinning out.

Was it necessary to send Gomez running with a five run lead? Considering Samardzija walked in the run, it’s sort of a moot point either way. I will say that I certainly would not have made that decision considering where we were in the lineup and how the pitcher was doing, but then again there’s probably a good reason why I am not managing a ball club. (Yet. Fingers Crossed!) Ron said that he was concerned about the state of his bullpen and thought that adding extra runs would allow him to give Loe some extra rest for later games. What Roenicke is really getting at is that it’s important to be in the best position to ensure a win, and he isn’t willing to hang back for the sake of looking good. I have to say I love that mentality.

I’m all for the unwritten rules and how they keep the game in check, but I’m also in favor of winning games. If you have to scoot your toe over the line a little bit, what’s the harm if the line is largely arbitrary in the first place? It’s not like he’s handing out steroids or paying off umpires here. It shows a bit about Roenicke’s style in the beginning of the season; he’s ready to win now and win often. So the unwritten rules are all fair game in Miller Park, and Ron Roenicke may be ready to re-write them altogether.