What’s going on here?
During last night’s Texas Rangers, in a crucial moment with the bases loaded, Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre, waiting for his turn at bat, suddenly turned up within a few of yards of home plate, watching a pitcher he wasn’t familiar with to give Beltre an edge when he got to the plate. Baseball’s rules, however, require that the next batter remains in the on-deck circle provided, which is closer to the dugout and not behind home plate. Reasons for this include making sure that on-deck batters don’t interfere with play, can’t relay stolen signs to the batter, and aren’t killed by foul balls.
The home plate umpire called time and told Beltre to get back in the on-deck circle. Beltre then moved the on-deck circle to where he had been standing.
The umpire threw him out of the game, and rightfully so.
Umpires have discretion to toss a player for “making a travesty of the game.” This is an ethics rule, based on maintaining integrity: the baseball rule book knows that in a complex structure like baseball, situations will arise where conduct isn’t specifically prohibited but clearly violates the spirit of the game. [Then there are gray areas, as I described in this post, one of my all-time favorites.] The law has a similar catch-all ethics rule: lawyers are prohibited from “engaging in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice.” The classic example of “making a travesty of the game” is when a team in the lead as a rainstorm intensifies tries to make sure enough innings have been played for the game to be official (the losing team must have been up to bat five times). In a few games, this has meant that the team that was ahead was desperate to make three outs as quickly as possible, and the team in the field, already losing and desperate to have the game stopped before it became official, had an interest in making sure that no outs were made so the inning could drag on until the field was flooded. These games—I saw one of them—degenerated into farces in which batters were swinging at balls three feet wide of the plate, pitchers were trying to hit batters to put them on base, baserunners were taking leads half-way to second base while pitchers refuse to pick them off, outfielders were allowing balls to drop in for hits and the batters who hit them were sloooowly jogging to first so they would be out.
In Beltre’s case, he was on firm ground legally: the rule doesn’t specify exactly where the on-deck circle should be, and in many parks, they are not portable. This one was, however, so technically, he might have been within the rules. He wasn’t within the spirit or intent of the rule, however, and he also was defying the umpire’s orders, which is intrinsically unethical.
Score one for ethics over law.