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The Stories Behind 12 Seemingly Obvious Baseball Rules

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Sure, these rules seem obvious—but in days past, they were challenged enough that officials added them to the rulebooks anyway.

1. Runners cannot run the bases backwards [Rule 7.01, 7.02, 7.08(i)]

Considering the purpose of a baserunner is to advance safely to home plate, running the bases in reverse seems nonsensical. However, the silly antics of Germany Schaefer, a journeyman infielder in the early 1900s, forced officials to put this rule in the book.

On August 4, 1911, Schaefer stole second, intending to draw a throw from the catcher to allow his teammate—Clyde Milan, who was on third—to steal home. However, the opposing catcher held the ball, keeping Milan struck at third. Hoping to recreate the play, Schaefer looked to steal again. This time, the only option was to steal first.

On the next pitch, he took off for first, but a double steal still didn't materialize; the catcher was too surprised to make the throw. The opposing player-manager ran onto the field to argue and amid the chaos Milan finally took off for home plate, where he was thrown out.

This wasn't the first time Schaefer attempted a double steal by regression, but the 1911 stunt received more publicity. It took until 1920, but the sport's officials finally passed a rule prohibiting such actions, which remains to this day. Now, if a player runs the bases in reverse order, he is automatically out.

2. No substitutions may be made while the ball is in play [Rule 3.03]

Rule 3.03 clearly states that substitutions can only take place when the ball is dead, prompting the question of why anyone would think to change players in the chaos of live action. The rule was instituted after an alert play by Michael Joseph “King” Kelly, a popular catcher-outfielder in the 1880s.

While he was sitting on the bench one day in 1891, an opposing batter hit a high foul ball that Kelly immediately recognized would be out of the reach of all of his teammates. Kelly, a player-manager, quickly jumped up and went after it, calling “Kelly now catching!” He made the catch, but the umpire refused to call the out. Kelly argued that the play was not against the rules, which at the time stated that substitutions could be made at any time.

That winter, the rules were changed to officially prevent such a play.

3. Umpires are prohibited from conferring with players or spectators [Rule 9.04(c)]

While the home team probably embraced such conferences with wide-eyed innocence (“What, our fans could make a biased call? Never!”), baseball officially banned umpires from conferring with players or people in the crowd in 1882. The rule overturned one from 1876 that allowed an umpire to confer with whomever he pleased if he or she had been unable to see a play. The practice of employing only a single umpire had necessitated such a rule. By 1882, however, the idea of a staff of umpires was becoming more popular, negating the need for assistance from players or fans. Presumably, the type of assistance spectators offered also probably did little to help matters.

4. Runners must touch each base [Rule 7.02, 7.04(d)]

It is not unusual to see ballplayers called out for failing to touch a base before advancing, and few fans would question why they are required to do so in the first place. Before the Civil War, that was only an unofficial requirement, and base runners did their best to take advantage of it. What started as just cutting corners soon devolved into making little effort to get near the bag at all when legging out an extra base hit. In 1864, the requirement became an official rule.

5. Base coaches are prohibited from running the bases while the ball is in play [Rule: 4.05(b)]

In the early days of the game, teams often tried to make fielders mistake a base coach for a runner. For example, in an 1886 game against Detroit, Chicago base coach Mike Kelly ran out to the shortstop position to provide a distraction for his runner. The introduction of coaches’ boxes the following year helped curb the tactic, but they failed to entirely eliminate it.

In 1890, George Smith, coaching for Brooklyn, ran down the third baseline in front of his runner, causing the catcher to mistakenly tag him while the baserunner slid in safely. After a long argument, the umpire ruled the baserunner out. A 1904 rule change finally prohibited the practice altogether.

6. An umpire is permitted to put a new baseball in play whenever he deems it necessary [Rule 3.01(e)]

In an era where major league teams go through nearly 1 million baseballs in a season, spelling this out seems completely unnecessary. In 1886, however, the idea was revolutionary. Prior to that year, the umpire had to give the teams five minutes to find a lost ball before he could supply a new one. Some especially frugal owners were unwilling to pay for the expense of a new ball and insisted that the search continue until the original ball was found.

While the wording has shifted some in the modern era, the rules still stipulate that the umpire has access to a supply of alternate balls that will last for the whole game, implying the umpire’s power to introduce them into play.

7. A fielder is not permitted to catch a ball with his cap [Rule 7.04(e), 7.05]

Although it's in place to keep fielders from using caps and other articles of clothing to make catches, this rule had to undergo various changes so it wouldn't be an advantage to the defensive team. The 1857 rules stated that if a player caught a ball with his cap, no opposing player could be put out until the pitcher had touched the ball.

The Boston Red Stockings turned this rule to their advantage on September 14, 1872, when the opposing team loaded the bases with no one out. The batter hit an easy popup to Boston shortstop George Wright, who deftly caught the ball with his cap, then tossed it to his pitcher. The pitcher threw it to the catcher, who tagged home plate and threw to third. Boston then applied tags to third base and second base before their opponents realized what was happening.

Although the Red Stockings argued for a triple play, the umpire refused to count the play at all. A clearer rule was established in 1873 and modified in 1874. Now, the runner is awarded the base if a fielder catches the ball with his cap.

8. Fielders are prohibited from doing jumping jacks while an opponent is batting [Rule 4.06(b)]

After Boston Braves batter Bob Elliott asked the second base umpire to move out of his line of vision on August 9, 1950, Giants second baseman Eddie Stanky saw the opportunity for a new distracting ploy. He moved to where the umpire had been standing and began to pace around, waving his arms and jumping up and down. He continued practicing his antics in subsequent games until umpires appealed to National League President Ford Frick, requesting a ruling on the legality of such actions.

Arguments for both sides became heated, until those against the practice expressed concern for the safety of hitters who become distracted during a pitch. Frick instructed umpires to eject fielders who employed jumping jacks or other annoying antics to distract the batsman, and his decision is preserved in the official rulebook to this day.

9. A batter was prohibited from deliberately striking out [Rule: 2.00]

The Sporting News called a deliberate strikeout on a wild pitch “one of the smartest schemes” in baseball at the turn of the 20th century. According to rules that are still in place, a batter becomes a runner that must be tagged or thrown out in the event of a swinging strikeout on a wild pitch. In an 1894 Southern League game, Abner Powell made it safely to second base after taking a mighty swing at a pitch he saw was going to go behind his back. The vast amount of foul territory behind home plate allowed the runner to take multiple bases before the catcher could collect the errant pitch. Eleven years later, in a Major League game between Detroit and Cleveland, Cleveland hitter Bill Bradley did the same thing. Before Detroit catcher Lew Drill could recover a pitch that sailed ten feet wide of the plate, Bradley had made it safely to second base.

A set of rules for baseball in 1868 and 1872 prohibited “willfully strik[ing] at balls for the purpose of striking out.” While no longer specifically banned, the official rules still address such a situation in Rule 2.00. However, getting to second base on a swinging strike three would be difficult in modern ballparks, since the amount of foul territory behind home plate has been vastly reduced in an effort to get fans closer to the game.

10. Baserunners are not permitted to continue running after they have been called out [Rule 7.09]

On June 17, 1926, the Cubs loaded the bases against Brooklyn in the sixth inning with one out. With right fielder Jimmy Cooney on first, Joe Kelly hit a grounder to Brooklyn first baseman Babe Herman, who threw it to his shortstop, Rabbit Maranville, to begin the double play. Maranville’s return throw was wild, however, and the Chicago runners continued to advance. The Brooklyn pitcher retrieved the ball and tried to gun down the runner he saw heading toward home plate. The runner peeled off for his dugout before he reached the plate, forcing the catcher, Mickey O’Neil, to follow him to apply the tag for the third out.

That runner, however, was none other than Jimmy Cooney, who had been the second out of the inning. The home plate umpire could think of nothing in the rules that prohibited such a play, and he ruled that the inning must continue. Cooney’s ploy had allowed Kelly to advance to third, and Chicago tacked on two more runs that inning.

No sportswriter of the era could recall a similar play, and it would fall under questionable legality today. Rule 7.09 stipulates that no member of the offensive team can take actions to confuse, hinder, or impede the fielders, but also stresses that a runner continuing to advance after being called out cannot by that act alone be called for interference. The result of such a play today, then, would depend entirely on the umpires’ judgment.

11. Fielders are prohibited from throwing potatoes or other objects while the ball is in play [Rule 9.01(c)]

From the early days of the sport, players have tried to deceive base runners through a plethora of tricks. One common example was when basemen would wildly throw small white objects to trick runners into thinking they had thrown the ball away. They would then calmly tag the runner with the real ball if he was deceived and left the base.

Potatoes, especially those peeled, frozen, and whitewashed, were a favorite. Umpires never tolerated the trick, even when players went to great lengths to excuse it. A catcher in the Evangeline League in 1934 tagged two runners out who tried to score after he launched a potato into the outfield, but the umpire called them safe and refused to accept his explanation that he had simply found the potato and was trying to get it off the field of play. An 1889 member of the Staten Island Athletic Club learned the hard way that the hidden-potato trick was not allowed in college ball, either, when he was asked to resign from the club after he employed the ruse and the umpire ruled the runner safe in a game against Yale.

Minor league catcher Dave Bresnahan tried to revive the old trick on August 31, 1987, but the umpire ruled the runner safe. The next day, the Indians fined and then released Bresnahan. While nothing in the rulebook actually prohibits throwing potatoes, each time it has occurred, the umpires have ruled it to be illegal under rule 9.01(c), which allows umpires to make a ruling for anything not covered in the rulebook.

12. Fielders are not permitted to blow a ball foul [Rule 9.01(c)]

In a 2012 Spring Training game, Los Angeles Dodgers third baseman Jerry Hairston fell to his knees and attempted to blow a slow dribbler foul. His attempt was unsuccessful, but sportswriters immediately harkened back to a similar play Seattle third baseman Lenny Randle had made on May 28, 1981.

Randle successfully blew the ball into foul territory and Larry McCoy, the home plate umpire, called the ball foul, but reversed his decision after Kansas City manager Jim Frey argued. Evoking his powers from rule 9.01(c), he declared that Randle had illegally altered the course of the ball. His ruling set a precedent, making the play unofficially illegal ever since.

Randle had not been the first to try such a stunt, though. Bert Haas, a member of the Montreal Royals of the International League, had tried the same thing on a suicide squeeze in a 1940 game. When Haas realized he would not be able to throw out either runner, he began his efforts to blow the ball. Just before the ball reached third base, it rolled foul. The umpire ruled the runner had to return to third and the batter back to the plate. Strangely, the opposing team did not protest the decision. After the game, however, International League President Frank Shaughnessy issued a statement that no player would be permitted to blow a ball foul after that.

While knowledge of Shaughnessy’s ruling may have spared Randle the inclusion in many sports blooper reels, McCoy’s 1981 ruling set a precedent at the Major League level that such a play would not be tolerated today, even though it is not in the rule book.

Additional sources: The Giant Book of Strange but True Sports Stories; A Game of Inches: The Stories Behind the Innovations that Shaped Baseball: The Game Behind the Scenes (Vol. 2); Baseball Almanac.

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Every New Movie, TV Series, and Special Coming to Netflix in May
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Netflix is making way for loads of laughs in its library in May, with a handful of original comedy specials (Steve Martin, Martin Short, Carol Burnett, Tig Notaro, and John Mulvaney will all be there), plus the long-awaited return of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Here’s every new movie, TV series, and special making its way to Netflix in May.

MAY 1

27: Gone Too Soon

A Life of Its Own: The Truth About Medical Marijuana

Amelie

Barbie Dreamhouse Adventures: Season 1

Beautiful Girls

Darc

God's Own Country

Hachi: A Dog's Tale

Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay

Hellboy II: The Golden Army

High School Musical 3: Senior Year

John Mulaney: Kid Gorgeous Live at Radio City

Mr. Woodcock

My Perfect Romance

Pocoyo & Cars

Pocoyo & The Space Circus

Queens of Comedy: Season 1

Reasonable Doubt

Red Dragon

Scream 2

Shrek

Simon: Season 1

Sliding Doors

Sometimes

The Bourne Ultimatum

The Carter Effect

The Clapper

The Reaping

The Strange Name Movie

Yu-Gi-Oh! Arc-V: Season 2

MAY 2

Jailbreak

MAY 4

A Little Help with Carol Burnett

Anon

Busted!: Season 1

Dear White People: Volume 2

End Game

Forgive Us Our Debts

Kong: King of the Apes: Season 2

Manhunt

My Next Guest Needs No Introduction With David Letterman: Tina Fey

No Estoy Loca

The Rain: Season 1

MAY 5

Faces Places

MAY 6

The Joel McHale Show with Joel McHale

MAY 8

Desolation

Hari Kondabolu: Warn Your Relatives

MAY 9

Dirty Girl

MAY 11

Bill Nye Saves the World: Season 3

Evil Genius: the True Story of America's Most Diabolical Bank Heist

Spirit Riding Free: Season 5

The Kissing Booth

The Who Was? Show: Season 1

MAY 13

Ali Wong: Hard Knock Wife

MAY 14

The Phantom of the Opera

MAY 15

Girlfriends' Guide to Divorce: Season 4

Grand Designs: Seasons 13 - 14

Only God Forgives

The Game 365: Seasons 15 - 16

MAY 16

89

Mamma Mia!

The 40-Year-Old Virgin

The Kingdom

Wanted

MAY 18

Cargo

Catching Feelings

Inspector Gadget: Season 4

MAY 19

Bridge to Terabithia

Disney’s Scandal: Season 7

Small Town Crime

MAY 20

Some Kind of Beautiful

MAY 21

Señora Acero: Season 4

MAY 22

Mob Psycho 100: Season 1

Shooter: Season 2

Terrace House: Opening New Doors: Part 2

Tig Notaro Happy To Be Here

MAY 23

Explained

MAY 24

Fauda: Season 2

Survivors Guide to Prison

MAY 25

Ibiza

Steve Martin and Martin Short: An Evening You Will Forget for the Rest of Your Life

The Toys That Made Us: Season 2

Trollhunters: Part 3

MAY 26

Sara's Notebook

MAY 27

The Break with Michelle Wolf

MAY 29

Disney·Pixar's Coco

MAY 30

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Season 4

MAY 31

Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story

My Next Guest Needs No Introduction With David Letterman: Howard Stern

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20 Best Docuseries You Can Stream Right Now
A scene from Wild Wild Country (2018)
A scene from Wild Wild Country (2018)
Netflix

If your main interests are true crime and cooking, you’re in the middle of a Renaissance Age. The Michelangelos of nonfiction are consistently bringing stellar storytelling to twisty tales of murder and mayhem as well as luxurious shots of food prepared by the most creative culinary minds.

But these aren’t the only genres that documentary series are tackling. There’s a host of history, arts, travel, and more at your streaming fingertips. When you want to take a break from puzzling out who’s been wrongfully imprisoned, that is.

Here are the 20 best docuseries to watch right now, so start streaming.

1. WILD WILD COUNTRY (2018)

What happens when an Indian guru with thousands of American followers sets up shop near a small town in Oregon with the intent to create a commune? Incredibly sourced, this documentary that touches on every major civic issue—from religious liberty to voting rights—should be your new obsession. When you choose a side, be prepared to switch. Multiple times.

Where to watch it: Netflix

2. FLINT TOWN (2018)

If your heart is broken by what’s going on in Flint, Michigan, be prepared to have that pain magnified and complicated. The filmmakers behind this provocative series were embedded with police in Flint to offer us a glimpse at the area’s local struggles and national attention from November 2015 through early 2017.

Where to watch it: Netflix

3. MAKERS: WOMEN WHO MAKE AMERICA (2013)

Narrated by Meryl Streep, this three-part series covers a half-century of American experience from the earliest days of second-wave feminism through Clarence Thomas’s Supreme Court nomination in the 1990s. Ellen DeGeneres, Condoleezza Rice, Sally Ride, Hillary Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, and more are featured, and the series got six more episodes in a second season.

Where to watch it: Makers.com

4. THE JINX (2015)

After the massive success of Serial in 2014, a one-two punch of true crime docuseries landed the following year. One was the immensely captivating study of power, The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst, which chronicled the bizarre, tangled web of the real estate mogul who was suspected of several murders. The show, which could be measured in jaw-drops per hour, both registered real life and uniquely affected it.

Where to watch it: HBO

5. MAKING A MURDERER (2015)

The second major true crime phenom of 2015 was 10 years in the making. Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos uncovered the unthinkable story of Steven Avery, a man wrongfully convicted of sexual assault who was later convicted of murdering a different woman, Teresa Halbach. Not just a magnifying glass on the justice system and a potential small town conspiracy, it’s also a display of how stories can successfully get our blood boiling.

Where to watch it: Netflix

6. WORMWOOD (2017)

Speaking of good conspiracies: documentary titan Errol Morris turns his keen eye to a CIA project that’s as famous as it is unknown—MKUltra. A Cold War-era mind control experiment. LSD and hypnosis. The mysterious death of a scientist. His son’s 60-year search for answers. Morris brings his incisive eye to the hunt.

Where to watch it: Netflix

7. FIVE CAME BACK (2017)

Based on Mark Harris’s superlative book, this historical doc features filmmakers like Steven Spielberg and Guillermo del Toro discussing the WWII-era work of predecessors John Ford, William Wyler, John Huston, Frank Capra, and George Stevens. Also narrated by Meryl Streep, it looks at how the war shaped the directors and how they shaped the war. As a bonus, Netflix has the war-time documentaries featured in the film available to stream.

Where to watch it: Netflix

8. THE STORY OF FILM: AN ODYSSEY (2011)

If you can’t afford film school, and your local college won’t let you audit any more courses, Mark Cousins’s 915-minute history is the next best thing. Unrivaled in its scope, watching it is like having a charming encyclopedia discuss its favorite movies. Yes, at 15-episodes it’s sprawling, so, yes, you should watch it all in one go. Carve out a weekend and be ready to take notes on all the movies you want to watch afterward.

Where to watch it: Sundance Now

9. UGLY DELICIOUS (2018)

David Chang, the host of the first season of The Mind of a Chef, has returned with a cultural mash-up disguised as a foodie show. What does it mean for pizza to be “authentic”? What do Korea and the American South have in common? With his casual charm in tow, Chang and a variety of special guests explore people through the food we love to eat as an artifact that brings us all together.

Where to watch it: Netflix

10. JAZZ (2000)

A legend of nonfiction, Ken Burns has more than a few docuseries available to stream, including long-form explorations of the Civil War and baseball. His 10-episode series on jazz exhaustively tracks nearly a century of the formation and evolution of the musical style across the United States. You’ll wanna mark off a big section of the calendar and crank up the volume.

Where to watch it: Amazon

11. THE STAIRCASE (2004)

In 2001, author Michael Peterson reported to police that his wife had died after falling down a set of stairs, but police didn’t buy the story and charged him with her murder. Before the current true crime boom, before Serial and all the rest, there was Jean-Xavier de Lestrade’s Peabody Award-winning docuseries following Peterson’s winding court case. The mystery at the heart of the trial and the unparalleled access Lestrade had to Peterson’s defense make this a must-see. (Netflix just announced that it will be releasing three new episodes of the series this summer.)

Where to watch it: Sundance Now

12. PLANET EARTH II (2016)

The sequel to the 2006 original is a real stunner. Narrated (naturally) by Sir David Attenborough, featuring music from Hans Zimmer, and boasting gorgeous photography of our immeasurably fascinating planet, this follow-up takes us through different terrains to see the life contained within. There are snow leopards in the mountains, a swimming sloth in the islands, and even langurs in our own urban jungle. Open your eyes wide to learn a lot or put it on in the background to zen out.

Where to watch it: Netflix

13. THE NATIONAL PARKS: AMERICA’S BEST IDEA (2009)

The cheapest way to visit Yosemite, Yellowstone, Muir Woods, and more. This Emmy-winning, six-part series is both a travelogue and a history lesson in conservation that takes up the argument of why these beautiful places should be preserved: to quote President Roosevelt, “for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.”

Where to watch it: Amazon

14. CONFLICT (2015)

Experience the too-often-untold stories of conflict zones through the lenses of world class photographers like Nicole Tung, Donna Ferraro, and João Silva. This heart-testing, bias-obliterating series is unique in its views into dark places and eye toward hope.

Where to watch it: Netflix

15. LAST CHANCE U (2016)

Far more than a sports documentary, the story of the players at East Mississippi Community College will have you rooting for personal victories as much as the points on the scoreboard. Many of the outstanding players on the squad lost spots at Division I schools because of disciplinary infractions or failing academics, so they’re seeking redemption in a program that wants them to return to the big-name schools. There are two full seasons to binge and a third on the way.

Where to watch it: Netflix

16. VICE (2013)

Currently in its sixth season, the series is known for asking tough questions that need immediate answers and giving viewers a street-level view of everything from killing cancer to juvenile justice reform. Its confrontational style of gonzo provocation won’t be everyone’s cup of spiked tea, but it’s filling an important gap that used to be filled by major network investigative journalists. When they let their subjects—from child soldiers suffering PTSD after fighting for ISIS to coal miners in Appalachia—tell their stories, nonfiction magic happens.

Where to watch it: HBO

17. CHEF’S TABLE (2015)

From David Gelb, the documentarian behind Jiro Dreams of Sushi, this doc series is a backstage pass to the kitchens of the world’s most elite chefs. The teams at Osteria Francescana, Blue Hill, Alinea, Pujol, and more open their doors to share their process, culinary creativity, and, of course, dozens of delicious courses. No shame in licking your screen.

Where to watch it: Netflix

18. NOBU’S JAPAN (2014)

For those looking to learn more about culture while chowing down, world-renowned chef Nobu Matsuhisa guides guest chefs to different regions of Japan to ingest the sights, sounds, and spirits of the area before crafting a dish inspired by the journey. History is the main course, with a healthy dash of culinary invention that honors tradition.

Where to watch it: Sundance Now

19. THE SYSTEM (2014)

Should a jury decide if a child is sentenced to life in jail without parole? How can you go to jail for 20 years for shooting your gun inside your own home to deter thieves? These are just two of the questions examined by this knockout series about the conflicts, outdated methods, and biases lurking in America’s criminal justice system. Insightful and infuriating, it makes a strong companion to Ava DuVernay’s 13th.

Where to watch it: Al Jazeera and Sundance Now

20. BOBBY KENNEDY FOR PRESIDENT (2018)

It won’t be available until April 27 (so close!), but it’s well worth adding to your queue. This four-part series utilizes a wealth of footage, including unseen personal videos, to share the tragic story of Robert F. Kennedy’s run for president in the context of an era riven by racial strife. Watching this socio-political memorial told by many who were there (including Marian Wright and Congressman John Lewis), it will be impossible not to draw connections to the current day and wonder: What if?

Where to watch it: Netflix

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