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Baseball’s Stupid New Rules Turned A Potential No-Hitter Into A Maddening Paradox

Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

“I didn’t give up any hits today,” Madison Bumgarner said Sunday. “I’m not in control of how many innings we’re playing.”

Now there’s an inspiring speech. You can just feel the ooze of pride he emanates when he reminds us that baseball just screwed the pooch again by reinventing everything on the fly—all because the people who run the game are reinventing everything in hopes that something will work.

Bumgarner is Arizona’s most expensive pitcher and though he has struggled through much of his time in Phoenix, he pitched a brilliant game that he can’t get credit for because he didn’t pitch longer than the rules allow. He threw a seven-inning no-hitter at the Atlanta Braves Sunday, part of the best pitching doubleheader ever. The Diamondbacks also got a seven-inning one-hitter from Zac Gallen in the first game, which meant that the Braves averaged half a hit per game, and only did something useful three times in 181 pitches—two walks and Freddie Freeman’s lonely single.

Except that the broadcasters and writers wanted you to know that Bumgarner didn’t throw a no-hitter at all, because he didn’t throw a nine-inning no-hitter even though he was prevented by rule from throwing nine innings. He completed the game, he gave up no hits and still didn’t pitch a no-hitter because he didn’t pitch two innings he wasn’t allowed to pitch. Got it?

This opens a fascinating can of WTF; by this concept, the game should still be going on, unless of course Bumgarner had had the good sense to do what Gallen did and failed at his job at least once. Gallen allowed one hit and pitched a one-hitter, while Bumgarner allowed no hits and did not pitch a no-hitter.

This is why the old relief pitcher Mike Marshall once produced a collegiate term paper entitled “Baseball Is An Ass.” Because while you can’t make this stuff up, baseball just did. This wasn’t a game you saw Sunday, this was an existential paradox: “When is a no-hitter worse than a one-hitter?” “I don’t know, but could you take a couple of minutes out of your busy day to hit yourself repeatedly in the face with your dog?”

In shortening doubleheaders to seven innings, the sport’s deepest thinkers thought they were doing something good for the public by giving them 22 percent less product while insisting that the old standard (and prices) be adhered to. In other words, they gave you history and then said you didn’t see the history you just saw. They asked Bumgarner to do something they like to celebrate, he did it, and then baseball said, “Yeah but even though you did, you didn’t.” And then Bumgarner asked, at least rhetorically, “Well, what could I have done to be better?” and the answer would have come back, “You should have done worse. Then we could have credited you with being better.”

This is the point at which commissioner Rob Manfred should rise up and say, “I’m the commissioner, and this is too stupid for words. I just changed the rule, okay?” But that would be short-sighted. Manfred sees a reason for people to talk about baseball and says, “Well, we could turn that into money, right? Maybe we could get the publishing rights to ‘Baseball Is An Ass’ and make it into a movie. Soccer did something so monumentally self-destructive that it got people who don’t like soccer to talk about soccer and got people who like soccer to talk about Kierkegaardian notions like evil and even more evil than the previous record for evil. Well, what about this? Surely there’s a dollar sign on this.”

Well, it’s baseball, so probably not. In fairness, they should be credited for trying to market something that happened and didn’t happen at the same time, because it blows huge gaps into our understanding of the nature of time, space, and dimensional physics, but that kind of high-rev conceptual thinking has not shown itself to be marketable to a nation with a considerable segment of members who cannot grasp the beneficial notion of repelling dangerous germs. Frankly, I’m surprised that the Braves, having learned that what Bumgarner did to them wasn’t a no-hitter, didn’t protest the game by claiming that they actually won because who can truly say what is winning and losing in such a universe.

Hell, right now the 13-7 Kansas City Royals and 7-15 Detroit Tigers are tied for first place because … well, prove that they’re not, wise guy. The playoffs have been expanded, everyone gets in and everyone gets a parade at the end because things like runs and hits and strikeouts and home runs and wins and losses are all just suggestions, all because Madison Bumgarner did something he didn’t do at the same time for the same reason. He gave us the Fourth True Outcome—Outcomes Aren’t Outcomes At All, But Concepts We Simply Haven’t The Understanding To Truly Know Yet. Baseball isn’t an ass after all. It’s a muon.