By In Stuff

Play. Win. Game.

I don’t want to sound like the guy in the vodka commercial, but whatever happened to taking a big risk in sports? Maybe nothing’s happened. Maybe it’s always been this way. I’m always dubious of anyone (including the grumpy old man in me) griping about how everything was different, how in the old days everyone could bunt, touchdown makers calmly handed footballs to referees and and nobody cared about the name on the back of their jerseys. I suspect sports, like life, have always been filled with glory seekers, shortcut takers and coaches who coach not to lose.

Still … it’s at least possible that something has changed — maybe because the spotlight has become so much hotter and brighter. I started thinking about this again Saturday while watching the end of the USC-Stanford game with a friend of mine who is a football coach. Stanford, as you know, is led by quarterback Andrew Luck, who might be the most promising NFL quarterback prospect since … maybe Elway? There have been other mega-hyped NFL prospects, of course, but I can’t remember a player who so inflamed the imaginations of teams and fans that they actually invented a NAME for the process of losing to get him (“Suck for Luck”).*

*As promising a player as Matt Ryan was, I don’t remember the “Dyin’ For Ryan,” campaign. The “au revoir for David Carr,” efforts didn’t work too well.

Anyway, USC and Stanford went into overtime, and Luck led the Cardinal right down the field for a touchdown. USC then responded with a touchdown of its own. I, of course, thought USC should go for two because that’s how I tend to think — as long as it doesn’t affect my life, I’m a riverboat gambler. Go all in! Fake the field goal! Pull the goalie! I was a bit surprised and gratified, though, that my friend agreed with me.

“You have to go for two here,” he said. “Think about it. This is USC’s one chance to win the game where Andrew Luck isn’t involved. He’s on the sideline where he can’t hurt you. USC has a chance to win the game with their strength against Stanford’s weakness, their offense against Stanford’s defense. This is what we do as coaches. We stay up all night trying to find mismatches, even the tiniest mismatches. Our whole job is to try to exploit the other team’s weaknesses while maximizing our strength. This is the ultimate example of that. You can win the game right now with your best unit against their worst unit. You have to go for two.”

I’m paraphrasing there, by the way — I wasn’t taking notes — but that’s pretty close to word-for-word. And I think it’s exactly right. If USC could have arranged it beforehand that winning and losing the Stanford game would be reduced to a two-point conversation, I think they would have been mad to not take that deal.

Of course, Lane Kiffin did not go for two. We were watching on TV, so we can’t know for sure, but there seemed no indication that ever even CONSIDERED going for two. The by-the-book play was to extend the game — nobody is likely to second-guess that decision — and USC kicked the extra point. And what followed followed seemed the most likely scenario: Both teams scored in the second overtime. In the third, Luck drove his team for another touchdown and a two-point conversion (in the third overtime, there are no extra points) and USC fumbled and lost the game.

But win or lose is not the point — I’m really not second guessing the strategy. I’m second-guessing the conviction. My old pal Herm Edwards became famous with his “You play to win the game” classic rant — it even led to a book by that title. But I don’t think many do play to win, not in any sport. You play to extend the game and hope that it works out for you. You play to delay the big confrontation until you have no choice. I don’t know if it was ever different. But it sure feels like now coaching and managers try to avoid the big moment as long as they possibly can.

As you might suspect, this leads to the intentional walk. I hate the intentional walk, of course. That’s no secret. I’m thinking of starting a Web site called “” I think, at core, I hate the intentional walk because the punishment — a single base — simply isn’t enough of a deterrence. As economists might tell you — hey, I read Freakonomics and Scorecasting — sports are driven by positive and negative incentives. Home runs are positive incentives and so some players use steroids. Steroid headlines with your name in them are negative incentives and so some players stop using steroids.

And the incentives within the game tell you what kind of game it is. If you made pass interference a 5-yard penalty with no automatic first down, well defensive backs are going to mug receivers all over the field. If you made a half court shot worth 20 points, players would practice and practice and practice the half court shot until they could make them a staggering percentage of the time. The intentional walk is a case where the negative incentive simply doesn’t work well enough. One base and no advance is not enough of a deterrent for managers, and I think that’s a flaw in baseball rules. More on that in a bit.

I have come in the recent weeks to understand that while I hate ALL intentional walks, I don’t hate them all equally. There are “strategic” intentional walks, designed to set up double plays or force-outs at home. I despise those mainly because I think they are bad policy. I think that managers tend to overvalue the double play opportunity and underplay the extra man on base.* But a strategy disagreement is different. I despise those kinds of intentional walks the same way I despise sacrifice bunts or the Wildcat offense. I don’t have any emotional objections.

*You may counter with the fact that the intentional walk often “works,” and this is true but I would say that in baseball, like in blackjack, the odds are stacked against the hitter. If you decided to intentionally walk a pitcher so you could face Ryan Braun, that will probably “work” most of the time too. Braun, after all, makes outs more than 60% of the time. It’s an incredibly dumb play, but in baseball incredibly dumb plays often work.

The second kind of intentional walk — the avoidance intentional walk — is the kind that makes me want to smash guitars. Take this year’s World Series. I had no rooting interest this year. The writer in me usually leans one way or another — one team tends to be a slightly better story than another, one manager drives me more batty than another — but I thought both teams had good stories this time around, and the managers drove me equally nuts with moves they made.

But, again, that was strategy. Then came Game 6, tenth inning, the Texas Rangers up a run. The Cardinals had the tying run on second base. And Albert Pujols stepped to the plate.

Baseball fans watch for a million reasons. It’s silly to try and reduce the game to a simple, “This is what the game’s all about” cliche because the game is all about many, many things. But, Game 6 of the World Series, 10th inning, two outs, runner in scoring position, Albert Pujols at the plate, the whole city of St. Louis going bonkers — yeah, that’s a pretty good moment for the game. That’s time you wake up your kids to watch. That’s one you think about for the rest of your life.

And Ron Washington had his pitcher Scott Feldman intentionally walk Albert Pujols.

Now, you can question the strategy of the move … and you would be right. Washington was putting the winning run on base. The next batter, Lance Berkman, is one of the best hitters of the last generation, and he would have the platoon advantage being a switch-hitter, and in 2011, anyway, Berkman was actually BETTER against right-handed pitchers than Pujols.

2011 vs. righties:

Pujols: .300/.372/.525

Berkman: 307/.427/.571

But, I’m not talking strategy here. I’m talking about competition. I’m talking about conviction. I’m talking about guts. Ron Washington, in the biggest moment, didn’t trust his pitcher to get the final out. Ron Washington, in the biggest moment, tried to win the World Series by means of evasion, tried to win the World Series with an out-of-court settlement. And it was grotesque.

People will sometimes compare the intentional walk to other strategies — triple-teaming a receiver, fouling in the final minutes, even going for two with the other team’s quarterback on the sideline — but I don’t think it’s the same thing. In those strategies (and I don’t particularly like all of them either) you are actively trying to beat the other team’s players. If you foul a player, they still have the opportunity to score two points. They have to make the free throws, yes, but they have that opportunity. A triple-teamed receiver can still make a catch if the ball is thrown his way. I’m certainly not opposed to strategies (even intense strategies) to stop or slow a great player.

But only in baseball can you, by rule, simply avoid facing a great player. It’s bad for the game, I think. And it was a bad moment for Ron Washington. I think Wash is a passionate leader … that’s his great strength. Players love him. He inspires them. But in the biggest moment of the season, he had run out of his inspiration. He sent his pitcher a very clear message: “You … are … not … good … enough.” Maybe he wasn’t good enough. But maybe he was. And we’ll never know.

When Feldman walked Pujols he set off a chain of events that led to the Cardinals winning the World Series. Berkman singled in the tying run. David Freese hit the game-winning home run the next inning. The Cardinals won pretty easily in Game 7 — and in that game, Washington walked Freese in a big moment, because apparently by then he had become convinced his pitchers couldn’t get ANYBODY out.

All of those things might have happened anyway. I’m well aware Pujols might have hit a 500-foot home run to win the game right then and there and people would be saying he was nuts to pitch to Pujols in that situation. Then again, Feldman might have struck out Pujols on a nasty pitch and the Rangers would have celebrated and that moment would be frozen forever in the minds of Texas baseball fans. Point is we were cheated out of that moment — not only the fans, but the players and managers too. Everyone. Scott Feldman will never know. Albert Pujols will never know. Sports are supposed to be ABOUT those moments not how to sidestep them.

And that’s why I am now going to introduce my fully-operational intentional walk idea. This is playing off Bill James’ ideas and some thoughts I’ve had on the subject before. Now have a rule I feel good about it. The rule would be simply this:

— If you are walked on four pitches, you have the right to DECLINE the walk.

That’s the whole rule. I think this is not just fair, it also fits into the larger fabric and history of the game. Walks were created to impress upon the pitcher the importance of pitching the ball in the strike zone — in other words, the importance of giving the hitter a fair opportunity to hit the ball.

Well, a four-pitch walk, by its nature, intrudes on those hitters rights. It doesn’t give him an opportunity to play. And so in those circumstances, the hitter should be entitled to decline the walk and get another at-bat. And to make it fair, I don’t think it matters what KIND of four-pitch walk it would be — blatantly intentional or four close pitches, doesn’t matter. All four-pitch walks would be treated the same.

So what happens if a hitter declines the walk? Well, before I get into that, I do want to say I think it would only happen in rare circumstances. It might happen before the pitcher hits. It probably would happen with the best player at the plate.

If the hitter declines the walk, the at-bat starts over and everything is the same except for one thing: If the hitter walks in the second at-bat, then it is a “double walk” and he gets two bases. I’m thinking that all base runners would also advance two bases, but I’m negotiable on that point.

I think this would do more than one good thing for baseball. First and foremost, it would probably more or less eliminate the intentional walk in key situations. If Pujols had a chance to decline the walk, I don’t think Ron Washington would have walked him. Now, here’s what might happen: Feldman might have tried to get one strike and THEN intentionally walked Pujols, but I’m OK with that. One strike makes all the difference. At least then the hitter has a chance.

Second, it would be exciting to see how many hitters/managers would take the chance and decline a walk.

Third, it would create tension and excitement in those wonderful situations where now there are only boos and frustration. And think about how much fun it would be to watch those declined-walk at-bats.

Bud Selig: Tear down this intentional walk.

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65 Responses to Play. Win. Game.

  1. tarhoosier says:

    Watching the game while following two live blogs and twitter (I cannot help myself) EVERYONE said the IBB’s were wrong, nuts, catastrophic. A kind of slow motion replay which shows nothing.
    Can you just imagine baseball with IBB AND replay? God help us all.

  2. Jack says:

    I like the premise, but it also might lead to an increase in hit batsmen.

  3. id says:

    One idea that has repeatedly sprung to mind for me is adding a rule that says the catcher must remain in a crouched position completely inside the catcher’s box until the pitch is delivered. In every non-IBB situation, this happens by default. All you’re doing is making it so the catcher can’t stand up behind the opposing batter’s box and make a big fat target for the pitcher. Would it really cut down on IBBs? Is it that hard to throw a wide ball without someone standing there framing it for you? Hard to say, but it stands to reason the pitcher is more likely to leave a fat BP slowball too close to the plate where an enterprising long-armed slugger could reach out and tattoo it.

    I’m with you on the hatred of IBBs, but I’m hesitant to make a major rule change like the right to decline a walk that would fundamentally alter the nature of the game. And then does every HR record from here on out carry an asterisk because Bonds and Ruth were intentionally walked 50-100 times a year?

  4. clashfan says:

    Would there be a way to play-test this rule? Maybe in an independent league somewhere? Selig offers some small league somewhere to try it for three years, we’ll give you half a million dollars a year to be our guinea pigs. Have some whiz kids with their slide rules study the effects on scoring.

    Nah, never happen.

  5. adam says:

    I like it because it will highlight differences in strategy. With baseball being a zero-sum game, if one manager offers an intentional walk and the other manager accepts, then the managers differ on which team is helped by the intentional walk.

  6. feitcanwrite says:

    Football coaches play to tie and extend the game because it is the “smart” play which helps them avoid being crucified in the media/blogosphere and helps them stay employed. Even if they pull off an unconventional two-point conversion, they’ll still spend the week defending the decision.

    As for your IBB ruel, they could put this rule in tomorrow, and it would be 5 years before we’d see a manager turn down the IBB for the exact same reasons: managers will play the percentages.

    A manager would be stupid to turn down a free base to have a hitter get another chance – especially when he’s facing an approximate 70% rate of failure.

    I can picture the manager at his post-firing press conference: “Well, I know that letting Fielder turn down the IBB before he ground into that series ending double play is what cost me my job. But I can hold my head high because I gave the fans what they wanted to see.”

    Nope – moreso than watching a top slugger at the plate with the game on the line, fans want to see their team win – by whatever means necessary.

  7. @feitcanwrite, I think most managers would want their best players to hit in these situations. Anyway, an opposing manager would walk Prince Fielder to SET UP a double play.

    I like this idea a lot. There were several times when I stopped whatever I was doing to watch Pujols hit, only to see him take a free pass from Ron Washington. That’s not fun baseball. The percentage of fans who pay to see managers manage is incrementally small.

  8. David says:

    Recently, and especially after the 6th game, I was considering almost the same thing as Joe. I would alter the rule slightly: I would say that *any* walk could be rejected for a new at bat, but the number of strikes would carry over to the next at bat. So if you refuse a walk on a 3-2 pitch, you start off 0-2 in the subsequent at bat.

    I see no downside at all to a rule like this. It adds strategy at no cost, as far as I can tell. It would be fun to discuss what each manager should do.

    I would be happy to take it a step further: how about allowing the batter to refuse a second walk, or a third: in each case, you carry the strikes to the next at bat and get an extra base if you walk again. And if you get walked three times and refuse them all…well, that lends a new meaning to the term “walk-off home run.”

    Scorekeepers might get agitated, but I think it would be exciting.

  9. blovy8 says:

    don’t see how you can expect pitchers to not occasionally lose the strike zone. I think it’s hard enough for a pitcher to throw quality strikes as it is, if you take away their ability to nibble, or force guys with lesser stuff to not be able to work the corners, or be at the whim of a tight strike zone, it’s going to have ramifications. And when a pitcher’s mechanics are temporarily out of whack, this this could lead to even more quick pitching changes. As already mentioned, the HBP would be a way around it, or the catcher can just reach into the strike zone every time until interference is called on a swing. Is a manager going to ever take a chance on using a young pitcher who’s occasionally very wild, and let them work out their issues against real batters with this penalty? Way too much advantage goes back to the batters without the pitcher being able to just try to get the next guy out. I think you’d have to give the pitchers something back like a foul fly ball with less than two outs in play is subject to the infield fly rule. If they can’t always create their own force play, let them have the equivalent.

  10. Richard says:

    I agree with you more often than not, Joe, but you’re just wrong about this. The IBB is not a problem. Over-reliance on it by some managers is a problem, but it’s a problem for them. The penalty already exists. It’s bad policy to put so many guys on base. And, in fact, the penalty for Washington, for walking Pujols repeatedly, and being lucky and fortunate to not face the immediate consequences the previous times, was that Texas lost the World Series.

  11. Mark Daniel says:

    I agree with Richard for the most part. The problem with the IBB is that some managers get carried away with it. For example, 3 IBBs to Pujols in one game? That’s insane. For some reason this overuse of the IBB tends to occur more often in the postseason. I don’t know why. Maybe the pressure has forced managers to lose their wits. Or maybe the managers feel the need to do something, anything, to coax their team to win. Or maybe they think WS games are more important than regular season games. Whatever it is, the strategy is probably wrong in most cases. (Then again, I didn’t see too many Rangers games this year, maybe Ron Washington is always like that)

    In the case of forcing a DP situation, the odds of the DP happening are better than most people think. Pujols had 29 GDPs in 651 plate appearances, so it seems like a relatively rare occurrence. But in reality, he had 29 GDPs in only 133 PAs with men on 1st and less than 2 outs. Thus, he hit into a DP once every 4.56 such PAs, or around 20-25% of the time he was up in such a situation. Those aren’t that bad of odds.

  12. adam says:

    “A manager would be stupid to turn down a free base to have a hitter get another chance – especially when he’s facing an approximate 70% rate of failure. “

    If that is true (and it might well be) then a manager would be equally stupid to issue an intentional walk. But yet there were a whole bunch in the world series.

  13. adam says:

    “And, in fact, the penalty for Washington, for walking Pujols repeatedly, and being lucky and fortunate to not face the immediate consequences the previous times, was that Texas lost the World Series.”

    Do you think he’ll ever get that?

  14. civil writes says:

    I’m afraid it’s actually a tequila commercial, Joe.

  15. daveyhead says:

    I agree with id, above, that the mandatory catcher’s crouch seems to tamper with the rule book the least. A manager will need to be even more circumspect about trying to pitch around a good hitter with men on base.

    The rule that really bugs me is not the IBB. It is the fouling of a player to stop the clock in basketball. Is there any other sport that lets a team or player commit an illegal action and profit from it?

  16. Matthew says:

    JoePa calls out Lane Kiffin on not going for two — I love it.

  17. bluwood says:

    Love the idea, with two caveats:

    One, allow the same rule for HBP; this would potentially limit the number of hit batters that could have resulted from pitchers not being allowed to IB them; and

    Two, allow for 1 4-pitch walks per game. You can IB a guy once, but then the declined walk rule would come into effect.

  18. I understand where you’re coming from, but I also think it’s really demoralizing when a decision like that doesn’t work out.

    Last year, Iowa State went for 2 against Nebraska in the first overtime — they had outgained Nebraska, who was without their starting QB, they were only tied because Nebraska had returned an INT for a TD. But Iowa State was the underdog and they had a chance to win it in the first OT, so they went for it.

    Of course, they didn’t win it. And it left me and probably everyone else who was pulling for Iowa State furious that the coach didn’t have enough confidence in his team to just take it to a second overtime. Then, as if they wanted to follow the narrative of a team that had lost confidence, Iowa State got clobbered by a team they should have thrashed in Colorado and then got shut out by Missouri and missed making it to a bowl game by that game against Nebraska.

  19. Two points made above that make the suggestion questionable.

    One, pitchers do occasionally lose the strike zone and throw 8 straight balls or even more. They are already penalized for that, and the manager also has to make a decision when he sees it. Since you cannot distinguish between intentional and unintentional, it seems to me you are simply exaggerating the penalty for wildness.

    Second, a pitcher who wants to put a batter on can simply try to hit him, and again, penalizing it more than it is exaggerates the penalty already in place. It is probably apocryphal, but there is a story that Stan Williams, known for his wildness, was informed by his manager that he would be fined every time he walked a batter. So any time he went 3-0, he simply hit the batter to avoid the fine.

    I dislike the intentional walk also, especially when it loads the bases since that puts additional pressure on the pitcher to aim the ball, but am not sure adding to the penalty is the way to eliminate it.

  20. I think way too much is being made about Washington’s in-game managerial decisions, including the intentional walks. If the Rangers’ coaching staff has Nelson Cruz positioned according to what the baseball gods have deemed to be appropriate for the two-out, runners on first and second, two-run lead scenario in which Freese hit his 9th inning triple, Nelson Cruz makes the catch for the third out easily and the Rangers are the World Series champs (this is not one of those situations where Cruz’ positioning affects how the pitcher pitches or how the swinger swings). And this wasn’t a momentary lapse, as they had six pitches (or more) in the Freese at-bat to get Cruz situated in front of the warning track. It was this miscommunication between the Rangers’ bench and Cruz, one that you can argue goes back to spring training or further, that ultimately prevented the Rangers from winning the series in game 6 (the Cardinals staff’s botched bullpen telephone call has gotten way too much publicity whereas this much more relevant miscommunication seems to have gotten very little attention from anyone save for Verducci). Having said that, I don’t think that gaffe in any way diminishes what the Cardinals accomplished. When I look back at the 2011 season, I’ll view the Cardinals as the team who won the World Series by overcoming near insurmountable odds. As for the 2011 Rangers, I’ll always see them as a team whose inability to execute a simple baseball defensive strategy during a single at-bat prevented their winning the franchise’s first World Series title. I can only imagine how painful that must feel to the very few who have been following that club for 20 to 40 years or more.

  21. ethegolfman says:

    feitcanwrite beat me to it but it seems painfully obvious to me that above all else, managers/coaches manage/coach to keep their job, particularly in football. Yes, winning is a huge part of keeping your job but not looking stupid will keep you around for awhile while a controversial call (whether considered controversial by the fans or media) can get you canned.

    Mark Daniel – re: Pujols & DPs. Pujols is the guy getting the IBB, not the guy hitting after an IBB. For the majors as a whole there were 3525 DPs in 33983 PAs or 10.4%.

  22. JG in MO says:

    Was at game 6, and have undying interest in the post-mortem there, so I feel compelled to add one thought: Verducci needed a story. Watch the video, Cruz was trotting to the ball, and didn’t get to it because it took off on him/he misjudged it. Happens. MOre likely to happen in late innings. Far more likely to happen in late innings of World Series clinching games, with 50,000 delerious fans screaming and masking the sound of the ball off the bat. Verducci wanted his story so badly he even mischaracterizes how far the ball was hit (the bottom of the wall? again, watch the video). I have Rangers’ coaches back on this one.

  23. Dinky says:

    John McKay would have gone for two.

    The problem with eliminating the intentional walk is that Sal Maglie’s solution not only is less wear and tear on the pitcher but also increases the chance that a star player has to miss the rest of the game (or the series) because of a beanball.

    You can tinker with the rules of baseball to eliminate the intentional walk, lots of ways. Here’s one: every team gets to designate one batter as a ground rule double, one a two base single, one a one base single. Those are three guys that, if walked or hit by a pitch, their at bats become a double, a single with all runners advancing two bases, and a single with all runners advancing one base. If walked with the bases empty, singles become doubles.

    Under some circumstances the IBB still would make sense, but not as many. It would prevent the bean ball solution. And it would lead to more at bats for your best hitter, since the penalties of walking with men on base become so significant.

    Your solutions are probably better and equally likely to be adopted.

  24. adam says:

    I think for the IBB rule to work, a HBP needs to fall under the same category. However, umpires would really have to enforce the rules about batters not trying to get hit on purpose, otherwise we get the Barry Bonds / Craig Biggio body armor effect even more.

    Some have posited that the IBB rule hurts pitchers who are wild. I don’t think so, because most walks are going to be accepted right away. Think about it: if the pitching team is trying to get the batter out (i.e. not an intentional walk situation) and the batter walks, how often is he going to decline the walk? Basically only a superstar, someone in front of the pitcher, or some unique late inning situation would lead to a decline of an “ordinary” walk.

    Otoh, most intentional walks would be declined, because the pitching and hitting manager would most likely agree that the IBB would help the defense. The interesting cases would be a Ron Washington type manager vs a Sabermetric manager. It also would be interesting to know if TLR would have declined the Pujols IBB.

    There are probably additional loopholes to exploit in this rule.

  25. rokirovka says:

    First, putting the HBP in the 4-pitch walk category is a simple and obvious fix. Or even better, do it *only for an HBP with no strikes on the batter at the time*. Problem solved.

    But I am concerned about tilting the pitcher-hitter balance against the pitcher. Here is an alternative proposal that will address the situations that concern Joe, but may *help* the pitcher in some situations:

    — With runners on base, 4 balls or a hit by pitch with no strikes is treated as a BALK. Each runner advances a base and the batter keeps batting with a fresh count.

    There would be no choice by the batter involved. Sometimes it may help the batter and sometimes it may help the pitcher.

  26. Ashley says:

    A question about scoring. If a walk was refused, does the batter get scored as 2 Plate Appearances? Or only the 2nd one? And the pitcher – does he get credited with walk and the result of the 2nd attempt? Or does the walk sort of disappear?

    Also, looks like a few BR missed an important part of Joe’s proposal – it only comes into play if there are NO strikes in the plate appearance. 1 strike and 4 balls is just a normal walk.

  27. Kate says:

    The best example of that I can think of is Madden saying the Patriots should play for OT, back in Brady’s first Super Bowl, and Brady and the coaching staff… not doing that.

    I was, the first time I read it, fairly resistant to your IW idea, but I’ve gotten less resistant over time. Now I’m just dubious. But that’s progress!

  28. Watching KC and San Diego. KC’s about to score a touchdown which with a one point convert would put them up eight. Would love to see risk taking and go for two.

    Only problem with Joe’s proposal is that as soon as there’s one strike, teams will likely go to the intentional walk against guys like Pujols. Probably wouldn’t create many more big moments. I also dislike the IBB.

  29. Vidor says:

    Oooh, catcher’s interference, good call. Just yank on the hitter’s jersey.

    Looked at Verducci’s column–how is that bad positioning by Cruz? He could have caught that ball. It looked like he was scared of hitting the wall more than anything else.

  30. Dan Koch says:

    I’m a fan of the concept of allowing hitters to reject a walk, but I think most of the mechanisms proposed here introduce complication that isn’t necessary.

    Keep it simple — you can refuse a walk at any time, AND THE COUNT STAYS THE SAME. It’s 3-0, ad infinitum, until the pitcher is willing to challenge the hitter enough to throw a strike (or the hitter relents and takes the free base). Same holds true for a HBP. Heck, if the hitter wants to turn down a walk on a 3-2 pitch, let ’em (they won’t, so why provision against it)? This is the only policy I think that would ever stand a chance of being introduced, and I’d gladly sponsor whatever PAC is necessary to make this happen.

  31. Kansas City says:

    I love baseball and am not bothered by the intentional walk. It is part of the strategy of the game. I don’t underdstate why people don’t accept it as that. It often is an interesting question and good subject for discussion as to whether it was a good idea, i.e., Puhols in Game 6 (I still think that one was a good idea – why risk a WS by pitching to the best hitter in the game when you don’t have to – doing so assumes the you walk the winning run who beats you – so it is a fair trade). The intentional walk is just a convenience for something that any big league pitcher should be able to accomplish anyway.

    The suggestion by Joe and Bill James is creative and interesting, but it is designed to “solve” something that is not even viewed as a problem by many fans. I supposed you could come up with all kinds of tweaks of the rules of baseball that would be creative and interesting, but why mess with the rules? The IW is simply not that big a problem or, in my mind, a problem at all.

  32. Grulg says:

    I’m all for the IBB. It’s part of the game. Deal with it. It’s like the goofy 4 pitchers an inning routine LaRussa liked-if they wanna, they’re gonna.

  33. KHAZAD says:

    I thought Ron Washington managed the end of the series like a man scared to lose, not a man trying to win.
    He was afraid Pujols would beat him, so he walked him. He was afraid if he had his OF in a doubles protection, Freese would just serve up a hit, so he did not do that. The IBB to Freese in game 7 to load the bases with two out was inexplicable. I was rooting for the Rangers, but when that IBB was followed by a regular walk and an HBP to score two runs, I felt they got what they deserved. (As a matter of fact I won a side bet with the unintentional walk that followed. I felt it coming.)

    When you play not to lose, and make calls out of fear, losing becomes all but inevitable.

  34. goodsam73 says:

    and THIS is why Wash has LOST not one but 2 WS !!! trust your galldanged pitchers, Ron…they got you this far afterall.

    JP —> hoping for a Tony LaR piece from you in the near future

  35. Yeager says:

    New procedure for consuming Joe Blogs:

    1) Search for “intentional walk”
    2) If found, skip article
    3) Otherwise, read

    This horse isn’t just dead, it is pulverized into its base elements.

  36. Mark Daniel says:

    ethegolfman, you’re right. I didn’t mean to say that you should walk Pujols to get to Pujols, I was just using Pujols as an example because he led the league in DPs. Thus, it’s conceivable that the GDP rate could be as high as a 20-25%, depending on the hitter.
    My guess is in good “IBB to get a GDP” situations, the hitter after the IBB would be a slow righty. It wouldn’t make sense for a manager to call for an IBB to set up the DP when the guy on deck was Jacoby Ellsbury. Then again, it seems like some managers, especially in the postseason, automatically walk players to set up the DP regardless of who is on deck.

  37. GregTamblyn says:

    I take several intentional walks every day. With my dog. I see nothing wrong with that. Oh, wait…

    Agree with Yeager’s pulverized horse, above. Onward.

  38. GK says:

    I think the only thing like taking the bat out of a hitter’s hands by intentionally walking them is the college basketball, thankfully rarely seen, practice of fouling in the last few seconds when in posession of a 3-point lead. I hate hearing announcers even talk about this move, praising it and saying they would foul. Such an unsportsmanlike practice!

  39. says:


    I’ve been pondering the same idea. Force the catcher to stay crouched, or at least inside a catcher’s box behind the plate, forcing the pitcher to throw intentional balls near the plate.

    If the catcher has to leave the catcher’s box to catch an errant pitch it is a balk and all runners advance.

    Other posters have complained about fouling in basketball and I completely agree. It ruins the most exciting part of the game.

  40. MaceMan says:

    What if, like a challenge in the NFL, you could limit the coaches to 2 intentional walks a game. After they use their two, a base on balls of any kind is an automatic double.

  41. davidinnyc says:

    I’m surprised nobody has mentioned this yet; since that is the case, I will.

    Why don’t we just go back to the old rules of baseball, and let the batter tell the pitcher where he wants the ball thrown? Heck, we can even restore the “8 balls required for a walk” at the same time.

    Look, I hate the intentional walk as much as anyone (yes, including Joe), because (a) it’s a bad idea percentage-wise, and (b) yes, I would rather see Pujols/Bonds/Mantle/Ruth hit than walk. But I think a rule change like this is just plain silly.

    Now, a rule prohibiting sacrifice bunts by anyone not a pitcher? That I could get behind.

  42. Turbo says:

    “Suck for Luck” sounds like a booth at a sorority fundraising party.

  43. Brother Gert says:

    Surely the problem with this proposal is that to stop a tactic that mostly is a dumb one, you are asking the team getting the advantage if they want to refuse it, thereby also acting dumb.

    Surely it would be simpler to simply move all baserunners up on a four pitch walk. So with a runner on second and Pujols up, Washington’s decision would have resulted in runners on first and third. He would then run the risk of the tying run scoring on a wild pitch.

    Might make the less enlightened mangers think twice.

  44. Saburo says:

    Did Bill James make this proposal in an “Abstract” or “Baseball Book?” Makes me feel old that I can probably find the exact volume on the shelf in minutes…

  45. Gary says:

    A few points:

    1) The catcher is required to stay in his box until the pitch leaves the pitcher’s hand. If he leaves early I believe it is ruled a balk.

    2) If Joe’s proposed rule had been in effect in Game 6, I doubt that LaRussa or Pujols would have turned down the IBB to let Pujols hit. Pujols became the potential winning run with Berkman batting – a definite positive situation for the Cardinals.

    3) Why not make the rule that no player may be intentionally walked more than once in a game? This would at least add some strategy to the IBB. A manager would then have to decide whether to walk Pujols with a base open in the sixth or save it in case Pujols came up in a similar situation later in the game. This would also eliminate walking the eighth-place hitter in NL games more than once and return more strategy to the bottom of the lineup. It would also still allow pitchers to pitch carefully to big hitters like Pujols because, well, you want to pitch carefully to those guys.

  46. Sandy says:

    Elimination of the IBB would lead to other ways to avoid pitching to the hitter. And you can’t eliminate walks altogether. You’d have to treat all walks in the same manner to avoid other ramifications. Perhaps awarding 2 bases for any walk would eliminate problems without creating new ones. The walk would no longer create force out situations. Pitchers would be more inclined to throw strikes without painting the corners so often. More balls would be hit in play. It might be more fun to watch the additional action.

  47. Will says:

    If Washington hadn’t intentionally walked Pujols, based on the way the inning unfolded, I’m 100% sure Feldman would have walked him on 4 pitches, unintentionally. Feldman couldn’t hit a barn door that inning.

  48. Will says:

    What do you do when a pitcher has an unintentional four pitch walk? It could end up being a really nasty inning if a pitcher has control problems.

  49. Robert says:

    Sorry, Joe.
    Your wish for a Pujols (or Bonds, etc.) at bat which the fans want to see flies in the face of the name of this post. You play to win the game. You have a better chance of getting Berkman/ Matt Holliday (or Benito Santiago, etc) out than the superstar.
    Seems the Cards had a good strategy to counter the IBB in Game 6 (at least a better strategy than the Giants did when Bonds was walked all those times). Namely, having a guy behind the superstar who can hit the ball.
    I am a huge Giants and Bonds fan (easily the best player of my lifetime, non-pitcher division), but it drove me crazy when they would sell rubber chickens outside PacBell Park to mock those who would IBB Bonds. I always asked the vendor if the 10 bucks was going to Sabean to pay for a number 5 hitter. That’s how you beat the IBB strategy.


  50. adam says:


    Most of those are going to be accepted anyways, especially if the pitcher can’t throw a strike. The rule would not have a huge effect most of the time. Most four-pitch walks are going to be accepted by the batting team.

  51. JG in MO (and Vidor),

    I’ve actually looked at the Rangers outfield positioning in the 9th and 10th with my MLBTV account. There’s a shot of the outfielders before the final pitch of Craig’s strikeout that preceded the Freese triple (4:19:03 mark of the MLBTV replay) and during Berkman’s 10th inning at bat in which he singled in the tying run from second (4:51:14 mark), lost in a nauseating sea of a thousand unnecessary shots of the crowd that we’ve come to expect in a FOX Sports broadcast. Both Hamilton and Cruz were positioned too shallow during Craig’s at-bat, where the no doubles defense should also have been employed, and we know from the subsequent video that Cruz and Hamilton had maintained that depth into the point of ball contact with Freese’s bat (4:22:17 mark). I estimate that Cruz is perhaps 15 feet deeper during Berkman’s single than he was during Freese’s, that 15 feet deeper position being typical of a no doubles defense mode. Buck and McCarver were openly critical of the Rangers’ deep positioning during the Berkman at-bat, but I can understand why a club in the Rangers situation would play to prevent the winning run from scoring from first in that situation at the expense of making it easier for the tying run to score from second on a single, especially given that Berkman isn’t your prototypical singles hitter among other reasons (this is an example of playing not to lose, as KHAZAD suggested above). What’s particularly bad about the Cruz positioning on Freese is that he is known for homering to right. If Cruz is where he’s supposed to be positioned, then he’s simply got to drift back 4 or 5 steps to get to the ball and is more sure about where the wall is. His flawed positioning made an otherwise routine catch difficult, and opened a door that instead should have been closed. And that was among my immediate reactions at home when I saw the ball sailing on Cruz and ultimately evading his reach – the Rangers just effed up in a textbook no doubles situation and thus this World Series continues on for at least another batter. That and Freese just put a really good swing on a ball in a really difficult situation against a really tough customer.

  52. I noticed that LaRussa, on perhaps two different situations in the postseason, used pickoff throws to first to allow his bullpen pitcher more tosses before bringing his hook out to the mound. I suppose MLB in an effort to curtail managers from employing that nefarious strategy will have to draw up a new rule specifying that a pitcher who makes a pickoff throw during a plate appearance before making a pitch home must throw at least one pitch home (if not two) before being removed from the game (inclusive of a pitcher injured on the pickoff throw, in order to prevent pitcher flopping).

  53. Michael says:

    Joe, nice try. But no. Here’s why. First, the two teams that get to the World Series (or the Super Bowl, or any other final) do not get there by simply throwing the ball down the middle and seeing what happens. The intentional walk is annoying and can be used to ridiculous extremes, no question, but it’s part of the game, and really not significantly different from bouncing four pitches or taking the Don Drysdale approach of drilling a guy in the ribs and thereby not wasting all those throws. We can debate Washington’s move, but putting the winning run on base used to be taboo or done only rarely.

    Further, a manager and his team act to make the most of their talents and the least of their deficiencies. By this logic, it makes no sense to put on a shift against a power hitter, or play the outfielders very deep, or bring in a lefty to pitch to a lefty (which reminds me of Tommy Lasorda, who will go to his grave insisting that no left-handed hitter ever got a hit off of a left-handed pitcher). If Washington didn’t have faith in his pitching staff, that was based on watching them all season and especially in this World Series–reminiscent of when, in 1947, Branch Rickey said to his wife about his Dodger team, “I don’t have a World Series pitching staff.” Late in the season, he repeated that and she said, “Branch, do you even have a pennant-winning pitching staff?”

  54. Rufus says:

    I like the idea, but I don’t want more rules in baseball. There’s enough.
    How about eliminating the designated hitter in both leagues? Make it simple: 4 balls in a row gives the hitter a chance to decline; pitch to me!

  55. Scott Segrin says:

    The intentional walk is the only play in baseball where the team on offense has no control over the outcome. That’s always troubled me. In a fair game, both sides should have some control over the outcome of EVERY play. That’s why you want a guy like Albert Pujols in your lineup – so that he has a chance of coming up to bat in a critical situation and getting a big hit for your team.

    I would change the rule so that for any 4-pitch walk or hit batsman that occurs with runners on base and first base open, the batter gets 2nd base instead of first.

  56. Grulg says:

    So Joe, while you are covering all things Penn State/Joe Paterno, have you any light to shed on the child molestation story about Mr. Curley there? pretty nasty stuff. Just curious.

  57. renzo says:

    Paterno on Sandusky? Journalistic obligation, no?

  58. No, no, no – isn’t an IBB always a bad idea for the defense unless the following hitter is really, really bad in comparison (like 400 points less of OPS or something)? With less than two outs, even a pitcher can bunt the runners over. Outs are always more plentiful than bases.

    And the pass interference example is hyperbole – a five yard penalty and no first down would indeed be better. An IBB is the opposite.

  59. Brian Smith says:

    This so sounds like a rule me and my friends made up playing backyard kickball. So, of course, I love it.

  60. Rufus says:

    If a batter gets a four pitch walk, but accepts it, then he gets first base. If the batter is a slow runner, now the manager can substitute him for a faster runner, triggering a whole sequence of moves for both teams, forcing everyone to keep thinking: If I do this, will the other guy do this? Brilliant!

  61. Matt says:

    I’ve been touting this idea since Joe first floated it a while back. A lot of commenters seem to be missing the point: it’s not to punish the pitching team, nor is it to reward the batting team. The point is simply to force competition.

    A lot of people seem to be ignoring the added pressure on the batting team as well. Under this rule, a good batter may only see a single pitch to hit. Unless they want to “risk” being intentionally walked, they’d better put a good swing on that first strike. And the risk of turning down a free pass at first base is significant too.

    A baseball fan lives for the moments to see the best hitters face off against the best pitchers. Don’t rob us of those moments. It’s really a fine idea. My one hesitation would be the existence of the HBP workaround; the rules would have to do something to address that.

  62. AD says:

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  63. rokirovka says:

    @Grulg and @renzo, and for everyone like me who came to this site looking for Posnanski’s comments on Paterno, his column is at

  64. rokirovka says:

    Also, when you read Posnanski’s piece at, please read the discussion in the comments. It is important. I for one agree with the commenters there who are criticizing Paterno and Posnanski. It was a moral failing by Paterno, and Posnanski was wrong not to say so in his column.

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