A couple of minutes ago, the Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys were playing football on my television, and this very amazing thing happened:
This is Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant catching a please-god-this-is-our-last-chance throw from Tony Romo, and somehow, Dallas was looking at first and inches to take the lead from the Packers after the successful catch. Except, as you clearly know by now, that catch overturned and the Packers went on to win the game.
I know about seven total things about football, so I am in no position to critique the justification for the call. What I do know is that thousands of Cowboys fans were denied the closure of watching their team objectively lose without being handed this gimme card, a loopable and pixelated Zapruder film that gives the illusion of Another Reality where the Cowboys were able to take the lead and advance to the NFC Championship game. I've read the justification from both sides, and it seems that the overarching opinion is that the rule was enforced accurately, and also that it's a very stupid rule.
There were two thoughts running through my mind after watching that overturned call today. First was that had the Cowboys even scored a play later, they could have easily lost in the remaining five minutes. The second brought me back to the :50 second mark of this video:
The MLB recently had their own version of this transfer rule, and it was apparently on the books since before any of us were even born. That's according to Joe Torre, anyway, who was defending the whole debacle after the MLB wisely reversed course on its enforcement after less than a month. It's kind of a silly post-hoc argument that one makes while standing amidst the wreckage of good intentions, because do you remember how crazy this transfer rule was? Just in this one game alone, you can see Dustin Ackley diving for a catch--making it--but then dropping the ball on the attempt to get Josh Donaldson out on the tag back at first, even though nobody was out in the process. But then Brandon Moss was out, because he was standing on first base with Josh Donaldson. Who didn't need to go back to first. And supposedly this was the umpires idea?
And then it happened again, only a few minutes later.
The best part of each of these is that Ackley was supposed to have Brandon Moss and Cespedes out on these catches, without the Transfer Rule in effect. But because the runners were confused, they failed to tag properly or even walked back into the dugout, and then were declared out anyway. Madness. Chaos. Time is a flat circle, or something--I'm not sure that's a cool thing to say anymore.
Of course, two overturned catches in an April baseball game are absolutely incomparable to an overturned catch in the final four minutes of a win-or-go-home playoff football game. But both are indicative of that strange push-and-pull over the history of professional American sports to adapt the game and its rules to evolving gameplay and culture. It's for this very reason that we can compare two players' OPS+ from 1883 and 2014 while simultaneously noting batting helmets, sacrifice flys, designated hitters, and raised pitching mounds. It's also why we can look at the overturned transfer rule, four-strike count, and dropped pitching mounds.
That overturned football catch today got me thinking about the way baseball has been seemingly trying to retool itself to a media-saturated culture that some seem to think lacks the attention to sit through a three-hour ball-and-bat game littered with moments of silence and inactivity. I would maybe argue people are more upset when an exciting, game-changing play is overturned on some minuscule technicality. But nonetheless, changes are coming, and it's going to be interesting to see how Rob Manfred and Major League Baseball decide to manage it.
Will they see the pitching clock to be as obviously asinine as the transfer rule? Will pitchers have to wear giant boxes on their heads, or will there be another way to protect from one of the most dangerous injuries in the game? Will baseball break from its century-plus conservatism or continue to evolve beyond minuscule technicalities, the kind of gimme cards that are going to be looting Cowboys fans' YouTube accounts for the next few weeks?
I'm not sure what is going to happen. But I wonder what new rules the game even needs, or what rules it doesn't. What do you think? What would you change, if you had the power?