Running the score up in baseball is an unwritten rule that has many different interpretations across the league. When should or shouldn’t a team be attempting aggressive plays to try and score more runs, when leading by a significant amount? And it came to our attention again this season.
On a summery Wednesday afternoon, I was watching the Washington Nationals put on an offensive masterclass against the Tampa Bay Rays. They led 9-2 in the bottom of the sixth inning. It was comfortable, but still early enough in the game. Then Michael Taylor swiped third base and came around to score on an error with two outs in the inning off of Sergio Romo.
After the inning was over, Romo got tunnel vision, expressing his dissatisfaction at third-base coach Bob Henley, who likely called for the steal. The reliever turned unorthodox-starter continued to pipe up from the dugout for a few innings afterward too.
It’s clear he wasn’t happy about the Nats still trying to pour it on when the Rays seemed down for the count. Perhaps Romo and the Rays shouldn’t have tanked so hard if losing heavily is hurting their feelings.
But all this did make me ponder an interesting question. Why is running up the score so frowned upon in baseball?
Well, the reasoning is that players and managers believe the other team is trying to show them up by attempting to get the score as high as possible. It’s a very traditionalist answer, in an attempt to respect other teams as losing by that much reflects poorly on them. But it’s a reason that seems out-dated.
In a day and age when the sport is professional, and players are paid enormous sums to play at their very best, why should they take it easy on another team?
Unlike other sports, there are no benefits to just focusing on hitting and swinging away, trying to get the game over with. For instance in American Football, you can run plays that will keep the clock moving, meaning both teams have less chance to score. But in baseball, you still have to get the other team out at least 27 times, no matter what, to win the game.
There are a few different levels of running up the score, however, it’s just a matter of where the line should be drawn. For example, you can’t simply tell a team not to swing a bat no matter what the score is. You’re basically telling the other team “We’re so good we can win this by literally doing nothing else on offense”. That and the fact players can’t completely shut off their competitive instincts.
The debate lies in which plays should or shouldn’t be called when you’re that far up. And in my opinion, I don’t think a manager should ever change their strategy, no matter what the score is. e.g. if Taylor stealing third is part of his normal game, which in reality it is, why shouldn’t he?
However, there is still a line to be drawn. A manager should never call for say Pablo Sandoval to steal a base. That is a clear effort to do something purely to embarrass the opposition (if allowing Sandoval to reach base wasn’t embarrassing enough).
There was also a scenario where the roles were reversed that seemed to draw irate responses. In the ninth inning where the Baltimore Orioles trailed the Minnesota Twins 7-0, Chance Sisco bunted for a hit. And the Twins, and Jose Berrios, were not happy with him.
First off, surely the team trailing should be doing everything they can to pull off a miraculous comeback. Secondly, and more importantly, the Twins put a shift on where they left third base completely vacant, allowing him to bunt for the base hit. So if the other team is giving you a free opportunity to get on base, why wouldn’t he take it?
You can’t play the shift and then complain at a player for taking the most obvious route to beat the shift. Why should he deliberately play into your hands when losing; he’s trying to win the game.
Running the score seems like a very American concept that’s seen often in MLB, NFL, and NBA. Whereas back in Great Britain, chants of “we want six” can regularly be heard on football terraces around the country. It’s not going away anytime soon, but that doesn’t make it any less baffling.