Subject To Interpretation

By John Shea
Updated: May 6, 2009

SAN FRANCISCO – Tampa Bay’s Carl Crawford was on pace for 71 stolen bases. Then he swiped six bags Sunday, putting him on pace for 106.

Small sample size, sure, but if someone has a chance to be the first to 100 since Vince Coleman in 1987, it warrants a closer look.

Glancing at Crawford’s 19 steals (in 19 attempts), we noticed one in Oakland on April 24. It stands out. Fifth inning. Rays leading 7-0.

Rays leading 7-0?

We looked everywhere for that unwritten rule stating baserunners ought not rub it in by stealing in a lopsided game. Couldn’t find it. Then we remembered: It’s not written anywhere.

So we sought the opinion of a couple of Oakland A’s. Kurt Suzuki, the catcher that night, said he didn’t recall the situation and added it “never crossed my mind (that Crawford would disregard etiquette). He plays the game hard. He plays the game right.”

Oakland’s best base-stealing threat, Rajai Davis, said, “Yeah, I remember it,” adding he was taught not to run at such a time. Davis wasn’t knocking Crawford, who’s respected around the game, as much as suggesting it might have been appropriate to shut down the running game.

Back in 1998, Barry Bonds tried to explain the unwritten rule. In similar fashion to Crawford, he stole a base in Philadelphia in the fifth inning with the Giants leading by seven runs. In Bonds’ next plate appearance, Ricky Bottalico drilled him in retaliation.

Bonds charged the mound (first time as a Giant) and tackled Bottalico. Two Phillies jumped on Bonds, and players from both sides piled on.

Curt Schilling, never a Bonds fan dating to his Philly days, said, “There’s no excuse for anybody at this level playing the game that way.”

Bonds defended the steal: “As long as baseball’s been around, the game’s not over in the fifth inning. You draw the line from the sixth inning on. But the first five, you play the game out unless it’s a 10-0 lead. Then you give them the common courtesy.”

Two different interpretations of the rule. What did you expect? It’s unwritten.