The Double Play Double Standard

In American baseball, a player on first is forced out at second if the batter hits a ground ball which is relayed to a fielder touching second base before the runner arrives. The ball is often then thrown to first for a “double play”—two outs.

The double play requires a very fast relay from second base to first and is practiced constantly. However, over the years, the player covering second has straddled the base so as to get a better throw off to first, and often not touched the base at all. Theoretically, the runner would be safe at second, but is always called “out” by the umpire. That’s because “close enough is good enough” and the standard has slipped.

We see the same in professional basketball, where “traveling” is virtually never called (moving the ball without dribbling or taking too many steps when shooting), and NEVER called on a star. Michael Jordan, as good as he was, traveled enough to circle the earth and was never called for it. Kids who watched him learned the wrong technique.

These same double standards exist in business and society. We allow politicians to pass onerous laws which don’t apply to them (health care). We allow corporate executives to gain severance packages despite poor performance that would simply result in the firing of anyone else. We allow celebrities to spout the most ridiculous beliefs about politics although they have no qualifications for any insights better than yours or mine except access to a camera and microphone.

Double standards exist when these conditions are in confluence:

• The original standard is tough, physically or mentally.

• The authorities (umpires, referees, producers, voters, boards, courts) collaborate in the lowering of the standard.

• The performer feels, narcissistically, that he or she is beyond the normal scope of controls and limits.

• The public raises no strong objection and the activity isn’t impaired (lost elections, lost ratings, lower revenues, etc.).

Look around in your clients for the double play double standard. Demonstrate to your buyer that performance can readily decline and results suffer when standards aren’t enforced and raised whenever possible.

If your fielder can’t touch the bag, you need an umpire who calls “safe” and a coach who won’t tolerate it.

© Alan Weiss 2013


6 thoughts on “The Double Play Double Standard

  1. The “phantom” double-play at 2B isn’t sloppiness or lowered standards but a reasoned, intentional approach by umpires (including those who umpire amateur games, such as me). It is purely a safety issue, protecting the knees of the shortstops and second basemen who turn the double play. If the ball beats the runner and the play is “clean,” meaning the throw is on target and caught in a fluid motion, umpires generally call the runner out whether or not the bag is touched while the fielder controls the ball. The sliding runner may destroy the fielder’s knee if he contacts the fielder’s leg when it cannot “give” because his cleats are locked to the resilient base. Note that on normal force plays, such as those at first base, the fielder’s foot occupies one edge of the base, leaving plenty of room for the runner’s foot, but at second on an in-motion play such sharing is unpredictable.

    My point is not to quibble over the metaphor, but rather to note that complex situations are rarely as simple as we may want to make them seen. As HL Mencken said, “There is always a well-known solution to every human problem — neat, plausible, and wrong.”

  2. First thanks for reading my stuff. Second, I don’t agree with you at all, and you’re one of the people lowering the standards!

    The game has rules. If there’s a safety issue, change the rule. But “in the vicinity” isn’t the rule. People play soccer every day without pads and take their chances. Sports involve risk. And you don’t address the issue of “traveling” or anything else. I don’t need to be lectured on the fact that there are complex issues, thank you, but this isn’t one of them.

    Why touch first base? There’s the danger of a first baseman’s leg and the runner’s getting caught and causing injury (this has happened). But really, in a game where a fastball is being thrown perilously close to human skull and bones, I find your explanation a bit self-serving and not at all rationale. There are other, more dangerous aspects of baseball where the rules are enforced. You’re just choosing “not to make the call.”

  3. I’m glad you mentioned traveling in basketball…when I watch basketball, it’s as though the rules I learned when I was a kid no longer apply. I wondered “when did that rule change?” Apparently, the rule didn’t change–just the enforcement.

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