Baccellieri: Imagining a position-less baseball

From Emma Baccellieri at Baseball Prospectus on October 6, 2016:

There is little nuance in the names we use for baseball’s positions—they describe, simply and directly, either what you do or where you stand. The pitcher pitches; the right fielder is in right field; the shortstop stretches this characterization by being a 19th century adaptation of the cricket term “long stop,” but whatever. The logic is, on the whole, satisfyingly and explicitly clear, and it gives us a language that is specific and deliberate.

But sometimes the circumstances of the game force us to question the foundations of that language’s specificity. To wit—the first baseman covers first base. And yet. …


That is one moment of extreme caring in a late-September affair that was full of not caring. The bottom of the fourth inning in last Wednesday’s Cubs-Pirates game, the outcome of which meant nothing to two teams with futures already decided. It was Anthony Rizzo (first baseman playing in to defend against a bunt) and Ben Zobrist (second baseman covering first base for this one play) and Clint Hurdle (maybe a fierce defendant of the rules, maybe a frustrating pedant, definitely someone who cared very much about this play in this moment).

Rizzo and Zobrist had switched positions, Hurdle told the umpiring crew, and so they would need to change gloves―a first baseman’s mitt, after all, is different from the gloves of other infielders. The umpires agreed; Joe Maddon briefly cared and then cared not so much; Rizzo and Zobrist changed gloves as they were asked; the bunt advanced the runner; the unimportant baseball went on.

Hurdle, to reporters after the game: “It’s in the rulebook.”

Maddon, to reporters after the game: “There’s no actual rule that says you can’t do that. … It’s all semantics.”

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Originally published: October 6, 2016. Last Updated: October 6, 2016.