Miller: Do the Astros deserved to be shamed for rebuilding plan?

From Sam Miller at Baseball Prospectus on January 22, 2014:

On Aug. 8, 1950, the Boston Braves’ star hitter Bob Elliott motioned toward base umpire Al Barlick and asked him to move. Barlick, standing behind the pitcher, was in Elliott’s line of vision and distracting. Barlick obliged.

That gave Eddie Stanky an idea. The Giants’ second baseman walked over to the spot Barlick had vacated. Over the next four games against the Braves and Phillies, he would intermittently go back there and do what the newspapers called The Eddie Stanky Semaphore Wave, or, simplified, the Stanky Maneuver. He’d wave his arms, mimic the pitcher’s motion, and do all manner of distracting dances, from directly behind the pitcher’s release point.

“Umpire Al Barlick said the arm waving tactics ‘made a farce out of the game,’” according to one newspaper account at the time. Phillies manager “Eddie Sawyer, generally calm, called the action illegal, unsportsmanlike; labeled it ‘bush league’ baseball.” Stanky, shamed, briefly agreed to stop doing it, but after a Phillies player slid hard into one of his teammates (knocking the fielder unconscious), he went back behind the mound in the fourth inning on August 12th. “The antics had provoked a storm that upset players, umpires, team managers and fans,” the Associated Press reported that week. “It indirectly led to one of the stormiest free for alls in Shibe Park history. It caused a game to be played under protest. It resulted in $25 fines against two players who started the fracas.” It was, though, totally legal.

So what do we think about Stanky? He was doing everything he could to try to win. He was within the limits of the rulebook. He was ingenious. He was entertaining. He showed hustle. He had a drive to win, and a responsibility to his team to try to win, and anything less than he did would have been shirking this responsibility and betraying this drive.

But, also: Ugh. The Stanky Maneuver wasn’t a real strategy. It was tacky. It was bad manners. It was a loophole that existed only until somebody exposed it, at which point it would be closed for good, either by rule (it was) or by shaming and unwritten rules. The rest of the league perhaps hadn’t thought of it, because it was silly; or perhaps had thought of it and hadn’t used it, because it was unsporting. Either way: Stanky went somewhere nobody else was willing to go. He did it to win, but is that enough of a justification? Can there really be no obligation that a participant has to the game other than complete commitment to victory?

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Originally published: January 22, 2014. Last Updated: January 22, 2014.