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Mercy Me: Should the Cardinals Stop Playing Baseball when Leading?

Last night, while playing a game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, the St. Louis Cardinals amassed 9 runs in the second inning, in route to a 14-8 victory. During the Pirates TV Broadcast, the announcers were critical of the Cardinals’ continued pursuit of runs and offence when leading by 7 runs. Specifically, Greg Brown and Bob Walk criticized Yairo Munoz stealing 2nd base and 3rd base in the 4th inning while up 11-4, calling Yairo’s actions against the “unwritten rules” of baseball. The Pirates broadcast was similarly critical of the Cardinals last week when the Cardinals scored 10 runs in one inning.

Greg Brown and Bob Walk criticized Yairo Munoz stealing 2nd base and 3rd base in the 4th inning while up 11-4, calling Yairo’s actions against the “unwritten rules” of baseball.

Typically, in many little league baseball games (and causal softball leagues), a “mercy rule” exists to end the baseball or softball game after a certain number of runs have been scored. This rule exists to prevent an clearly-outmatched team from being subjected to continued run scoring. This rule is especially important for children who are just learning how to play the game of baseball, and shouldn’t become discouraged by being beaten badly. Similarly, in many high school and college athletic competitions, it is considered bad sportsmanship to continue to amass a high score against a clearly outmatched opponent who has no chance of winning the game.

However, the Cardinals’ actions on Wednesday were not against the official rules, not against the unwritten rules, and not immoral. First, no such “mercy rule” exists in the professional Major League Baseball. Second, as there exists no time limit in baseball, teams can score an indefinite amount of runs in just one inning. The Cardinals scored 10 runs in one inning last week. In 2011, the Cleveland Indians came back from a 12-run deficit against the Seattle Mariners. And, in one game in 2001, the Pirates scored 7 runs with 2 outs in the bottom of the 9th inning to ultimately beat the Houston Astros. Specifically, here, it is ironic that the Pirates Broadcast complained about the Cardinals still trying to score runs with a 7-run lead, when the Cardinals themselves had achieved a 9-run inning earlier in the game.

The Cardinals and Pirates are professional athletes who are paid to play baseball. Continuing to play proper offence against another professional team – who is leading by only 7 runs -- is neither immoral nor against any unwritten rule. Rather, continuing to play the game the right way, is the moral choice. Additionally, professional athletes are paid based on their individual statistical achievements. Thus, it is improper to suggest that a professional athlete forgo their achievements (and potential offensive figures) because their team happens to be winning.

The Cardinals and Pirates are not two teams of kids learning the game. The Pirates are not an outmatched high school team without the ability to score runs. Rather, the Pirates have already beaten the Cardinals 4 times this season. For all of these reasons, the Cardinals violated no rule (written or unwritten) last night, and the Pirates Broadcasters need to realize that their team is built of professionals.


Adam Van Grack is an attorney at the law firm of Longman & Van Grack, LLC practicing litigation, business law, and sports law. Adam is a fan of the St. Louis Cardinals having attended Washington University in St. Louis for college and law school. Adam has been previously appointed as the Chair of a U.S. Olympic National Governing Body.


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