In Pitching a Nuclear Baseball Marcus considers and answers two interesting questions concerning the game of baseball. First, “What would happen to a hypothetical game of baseball if the pitcher were to pitch a ball at 90% the speed of light?” And second, “What should happen in that hypothetical game according to the rules of baseball?”
In answering the first question, Marcus relies on science to conclude that the pitch would cause a nuclear explosion that would obliterate the baseball stadium and all of its inhabitants. Because I accept the judgments of science, I agree.
In answering the second question, Marcus relies on an interpretation of the rules of baseball to conclude that the batter – being hit by the pitched ball in the ensuing nuclear explosion – should advance to first base. Because I accept the judgments of common sense, I disagree. There are no nuclear explosions in baseball, because that would be absurd!
But Marcus has an argument:
As long as there is an umpire to interpret the rules, the game of baseball is able to be played in all sorts of abnormal conditions. This is not because the rules account for the unexpected but because they don’t! Apparently the rules check for a legal ball, a legal set up, and a legal pitch, so everything that happens in between the pitcher’s mound and the batter’s box is up for grabs. Broken sound barriers? Baseball doesn’t care. Rapidly expanding walls of plasma due to nuclear explosion? Baseball doesn’t care.
Marcus seems to be saying that if the rules of baseball don’t explicitly ban nuclear explosions, they must be implicitly supported. So his claim in this particular instance – that nuclear explosions are allowed in baseball – looks to be founded on a more general interpretive stance – that only the explicit text of a game’s rules need to be consulted in order to determine what those rules authorize.
I advocate a different interpretive stance for answering questions about what a game’s rules authorize. This interpretive stance goes beyond merely consulting the explicit text of a game’s rules to consider other factors related to a game’s design. The explicit text of a game’s rules should of course be your first, best guide. But one can’t exclude from consideration other factors of a game’s design space – game objectives, balance, and strategic variety (to name just a few).
Consider the central game objective in baseball. The players’ objective is not – nuclear baseballs notwithstanding – to physically annihilate their opponents. It is to score more runs. Since allowing for nuclear explosions in baseball would run contrary to the fulfillment of baseball’s central game objective, it’s implausible to think that the rules of baseball would allow this. Or consider baseball’s overall balance. One needn’t have a perfect understanding of all of the components of the game to understand that allowing for nuclear explosions would be a completely game-breaking strategic option akin to allowing players of Monopoly to legally and literally flip the board whenever they were at risk of losing the game.
The explicit text of a game is useful when confronting circumstances in which there is only one plausible interpretation, but when it comes to the gray areas of the implicit – or the mushroom clouds of nuclear explosions – we have to rely on more than this. We have to rely on ourselves and our own sense of a game’s design space.
So you can pitch the ball as hard as you like. Just be careful. If the speed of your ball approaches the speed of light, it’s game over.