May 20, 2010 10:20:00 AM
Ignorance of the law is not an excuse.
If you have been stopped by a police officer and asked, "Do you know how fast you were going?", you likely discovered that fact after being penalized for going a little too quickly.
That''s the best example to illustrate the core issue behind the Mississippi High School Activities Association''s and the MHSAA Executive Committee''s rulings against Bruce High School in an issue regarding a pitcher throwing more than the mandated 17 innings in one week.
Only Bruce High baseball coach Sid Burt knows for sure if the decision to pitch Caleb Hanley into the fifth inning Saturday against Hamilton was an innocent mistake or if it was done with knowledge of the pitching restriction.
Hanley pitched seven innings Monday against Eupora to help Bruce advance to face Hamilton in the best-of-three Class 2A North Half State title series. He then pitched six innings Friday in a 10-0 victory in game two. Hanley returned to the mound and started game three in Hamilton, going 4 2/3 innings before being lifted for a reliever after allowing a double and a walk.
Jay King escaped further damage and helped the Trojans hold on for a 6-5 victory that apparently pushed them to a meeting against Richton to decide the Class 2A champion.
But questions about pitching restrictions emerged immediately after the game. The umpires were asked if they knew of a rule that stated pitchers are only allowed to pitch 17 innings in a week.
But per the National Federation of State High School Associations baseball rule book and case book, umpires aren''t required to police or to monitor innings pitched by players. The rule book states that each state association shall have a pitching restriction policy to afford pitchers reasonable rest time between outings, but that it is not an umpire''s responsibility to determine if a team has violated a state association''s pitching restriction policy.
That puts the onus for policing a pitcher''s innings in a week on the coaches. Some teams have multiples coaches, especially in higher classifications. Most times, though, a head coach or a first assistant will call and or chart pitches to ensure players aren''t overused.
In this case, Hanley apparently told his coach his arm felt good and that he was ready to go. Given his performance in the past week, it must have been difficult for Burt to say no, especially if he didn''t know there was a pitching restriction.
There''s no way to tell how the game would have played out if Hanley had pitched only four innings or not pitched Saturday. Some coaches wouldn''t have taxed a high school pitcher that much in a week, even in a game as important as Saturday''s. You can quibble with the MHSAA''s decision to make Bruce High forfeit and to move Hamilton into the Class 2A title series, but funny things happen in athletics -- from Little League to the professional ranks -- all of the time. A bounce here or a pitch there can turn momentum in the snap of a finger, and there''s no telling if it would have happened in the Bruce-Hamilton series.
There also is no use in pointing fingers or playing the blame game. Neither one of the coaches enjoyed being in this predicament, and it is painful for the Bruce High baseball team, which earned two victories against Hamilton at the right time, to be sent home rules violation.
But sports are based on rules. Some are arcane, many make sense. Whether it''s football or baseball or basketball or hockey, rules are there to ensure games are played the right way. It is the responsibility of coaches and players and parents to know the rules.
If there was even a hint of doubt whether the MHSAA has a pitching restriction or how it defined the word "week" or words "calendar week," someone should have raised the issue before Saturday''s game. Clarification should have been obtained and it should have been sent in writing to Bruce High or its baseball coaches.
It''s easy to look back and say the situation could have been voided with one phone call. That won''t make Burt or any of the Bruce High players feel any better.
But vigilance is a priority. Remember that the next time you''re talking on your cell phone or text messaging someone while driving your car. You might not realize it, but you just passed a speed limit sign. Odds are you''re going a little too quickly. That is all that will matter when the police officer walks up to the driver''s side door and asks to see your license and proof of insurance.
Adam Minichino is sports editor of The Commercial Dispatch. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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