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9 Archaic/Obscure Sports Rules Every Guy Should Know

by: Howard Cosmell On  Tuesday, December 7, 2010
Tags:  Balk   Drop Kick   Handoff Snap   Tuck Rule  

Taking a trip down memory lane looking through antiquated sports rulebooks is always good for a laugh, with their quaint notions of fairness and right and wrong. However, there exists a special level of anger and rage when you realize that your team has been hung up by a rule that hasn’t been applied since before you were born. It doesn’t happen often, but in case it does again soon, you best familiarize yourself with these esoteric sports rules, if only to seem like the most knowledgeable person in the room.

9. Drop Kick

The drop kick is archaic for a reason. It doesn’t really work anymore. It was a reliable weapon in the early days of the 20th century when the football was shaped more like a rugby ball, but since then, the ball has become more pointed to facilitate passing.

For those who don’t know, the drop kick is pretty much what it sounds like. Imagine a punt, but you boot it after bouncing it off the ground, hopefully through the uprights. Yeah, it doesn’t sound like an effective method of scoring to us either. Doug Flutie got to kick one in his final game, but aside from novelty, there’s not much room for this in a team’s playbook. A field goal is worth the same number of points and less heartburn.

8. Handoff Snap

While the NFL doesn’t explicitly say that this maneuver is illegal, it’s phrasing of the snap rule leaves some uncertainty:

“A quick, continuous, backwards movement of the ball from its position on the ground in which the ball immediately leaves the hands of the snapper and touches a backfield player or the ground before it touches an offensive team lineman.”

Anyway, it’s doubtful that the rather conservative coaching strategies of the NFL would ever incorporate the “handoff snap,” as it can really only be used once to make the most of its shock value, but fans can dream, can’t they?

7. Golf Stance Improvement
This rule can’t really be used to your advantage, but not knowing it could really screw you on the links. In 1987, Craig Stadler had a tricky lie under a tree at the humorously-named “Andy Williams Open.” Stadler, always one to take great pride in his appearance, couldn’t live with himself if he spent the rest of the round with unsightly grass stains on his trousers. He laid down a towel and proceeded to hone in on 2nd place. However, the amateur snitches watching the tourney at home lit up the switchboards at the PGA, ratting out Stadler for “building a stance” with the towel. He was penalized two strokes the next day, but seeing as how he had already signed his scorecard for that day, he was DQ’d. And now golfers must languish muddy-kneed pants. What kind of God would allow this?

6. Getting Hit By Pitch While Stealing Home

Jacoby Ellsbury stealing home plate in April of 2009 against the Yanks was one of the more memorable plays of the year. However, there’s a way to make that play more memorable, though it requires Willie-Mays-Hayes-like speed. The baseball rulebook says that if Ellsbury had been quick enough to get hit by the pitch across home, all runners would advance. I hope a whole generation of center fielders take this rule to heart and work on getting a good enough jump on home to get pegged in the head by a pitch. For the good of the team, and for comedy’s sake.

5. Two Outs In a Row/Batting Order Penalty
In MLB, it’s impossible for a batter to get two outs in a row, right? Wrong. In 2005, David DeJesus of the Kansas City Royals batted lead-off with a single. Good job, David. However, Mr. DeJesus was supposed to bat second in the line-up. Of course, when the umps realized this, he was called out, and the second batter in the lineup stepped into the box: A Mr. David DeJesus. Well, he popped out, and in doing so garnered the dubious distinction of being solely responsible for two outs in the same inning. Back-to-back.

4. The Fair Catch and Free Kick

The fair catch is a time saver in more ways than one. Of course, it’s often used to stop the clock after a short kickoff or punt during the end of the game, but if the circumstances work out, it can help you another way, as well. If you call fair catch, even if time has elapsed, you are entitled to a final free kick from the spot of the catch. So if a team leading by two miffs a punt out of its own endzone with :01 on the clock, there just might be a Christmas after all. Sure it’s obscure, but if it wasn’t, then everyone would know about it, right?

3. Commissioner’s Discretion (a.k.a. No Little People as D.H.)

This one might as well be known as the “Eddie Gaedel Rule.” Gaedel was brought in to pinch hit for the St. Louis Browns by owner Bill Veeck. Nothing strange about that. What is strange was the fact that Gaedel stood 3’ 7”. Needless to say, he was walked in four straight pitches because he had a strike zone that could probably only be measured in millimeters.

Since that era, there hasn’t been an outspoken rule against little people playing baseball, but the commissioner has been granted the authority to reject any player contract that tries to subvert baseball rules. So if you’re under 5 feet and want to play ball, you should probably have a cannon for an arm as well, cause you’re not going to be a DH.

2. The Tuck Rule

If the QB starts his forward passing motion and the ball gets knocked out, it’s a dead ball and incomplete pass. If the QB brings his arm forward to secure the ball and possibly run with it, and it gets knocked out, it’s a fumble and the ball is live. But if the QB starts the forward passing motion, THEN decides to tuck the ball and run with it or secure it, it’s an incomplete pass. Why? No one really knows. The rule was unknown to most fans until a snowy day in January when the Pats were playing the Raiders, and Tom Brady decided that everyone should learn about the rule.

1. The Balk

Ugh. If you totally understand the balk, stop reading this article and please find a way to get humans to colonize Mars or something. Knowing the rules of a pitchers windup (catchers can cause balks too, but not often) is a great way to know what is a balk and what isn’t. And knowing what is a balk and what isn’t is a great way to let everyone around you know that you like baseball WAYYYYYYYY too much.

A balk is movement or action that interrupts the standard pitching motion so that the pitcher could have an unfair advantage in picking off or getting a jump on any baserunners. Here is an non-exhaustive list of what constitutes a balk. Memorize these at your own peril. I’ve personally never witnessed or heard of a balk influencing the outcome of an MLB game, but that’s why we learn these things. Cause you never know. If the pitcher:
• switches his pitching position from the windup to the set (or vice versa) without properly disengaging the rubber;
• while on the rubber, makes a motion associated with his pitch and does not complete the delivery;
• when going from the stretch to the set position, fails to make a complete stop with his hands together before beginning to pitch;
• throws from the mound to a base without stepping toward (gaining distance in the direction of) that base;
• throws or feints a throw from the rubber to an unoccupied base, unless a play is imminent;
• steps or feints from the mound to first base without completing the throw;
• pitches a quick return, that is, delivers with the intent to catch the batter off-guard or defenseless;
• pitches or mimics a part of his pitching motion while not in contact with the rubber;
• drops the ballwhile on the rubber, even if by accident, if the ball does not subsequently cross a foul line;
• while intentionally walking a batter releases a pitch while the catcher is out of his box with one or both feet
• unnecessarily delays the game;
• pitches while facing away from the batter;
• after bringing his hands together on the rubber, separates them except in making a pitch or a throw;
• stands on or astride the rubber without the ball, or mimics a pitch without the ball; or
• throws to first when the first baseman, because of his distance from the base, is unable to make a play on the runner there.

If that’s not enough, here’s a seven-minute video outlining some of the broad strokes.