Baseball On My Brain

The philosophical side of positions
January 12, 2009, 6:24 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , ,

The following post was sent out by fellow SABR member Bob Wilson to the subscribers of the SABR e-mail list:

“About the current thread on switching positions, I had been under the
impression that the rules specifically allow the defensive players
(except the pitcher & catcher) to be anywhere on the field. Actually
that seems a logical necessity anyway since there are no lines to mark
position boundaries. So just now I looked through supposedly official
rules on the internet and found nothing that addressed the issue (maybe I
missed it), but at least there wasn’t a rule limiting where the defenders
could be. So that would mean that concepts like second baseman,
right fielder, etc. are not even defined in any official sense. The
“positions” are useful but not in any way definite. But line-up
cards list a position for each player, so who writes line-up cards? The
managers of course. That tells me that the left fielder is whoever the
manager says is the left fielder, regardless of that player’s location.
Whether the left fielder might be stationed at first base and performing
the traditional role of a first baseman has to be irrelevant – if his
manager considers him the left fielder, that’s the end of it.

To me, this means that if players exchange locations, whether
temporarily or for an entire game, they retain their original “positions”
unless their manager re-assigns them. For things to be otherwise would
require making up a rule that’s not in the book.”


Here’s the response I sent back:

Some notes on Bob’s question – which by the way I love because it brings in the philosophical side of baseball.

Looking through the Definitions of Terms in Rule 2.00, the only positions explicitly outlined are the pitcher and catcher. There are provisions for infielder and outfielder, and fielder in general, but no specifics as to actual defensive positions, such as first baseman, second baseman, etc.

My inclination is to agree with Bob’s general direction. We’ve become so locked into the traditional definitions of positions because they comprise the general ideal of a defensive layout, but ultimately, a manager could tell his players to position themselves darn near anywhere on the field without requiring them to change the name of their position.

Certainly the naming of the positions serve a purpose, especially in our statistical and analytical world, but ultimately they just help serve a purpose of distinguishing who is where on the field.

Great question Bob –

Now…I’m going to hunker down on this one for a minute and see what comes up…but I think Bob is accurate in his question and answer. What do you think?


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