Commentary

Commish's Court: The fallacy of accepted wisdom

Updated: June 30, 2008, 2:26 PM ET
By AJ Mass | ESPN.com

I was all set to write this week's Commish's Court a few days ago. Unexpectedly, I had a little free time on my hands, and as they say, no better time than the present. Then I started wondering to myself why I'm listening to this so-called fountain of wisdom known as "they". Who are "they"? I don't know them … and as "they" say, if I'm not supposed to ever take candy from strangers, then why should I take any advice from someone I've never met? Then again, "they" also say to never look a gift horse in the mouth. Wow, this "they" certainly knows how to play both sides of the fence. Since getting a head start on my work would free up even more of my time later on to do something fun, I decided to sit down and write my column early after all. But then I heard the voice of "they" in the back of my head: Patience is a virtue. So I stopped. I didn't have a great idea for my column yet, so perhaps I was getting ahead of myself. But … nothing ventured, nothing gained. I sat back down and started to type. But … better safe than sorry. I stopped again, confused by all of this contradiction in '"generally accepted wisdom."

The fact is that when you're giving advice, people are going to disagree with you. It doesn't automatically make you "right" and the other party "wrong" (or vice versa) because it's rare that the circumstances of the situation you are commenting on precisely mirror the circumstances of the person criticizing your view. Last week, I responded to the question of whether or not owners should be allowed to keep a player on their fantasy teams' disabled list indefinitely, even after said player has returned to game action. My take on the matter was and is that such a tactic should not be an option. I received feedback on both sides of the issue: Some agreed with me, while others certainly did not. The ones who didn't agree with me pretty much fell into three distinct camps.

The first group contained players who played in leagues where there was a built-in penalty for choosing to continue to have a no-longer-on-the-DL player in a DL spot. Teams doing so are typically not allowed to make free-agent signings off the waiver wire, or to make trades, or in some cases, even to change their current active lineup until such time as they activate or cut the player currently sitting in the DL-spot illegally. But this actually acknowledges that my distaste for the tactic is valid. If something comes with a penalty attached, then it is technically illegal to do; otherwise, such an act would not be punished. You are still breaking the rules. You've simply chosen to call this "strategy" because you are willing to accept the league-imposed penalty for your rule-breaking.

But you know what? More power to you. This column focuses on my opinion on what the rules should be. If your rules say nothing about such a tactic, then of course you can do it. But my recommendation to league commissioners, if I were running your league, would be to eliminate an unwanted tactic completely rather than simply make it undesirable. It's kind of like the salary cap in the major leagues. The idea is that each team is supposed to be on a level playing field when it comes to player salaries, but that's not what has happened. Teams can continue to go over the upper limit in salary, so long as they agree to pay a luxury tax on the excess. It hasn't eliminated the overspending; it's just made it a bit less appealing. If everyone in your league is OK with a loophole being exploited, then by all means, continue to play as you are doing. If not, then change the rule next season.

The other two groups of dissenters are pretty well represented by Phil from Portland, Ore., and Dan from New York City. Although they both felt that keeping a player on the disabled list as long as a fantasy owner wants to should be allowable, they had completely opposite rationales. First, Phil writes: "We're all allowed equal opportunity to exploit the same loophole. … On the surface, I can see how this tactic could be perceived as 'bush league', and maybe it is. I think, though, to call it so is going too far to liken this game we play to the real thing. We're not playing baseball here. We're playing fantasy baseball … an entirely different animal." Then we have Dan, who argues, "I completely disagree with this week's Court. Major league teams are allowed to leave a guy on the DL even if he seems ready to play. They don't have to activate him until they play him." So which is it? Should we be tailoring our rules to allow fantasy owners to do everything that major league owners can do? Or are we to accept the notion that this isn't 'real' baseball, and stop trying to compare apples to oranges? Which one of "they" should we listen to?

Look, if you want to find a loophole in any set of rules, you can … if you look hard enough. Just this past week, I heard from my old hypothetical friend Harry Himalayas on the subject of Felix Hernandez. He wanted to know if it was OK, as league manager, to go in and change the stats to add King Felix's grand slam to his hitting totals for the week. His reasoning was as follows: "Our league's rules clearly state that hitters do not get credit for any innings they might pitch at the end of a blowout, nor may they choose to add the hitting stats of a NL pitcher who happens to hit a home run." I have to hand it to Harry. By singling out NL pitchers, the rule could be construed as saying it is in fact just fine for an owner to choose to add the hitting stats of an AL pitcher, like Hernandez, who happens to knock one out of the park in interleague play. Certainly, that's not anywhere near the intent or spirit of the rule, but it could be argued, right? I'm sure there's an equal argument to be made under this rule that Aaron Miles could get credit for his occasional inning of work, depending upon your definition of the word "blowout."

Of course this is taking the search for loopholes to a ridiculous extreme, but the fact is, because "pitchers' hitting stats don't count" is such an accepted doctrine, many leagues don't even bother to write the rule down anymore. It's just assumed that everyone knows and understands this to be the case, much like in my son's preschool, where one staircase is to be used for going upstairs and the other is to be used for going downstairs, although no signage indicating this to be the practice is evident anywhere. All the kids simply know the rule exists and abide by it.

But I'm sure there's a least one renegade in the school who chooses to use whatever staircase he darn well chooses, in whatever direction it so pleases him … just as I'm sure at least one of you out there disagrees with me wholeheartedly, sticking to the time-honored philosophy that "rules are made to be broken." At least that's what "they" say. Of course, "they" also say "rules are there for a reason" -- so what do "they" know anyway?

AJ Mass is a fantasy football, baseball and college basketball analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.

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