The Rule of Third (Base) and other unwritten rules of graphic design/baseball

Not too long ago, my co-author and friend Shea called me with an interesting question: “Is there a way we could somehow incorporate baseball into our blog about graphic design and interpretation?” It seemed like a stretch, but since baseball is a mutual interest, we thought we’d give it a try this week.

In today’s post, I will discuss how graphic designers can make use of some of the unwritten rules of baseball (actually, for the purposes of this post, they are, in fact, written rules of baseball). Thursday, Shea will address how interpreters can do the same. Here goes:

If you intentionally hit a batter, don’t aim at his head.
Sometimes a baseball pitcher needs to send a message. Suppose the pitcher is unhappy with a player on the other team for violating one of the many unwritten rules of baseball, and he decides to intentionally plunk him with a pitch. It’s an unwritten rule that the pitcher should aim at the batter’s backside rather than a more vulnerable area, like his head.

Designers send messages, too, and it’s important not to aim at your audience’s head. Large fields of bright red, using lots of different typefaces, bolding everything, and filling every last square inch of white space—these are all examples of being overly aggressive, or aiming at your audience’s head. It’s important to get your message across, but you don’t have to beat people over the head with it.

Don’t step on the foul line.
This is more of a superstition than an unwritten rule, but many players—pitchers, mostly—avoid stepping on the lines drawn on the field as they enter or leave the field between innings. There are parts of the field clearly designated for different purposes—fair territory is for game faces and steadfast focus, foul territory is where players can relax and prepare for the next inning. Stepping on the line between those two areas muddies the distinction between them.

Designers rely on lines and areas with clearly defined purposes as well. A grid system helps designers decide where to place important elements on a page. (See a post on the grid here.)

Don’t slide with your spikes up.
When a runner slides into a base with the spikes on his shoes up, there’s a risk of serious injury. This is something noted jerk and Detroit Tiger Ty Cobb was famous for. Clearly, for designers, this rule relates to using starbursts. You’d have to be a real Ty Cobb to intentionally inflict those pointy aberrations on your audience.

Don’t make the first or third out at third base.
For various strategic reasons that I will resist detailing here, base runners should avoid making the first or third out of an inning trying to reach third base. They’re better off staying at second, if the situation allows, rather than risking making an out at third base. That said, there are occasions where it’s okay to force the issue and aggressively try for third base.

Designers use a Rule of Thirds as a guide to attractive compositions. Like baseball’s Rule of Third Base, though, there are times when the compositional Rule of Thirds can be violated. See a post about the Rule of Thirds here.

Pitchers should not show up their fielders.
When a fielder makes an error, pitchers have to resist outwardly showing their displeasure. Even though the pitcher has inherited a difficult situation because of his teammate’s misstep, he has to suck it up and focus on that next batter.

Similarly, every design project is a collaboration. If the copy writer comes in with too high a word count or the photographer gets thrown out trying to stretch a double into a triple, the project manager still needs to own the project and work with team members to get it right.

Don’t bunt to break up a no-hitter.
This is just a weasely thing to do. Swing the bat. This is not a concern in the American League because no one bunts there.

Well, there you go. Tune in next week when we’ll delve into the importance of working pitch counts when setting type!

10 thoughts on “The Rule of Third (Base) and other unwritten rules of graphic design/baseball

  1. As we enter the month of October, the baseball playoffs are upon us. By some stroke of genius, coincidence, or dumb luck, Paul and Shea have come up with the fantastic idea of relating this IBD blog to baseball. This is truly an amazing feat. I am fully confident that with a little hard work, that soon they will somehow come up with a way to relate family and food to some post here on IBD too. These two never seem to amaze me with their ingenuity. Dude and Dood, you rock!
    PS – Go Phillies and I hate the No-Good Stinkin’ Yankees. There, I said it.

  2. The photo of Rollins doesn’t make sense. If it is unaltered, tell me the ball is hitting him square in the noggin because it ricocheted off his hand/forearm first right? Which means it doesn’t support your message. Otherwise, the question begs, why is he staring face first into a ball being thrown at his head? I know this seems off topic, but photos as a design element say a thousand words right, for me it’s asking lots of questions, none of which have much to do with your actual post so the issue at hand has been confused in my brain. Is this comment a case of a fielder showing up a pitcher when he walks a run in (which should never happen either)?

  3. Great attempt at an analogy (interpretive techniques..yipee!). However, when are you going use another sport as an analogy? What about curling? What about anything from the scottish highland games?

  4. Wow these comments seem harsh (Miller’s doesn’t count). I’m coming to Paul’s defense since it was my idea for this post in the first place. Great work, well besides your take on the no hitter. I know they don’t happen much in the NL but you do whatever it takes to end one.

  5. Now that I think about my NL comment, I realize it really doesn’t make sense. Go Yankees!

  6. Sorry, I wasn’t trying to come off sounding harsh, I love you guys, but I truly just can’t figure out the Rollins photo and it’s really bugging me…
    His hands are low on the bat, so he wasn’t bunting and the way his body is positioned it seems he started to swing then couldn’t rotate away from the brushback pitch in time…
    Seriously, this is really bugging me. If you don’t know the answer, I’ll get over it eventually.

  7. Brian, I saw the photo and assumed he was leaning in, perhaps bunting (not to break up a no-hitter, mind you), and got surprised by a pitch up and in. I did not analyze it as closely as you did, however, because I’ve seen this photo used in a lot of articles about HBP, and it’s been credited to Baseball Almanac (can’t find that original, though).

  8. I found it! If you look at this article:

    You’ll see that photo with a caption saying that Jimmy Rollins was hit by a pitch by, of all people, Cliff Lee, then with the Indians in 2007. The box score from that game is here:

    It shows that Jimmy Rollins was one of three Phillies HBP in that game. I hope there was a brawl.

    So I’m not sure what he was doing, but it was definitely a HBP.

  9. Great article, thanks for finding that. I definitely learned things I didn’t know about Cliff Lee. I like him even less now. And no denying the HBP nature of the situation, but it must have hit his shoulder, arm, hand or something first prior to the bullet between the eyes of the photo. No way that’s a straight up bean ball to the head.

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