My wife was watching the news story about a Yankee pitcher who violated game rules by smearing some pine tar on his neck that he could then apply to the ball before each delivery. "Why did he do that?" asked Mary Ellen.

"It gives him an advantage in controlling the pitch," I explained.

"Why is that bad? Wouldn't it cut down on crazy pitches?"

"You mean wild pitches. Yes, it might. But it's illegal because...

"Can the batter use this pine tar?"

"Yes, the batter can but, but..."

I was a stumped. Rules in sports are arbitrary and inconsistent. When the ball hits the sideline in basketball, it's out of bounds. In baseball, it's fair-keep running. Here are some more baseball questions from Mary Ellen last October that I couldn't field:

"Who is winning the World Series?"

"It's tied, two games apiece."

"Why do they play so many games? Why not play just one big one, like the Super Game?"

"It's the Super Bowl. It's different with football."


"I have no idea. Just trust me."

"Now which group are the Yankees in?

"Not groups, leagues. American and National. Teams are in leagues."

"Who decides which team goes in which league?"

"It's hard to explain."

"Why should that be hard to explain? Saks and Kohl's are in different leagues. Any fan of shopping knows this. Shall I explain the difference?"

"NO, please! I give up. Here's one difference: The American League has a DH, a designated hitter."


"That means that the pitcher does not bat. Someone bats for him."

"That doesn't seem very fair to the pitcher."

"The pitcher doesn't care."

"Well, if he doesn't care, he shouldn't be playing. Can't they find people who do care? I have another question. Why do they call it a strike when the guy doesn't strike it, but in bowling they call it a strike when he does?"

"No clue."

"And why are there four balls and only three strikes?"

"I don't know. Hey, this is starting to sound like a Bob Newhart routine."

"Can you explain anything in baseball, Dick?"

"Sure. I can explain the infield fly rule."

"Go for it."

"Okay! An infield fly is a fair fly ball that can be caught by an infielder with ordinary effort, when first and second, or first, second and third bases, are occupied, before two are out and..."

ZZZZZZZZZ-ZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzz..."Now, I have one more question, Dick. When I ask you how much time is left in a football game so we can finally sit down to dinner, you sometimes say 5 minutes. Then 10 minutes later, it still says 4 minutes on the clock. Please explain that."

"Okay, Mary Ellen, how come when I ask you if you are ready to head out for a movie, you say 2 more minutes, and 20 minutes later, you say, 'Almost ready'"?

I had her speechless. But now she was more determined than ever to stump me. So the other night on TV there was a story about a family of champion Lacrosse players at the University of Albany. Mary Ellen asked me to explain a little about the rules of the game to her. I was ashamed to admit that I knew absolutely nothing about the sport, so I quickly distracted her by suggesting that instead of the news we should watch that one episode of Downton Abbey she missed last season. She quickly fired up the DVR and found the show. I knew this would get me off the hook.

Just my luck. They were all playing cricket