CLEARWATER, Fla. — Years ago, home run king Hank Aaron stood in the batter's box and prepared to hit when suddenly the catcher spoke.
"Hey Hank," the catcher said. "You're holding the bat wrong. You're supposed to hit with the label facing up."
To which Aaron replied, "I came up here to hit, not to read."
Somehow that story sounded like a good way to introduce an informal survey. Many people, from managers to players to scouts to broadcasters, make their living from baseball. Since spring training is a time for fundamentals, UPI decided to test baseball personnel on their fundamentals: What is the first rule in the rulebook?
In case you want to test yourself, we'll hold the answer until the end. In the meantime, remember most of these people get paid to play, not to read.
"I have no idea," said catcher Lance Parrish, who just joined the Phillies. "I've failed my first test over here. Maybe that'll make me look at the rulebook."
Phils outfielder Glenn Wilson expressed no curiosity over the answer, but did offer an opinion on the question.
"It's a bad survey," he said.
Dave Winfield of the New York Yankees wouldn't even guess. Houston coach Yogi Berra, a veteran of more than 40 years in baseball, answered as honestly as he could. "I'll be damned if I know." Atlanta infielder Ken Oberkfell, who played on St. Louis' 1982 World Series championship team, agreed with Berra. "I have no idea." Mets center fielder Len Dykstra failed to name the first rule in the book, then added, "I don't know the last rule in the book, either."
Jim Fanning, a longtime baseball executive for the Montreal Expos and now one of their broadcasters, concentrated his answer on the playing surface.
"I suppose it would have something to do with the layout of the field," he said. "If you ask 10 guys, you'll get 10 different answers."
Davey Johnson, who managed the Mets to the World Series title, explained why so few players know.
"There's a lot of rules in the book you don't even read," he said. "You've been playing for 20-30 years and they're givens."
Here is the first rule in the book:
"1.01 Baseball is a game between two teams of nine players each, under direction of a manager, played on an enclosed field in accordance with these rules, under jurisdiction of one or more umpires."
Mets infielder Howard Johnson came close. At first he guessed, "It's gotta' be played on a diamond." When told the answer, he added, "I figured it was either that (a diamond) or nine men on a field."
Dodger outfielder Mike Marshall knew. So did Expo Manager Buck Rodgers, who asked if there was a prize for getting it right. He was out of luck.
American League umpire Marty Springstead knew, but umpires should know. That's what they get paid for. Players get paid for the second rule in the book:
"1.02: The objective of each team is to win by scoring more runs than the opponent."