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Archive for the ‘Umpires’ Category

Lost in the excitement, and chaos, of Thursday’s game six were two plays that major league baseball needs to seriously address in the offseason. The first involved a hard takeout slide by Matt Holliday, while the second featured the left fielder as the victim when Adrian Beltre blocked his retreat to the bag during a pickoff attempt. The umpires’ ruling on both plays, which each had a big impact on the game, completely ignored the rulebook, which is something the Commissioner should address before making any other changes to the game.

Rule 7.09 (e) It is interference by a batter or a runner when…Any batter or runner who has just been put out, or any runner who has just scored, hinders or impedes any following play being made on a runner. Such runner shall be declared out for the interference of his teammate.

Was Matt Holliday attempting to reach second base on this slide? (Photo: Getty)

In the bottom of the fourth inning of game six, the Cardinals had runners on first and second when David Freese hit what looked like a tailor-made double play. The only problem was Holliday (who has a history of questionable slides into 2B) slid high and hard into Elvis Andrus without even making an attempt to touch the base. Ironically, many applauded Holliday for his hard takeout slide, usually referencing the non-existent rule about having to be within arm’s length of the base, when, in fact, they should have questioned second base umpire Greg Gibson for failing to call interference and award the automatic double play.

As Rule 7.09(e) clearly states, a runner may not purposely interfere with a fielder who is trying to turn two, even if he is able to touch the base while doing so. Although the section of the rule on interference provides an exception that allows a runner to continue his path after being put out, it doesn’t excuse actions above and beyond an attempt to reach the next base. In this case, Holliday’s target was Andrus, not second base, and so two outs should have been awarded. Instead, Gibson let the play stand, and the Cardinals benefitted when a run scored on Yadier Molina’s ground out to third base.

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Every time an umpire blows a significant call, there is the usual clamoring for instant replay. However, even that fail safe proved insufficient in the last night’s game between the Yankees and Royals.

Joe Girardi and Dana DeMuth discuss Billy Butler's disputed home run (Photo: Getty Images).

The controversy started in the bottom of the third inning when Royals’ DH Billy Butler lined a Bartolo Colon fastball off the top of the left field wall. However, the umpires signaled home run, which allowed Butler to circle the bases even as the ball was being thrown to third base. Almost immediately, Joe Girardi bolted from the dugout to ask for a replay review. The umpires, led by crew chief Dana DeMuth, obliged Girardi’s request, but, in spite of the clear visual evidence, still decided to uphold the original call (interestingly, on June 1, Butler was involved in a similar situation when he was incorrectly awarded with a walk-off home run despite replays clearly showing the ball did not go over the same left field wall).

After the game, Steve Palmero, the supervisor of umpires, was seen taking the game’s crew on a field trip to inspect the infamous fence, an action that immediately suggested DeMuth had misinterpreted the relevant ground rule. Although it should offer no consolation to the Yankees, Joe Torre, MLB’s executive vice president of Baseball Operations, eventually confirmed that the umpires erred, telling the Daily News that “it was a missed call, but there was also a misunderstanding on the rule”.

As things turned out, Colon retired the next two batters in the inning, so, all else being equal, Butler would not have scored without the erroneous decision. The fact that the Yankees lost by one run only compounded the error, but even if the deficit had been a larger margin, the impact on the game would have been the same: the Royals were given a run they should not have had. Once the umpires decided to uphold their initial mistake, manager Joe Girardi could no longer contest the call, leaving him with only one option: lodge a formal protest.

The Yankees’ dugout was visibly upset after DeMuth refused to reverse the call. Even the stoic Mariano Rivera had to be restrained by Tony Pena. Despite this strong emotion, and the insistence of first base coach Mick Kelleher, who was present when the ground rules were reviewed, Girardi forfeited his only chance at vindication by deciding not to protest the game.

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While there have been some exciting games over the first two days of post season play, including historic pitching performances by Roy Halladay and Tim Lincecum, there have also been too many examples of bad umpiring.

Photo: Getty Images

In the Yankees vs. Twins ALDS, game one was witness to an erroneous trap call on a Greg Golson running catch that otherwise would have ended the game. The missed call didn’t impact the outcome because the next batter was retired, but it was exactly the kind of play that riles replay advocates. In game two of the series, much of the attention was shifted to Hunter Wendlestedt’s “creative” strike zone that seemed to shift home plate six inches toward third base when a lefty was at the plate. Although Wendlestedt’s alternative zone actually favored Twins’ starter Carl Pavano, that didn’t stop much of the focus from being on one missed call against Lance Berkman, which was followed by an RBI double on the next pitch.

In the first game of the Rays vs. Rangers series, a pitch that seemed to scrape off the fingers of Carlos Pena was ruled a foul tip, turning a run scoring hit by pitch into an eventual strikeout. Then, in game two, Michael Young appeared to offer at a third strike, but his somewhat obvious attempt was called a check swing. Young then deposited the next pitch over the centerfield wall.

Finally, in last night’s Braves vs. Giants NLDS, Buster Posey scored a run in the fourth inning on a single by Cody Ross. Posey was on second base at the time thanks to a stolen base earlier in the frame. The only problem, however, was the replay showed that Posey was tagged before reaching the bag. Naturally, the run proved to be the only one scored in the ballgame.

Photo: AP

Surprisingly, while Ron Gardenhire and Joe Maddon were both ejected in their respective games, Bobby Cox didn’t even leave the bench to argue the missed call on the Posey steal. Adding further irony, only the latter play would have been reviewable under most current proposals, so it’s very likely that neither of yesterday’s controversial calls would have been reversed even if there was expanded instant replay. Still, that hasn’t stopped the hue and cry for baseball to abandon the “human element” in favor of technological solutions.

The knee jerk demand for expanded replay is perfectly understandable. However, when you really put some thought to it, the feasibility of a workable system becomes less clear cut. Let’s take a couple of examples:

1)      With one out, Buster Posey is on first and Freddy Sanchez in on third. On a swinging strike three, Posey attempts a steal of second base, but is called out to end the inning. On the play, Sanchez had broken for home, but the attempt was rendered moot by the out at second. After looking at the replay, however, the tape reveals that Posey was actually safe. Now, what do you do with Sanchez? After all, if the infielder had known Posey was safe, he might have thrown home to nab Sanchez. The easy solution would be to send Sanchez back to third, but then than penalizes the Giants in the event that Sanchez was going to score. As a result, replay will have either created another inherently unfair situation, or opened another matter to umpires’ judgment, which is precisely what replay is trying to avoid.

2)      The Twins have runners on first and second with no outs when Jim Thome lines a smash to Greg Golson in right. Golson snags the ball before it hits the ground, but the umpire rules a trap. With the runners going on the pitch, Golson hurriedly tries to nab the slow footed Thome at first, but launches the ball in the stands, allowing one run to score. On further review, it is revealed that Golson actually made the play. Had the incorrect call not been made, however, the Yankees could have had a double or even triple play. Then again, Golson might have been making the same throw to first, so perhaps the overthrow should stand? What should be done with the runners? Again, the aftermath of replay is still going to leave one team feeling victimized.

The potential situations that could throw a monkey wrench into a comprehensive replay system are many. That doesn’t mean a more limited application can not be explored. While those options are being weighed, however, major league baseball would be better served by developing a more comprehensive and transparent rating system for its umpires. In fact, that’s exactly what the MLBPA seems to now be advocating.

Back in June, I proposed such a system, writing, “it’s come time for MLB to develop and make public a rating system for its officials. Just like players must face the daily scrutiny of their performance, the officials who oversee the games should as well. Even if it means a labor conflict, it’s time for baseball to impose more stringent requirements on its umpires.” The players seem to be on board. Now it’s up to Bud Selig and his owners.

Holding umpires to an increased level of accountability is the best way to ensure quality officiating. Then, and only then, should expanded replay be implemented. Otherwise, baseball will only being giving its umpires a crutch without actually trying to heal them.

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Somewhat lost amid the euphoria of Roy Halladay’s historic no hitter against the Reds in game one of the NLDS was the fantastic play made by Carlos Ruiz to end it. The quickness of the Phillies’ catcher not only helped preserve history, but all helped avoid controversy. Why? Because on a careful review of the play, it looks like the batted ball hit Brandon Phillips’ discarded bat.

If you look closely in the video above, the ball seems to strike the bat (5:05), at which point it stops moving forward and starts rolling along the barrel. Ironically, had it not hit the bat, Ruiz may not have had a play. Luckily, when it struck the bat, it didn’t disrupt Ruiz. Otherwise, another no hitter would have been left in the hands of an umpire’s judgment.

Rule 6.05(h) states “after hitting or bunting a fair ball, the batter-runner drops his bat and the ball rolls against the bat in fair territory and, in the umpire’s judgment, there was no intention to interfere with the course of the ball, the ball is alive and in play”. So, had Ruiz been unable to make the play, John Hirschbeck could have been faced with a controversial decision. Although it doesn’t look as if Phillips intentionally threw the bat to cause interference, you couldn’t blame Hirschbeck if he got caught up in the emotion of the situation.

Hirschbeck could have been presented with another controversial call if Ruiz’ throw, which was made from his knees, struck Phillips on his way to first. Referring to the video once again, Phillips was running well onto the infield grass before angling back toward the bag. Hirschbeck would have been correct to rule interference, but how many times have we seen an umpire fail to make that call? Although such a throw would have still been ruled an error, could you imagine the uproar if the next batter managed to get a hit?

Thankfully, the athleticism of Carlos Ruiz made all of the above moot, thereby allowing baseball to celebrate a historic accomplishment without the tinge of controversy.

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