Wild Wild West

It took one day of baseball for an umpire “controversy” to spring up.

Here is the end of the Tigers/Twins game (sorry, the video cannot be embedded yet).

Torii Hunter was upset that Joe West did not ask for help on the call.

Jon Paul Morosi posted an article on Fox Sports today discussing the call.  His assertion is that all check swings should be called by the base umpires. Before getting into my opinions on this issue, let’s make one thing clear.

This would not only require a change of process, but a change in the rule book itself. Yup, this is actually covered in the rules.

Rule 9.02(c) Comment says:

The manager or the catcher may request the plate umpire to ask his partner for help on a half swing when the plate umpire calls the pitch a ball, but not when the pitch is called a strike.

So, by rule, once Joe West thought it was a strike, he could not appeal his decision. If he was unsure of the swing, he can ask, but not the other way around.

Now, the question becomes is his approach sensible. Yeah, it is sensible, but I am not sure I would go totally that direction. Frankly, I am not sure how big a “problem” this is.

First, If you are tracking a pitch properly with your eyes and using correct timing, you can see a pitch and if a guy attempts to swing.  Trust me, this can be done.

I think his argument comes down to whether the umpire can tell how far the bat comes…can they be precise that the bat crossed the front edge of the plate. Again, I am guessing his argument but he does write this.

However, Monday’s incident underscored a flaw in baseball’s rules that hasn’t been corrected: Certain umpires (including West) believe stubbornly that they are capable of simultaneously giving their full attention to a pitch’s location and the relationship of a bat’s barrel to an imaginary plane.

Multiple sources — specifically, the laws of physics — tell me that is impossible.

The emphasis is mine. It is important because this is not the rule. An umpire is to judge on a swing based on whether the batter attempted to hit the pitch (PBUC Manual 9.8). So, the umpire does not need to judge the barrel to an imaginary plane – he just needs to judge intent.

True the rule of thumb about a barrel crossing the plate is helpful but it is not written law. I have had situations where a batter spins out of the way of a pitch in the wrong direction. This causes his bat to come all the way around his body. Of course, he is not trying to hit the ball as much as save his face. This is a ball.

Next, I don’t particularly think it is ego that has home plate guys calling strikes. I think it has to do with them being 3 feet from the action. If Joe West did appeal yesterday and the 1st base guy ruled a strike, the argument would shift to “how can a guy 110 feet away make that call”.

A good rule of thumb for umpires is to make all the calls that you are responsible for and get help when you need it. This is exactly the procedure followed here. This procedure saves time which is important to the sport these days. Of course this could be a new revenue stream…it is time for the check swing review sponsored by Checkers!

Another question that would have to be addressed if this rule was put in place – when does a check swing go from a check swing to a full swing. There are varying degrees of checking a swing. If it is deemed a home plate umpire cannot judge how far a barrel moves how can he tell when a full swing happens.

Lastly, I see this type of play a handful of times each season. Everything is magnified on opening day. Do we really need to start making new rules because of something that might not happen all that often in the first place. I watch a lot of baseball – on most check swings, I do see the plate guys getting help.

I remember another time MLB let an exception drive a rule – now we have All Star Games that “count”.





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