This game is fun

This quote appears (with some added profanity) in the movie Bull Durham. Umpiring is serious business and most folks I know take it very seriously. Of course, that does not mean there are not moments where some fun is appropriate.

Check out this play:

The umpire down the line has a ball magnet in his pocket. Instead of possibly taking one in the face he decides to hit the deck. Being dedicated to his job he spins while on his backside to confirm the ball landed foul – he even makes the call.

The fans were giving him the Bronx cheer (not a euphemism as the game was in New York). He gets up and proudly tips his cap. Sometimes that is all you can do.

Odd play at the plate

This is an older play but I just came across it. The ball gets away from the catcher and the runner on third attempts to score. The pitcher covers home, gets the ball and tags the runner behind his back. Take a look.

The play was awesome especially given the context of the game (tied in extra innings). I would like to also give some kudos to the umpire. These plays are tough to get locked into because of the adrenaline of the moment.

In this play, the umpire calmly gets to the perfect spot on the field (third base line extended). He gets himself set – not moving at all when the play happens. He leans in to get a good look.

Then at the end he does not rush his call. Wild pitches usually wind up with a safe runner. But, the umpire did not let this or the odd tag by the pitcher sway him. Just a great example of home plate mechanics.

Keep playin’ boys

Buried in the rule book at 6.02(a) PENALTY (old rule reference 8.05 PENALTY) is the exact penalty for a balk:

PENALTY: The ball is dead, and each runner shall advance one base without liability to be put out, unless the batter reaches first on a hit, an error, a base on balls, a hit batter, or otherwise, and all other runners advance at least one base, in which case the play proceeds without reference to the balk.

The first part of the rule is the one everyone knows. The runners all get a base and the pitch does not count to the batter. Not a lot of people know about the second part. If the ball is put into play, it is not dead right away.

If the batter and all runners advance at least one base, the balk is forgotten. This does not happen often but it did last night.

The pitcher committed an illegal quick pitch. A balk was immediately called. This did not stop the batter from smacking a ground rule double.

On the hit all runners advanced a base so the balk is not called. Pretty interesting play.

One other thing about this play. This article equates this situation to a football coach being able to decline a penalty. This is not right. One of two things happen: the runners and batter don’t all advance and a balk is called or they do and the balk is not called. There is no choice.

Say the ball stayed in the park and the batter was thrown out at second. The manager cannot come out and say he would rather have his guy in the box with the runners getting a base. The out would stand at second.

In high school this rule is completely different. The ball is dead immediately and nothing that happens afterwards matters. The ultimate result of the play would be one run scoring, one runner moving to 3rd and the batter still in the box.

Baseball is awesome at times.

Balks are covered on pages 21-23 of RuleGraphics.

How to make a manager mad

Baseball at its heart is a simple game. On offense you hit the ball, touch the bases and score runs. On defense you try to prevent the running of bases. Key in all of this is actually touching the bases. It is a necessary condition of the game – even on base awards.

Rule 5.06 (b)(4)(I) Comment (Rule 7.05(i) Comment in old format)

The fact a runner is awarded a base or bases without liability to be put out does not relieve him of the responsibility to touch the base he is awarded and all intervening bases. For example: batter hits a ground ball which an infielder throws into the stands but the batter-runner missed first base. He may be called out on appeal or missing first base after the ball is put in play even though he was “awarded” second base.

Yes, this applies even to home runs. Here was an interesting play over the weekend:

Batter hits a homer and then is ruled to have missed home plate on appeal. The Brewers had the play reviewed where it was ultimately decided home plate was touched.

Of interest to me was how the original appeal had to take place. The Giants manager came out and (I am guessing) asked to have the touch of home plate reviewed. It looks like the umpires told him he had to formally appeal first.

This makes sense. A call cannot be reviewed if a call had not been made. The Giants appeal was granted. That meant the Brewers had to challenge whether the base was touched.

Can you imagine how bad the batter would have felt if he lost a homer on a stupid mistake?

According to this awesome page at Retrosheet, this would have been the first lost HR due to a missed base since 1983!

Page 9 of RuleGraphics covers advancing and touching bases.

Catching Up

Like a lot of folks, I took some time off this weekend. It was nice to recharge and refresh heading into tournament baseball. From an umpiring perspective, two stories have dominated.

The first was the ejection of Bryce Harper by umpire Marvin Hudson.

Here is the clip:

Couple of thoughts: while writers want to jump on the #umpshow bandwagon and decry Hudson for the act, Harper was certainly not blameless. As a matter of black letter law, you cannot argue balls and strikes which both Harper and Williams were certainly doing. Also, when asked to get in the box, sticking only a toe in was clearly showing the umpire up. He is smart enough to know how this would end.

As to Hudson, he does look like the aggressor in this situation after ripping his mask off. No matter what happened before or after, he was going to come off looking boorish. Umpires are taught to shut down sniping quickly, so I don’t blame him for his actions.

The thing that cracks me up is all the people out there saying umpires should “expect” the treatment and “knew what they were getting into”. Bologna. You can argue in a civil manner. Players know the line and the consequences. Harper choose to leave the game by his actions.

Harper actually learned early some of the things he cannot do to umpires.

I thought Rob Neyer’s article was the most reasoned look at the situation.

The other big story is the second ejection of a pitcher for using a rosin/sunscreen mixture to improve grip.

The rules say you cannot apply a foreign substance of any kind. Offenders face ejection and suspension. There is a groundswell to change this rule to allow a substance that improves grip without being able to effect how a ball moves. Either this or a new type of ball will probably be employed soon.

When is a ball a strike

I have discussed on this blog the differences between high school and professional rules. Most of the time they really don’t amount to much and other times it causes some potentially goofy rulings.

Here is a play that happened recently in the majors:

The batter requests time (and note, the batter can only request time, he is not calling time, that is the umpire’s job). The umpire does not grant it because the pitcher had started his delivery. The ball comes right down the middle and a strike is called.

They key to this call is that the pitch was actually a strike. Here is rule 6.02(b):

The batter shall not leave his position in the batter’s box after the pitcher comes to Set Position, or starts his windup.

PENALTY: If the pitcher pitches, the umpire shall call “Ball” or “Strike,” as the case may be.

The rule is specific in that the ball is to be called “as the case may be”.

The rule is quite different in high school (rule 6-2-4 (d)(1).

1. If the pitcher, with a runner on base, stops or hesitates in his delivery because the batter steps out of the box (a) with one foot or (b) with both feet or (c) holds up his hand to request “Time,” it shall not be a balk. In (a) and (c), there is no penalty on either the batter or the pitcher. The umpire shall call “Time” and begin play anew. In (b), a strike shall be called on the batter for violation of 7-3-1. In (a), (b) and (c), if the pitcher ­legally delivers the ball, it shall be called a strike and the ball remains live. Thus, two strikes are called on the batter in (b).

I added the emphasis. Notice there is no qualifying statement about calling the pitch as it may be. The rule is if it is delivered it is a strike. So, how can a ball be called a strike – if the batter had stepped out of the box prior to the pitch.

I have never called this. I hope I never have to because that would not be a fun conversation with the offensive coach.

Letterman on umpires

Talk show legend and fellow Hoosier David Letterman hangs ’em up this evening. Anyone who watched his show for any length of time knows how big of a baseball fan he is.

In a merging of his genius with this blog, I present to you a couple of top ten lists about umpires.

Top 10 Umpire Complaints
10. Having to carpool with team mascot
9. Line-up card from Don Zimmer always smeared with spaghetti sauce
8. When a manager who’s yelling right in your face suddenly kisses you
7. Have to use glass-bottom shower over concession stand
6. When they show your wife in bed with some other guy on Diamondvision
5. Players who ask if you would scratch them
4. All those empty Slim-Fast containers around Dodger dugout
3. When San Diego Chicken steals your street clothes and sets them on fire during his pre-game dance
2. In most states “killing the umpire” is only a class B misdemeanor
1. Squat burns

Top 10 Signs the Umpire is Nuts
10. His chest protector has large silicone implants.
9. Cleans home plate with his tongue.
8. The first batter has worked the count up to 46 balls, 29 strikes.
7. Makes own face mask out of bubble wrap and duct tape.
6. Was seen checking into Motel 6 with the Philly Phanatic.
5. Three small and very telling words: wears a cape.
4. Keeps running up to fat guys in the stands and yelling, “Babe Ruth! You’re alive!”
3. Insists that “Baseball Fever” is the cause of that weird rash on his back.
2. Whenever he sees a player adjusting himself, shouts, “Ball two!”
1. Long after the game has ended, he’s still squatting.

Pretty funny stuff. Mr. Letterman will be missed.

The times they are a changin’

Completely unknown to me (not that I matter but I tend to keep up on things about the rules), Major League Baseball recodified, and reorganized their rule book for the 2015 season. They are available on Amazon and online.

This was under the radar so much that if you Google “new rule format”, “baseball rules reorganized” or similar phrases, there are no articles even talking about the change. The news is just starting to hit the umpire message boards (these exist, don’t judge).

So, how is the book formatted now? Instead of organized by position (batter, hitter, pitcher) it is organized by how the game is played (equipment, playing the game, illegal activities, etc.). Is this better?

Frankly I am not sure yet. We wrote RuleGraphics because we thought the book lacked a structure that made sense. Of course, we are used to that structure so any change will lead to confusion and anger.

In the end, I think this is a good thing. To find the basics of playing, go to the playing section. To find a penalty, go to the section on illegal acts. The only thing I don’t like it that the former Rule 2.00 is now at the end (and is not numbered). Rule 2.00 contains all the definitions – a vital place to start learning the rules. I like this up front.

Otherwise, the actual content appears to be the same (mine is coming in the mail so I will have more a of a look). In some instances the definition is added to the book making things easier to find. I think this is a good step.

Both the online and print version contains the rules in the “2015 format” and the normal “2014 format”. There is a cross reference table in the back to map the rules to each other. In addition, the new format contains where the old rule is located in parenthesis next to each entry.

Other organizations use similar formats to the old OBR book, it will be interesting if they follow the lead and change their books.

For the curious, here is how the books compare in terms of contents.

2014 format:

  1. Objectives, Playing Field, Equipment
  2. Definition of Terms
  3. Game Preliminaries
  4. Starting and Ending the Game
  5. Putting the Ball in Play, Dead Ball and Live Ball
  6. The Batter
  7. The Runner
  8. The Pitcher
  9. The Umpire
  10. The Official Scorer

2015 Format

  1. Objectives
  2. The Playing Field
  3. Equipment and Uniforms
  4. Game Preliminaries
  5. Playing the Game
    1. Things covered
      1. Positions
      2. Coaches
      3. Batter
      4. Pitching
      5. Scoring
      6. Outs
      7. Substituting
      8. Etc
  6. Improper Play, Illegal Action and Misconduct
    1. Things covered
      1. Interference, obstruction, catcher collisions
      2. Pitcher Illegal Action
      3. Batter Illegal Action
      4. Unsportsmanlike Conduct
  7. Ending the Game
  8. The Umpire
  9. The Official Scorer
  10. Definitions (although not numbered)
  11. Appendices
    1. Diagram of field
    2. Base layout
    3. Pitching mound layout
    4. Glove dimensions
    5. Strike Zone
  12. Rule Cross Reference Table

Pretty significant reorganization. At this point, I have a choice when writing this blog – use old numbering, new numbering or both. My goal eventually will be to use both. While I am learning the format of the new book, I will use the old format.

The second edition of RuleGraphics will more than likely reference both coding methods.


I’ve made a huge mistake

One of the running gags on Arrested Development was the line “I’ve made a huge mistake”.

You can almost see the thought bubble over this baserunner’s head saying the same thing on this play:

The ball gets by the first baseman. The runner’s instincts are to try and get another base. But, the catcher is in the right place at the right time. He throws the ball back to first to nail the runner.

Rule 7.08(j)

7.08 Any runner is out when—

(j) He fails to return at once to first base after overrunning or oversliding that base. If he attempts to run to second he is out when tagged. If, after overrunning or oversliding first base he starts toward the dugout, or toward his position, and fails to return to first base at once, he is out, on appeal, when he or the base is tagged;

Notice the rule specifically states he has to attempt to run to second. A turn towards second is not an attempt. A player can turn left and still be safe when tagged.

In this instance the attempt is pretty clear cut. Heads up play by the defense.

Page 44 of RuleGraphics covers this play.

The Golden Sombrero

A Golden Sombrero is a term given to a batter that strikes out four times in a game. Not a good thing to have happen. But, if you are a pitcher and you strike out 4 batters in an innings, this is a good (and rare) thing.

The latest to do it was Kenley Jansen for the Dodgers.

How does one accomplish this? The trick is to have one of the victims reach base.

Rule 6.05(b)(c)

6.05 A batter is out when—

b) A third strike is legally caught by the catcher;

(c) A third strike is not caught by the catcher when first base is occupied before two are out;

Unless first base is occupied with less than 2 outs, the catcher has to cleanly catch a pitch for the batter to be out. If he does not, then the batter becomes a runner and can attempt to reach first base.

This rule is a holdover from the days when the catcher would play deep behind the plate. Any out on a batter had to end with “ball in hand”. With the catcher back so far, this came into play. It is a rarity in modern baseball.

Why add the provision where the batter is automatically out with first base occupied and less than 2 outs? If this was not the case, the catcher would intentionally drop the ball and start a double play.

In this inning, the first batter strikes out and reaches base. The pitcher then strikes out three more.

How rare is it to pitch only one inning yet get 4 Ks? Using Baseball Reference’s play index, I see this has only happened 18 times since 1914. Of course there are more instances of 4 Ks in an inning but those pitchers pitched more innings.

Page 46 of RuleGraphics covers uncaught third strikes.