Tangle/Untangle

There was a pretty interesting play in the Mariners/Angles game the other night. Before showing the play, here is the rule (old numbering system):

7.09 It is interference by a batter or a runner when—

(j) He fails to avoid a fielder who is attempting to field a batted ball, or intentionally interferes with a thrown ball, provided that if two or more fielders attempt to field a batted ball, and the runner comes in contact with one or more of them, the umpire shall determine which fielder is entitled to the benefit of this rule, and shall not declare the runner out for coming in contact with a fielder other than the one the umpire determines to be entitled to field such a ball;

This is boiler plate, baseball rules 101. The runner has to yield to a fielder making an attempt to field the ball.

The batter delays for a second to watch the ball. This delay causes contact and the umpire kills the ball and bangs him out.

But, wait there is more. Like the English language itself, the baseball rules have some exceptions.

Here is the comment right underneath 7.09.

Rule 7.09(j) Comment: When a catcher and batter-runner going to first base have contact when the catcher is fielding the ball, there is generally no violation and nothing should be called.
“Obstruction” by a fielder attempting to field a ball should be called only in very flagrant and violent cases because the rules give him the right of way, but of course such “right of way” is not a license to, for example, intentionally trip a runner even though fielding the ball. If the catcher is fielding the ball and the first baseman or pitcher obstructs a runner going to first base “obstruction” shall be called and the base runner awarded first base.

Why the exception? When the ball is right in front of home plate, there is not time for a batter to react and avoid. Basically, both players, if they are doing their job, are forced to be in the same place at the same time.

Umpires call this a train wreck or tangle/untangle. Interference or obstruction should not be called unless one of the players does something outside the norm. In this situation, the batter-runner just stopped. This caused the call.

Let’s go back to the 1975 World Series for a similar play with a different outcome.

In this instance both the catcher and runner were doing what they were supposed to be doing. Contact could not be avoided. The umpires ruled to play on. Tough call for the Red Sox – of course if Fisk would have made a better throw the arguments would not have happened.

The difference in these plays is subtle, but they are there. That is why those umpires make it to the top levels of the game because they know the difference.

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Check, check, 1, 2

Check swings have been getting more heat this year than I remember in years past. This is one that happened recently leading to an ejection.

Not sure why folks cannot remember the rule on this one. If it is called a strike by the home plate guy, it is a strike. If it is called a ball, then he can grant an appeal. That is not the umpire’s choice – it is the rules.

In this video at about the 1:07 mark, you can see the umpire mouth something to the effect “I don’t make the rules”.

I wonder if this issue is getting enough heat to bring about a rule change.

Father of the year

I know it is early in the 21st century, but this guy gets vote for dad of the year.

He manages to catch a foul ball while holding his infant son. He also managed not to drop the bottle during feeding time. It should be a cool thing to tell his kid about one day.

I thought the Dodgers announcers were a little harsh about him on the play.

Regardless, from a rules standpoint this one was pretty easy.

Rule 3.16 in the old format:

3.16

When there is spectator interference with any thrown or batted ball, the ball shall be dead at the moment of interference and the umpire shall impose such penalties as in his opinion will nullify the act of interference.

APPROVED RULING: If spectator interference clearly prevents a fielder from catching a fly ball, the umpire shall declare the batter out.

The rule of thumb is if fielder comes into stands, there is no interference. If the spectator reaches across the field, he has done something illegal.

I am actually pretty surprised the umpires did not get this without replay. He clearly reached over into the field. Batter out. Good call in the end.

As a Cubs fan, I can only mumble terrible things about the Dodgers announcers for mentioning the Bartman incident.

Page 65 of RuleGraphics covers spectator interference.

Umpires and history

Fans say umpires are at their best when they are not noticed. Most umpires don’t like to inject themselves into the game. The goal is to let the players decide the outcome.

Washington fans wishes the umpire would have injected himself more into Max Scherzer’s game over the weekend. For people that missed it, Scherzer was perfect through 8 2/3rds. He was one strike away from history when this happened:

Here is the rule that covers this (old format):

6.08 The batter becomes a runner and is entitled to first base without liability to be put out (provided he advances to and touches first base) when—

(b) He is touched by a pitched ball which he is not attempting to hit unless (1) The ball is in the strike zone when it touches the batter, or (2) The batter makes no attempt to avoid being touched by the ball;

What happens when the umpire rules the batter made no attempt to avoid the ball. The ball is dead, the pitch is called a strike or ball depending on where it is in relation to the strike zone, and then the game is moved on to the next pitch.

Was this the right call? Well, I think it certainly was a tough call. I think this in situation I would have also given the batter first.

A couple of points to consider:

  1. The ball comes at the batter very fast. Most movement is actually just reaction and not attempts to take a pitch. Sure, some guys lean in but I think this is more rare than people think
  2. The elbow does not move laterally. A lot of batters have elbow movement up and down at the plate
  3. The pitcher goofed up. The catcher wanted it low and away. The pitch was a cement mixer that was well inside. The batter (and ball) was no where near the zone when it hit him.

My rule of thumb on this (and I remember I am no where near the quality of a MLB umpire) – unless it is blatant by the batter, he gets the benefit of the doubt and the base. To put a number on it, I would say I am giving the base 97% of the time.

The announcers were quick to ask the question “did the batter attempt to get out of the way?” followed by the statement “well, that never gets called”.

While not calling this is a way for the umpire to not needlessly inject himself into a game, there is some precedent for making this call in significant situations.

Check out this box score from May 31, 1968. In the 9th inning, the Giants had the bases loaded and no outs. The box score shows Dick Dietz flew out to left field. But, this is only part of the story.

Dietz was actually hit with a pitch earlier in the at bat. This would have scored a run, pulled the game closer, and ruined Don Drysdale chance for a 5th straight shutout. None of this happened because Harry Wendelstedt ruled Dietz did not attempt to avoid the pitch. The Giants manager was eventually tossed from the game. The Giants got no runs in the inning and Drysdale went on to set a record for consecutive scoreless innings.

As fate would have it when Orel Hershiser was attempting to break Drysdale’s record, he would benefit from an unique call. On September 23, 1988 the Giants had runners on 1st and 3rd and only 1 out. The next ball was an attempted double play that the Dodgers could not turn. Hershiser’s streak appeared to be over.

But, umpires (and I say umpires because some sources say 2B umpire Bob Engel while others say 3B Paul Runge) called interference. This changed the outcome to a double play with no run scoring. Hershiser would go on to break the record.

What does this all mean? Well, I think it means that umpires while trying to be anonymous on the field realize they have a job to do. If the play warrants a call, they will make the call regardless of the historical implications.

Scherzer (for his part knew he messed up and did not argue the call) still gets his name in the record books with a dazzling no hitter.

Hit by pitch is covered on page 41 of RuleGraphics. 

 

Don’t let the door hit ya

Yesterday’s Indians/Cubs game was an absolute smashing by the baby bears. The final score was 17-0. You can see the box score in all of its glory here.

Although the score was lopsided that was not the most interesting thing about the game. The Indians used not one but two position players on the mound in the game. This is usually done in these blowouts to save some arms in the pen. They usually make SportsCenter and a laugh is had by all.

It does have some interesting rule implications in games played in American League parks. AL parks use the designated hitter. In professional baseball, the DH can only bat for a pitcher. In 99.5% of games, the DH stays in the game for the entire game, but under odd circumstances, a team can lose the role of DH for the remainder of the game.

Rule 6.10 (b) – in the old format – discusses the DH.

Here are some of the instances that causes a team to lose the DH:

(8) Once the game pitcher is switched from the mound to a position on defense, such move shall terminate the Designated Hitter role for that club for the remainder of the game.

(9) Once a pinch-hitter bats for any player in the batting order and then enters the game to pitch, such move shall terminate the Designated Hitter role for that club for the remainder of the game.

10) Once the game pitcher bats or runs for the Designated Hitter, such move shall terminate the Designated Hitter role for that club for the remainder of the game. The game pitcher may pinch-hit or pinch-run only for the Designated Hitter.

(12) Once a Designated Hitter assumes a position on defense, such move shall terminate the Designated Hitter role for that club for the remainder of the game.

(14) If a player on defense goes to the mound (i.e., replaces the pitcher), this move shall terminate the Designated Hitter’s role for that club for the remainder of the game.

In simple language, if the pitcher assumes any role on offense or if the DH assumes any role on defense, the DH is lost.

This actually happened last night. Next to the name Raburn in the lineup you see positions DH-P. He started as DH, but then he took a role on defense. Even if the Indians would have put in a “normal” pitcher afterwards, he would have had to bat.

Then things got really weird. The Indians brought in another position player to pitch for Raburn. It was David Murphy who was playing left field at the time. So in the official lineup, a player replaced Raburn (the pitcher), took the field in left, and the left fielder took the mound.

Then Kris Bryant hit one about 500 feet to get the Cubs to 17 runs.

The DH is covered on page 47 of RuleGraphics. 

Worst Nightmare

Nothing is more scary for an umpire than taking one off the head. Look at what happened in a MLB game the other night.

It seems as if the default when this happens is to now get the guys off the field. I think this is a great development. You only get one head in life. Safety should always be the driving factor.

Now, I will take issue with the description of the post from MLB Media. It says “Umpire takes foul tip…”

He did not. He took a foul ball off the mask. By definition a foul tip cannot go directly from the bat to the mask.

Foul tips (and just the tips) are covered on page 10 of RuleGraphics.

100th post

I was just looking at some of my stats and saw this will be my 100th post. That is pretty cool. For those unaware, this blog is in support of my book RuleGraphics: Professional Baseball.

It is a book that takes the difficulty and confusion out of baseball rules by putting all the information on one page. From definitions, key points, sample plays, and illustrations, everything that is needed to understand a rule is in one place. In addition, the book is organized in a simple, straight forward way.

We are trying to kill rule myths one at a time.

I found this interesting play from the big leagues:

This is actually something that most fans understand but it is funny to see anyway.

A ball that touches first, second or third base is a fair ball. It is fair no matter what happens after it touches the base. Most of the time when a ball touches a base it takes a funny hop and the batter makes it to first.

It does not happen often but it is not terribly unique either. Just something that adds a bit of color to the game. Fair/foul ball is covered on page 37 of RuleGraphics.

From out of…right field

Umpires expect to get hit with the ball from time to time when working the plate. It is just part of the job. Of course, it does make it hurt any less. We also know on occasion a ball might get is in the field from the batter. Again, part of the job.

What is not expected is to take one in the back from the bullpen.

If I am lip reading correctly he says, that ball “flipping smoked me” – except pretty sure he did not say flipping.

That is bad news for the first base umpire. He was not even looking when the ball hit him.

Not a good night at all.

Back up, back up

Most of the time when I talk about rule differences it is between varying levels of baseball. Turns out some baseball umpires also work softball. There are some rule differences there as well. Some of them are pretty goofy.

Take this play for example:

In baseball, this is a nothing play. The runner backs up the first base line and is eventually tagged. He would be out once he went beyond the plate.

In high school softball it is illegal to back up towards home plate. The ball is dead, the runner is out, and all runners return to their time of base pitch. That is a pretty harsh penalty.

The question of whether a runner can do this in baseball comes up every couple of months on umpire message boards. As this play shows, the answer is clearly yes.

 

Week of full moons

There must be something in the air or water of baseball players and managers this week. There have been some pretty epic blow ups.

Yesterday Torii Hunter did not like the strike 2 and 3 calls of the home plate umpire. He was ejected and proceeded to start taking off clothes and equipment.

I am sure the score and the fact the Twins are struggling a bit had nothing to do with the ejection. As far as ejections go, this one was easy. You cannot argue balls and strikes. The umpire gave him a chance to walk away, he did not, he was run.

Hunter’s blow up was nothing compared to Lloyd McClendon.

Again, the umpire puts up a stop sign and gives the manager a chance to stay in the game. Managers don’t get ejected rather they eject themselves.

He has it out with three umpires on one ejection. The thing I really like about these is the calm demeanor of the umpires. The famous phrase is “silence cannot be misquoted”. By staying calm, they really, really make Lloyd look aggressive and out of control – which he was.

Last thing – why do announcers always make a point to say “he is getting his money’s worth” when there is an ejection. The manager certainly did not pay any money. What worth is he going after. They usually just look more like jackweeds when they carry on like this. Just silly.