Trailing 1-0 in the top of the 8th, Cub Javier Baez pushed a bunt down the first base line. The first basemen fielded the ball and attempted to tag Baez ultimately missing him. However the umpire ruled Baez out for running out the baseline. It was a pivotal call late in the game. Did he get it right?
Let’s break it down.
First things first, what rule was used to actually call Baez out? Even though the ESPN announcers mention the running lane and you can see Baez running by the lane, the actual lane has nothing to do with this call.
5.09(a)(11) discusses the running lane:
A batter is out when:
(11) In running the last half of the distance from home base to
first base, while the ball is being fielded to first base, he
runs outside (to the right of ) the three-foot line, or inside
(to the left of ) the foul line, and in the umpire’s judgment
in so doing interferes with the fielder taking the throw at
first base, in which case the ball is dead; except that he
may run outside (to the right of ) the three-foot line or
inside (to the left of ) the foul line to avoid a fielder
attempting to field a batted ball;
The emphasis added is mine. This rule only applies when a throw is involved.
What was called was rule 5.09(b)(1).
Any runner is out when:
(1) He runs more than three feet away from his base path to
avoid being tagged unless his action is to avoid interference
with a fielder fielding a batted ball. A runner’s base
path is established when the tag attempt occurs and is a
straight line from the runner to the base he is attempting
to reach safely; or
Again, I added the emphasis.
First thing first, at the time of the play Baez is officially considered a runner. Rule 5.05(a)(1) says a batter becomes a runner when he hits a fair ball. Just because he started at home plate does not absolve him of any running violations on his way to first.
Next let’s dig into what “base path” he cannot be more than 3 feet outside of. The key point here is that a runner’s base path has nothing to do with the actual base line. Per the bolded part of the rule above, his base path is established from where the tag is attempted and is a straight line to the base.
When the first baseman first lunges at Baez, he is clearly in fair territory. The camera view is not perfectly down the line making it hard to determine how far in fair territory he is, but he is clearly in fair territory.
For me the trickiest part is “what” exactly needs to be 3 feet outside the base path. Is it part of the body, the entire body, something else. Guidance on this point is not in the rule book. However, I did find it in the Wendelstedt rules manual (the book used in pro umpire school). They state that the runner is out if the midpoint of their body moves more than three feet out of his base path.
So, how far does Baez move? At one point his right foot is completely on the other side of the running lane. Therefore, it makes sense that the midpoint of his body could be over the outside line of the lane.
Per the rule book, the lane is exactly 3 feet wide. If Baez ends with his body over the outside edge of the lane, the furthest over it could legally begin would be the inside line of the lane (the foul line). From the replay, it looks like he clearly started in fair territory.
Put this all together and it is likely he moved more than 3 feet to avoid the tag (disclosure, I am a Cubs fan and was yelling at the TV when the play happened).
In my mind the only rational argument against this call is to say that Baez started moving inside before the tag was attempted. It is not unreasonable to say the tag cannot be attempted until the fielder is close enough to actually reach the runner. Does Baez get back to the foul line before the fielder is close enough to tag? If this is the case, then him going to the other side of the lane is 3 feet out and no more.
Tough call in a tough spot for the umpire. Do I think he got it right? Yes, he probably did. At minimum it is not the egregious miss that fans and broadcasters believed it to be.