Baseball is a unique sport filled with situations that you may only see once every few years if at all. Umpires must be prepared to rule on these situations in real time, but we have our own expert to rely upon. Brandon Magee explains the Green Monster ground rules based on the Andrew Benintendi line drive that seemed like a home run at first glance.
Baseball has been America’s national pastime for well over a century and a half. And yet, it still provides long-time fans with events they have never seen before – or will again. On Tuesday night, Red Sox rookie Andrew Benintendi hit a long fly ball to deep left center field at Fenway Park. Was it a double or was it a home run? Let’s get out the rulebook and go to the tape:
On the second pitch of Benintendi’s fifth-inning at-bat against Luis Severino, the precocious youngster crushed a pitch to deep left-center that ricocheted off the yellow line that marks the end of the Green Monster and the beginning of the center field wall. The umpires and fans had the same question: what exactly does that mean?
The Major League Rulebook is quiet on the issue except to state that each park has a unique set of circumstances that require additional rules – commonly known as “ground rules”. Section 4.05 covers this by stating:
The manager of the home team shall present to the umpire-in-chief and the opposing manager any ground rules he thinks necessary covering the overflow of spectators upon the playing field, batted or thrown balls into such overflow, or any other contingencies. If these rules are acceptable to the opposing manager they shall be legal. If these rules are unacceptable to the opposing manager, the umpire-in-chief shall make and enforce any special ground rules he thinks are made necessary by ground conditions, which shall not conflict with the official playing rules.
The configuration of Fenway Park provides the Red Sox with a number of unique, specific rules. Benintendi’s blast invoked a pair of ground rules governing the situation in left-center field. The first is:
Batted ball in flight striking to the right of yellow line on left center field wall behind flagpole: Home Run.
First, a point of clarification: The flagpole the rule refers to has actually migrated several feet to the right of the line in centerfield. Up until 1970, the flagpole was in the field of play. It ended up being enclosed when additional camera coverage required an extension of centerfield. The additional space moved the yellow line from behind the flagpole to where it is currently situated. Why the ground rules have not been updated to omit this idiosyncrasy, and to account for the additional real estate in centerfield is unknown. However, since the rule has not been updated, it creates a problem interpreting the rule’s meaning.
Let us go back to the video closeup to identify the exact spot where the ball made contact:
Amazingly, this ball splits the line in half. Given the distinct verbiage, the ball is not deemed a home run – as it would be if it was just an inch or two closer to the bleachers. However, there is a second ground rule that provides additional insight into the correct ruling in this area of the park:
Batted ball in flight striking left center field wall to left of line behind flagpole and bounding into seats on top of center field wall: Home Run.
This rule says that a ball that strikes the left of the line but somehow bounces off the wall and into the centerfield bleachers is considered a home run as well. Again, in this rule there is no mention of what happens in the strange instance where the ball hits directly off the line. However, the written rules are an indication of intent. Specifically, if the ball hits anywhere above the centerfield wall after hitting off the Green Monster (left field wall) before coming back onto the field, then it should be ruled a home run.
Once more, let us review to the replay:
This view clearly shows that the ball does hit on the platform above the centerfield wall. Thus, it appears the umpires did make the correct call in waving Benintendi home. However, to be fair to the replay officials situated in New York City, the ground rules regarding this specific situation are not clear. If the official watching the replay believed that the ball did not hit anything after the yellow line before touching the outfield grass, the interpretation that Benintendi should be held at second would be correct.
The Red Sox and MLB should update and clarify the ground rules to indicate 1) whether hitting the line is a home run or not, and; 2) whether any ball that hits off the top of the center field platform after contacting the Green Monster (and the line) is considered a home run. They should also edit any mention of the flag pole, as it is no longer relevant.
Luckily for the Red Sox, the call did not come back to haunt them. Benintendi was later driven in by Dustin Pedroia, and the Red Sox went on to win 5-3. And while Benintendi is still awaiting his first official MLB home run, he does have a quirky story to tell his kids and grandkids about the first one that wasn’t.
Follow Brandon on Twitter @cuzittt.