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 looks at a reviewed play and the rulebook to determine if umpires were placing baserunners correctly.
Baseball has been America’s national pastime for well over a century and a half. And yet, it still provides long-time spectators events that they have never seen before – or will again. As baseball fans, we are well aware of the written – and unwritten – rules that govern the game. But, what happens when an umpire makes an incorrect call that is overturned on replay? What does the rule book state about turning back time?
On August 18 in the second inning against the Boston Red Sox, the Detroit Tigers had J.D. Martinez at first base when Casey McGehee came up to bat. The Tigers third baseman sent a sinking live drive to right-centerfield, where one of the best defenders in the game, Jackie Bradley Jr., attempted a diving catch. However, Bradley could not glove the ball. It hit the grass and rolled under his sliding body. First base umpire Jerry Layne mistakenly signaled that Bradley made the catch, failing to see the ball on the ground. The runner at first, J.D. Martinez, was cautiously ranging toward second base and rounded the bag – and then made a hard stop. It is unclear from replays whether he stopped, went back to second, and made a beeline back to first base because he heard the out call, or because of a signal from the third base coach. Regardless, he went back to first faster than he ran to second.
Immediately, Detroit protested the obviously incorrect out call by the first base umpire – requesting a replay. McGehee’s liner was reviewed and overturned. The umpiring team then placed McGehee on first and awarded Martinez third base.
The rule here is contained in section 8.02(c):
If a decision is appealed, the umpire making the decision may ask another umpire for information before making a final decision. No umpire shall criticize, seek to reverse or interfere with another umpire’s decision unless asked to do so by the umpire making it. If the umpires consult after a play and change a call that had been made, then they have the authority to take all steps that they may deem necessary, in their discretion, to eliminate the results and consequences of the earlier call that they are reversing, including placing runners where they think those runners would have been after the play, had the ultimate call been made as the initial call, disregarding interference or obstruction that may have occurred on the play; failures of runners to tag up based upon the initial call on the field; runners passing other runners or missing bases; etc., all in the discretion of the umpires. No player, manager or coach shall be permitted to argue the exercise of the umpires’ discretion in resolving the play and any person so arguing shall be subject to ejection.
The rule basically states that any action occurring as a direct result of the incorrect call is nullified. The umpires may use their best judgment in figuring out where the runners should end up. The key point in the whole rule is this: all in the discretion of the umpires.
It is the opinion of this author that the umpires correctly ruled that both the runner (Martinez) and the batter (McGhee) would both safely reach base if the original call had been made correctly. However, an issue remains with their decision regarding the baserunner at first.
Martinez – using proper fundamental technique – was not running full steam toward second base. With fewer than two outs, there was a chance Bradley would catch the ball, and because he did not tag up, Martinez would need to retreat to first base quickly. Further, Martinez is watching the shortstop, Xander Bogaerts, as he nears second base, and the Red Sox infielder executes a strong deek (or, fake), suggesting that the ball had fallen to the turf. Martinez – and all of the Tigers – also were certainly aware of Bradley’s laser cannon arm from a reminder in the pre-game meeting. Altogether, Martinez was cautious in approaching and rounding second base, given the situation, the behavior of the infielders, and Bradley’s strong defensive reputation. He needed to make certain the ball had not been caught by Bradley before proceeding to third. Given all of these variables, Martinez played this correctly – cautiously approaching second base, getting around the bag but not too far, giving a look over his shoulder to Bradley in right field, and then deciding whether to advance to third or hold at second. There is no guarantee that Martinez would have made an attempt to reach third base even had first base umpire Jerry Layne made the correct call in real time. In fact, given the way he approached the situation, I would say that it was unlikely that Martinez would have attempted to advance past second base.
In my opinion – and I am guessing the opinion of third base coach Brian Butterfield, who was ejected for arguing – the umpires erred by placing Martinez on third as opposed to second. That discretion call by the umpires proved costly for the Red Sox, as the next batter, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, lifted a sacrifice fly which scored Martinez from third.
Can the Red Sox appeal further, protesting to the League Office? Rule 7.04 addresses such a protest:
Each league shall adopt rules governing procedure for protesting a game, when a manager claims that an umpire’s decision is in violation of these rules. No protest shall ever be permitted on judgment decisions by the umpire. In all protested games, the decision of the League President shall be final.
Even if it is held that the protested decision violated the rules, no replay of the game will be ordered unless in the opinion of the League President the violation adversely affected the protesting team’s chances of winning the game.
Given that the proper rule was applied and the placement of the runners is at the discretion of the umpires, any protest made by the Red Sox would be summarily dismissed by the Commissioners office.
Umpires are human and are not infallible. Layne made a mistake on the Bradley catch, and that call was correctly overturned by replay. Sometimes, they make an incorrect judgment call after a review. It is rare when both teams are happy with an overturned call, or a replay that results in overturning the call on the field. However, that’s baseball – you win some, you lose some, and sometimes it rains.