Rulebook 101: Revisiting Alex Rodriguez’s Slap

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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 revisits the play when Alex Rodriguez smacked the ball from Bronson Arroyo’s glove at first base.

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. Such was the case in the bottom of the eighth inning in game six of the 2004 American League Championship Series, when Alex Rodriguez topped a ground ball to Bronson Arroyo; that simple comebacker resulted in chaos when Rodriguez ran into Arroyo and the ball got loose.

On the initial look, it isn’t obvious what happened. Derek Jeter, who was on first base, raced around the bases to apparently score the third Yankees run and cut the Sox lead to one. Alex ended up on second on an apparent error as the ball wound up in foul territory in right field. However, a closer look shows clearly what happened. Alex Rodriguez deliberately used his arm to chop Arroyo’s glove as the pitcher attempted to apply the tag on the runner.

The Red Sox rightfully protested the action by Rodriguez and the umpires got together to determine what exactly occurred and what remedy, if any, should be applied. In the end, they decided that A-Rod intentionally interfered with Arroyo and called him out. Even though Jeter would have easily made it to second base if not for the interference, he was placed back on first base.

Although the MLB Rulebook has an extensive section on specific baserunner interferences, Alex was officially called out by the definition of the term interference:

Offensive interference is an act by the team at bat which interferes with, obstructs, impedes, hinders or confuses any fielder attempting to make a play.

While the rulebook tends to be very general (even with the addition of comments), umpires actually refer to another publication that offers more details – The MLB Umpire Manual. In that book, intentional interference is discussed:

[w]hile contact may occur between a fielder and runner during a tag attempt, a runner is not allowed to use his hands or arms to commit an obviously malicious or unsportsmanlike act such as grabbing, tackling, intentionally slapping at the baseball, punching, kicking, flagrantly using his arms or forearms, etc. to commit an intentional act of interference unrelated to running the bases.

Clearly, by the above definition, Alex Rodriguez’s actions were an obvious act of intentional interference.

So, what of the remedy? For that, we head to the end of 6.01(a):

PENALTY FOR INTERFERENCE: The runner is out and the ball is dead.

In the event the batter-runner has not reached first base, all runners shall return to the base last occupied at the time of the pitch; provided, however, if during an intervening play at the plate with less than two outs a runner scores, and then the batter-runner is called out for interference outside the three-foot lane, the runner is safe and the run shall count.

The first portion puts Rodriguez out and ends the play. The second portion places Jeter back at first as Rodriguez had not yet reached first base.

If the umpires had not huddled and gotten the call correct, who knows what may have happened in the rest of the game. Had the initial results stood, the Yankees would have scored their second run of the inning and had a runner on second with only one out. Could Gary Sheffield or Hideki Matsui have driven him in to tie the score? Would the Red Sox have gone on to lose the game and the series?

However, we need not dwell on the what-if scenario. The correct call was made. Arroyo finished up the eighth before Keith Foulke set down the final three in a 4-2 Red Sox win. The Sox would go on to win game seven and complete the greatest comeback in baseball history. They would follow the ALCS win by ending the dreaded 86-year-old “curse”, sweeping the St. Louis Cardinals in the 2004 World Series. And A-Rod gained a new nickname, forever being known to Red Sox fans as “Slappy.”


Follow Brandon on Twitter @cuzittt.

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