Baseball has been America’s national pastime for well over a century and a half, yet it still provides long-time spectators with events that they have never seen before – or will again. And sometimes, the tie does not go to the runner.
With the game tied at four in the top of the tenth inning on Sunday afternoon in Pittsburgh, San Diego Padres first baseman Wil Myers strode to the plate to face Pirates reliever Joaquin Benoit. With the count full, Benoit delivers the pitch:
Home Plate Umpire Tripp Gibson immediately walks in front of the plate and calls Myers out, ending the inning. The box score officially records the out thusly:
Wil Myers grounds out to catcher Chris Stewart. Wil Myers out on batter’s interference.
But, what rule did Myers actually break?
Rule 5.09(a)(7) of the 2017 Major League Baseball Rule Book states that:
A batter is out when his fair ball touches him before touching a fielder. If the batter is in a legal position in the batter’s box, see Rule 5.04(b)(5), and, in the umpire’s judgement, there was no intention to interfere with the course of the ball, a batted ball that strikes the batter or his bat shall be ruled a foul ball.
Before we analyze this rule, let us visit 5.04(b)(5) to see what a legal position in the batter’s box actually entails:
The batter’s legal position shall be with both feet within the batter’s box.
Approved Ruling: The lines defining the box are within the batter’s box.
Myers hits a nubber right off the edge of the plate. It appears that the ball bounces forward and into fair territory. So, the first part of the criteria is met. Myers then runs into a fair ball that he hit before touching a member of the defensive team. He’s out. Easy.
Not so fast my friends. There is another two-pronged test that must be administered to determine whether Myers should be declared the final out of the inning or if it is just a foul ball.
The second prong of the test – Myers’s intent – is easier to rule on. He had finished his swing and was starting to run to first after hitting the ball – the normal course of action. As the ball bounced off Myers during this action, it would be difficult to believe any umpire would consider it an intentional act.
However, the second prong is only utilized if the first prong is also met. So, did Wil Myers have both feet within the batter’s box at the time the ball found his chest? Tripp Gibson quickly made a determination that at least one of his feet had left the confines of the 6’x4’ batter’s box, rendering the second prong moot, and Myers out.
However, the video is far from clear. At best, the video shows Myers’s back leg lifting to start his running motion when the ball careens off his torso… but not his leg actually leaving the confines of the box:
Umpires are trained to make calls on plays that take fractions of a second: Did a 100-mph pitch cross on the black or just off the plate? Did the throw enter the first baseman’s glove before or after the runner touched the bag? And in this case, was the batter in or out of the batter’s box when the ball hits him? Umpire Tripp Gibson applied the rules correctly based upon what he saw happen. Given that the entire play, from the pitch leaving Benoit’s hand to the out call, was two or three seconds long, Gibson had to make a snap decision.
However, the quickness and nature of the play make it very difficult for any player to actually move out of the batter’s box before being plunked. In a play like this, it should be obvious that the player has stepped outside of the batter’s box when the ball careens into his body. This was clearly not the case on this play. Gibson may have applied the rules correctly, but his judgment was off. This play should have been ruled a foul ball and Myers should have been given one more chance to create a scoring opportunity for the Padres.
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Featured image courtesy of Imgur