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Baseball rules corner: hearing just as important for an umpire as his sight.

HOW OFTEN HAVE WE HEARD FANS cry, "Hey ump, you're blind!" Yet we never hear fans bark, Hey ump-you're deaf!" Yet the truth is an umpire's ears can be as important as his eyes in many situations.

During the 2005 postseason, there were perhaps more controversial calls based on hearing rather than vision. Let's examine a few.

Umpire Doug Eddings' auditory skills came into play in Game 2 of the 2005 ALCS at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago where the White Sox hosted the Angels. In the bottom of the ninth inning with the score tied 1-1 and two outs, 60x catcher A.J. Pierzynski was batting with a 3-2 count facing Kelvim Escobar. Pierzynski swung and missed the next pitch for strike three. Angels' catcher Josh Paul either trapped or caught the ball near the ground.

Eddings raised his arm in a manner that gave the impression that he was ringing up Pierzynski for the third out. Thinking the inning was over, Paul tossed the ball toward the pitcher's mound before he exited the field. But Pierzynski after taking a step or two toward the dugout took off for first base because he had a hunch that Paul trapped the ball off the ground. Eddings agreed as Pierzynski reached first base safely and no man on the six-man umpiring crew called him out.

The Angels' led by first baseman Darin Erstad and manager Mike Scioscia argued for several minutes that Eddings confused everybody when he raised his right arm for the third strike since it looked like he was calling Pierzynski out. But Eddings defended himself by saying that raising his right arm for strike three was consistent in his umpiring mechanics and that he never ruled Pierzynski out.

In such situations umpires usually yell, "Strike three" without saying, "you're out." With first base occupied and less than two outs, the umpire might say, "you're out," or "first base is occupied" when there is a dropped third strike. But in all other strike three situations, that is not the case since the batter is not out if the catcher does not catch the ball legally and umpires should never assume that a legal catch is going to be made.

If Eddings simply said, "strike three-no catch," because he heard the ball hit the ground, it would have alerted both Pierzynski and Paul that they had further responsibilities. Pierzynski would have dashed to first and Paul would either attempt to tag him or throw to first.

It would be fair to question Eddings' mechanics and I would bet my '53 Topps Mantle card that he and other umpires will handle this type of play differently in the future by adding the words "no catch" after "strike three."

The story had a nightmarish ending for Eddings. Pablo Ozuna pinch-ran for Pierzynski and stole second before Joe Crede knocked him in with a game-winning RBI double.

Keep in mind that the point of this article is not to assess Eddings' mechanics but to emphasize that the play was the result of something that Eddings thought he heard, precisely the pitched ball hitting the ground. Whether it did or not is subject for debate but it was Eddings' judgment that it did, so we will live with it since replays, in my opinion, were not conclusive.

Another umpire's hearing became an issue in Game 4 of the same Series.

Steve Finley was batting in the bottom of the second inning with one out and runners on first and second when he tapped a ground ball to Chicago second baseman Tadahito Iguchi who turned a 4-6-3 double play.

Finley argued that his bat made contact with Pierzynski's glove on the swing and wanted a catcher's interference call. But his argument fell on deaf ears as plate umpire Ron Kulpa didn't pick it up. Replays indicated that Pierzynski interfered with the play. But once again, it was a judgment call and well have to ride with Kulpa's decision.

You can't call what you can't hear!

In addition to catchers trapping balls in the dirt and catcher's interference calls, there are many other situations when an umpire's ears become his primary tool.

For instance, strike three foul tips, which occur many times during the season are about as common as coffee at breakfast. Did the batter get a piece of the ball or did he miss it? The ears, not the eyes, make the call on this one.

There are times when a catcher will trap a foul tip against his body. To get credit for a legal catch of a batted ball, the catcher has to touch the ball with his bare hand or glove before he can trap it off his equipment. The plate umpire needs to listen carefully for that one since he has to pick up two distinct sounds, the foul tip and the ball making contact with the catcher's hand or glove.

Another difficult one is a batted ball that is hit off the batter's foot or a pitched ball that strikes the batter's foot. Sometimes it's impossible to distinguish the sound of a ball coming off the batter's foot and a ball that is hit or thrown into the dirt in the area of home plate. In this type of call the plate umpire may get help from one of the base umps but he usually relies on his ears. If his hearing fails him, sometimes he will look for evidence-like shoe polish.

The Yankees led the Braves 5-4 entering the bottom of the tenth inning of Game 4 of the 1957 World Series.

The Braves' "Nippy" Jones, pinch-hitring for Warren Spahn, was hit in the foot by a Tommy Byrne pitch but was awarded first base only after he asked plate umpire Augie Donatelli to examine the ball for shoe polish. Donatelli found the polish on the ball and sent "Nippy" to first. The Braves went on to rally behind an Eddie Mathews home run to win the game (7-5) and tie the Series at two games apiece.

Another guy named Jones made shoe polish history in the World Series. The Mets were trailing the Orioles 3-0 in the bottom of the sixth inning of Game 5 of the '69 Fall Classic when Cleon Jones, leading off the inning, was hit by a Dave McNally pitch. But Jones was not sent to first base until Mets' manager Gil Hodges presented a shoe polish smudged baseball to plate umpire Lou DiMuro, proving Jones had been hit on the foot.

Donn Clendenon followed with a two--run homer and the Mets went on to win the game (5-3) and the Series.

Umpires need to keep their ears wide open on inside pitches that either nicks the batter or his bat. Often times the ump is blocked out by the catcher on these calls.

The Astros and White Sox met in Game 2 of the 2005 World Series in Chicago. Trailing 4-2 in the bottom of the seventh, Jermaine Dye was batting with a 3-2 count when Dan Wheeler fired a fastball that either hit Dye's bat or his arm.

Replays indicated that the ball hit the bat. But plate umpire Jeff Nelson did not have the luxury of reviewing the play or getting a second listen and ruled that the ball struck Dye which loaded the bases. Paul Konerko then followed with a grand slam off Chad Quails to give Chicago a 6-4 lead in a game they won, 7-6.

Umpires must listen when one or more of their partners call the Infield Fly Rule. If a runner/runners try to advance when the ball drops to the ground after the Infield Fly rule is called, any play made becomes a tag play.

Routine calls at first base require keen listening skills on the part of the umpire since he must listen for the ball making contact with the glove as well as observe the runner's foot touching the base. On bang-bang plays, it becomes a battle of vision vs. sound for the umpire. And there is no set spot to make this call. "The older you get, the closer you get (to the base) because you can't hear as well," said veteran ump Ed Montague.

The killer of all "hearing calls" involves the soft toss play to first base. Former umpire Don Denkinger has been vilified in St. Louis for the last 20 years because of a call he made in Game 6 of the 1985 Fall Classic played between the Cards and Royals.

The Cards were leading the Series three games to two and were all set to wrap it up leading 1-0 going into the bottom of the ninth. Jorge Orta, the Royals' leadoff hitter, dribbled a grounder to the first base side of the mound that was fielded by first baseman Jack Clark who tossed the ball to pitcher Todd Worrell covering the bag. Replays clearly showed that Worrell caught the ball and beat Orta to the bag.

But Denkinger called Orta safe. The Royals went on to win the game and the World Series.

To his credit Denkinger would not alibi when discussing the play. He explained, "I thought Clark was going to touch the bag himself after he fielded the ball. I ran to the foul side of first base and got close to the base anticipating Clark was going to handle the play himself. But for some reason he decided to flip the ball to Worrell who stood 6-5. I was too close to the play and I had to look up to find the ball because of Worrell's size and then I had to locate Orta's foot. I couldn't hear the play because of the soft toss."

DID YOU KNOW ... that besides the Boston Red Sox victory over the Cardinals in 2004 and Chicago White Sox over the Astros in 2005, the only other time the World Series was a four-game sweep in consecutive seasons by different teams was in 1989-1990?

In 1989, the Oakland A's swept the San Francisco Giants in the Fall Classic and in 1990, the Cincinnati Reds defeated the A's four games to none.
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Author:Marazzi, Rich
Publication:Baseball Digest
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2006
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