Baseball rules corner: reversal of umpire's call may breed controversy.
And when Devil Rays' manager Lou Piniella is on the short end of such calls, you can expect a seismic eruption.
Piniella's Devil Rays provided the opposition for the Red Sox at Fenway Park on July 18. In the top of the ninth inning with two outs and runners on second and third, Julio Lugo hit a grounder to first. Boston pitcher Curt Schilling came over to cover the bag for the 3-1 putout. First base umpire Dana DeMuth ruled that Schilling beat Lugo to the bag, but he thought the big right-hander missed the base and called Lugo "safe." The runner on third crossed the plate for an apparent run on the play.
Schilling, whose feet always seem to be in the news, argued with DeMuth prompting the ump to solicit the opinion of Laz Diaz, the plate umpire. Diaz, who had to remain near home plate to check the runner coming in from third, said he saw Schilling touch the base and the call was overturned, ending the inning and taking a precious run off the board which would have given the Devil Rays a 4-1 lead. (They eventually won the game, 3-1).
As you can well imagine, the reversal of the call enraged Piniella who raised quite a fuss and was ejected. "Dana DeMuth, he's six feet away from the bag. And when you've got a home plate umpire who's 90-feet away and he sees it better than the guy at first base," lamented Piniella. "It's hard for me to believe. You've got one base to call. Make the call and stand by it."
There are multiple questions here. Did Laz Diaz have the right to reverse DeMuth's call? By tradition and policy, was the play handled cleanly by the umpires? And could Piniella have protested the game?
From this corner, the answer to all those questions is "no."
Although not etched in stone, there are many situations that have been acceptable ones for umpires to reverse a call. And I don't believe that the above play qualifies under any of the conditions.
Based on interviews I've done over the last 25 years with major league umpires, I've ascertained that the following instances allow umpires to change calls. They are:
* Misinterpretation of a rule.
* A check swing, called a "ball" by the plate umpire.
* A swipe tag made on a runner if the umpire did not make a call, but seeks help from his partner.
* A ball dropped by the catcher on the blind side on a tag play at the plate so long as the dropped ball can be seen by another umpire.
* When umpires make opposite fair-foul calls on the same play.
* Controversial fair-foul home runs that leave the playing field.
The Major League Baseball Umpire Manual addresses call reversal in section 4.12 under the title, "Crew Consultation and Getting The Play Right." The following plays lend themselves for call reversal, according to the Manual:
* Deciding whether a fly ball that left the playing field is fair or foul (also listed above).
* Deciding whether a batted ball left the playing field for a home run or a ground-rule double.
* Cases where a foul tip is dropped by the catcher, causing it to become a foul ball.
* Cases where an umpire clearly errs in judgment because a ball is dropped or juggled after making a tag or force.
* Spectator interference plays.
* Balks called by an umpire who clearly did not realize the pitcher's foot was off the rubber. (This ironically happened at Shea Stadium two nights later in the Mets-Padres game. Plate umpire Chuck Meriwether called a balk on Padres' pitcher Woody Williams with Jose Reyes on third. But the call was overturned by umpire Tim Timmons who said that Williams did not have his foot on the rubber when he was charged with the balk).
Okay, you have a long list of reasons where an umpire can apparently overrule another umpire. Are any of the conditions that I outlined applicable to the Diaz-DeMuth play? I don't think so.
So you are probably wondering if there is a section in the Manual that prohibits umpires from reversing calls in certain situations? The answer is "yes." They are:
* Steal and other tag plays (except if the ball is dropped without the umpire's knowledge).
* Force plays (when the ball is not dropped and foot is not pulled).
* Balls and strikes other than check swings.
* Catch/no catch situations with multiple runners on base.
From the information that I have provided, would any of the above reasons give Diaz the authority to change DeMuth's call? I don't think so.
I referenced Major League Baseball on the subject and was told (by email) that force plays when the ball is not dropped and foot is not pulled (page 33 in the Manual) would cover the Diaz-DeMuth situation. Again, I disagree based on DeMuth's post-game statement.
DeMuth defended his "safe" call by saying, "I assumed the whole foot missed the bag, so I banged him safe." By the umpire's testimony, the ball was not dropped nor was Schilling's foot pulled from the bag. It simply missed the base.
Therefore, I believe that MLB's explanation in defending the umps is incorrect and although I am not a spokesman for MLB, I respectfully offer my opinion and caution amateur umpires not to reverse such calls.
DeMuth later added that he wanted to get the call right. Maybe so. And the umpires these days do a good job at doing what they can to get the call right. But the point here is that such a play does not give umpires the mandate to reverse any call. The DeMuth-Diaz play sets a dangerous precedent since there are a ton close calls at first base and many involve a defensive player's foot touching the bag.
One final comment. Since the play under discussion is a judgment play and not a misinterpretation of a rule, one could never win a protest with MLB. I agree what Diaz and DeMuth did was not a misinterpretation of the Official Baseball Rules, but instead a misguided interpretation of baseball policy and tradition.
Rich Marazzi is a rules consultant for the Yankees, Red Sox, Diamondbacks and Astros.
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|Date:||Nov 1, 2005|
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