Saturday, July 2, 2016

Officially Speaking - RLI No-Call, Part Deux

Official Business presents Runner's Lane Interference No-Call, Part Deux, a look back and review of Manny Gonzalez's runner's lane interference no-call in Cleveland. Also see: RLI Part One.

The following is commentary from Official Business CEO and former MiLB Umpire Brian Hertzog.

Umpire & Analyst Brian Hertzog.
It was obvious from the beginning that a write-up backing Manny Gonzalez’s RLI call, or lack thereof, would involve a heated debate. I’d like to specifically thank the members on here that have disagreed with my analysis, but were also able to comment in such a way that wasn’t inflammatory. Most of us are on here are umpires at various levels. While I never expect any single person to take what I have to say as the final word because of my resume, as a few suggested, there are correct and incorrect ways to go about disagreeing with someone. I am going to address a couple issues that seemed to be misunderstood from the previous article, as well as try to cover a couple points that were brought up in discussion.

For those that feel I went the extra mile to back up Manny’s call for the simple purpose of not disagreeing an MLB umpire, you’re half correct. I did indeed attempt to go the extra mile. I did so because I’ve seen the type of comments that can be left on UEFL after these types of plays where there can be many differing opinions. I also read the various comments that had already been posted on the actual ejection write-up that UEFL posted on the day this play happened.

My goal was, and will continue to be, to write-up a play so thoroughly that I don’t feel the need to add anything in the comments. Just as I approach my work on the field, I hold in high regards the ability to answer a question before someone has even had the chance to turn it into an argument… although many still find a way. The purpose of attempting to be so thorough in this article was a direct response to the arguments I saw made in favor of a runner’s lane interference call.

While my article covered more of the rules interpretation version of why I felt the no-call on RLI was the correct call, some UEFL-ers wanted more of a “common sense and fair play” thought process, while others wanted the potential for “intentional interference” to be talked about more thoroughly. Both of these thought processes are legitimate, so let’s dive into the possibilities.

One of the best parts of attending umpire school for me was learning rules in-depth. Not necessarily memorizing the book cover to cover, but rather learning the intent and history behind why rules are placed in the book. It absolutely fascinated me. Like most umpires when they start out, no matter the level, I thought I knew the rules because I had played baseball. When I figured out that I knew virtually nothing from my time playing the game, I was then lucky enough to learn from some incredible instructors in my local association.

Diving into rules during study sessions every night with my cage group was a whole new ballgame though. This book was horribly written! There are some rare rules that have no place in OBR anymore. There are rules that conflict with other rules. There are rules that are flat out wrong, although much less than the 237 that Jim Evans mentions at umpire school thanks to multiple fixes and clarifications in 2010 (think old rules format 7.03 being changed to rules 7.03(a) and (b), since OBR never addressed what should happen if the preceding runner was actually forced from the base that both runners were standing on).

For this call I have two main points that fall under “common sense and fair play” that both support a no-call in this potential RLI situation. First, take a look at the stills I’ve included during the pitcher’s throw. In this specific situation, the pitcher releases the ball almost directly over the foul line (aka the inside part of the three-foot running lane). His throw travels directly above said line until it hits Moreland square in the back of the head. This is how I process this and offer for your consideration… is this the type of throw that was intended to be protected by this rule? A throw that’s 100% within the runner’s legal running lane, and hitting the runner while he’s in that lane? This is the exact area the book defines as safe for the runner to be in. Granted, if you still believe that Moreland’s foot [on the ground] was completely out of the runner’s lane, this changes the play completely. In my last stitch effort to convince you, I’ve included a still from just as Moreland’s heel begins to hit the ground with his last step.

My second point starts under the “common sense and fair play” umbrella, but then ends up dealing with the “intentional interference” aspect of the play as well. It actually starts with a common misquote that I hear about balks. We all know how poorly educated the public can be, and it’s not necessarily their fault since they’re usually repeating what they hear from their favorite announcer. A common “definition” of a balk I hear quite often is simply that it’s “when a pitcher deceives a runner.” Considering there are many legal ways that a pitcher can deceive a runner, this statement by itself is false. A 3rd to 1st move used to be legal, and it was clearly an attempt to deceive a runner. So… a very general, but more accurate statement might be, “A balk is an illegal movement by a pitcher attempting to deceive a runner.” As umpires we have to know the more intricate details that encompass balks, but we hardly have the time to go through every single type of balk, every single time someone asks. This is one reason why we typically shorten our answers when a coach or pitcher asks about a balk, such as “no stop,” “start/stop,” “no step,” etc.

So… how does this apply to this specific RLI no-call? You can use this same thought process to allow Moreland to use every bit of HIS runner’s lane that he’s legally allowed to use. I can understand why many umpires would’ve loved to see an “intentional interference” call based on Moreland’s movements to the left side of his runner’s lane. While he would have been perfectly legal continuing his run more towards the middle of that lane, the fact remains that it’s still his runner’s lane and he’s entitled to use every inch of it in the same way that a pitcher is allowed to use every type of move that he can conjure up, as long as it doesn’t conflict with the rules. If a move by a pitcher is in a gray area, only then do we get to move on to apply Rule 8.05 Comment (referenced under old OBR rules format) stating: “Umpires should bear in mind that the purpose of the balk rule is to prevent the pitcher from deliberately deceiving the baserunner. If there is doubt in the umpire’s mind, the ‘intent’ of the pitcher should govern…

This does not mean that a pitcher attempting to deceive a runner, in and of itself, constitutes a balk… just as 9.01(c) (old OBR rules format), does not, in and of itself, entitle an umpire to rule in a way that he feels to be “fair” or even “common sense.” When the rule is actually somewhere in OBR, we don’t get to choose if we think it’s fair or not.

Moreland has no actual way to know exactly where the throw is coming from in this split-second situation (although I’m not trying to imply that he didn’t know that the throw would most likely come over his left shoulder area if he stayed in the middle). However, the act of moving to his left with a stride or two as he’s running, if still in his runner’s lane, is simply using every inch of what the rule allows. It’s not until he leaves that lane, intentionally or otherwise, that he can be dinged with an RLI call. To get him on an “intentional interference” call while in his runner’s lane though, I’m going to need to see a little more than listing lazily to his left.

This rule is written in a way that protects Tomlin’s throw both “outside (to the right of) the three-foot line, [and] inside (to the left of) the foul line.” This verbiage tells any fielder making a throw from this area exactly where that throw will be free from any fielder interfering with it. If not, then we penalize the B/R for it. This puts an onus on the defense to make their attempt to retire the B/R either inside or outside of the three-foot lane. In games that I’ve watched over last three weekends, children between the ages of 14-17 all knew how to handle this situation, immediately yelling “inside” or “outside” so that they wouldn’t end up hitting the B/R while he was in a legal position as he was running in his three-foot running lane. This is the proper way to handle this situation by the defense, because it’s the defense’s responsibility in this situation to make an effort to throw around the runner’s lane.

I appreciate everyone’s comments, both the ones that agree with my original write-up, and then the majority of UEFL! I’ll continue to enjoy talking about rules and their applications on the field because it will keep us all talking, and therefore aid in us continuing to learn… and also, what kind of fun would it be if everyone were to agree with me!?!

This play is about both rules interpretation and common sense and fair play. Using one thought process without the other vital piece of information isn’t a “fresh approach,” but rather fails to account for every piece of the puzzle.

For those that have reached the end of this article wondering why I haven’t mentioned the most recent runner’s lane interference no-call from Todd Tichenor and the ensuing ejection of Andy Green by Bill Miller… I’m a fan of trilogies.

Alternate Link: Tito campaigns for a dead ball RLI out, but loses out to Manny's no-call" (CLE)
Alternate Link: Error in the third inning leads to Texas' fourth run as throw hits the runner (TEX)

Brian Hertzog is the CEO of Official Business, dedicated to bridging the gap between Umpires and Coaching Staffs/Players by bringing an Umpire's unique knowledge of the game over to Player Development. Official-Business' goal is to bring an unparalleled level of respect into baseball by creating professional relationships between Coaching Staffs/Players and Umpires.

Hertzog is a 2006 graduate of the Jim Evans Academy of Professional Umpiring (JEAPU) and spent the 2006-14 seasons in Minor League Baseball's Pioneer, Arizona Extended, South Atlantic, California, Arizona Instructional, Texas and Pacific Coast Leagues, serving as Texas Lg Crew Chief in 2011, PCL Crew Chief in 2014, 2014 PCL Championship Series Crew Chief, and the plate umpire for the 2014 Triple-A National Championship.


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