Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Cause You're Stuck in the Wall - Batted Ball Out of Play

When Replay Review overturned Joe West's ruling of a ball in play, Jeff Banister's ejection seemed a fairly expected outcome: it was a potentially game-altering sequence, after all.

This is a rules recap of the ball-in-a-wall play, like the one that got Banister tossed.

To begin, the relevant rule is OBR 5.06(b)(4)(F), which states, "Each runner including the batter-runner may, without liability to be put out [the ball is dead], advance—Two bases, if a fair ball bounces or is deflected into the stands outside the first or third base foul lines; or if it goes through or under a field fence, or through or under a scoreboard, or through or under shrubbery or vines on the fence; or if it sticks in such fence, scoreboard, shrubbery or vines."

The relevant action verbs or phrases are deflected, goes through or under, or sticks.

This fair ball has stuck in the fence.
In Texas, for instance, there was no deflection into foul territory, the ball didn't go through or under a fence per se, so the only question is whether or not it stuck in the outfield fence.

On-Field Ruling: 2B Umpire West, in accordance with umpiring philosophy when the action area is about 150-200 feet away from the umpire's position, kept the play alive, simply because he was not in a spot to definitively rule a dead ball (e.g., with a home run or foul ball into the stands, the umpire can call the ball out of play from 200 feet away since, in most cases it is obvious the ball is out of play).

In these types of situations, where the ball bounces or rolls underneath the padding along the outfield wall, answering whether the ball engaged in sticking there is not easily answered from such a distance. Thus, the play is properly kept alive until such time that the umpire can conclusively investigate the situation.

However, with baserunners continuing to run the bases, it can be hazardous for a fielder to stop playing and leave the defensive team's fate in the umpire's hands: thus, the outfielder may opt to retrieve the ball prior to the umpire's arrival, in order to make a play on the batter or runner. For instance, Braves LF Justin Upton opted to stop playing when a ball rolled and stuck underneath a fence's padding in 2014, resulting in an apparent inside-the-park home run when the offense kept running the bases. After the play, the Braves successfully challenged that the ball stuck in the fence, and the runners were sent back to their two-base awards.

MLB Umpire Mike DiMuro previously opined on the ball-sticks-in-wall rule and the complications that arise from an umpire being 200 feet away from the play: "Ultimately, the proper ruling must be made by the base umpire who is responsible for the flight of the ball – and it is only possible to do so by running out to the fence to visually discern and confirm that the ball is indeed lodged or stuck. If the fielder dislodges the ball by grabbing it and removing it, then it can no longer be considered lodged or stuck." Thus, the advent of Replay Review quite literally changed the game insofar as the stuck ball is concerned: the post-play ruling can be made instantaneously upon the ball coming to rest, whether or not the fielder plays the ball.

For instance, Greg Gibson in 2013 (prior to Replay) ruled a live ball (non-stuck) on a ball that rolled beneath a fence's padding, and was ultimately fielded by LF Dayan Viciedo. This was the proper call, as the ball appeared to follow a tract underneath the padding while remaining loose: the wall did not, for instance, cause it to immediately come to rest; it did not stick at the wall's base.

Myth & Fact: Though popular baseball folklore implies that the fielder's actions—in throwing his hands up to communicate his belief that the ball is out of play, or in attempting to play the resting baseball—dictate whether the ball is alive or dead, the fact of the matter is that these actions do not determine whether or not the ball has become "stuck." DiMuro's explanation, above, however, helps explain why this belief persists, but at the end of the day, it's simply a myth, especially in this world of Replay Review.

This ball is ruled "stuck" by New York
The umpire's only consideration is whether the ball has deflected (into the stands), gone through or under a boundary, or stuck in such boundary. While the fielder's conduct may help the umpire determine whether one of these acts has occurred, it is simply one piece of evidence in the umpire's checklist in determining the baseball's status: It is the ball, not the fielder, that determines if Rule 5.06(b)(4)(F) is to be invoked.

To stick is "to remain persistently or permanently," or "to become fastened, hindered, checked, or stationary by some obstruction." In Texas, the ball became stationary by the obstruction caused by the padding protruding from the fence, where it remained persistently until the fielder played it. Of note is that, after rolling into the wall, the ball appeared to spin on end, but was prevented from leaving the wall by the bottom of the padding (~:45 in the below video): this is the definition of a ball which is "stuck."

This ball is not stuck: it remains loose.
By contrast, Yoenis Cespedes opted not to play a ball that he felt was stuck in a wall during a Spring Training game, resulting in an inside-the-park home run after field umpire CB Bucknor confirmed that the ball was not stuck in the wall. Replays clearly indicated that the ball, similar to Greg Gibson's play in Chicago, had ample overhead clearance and was not being held in place by the combination of the ground and padding: it was loose and, therefore, not stuck.

Thus, when New York/Replay Review looks at such a play and observes the ball roll to the wall, where it "remains persistently" and "becomes hindered" or held in place by the ball-sized gap formed between the ground, fence, and padding (but NOT if the gap provides the ball with ample overhead clearance such that it remains loose), NY will rule the ball legally out of play pursuant to 5.06(b)(4)(F): A ruling that an on-field umpire 150+ feet away from the play does not have the timely luxury of comprehensively seeing.

Two solutions to resolve the confusion: (1) Extend the padding to the base of the wall or to another dimension the ball cannot roll underneath, or (2) Raise the padding to provide ample overhead clearance.


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