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Thursday, February 22, 2024

Tagged Runner Returns to 1B - Placing the Ole Miss Call

With none out and a runner on first in the bottom of the 12th inning of Hawaii's home game against Ole Miss, Rainbow Warriors batter Matthew Miura flied out to right field as baserunner R1 Ben Zeigler-Namoa jogged into second base, with Rebels fielders both tagging R1 and appealing his failure to tag up at first base. Upon video review, Miura was returned—safely—to first base with batter-runner Miura out. Why?

Succinctly, replays indicate that as R1 held between first and second base and Ole Miss RF Treyson Hughes ranged over to catch the batted ball, the first base umpire, having run into the outfield to officiate the fly ball, signaled "safe" as in "no catch". Thus when R1 cruised into second base and stayed there, only to be tagged and appealed-on, Namoa responded by pointing to the umpire and indicating the erroneous "safe" mechanic.

NCAA/college's rulebook holds two outcomes for getting the call right in Appendix E—one for crew consultations without video review, and one for video review calls.

Both scenarios play out similarly in terms of correcting an erroneous initial call: "If the reversing of a call results in the need for decisions on the placement of base runners, the umpire crew shall use their best judgment to determine their locations as if the call had been made correctly."

OBR 8.02(c) is similar: "If the umpires consult after a play and change a call that had been made, then they have the authority to take all steps that they may deem necessary, in their discretion, to eliminate the results and consequences of the earlier call that they are reversing, including placing runners where they think those runners would have been after the play," while NFHS 10-2-l/high school grants umpires-in-chief the authority to "rectify any situation in which an umpire's decision that was reversed has placed either team at a disadvantage."

The general principle here is that no player shall be placed in jeopardy because they relied on an umpire's incorrect initial call. Accordingly, R1 was returned to first base and the batter declared out, the crew deeming via review that had U1 called the batter out initially, R1 would have most likely returned to first base safely.

As a footnote, what may have contributed to U1's error was the right fielder's glove, which was white or grey in color, similar to the baseball's hue. Although NCAA rules do not restrict non-pitcher fielders in their glove color, OBR 3.07(a) states that "no fielder regardless of position may use a fielding glove that falls within a PANTONE color set lighter than the current 14-series." This applies to most white and grey colored gloves and, had this occurred during a professional game, would likely apply here as well.

Video as follows:

Monday, February 19, 2024

Rain Ejections After Umpires Order Softball Team to Play Through Downpour; Pitcher Can't Find a Grip

A wild argument after umpires refused to call for a rain delay, instead ordering Cal softball to play through a downpour in Louisiana, resulted in multiple ejections when Cal's pitcher couldn't find a grip in the slippery conditions. What's the rule about rain delays and could anything have avoided this flashpoint?

The controversy started when multiple California Bears players knelt in protest during the pre-game National Anthem, prompting heckling from the home crowd and charged emotions before a pitch was even thrown (Friday).

Potential problems continued to brew Sunday as clouds ominously turned grey during a 7th inning Replay Review for a hit-by-pitch vs foul ball play, with the home plate umpire and Cal head coach taking turns exhibiting curt body language cues with each other, indicating the duo might not get along too well if controversy were to occur later on.

The rain ultimately picked up significantly and despite Cal's pitcher appearing wholly unable to get a grip on the softball, and despite her head coach's plea to temporarily stop playing, the umpires opted to continue playing, leading to back-to-back Cal wild pitches allowing Louisiana to tie the game and igniting a near-free for all ending with multiple Cal ejections.

NCAA Softball's Rule pertains to suspension and the resumption of play and states, "Play should be suspended immediately without regard to timing within the inning when spectator or participant safety is compromised (for example, in the event of lightning detected within the danger zone, serious injury to a participant or if players’ footing or grip on the bat or ball is obviously compromised)."

The phrase "obviously compromised" proved controversial to coach and umpire who were already operating on different wavelengths, but it is tough to argue the pitcher's repeated inability to grip the ball in the heavier rain would not meet this threshold.

Instead, play continued until back-to-back wild pitches due to poor grip helped tie the game and ignite the multiple ejections. The multiple ejections that followed delayed the game by several minutes, allowing the heavier problematic rain to pass through the area before play resumed. In other words, when it comes to an issue of delaying the game, an umpire's attempt at getting in the final word to play through can be circumvented by team personnel who can call for their own delay simply by wasting time arguing the rain delay no-call.

With Cal's pitcher once again able to grip the baseball in less-downpourish conditions, the Bears recorded the third out and ultimately won the contest in extra innings.

Video as follows:

Sunday, February 18, 2024

Batter-Runner Interference at UCF? A College Question

A batter-runner ran into a catcher attempting to throw out a baserunner during Friday's Bryant vs UCF game, a no-call ruled legal by HP Umpire Daniel Jimenez who deemed UCF batter Mikey Kluska did not interfere with Bryant catcher Jackson Phinney during a bunt attempt.

With a runner on first and none out in the 7th inning of a close 11-10 game, Kluska dropped down a bunt on the first pitch he saw, presumably a sacrifice attempt. But as catcher Phinney fielded the ball and attempted a throw to second base, a hindering action occurred as batter-runner Kluska ran into the catcher.

To determine whether or not this is interference requires a visit to the rulebook.

NCAA Rule 8-5-d states that a runner is out when they commit interference, specifically when—"The runner interferes intentionally with a throw or thrown ball, or interferes with a fielder who is attempting to field a batted ball. If a double play is likely, and the runner intentionally interferes with the fielder who is attempting to field or throw the ball, both runner and batter-runner shall be declared out."

Had this play occurred in MLB/MiLB, the rule is somewhat similar. For instance, OBR 5.09(b)(3) puts the runner out when "they intentionally interfere with a thrown ball; or hinder a fielder attempting to make a play on a batted ball," while the rule dedicated to interference, OBR 6.01(a), in provision (10) puts a runner out for interference when "He fails to avoid a fielder who is attempting to field a
batted ball, or intentionally interferes with a thrown ball." We must return to 5.09(a)(13) to see this also applies to a fielder in the act of throwing: "...intentionally interfere with a fielder who is attempting to catch a thrown ball or to throw a ball in an attempt to complete any play."

High school treats this play similarly pursuant to NFHS 8-4-2g: "any runner is out when the runner intentionally interferes with a throw or a thrown ball."

With all rulesets roughly the same, we concentrate on our sequence. We notice the catcher appears to field the batted ball successfully, prior to the batter-runner/catcher collision. Thus, the catcher's right of way protection during a batted ball has expired, because the ball is no longer a batted ball, having been fielded.

Instead, the batter-runner/catcher interaction occurs during the attempted throwing phase of play, meaning the more stringent standard of intentionality applies. If the batter-runner's actions are deemed intentional, this is interference and, conceivably, the dead ball can result in a double play if the umpire deems circumstances are appropriate. But if the hindrance is deemed unintentional—an unfortunate tangle and nothing more—then the rules do not support an interference call in this case.

Video as follows:

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Obstruction Calls Are 2024's Point of Emphasis

Obstruction calls are set to increase in 2024 thanks to a new MLB point of emphasis of Official Baseball Rule 6.01(h), according to an ESPN source. Succinctly, the league office will instruct umpires to rule a runner safe in the event a fielder blocks a runner's path to the base while preparing to receive a throw.

This point of emphasis brings OBR 6.01(h) into greater alignment with 6.01(i)(2), the Collisions at Home Plate rule for fielders that functionally employs a similar penalty to the existing obstruction rule, but only applies at home plate and is also much more strict in its standard for violation.

Home plate collision rule OBR 6.01(i)(2) states, in part, "Unless the catcher is in possession of the ball, the catcher cannot block the pathway of the runner as they are attempting to score...it shall not be considered a violation of this Rule 6.01(i)(2) if the catcher blocks the pathway of the runner in a legitimate attempt to field the throw."

Meanwhile, the existing definition for Obstruction (at any base), as found in the rulebook's Definition of Terms, states: "Obstruction is the act of a fielder who, while not in possession of the ball and not in the act of fielding the ball, impedes the progress of any runner."

The definition of obstruction predates the home plate collision rule by a number of decades and is plainly not as detailed. Although OBR and the MLB Umpire Manual both make reference to "the act of fielding" relative to obstruction, the phrase "legitimate attempt" is nowhere to be seen in this particular rule relative to a fielder preparing to receive a throw who might use their leg to block a runner's base path.

Over the past few years, runner's lane interferencea rule since changed prior to the 2024 season by expanding the width of the runner's lane—has received emphasis, which in turn resulted in a handful of additional arguments and ejections.

Will obstruction suffer this same fate? | Video as follows:

Monday, February 12, 2024

Clint Vondrak and Ryan Wills Hired to Umpire Staff, Guccione Promoted to Crew Chief; Pawol on List of 24 Spring Invitees

Now-former Triple-A umpires Clint Vondrak and Ryan Wills are MLB's two newest full-timers MLB also promoted Chris Guccione to full-time Crew Chief and invited Jen Pawol to Spring Training, the first woman set to umpire a major league exhibition game since Ria Cortesio in 2007, following Pam Postema in the 1980s.

Clinton "Clint" Vondrak joins MLBU at the age of 34 after 12 years in Minor League Baseball, joining MiLB in 2012 and officiating the Pioneer, Midwest, California, Southern, and Pacific Coast Leagues on his way to the majors. Vondrak officiated the 2016 Southern League All-Star Game and has had his MLB debut during during the COVID-shortened 2020 season, on August 10, 2020. He has 286 games of MLB experience.

Ryan Wills is 36 years old to begin the 2024 season and has been hired after 13 years in MiLB. Since starting his minor league career in 2011, Wills has officiated in the Gulf Coast, Appalachian, South Atlantic, California, Carolina, Texas, Eastern, Florida Instructional, and International Leagues prior to his August 22, 2020 debut. Wills might be one of the last MLB new-hires to have graduated from the Jim Evans Academy for Professional Umpiring, which closed in 2012. Wills has worked 402 MLB games.

Chris Guccione has been promoted to Crew Chief after 17 years of major league service (over the course of 24 seasons starting in 2000). He has 3,021 major league games of experience during the regular season, in addition to 9 Wild Card Rounds, 7 Division Series, 5 League Championship Series, and 2 World Series. Similar to Dan Bellino last offseason, Guccione did not work the 2023 postseason prior to his 2024 promotion.

2024 Spring Training Invitee Umpires: Returning sleeve-numbered umpires for Spring Training in 2024 are David Arrieta (100), John Bacon (70), Brock Ballou (119), Paul Clemons (104), Tom Hanahan (69), Edwin Jimenez (75), Emil Jimenez (82), Alex MacKay (105), Dan Merzel (107), Jacob Metz (94), Charlie Ramos (111), Jeremy Riggs (112), Derek Thomas (106), Nate Tomlinson (114), and Brian Walsh (120).

Rounding out the list of 24 Spring invitees are Matt Brown, Steven Jaschinski, James Jean, Austin Jones, Tyler Jones, Dexter Kelley, Chris Marco, Johnathan Parra, and Jen Pawol.

Video as follows:

Sunday, February 4, 2024

Basketball Line is Out - Responding to Fan Complaints

During Sunday's NCAA Men's Basketball game between Wisconsin and Purdue, some Badgers fans were upset with the officiating crew over a displacement related foul call and an out of vs in bounds no-call for an inbounder. Let's take a look.

The foul call pertains to an attempted trap defense near the end line. The Boilermakers ballcarrier picks up his dribble and is defended before appearing to either travel or step out of bounds, only for the center official to signal a foul.

What the referee saw was the defensive player move forward and into the offensive player, displacing the ballcarrier with a knee and causing the potential violation. Ergo, foul call.

But the focus of today's lines lesson pertains to a complaint about referees no-calling an inbounder who stepped on the line before inbounding the basketball. The purpose of this video and article is to reiterate that the end- and side lines are always out of bounds such that when an inbounder, standing out of bounds, steps on (but not across) one of these lines, that player is still considered out of bounds.

Video as follows:

Thursday, February 1, 2024

MLB Umpire Ed Hickox Retires From 28-Year Career

28-year MLB umpire Ed Hickox has retired from on-field officiating after 28 years of baseball in the American and unified major leagues, capping a career interrupted by a 5 years away from the game due to labor dispute and litigation related to injuries sustained on the field.

Hickox's big league career began with a 1990 AL debut and he was one of the 22 AL and NL umpires whose resignations were accepted during an ill-fated bargaining strategy when MLB sought to consolidate umpiring staffs. Hickox returned to the minor leagues as a brand-new Wendelstedt Umpire School recruit in 2002, working his way up the chain until reaching the now-unified MLB staff in 2005.

Litigation of a different variety struck Hickox after returning to the big league staff when he suffered concussion and ear injuries in 2005 and again in 2009, filing a lawsuit again Wilson Sporting Goods, whom Hickox alleged had given him a defective helmet he wore when he suffered the injuries.

A District of Columbia Superior Court jury ordered Wilson pay Hickox $775,000 for damages (this award was ultimately appealed and affirmed).

In addition to full-time major league umpiring, Hickox worked part-time as a Daytona Beach Shores detective.

Hickox retires after 28 years and 2,707 major league games, alongside 5 Division Series and 36 ejections.

Video as follows:

Saturday, January 27, 2024

Coach Throws Shoe at Referee, Player Throws Shoe to Play Defense - Technically Speaking...

A disgruntled head coach threw his shoe at a referee during a basketball game, while a player used his shoe to try and block a shot attempt, leading to a few technical fouls and one ejection for illegal use of sneakers...kind of.

NCAA Men's Basketball - Player Throws Shoe to Play Defense: During a Stonehill College vs Long Island University game in Brooklyn, Skyhawks guard Tony Felder slipped out of his shoe while on offense in the front court. As the player picked up his fallen shoe, play shifted to the other end of the floor and instead of putting the shoe back on, Felder sprinted to play defense, shoe in hand.

As Sharks forward Tana Kopa pump-faked a three point try, Felder jumped into the frame, appearing to throw his shoe in an attempt to block the potential shot. Play was whistled dead immediately and Felder assessed a technical foul for the shoe throw.

In NCAA Men's college, there are two basic types of technicals: Class A and Class B. The primary difference between the two is that Class A pertains to unsporting acts while Class B includes technical fouls that aren't maliciously unsporting in nature or otherwise don't rise to the severity of Class A. Class A's result in two free throws, count as one of two technicals for disqualification, and are added to the team foul count for bonus purposes. Class B's result in one free throw, do not count as one of the two DQ technicals (through three B's result in an ejection [or two B's plus one A]), and do not get the team fouls-toward-bonus treatment. Both resume at point of interruption.

NFHS Boys' Basketball - Head Coach Throws Shoe at Referee: While the Brooklyn shoe-throw might not have risen to the level of Class A, JSerra head coach Keith Wilkinson's conduct certainly did as he threw his shoe at a referee during a Trinity League game at Mater Dei after a no-call. Add in a second shoe-throw/spike and Wilkinson was ejected...and suspended six games.

High school ball has no Class A vs B technical foul distinction—these were simply two bench technicals assessed to the head coach.

Long story short, throwing a shoe to play defense or otherwise is nearly always illegal.

Video as follows:

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

Why did Penguins Penalty Continue After Own Goal?

The Coyotes scored an unusual Power Play Goal wherein Penguins player Jansen Harkins remained in the box on a minor penalty even through Arizona scored a PPG. Pittsburgh had drawn a delayed penalty and attempted to kill off their penalty by pulling their goalie and playing keep-away in their defensive zone...accidentally scoring an own goal when Evgeni Malkin's pass to Kris Letang slid into the empty net.

Under the hockey rules, this is still considered a Power Play Goal, but one scored without a numerical advantage for Arizona. Instead of the usual 5-on-4 skater format of a power play, Pittsburgh had voluntarily pulled its goalie to create a 5-on-5 skater situation, effectively eliminating the numerical strength disparity for skaters in an attempt to waste time.

As a result, this qualifies as a goal scored during numeric equality, so even though Pittsburgh was serving a minor penalty, the penalty did not terminate upon the Coyotes goal, as there was no numeric advantage (for skaters) at the time of the goal.

Play thus resumed with Harkins remaining in the box for Pittsburgh and Arizona's Jason Zucker in the penalty box as well for the now-no-longer-delayed hooking minor penalty.

Video as follows:

Thursday, January 4, 2024

Detroit Loses 2-Point Conversion After Illegal Touching - NFL Rules and Referee Analysis

When NFL referee Brad Allen called Lions offensive tackle Taylor Decker for an illegal touching penalty during a two-point conversion try late in the 4th quarter of a one-point game against Dallas, it effectively wiped Detroit's 21-20 lead off the board, turning it into a 20-19 eventual victory for the Cowboys. What happened here?

At the heart of this play is football's rule concerning receiver eligibility—in general, lineman and tackles (who generally wear uniform numbers between 50 and 79)—are ineligible to receive forward passes or run downfield to receive such a pass. Detroit's Decker wears #68 and is thus ineligible...that is unless he reports to the referee to declare himself eligible for a specific play.

Replays indicate Decker approaching referee Allen prior to the play, but so did two other Lions players, including offensive lineman Dan Skipper, who wears #70.

Pursuant to football officiating mechanics, Allen quickly ran to tell the defense and made a public address announcement, twice stating that #70 had reported as an eligible receiver for this play.

Detroit ran its play and #68 Decker caught quarterback Jared Goff's forward pass in the end-zone for an apparent successful two-point conversion...until Allen announced a penalty for illegal touching, reverting the score to Dallas 20, Detroit 19 (a subsequent two-point conversion attempt failed and Dallas won the game).

At the heart of the matter is the confusion and miscommunication that occurred when both #68 and 70 approached referee Allen, who dashed off to tell the defense and announce the eligible reporter, apparently reading "70" when Detroit meant "68"...except Detroit either didn't notice or otherwise didn't correct the referee when the public announcement over the PA sounded as "number 70 is eligible."

Lindsay's Call: I am not a football official but of the sports I do officiate, it would appear to me the primary culprit may have been a player stating "I am eligible" (or "I'm reporting" or some other variation) and the referee assuming that because #70 had reported eligible earlier in the game, #70 was reporting again.

To remedy this conflict, might I suggest white hats opt not to take the pronoun "I" as sufficient identification, especially when multiple players who may all declare eligibility approach the referee at roughly the same time? Instead, I would suggest the referee read back a number (or outright ask "What number?") in order to confirm the identity of the eligible player reporting.

That way—through stating the number of the player—this communication loophole can be closed.

Video as follows: