Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Umpire-in-Chief Authority - When Two Calls Conflict

Two umpires made two opposing calls on the same play Tuesday night in Anaheim, with umpire-in-chief Gary Cederstrom making the final call pursuant to Official Baseball Rule 8.03(c), which granted the veteran crew chief authority to rectify a conflicting situation.

From behind the fielder, Stu thinks he sees a foul ball.
The Play: With two out and none on in the top of the 6th inning of the Rangers-Angels game, Rangers batter Robinson Chirinos hit a 1-0 breaking ball from Angels pitcher Keynan Middleton on the ground up the foul line in front of third base. With the batted ball bouncing in foul territory while the speedy Chirinos ran toward first base, Angels third baseman Luis Valbuena jaunted over the field the ball as it took a final turn back toward fair territory as it approached third base. As Valbuena, positioned in foul territory, reached back in attempt to grab the ball before it reached the plane along the foul line, he moved his glove as to catch the ball and immediately sweep it toward his foul-leaning body.

The Calls: HP Umpire Gary Cederstrom, following the bouncing ball, ruled that Valbuena's glove first made contact with the baseball as it was positioned over fair territory, and accordingly mechanized a fair ball. Meanwhile, 3B Umpire Stu Scheurwater from his position behind Valbuena, ruled that Valbuena successfully prevented the ball from reaching the plane along foul line, and, thus, called the play foul while gesturing "Time" with his arms. As such (and most likely hoping for such a call), Valbuena pointed to Scheurwater's call and did not make an attempt to retire Chirinos.

The Rule: OBR 8.03(c) granted plate umpire Cederstrom the authority to make a final ruling:
If different decisions should be made on one play by different umpires, the umpire-in-chief shall call all the umpires into consultation, with no manager or player present. After consultation, the umpire-in-chief (unless another umpire may have been designated by the League President) shall determine which decision shall prevail, based on which umpire was in best position and which decision was most likely correct. Play shall proceed as if only the final decision had been made.
The parenthetical ("unless another umpire may have been designed by the League President") simply means that the Crew Chief shall act as the umpire-in-chief's place during the multiple-calls situation described by OBR 8.03(c).

In this situation, Cederstrom was both the Crew Chief as well as the umpire-in-chief (HP Umpire).

Cederstrom and Scheurwater have a consultation.
Mechanics, Whose Call is it, Anyway (and Why)? Because the ball had not yet reached the front edge of the base when it was first touched by a fielder, this call belongs to the plate umpire. Had the ball arrived at the front edge of third base prior to being touched by a fielder, the call would belong to the field (base) umpire. The rationale here is that the plate umpire has the best angle to see a ball being played in front of a fielder ahead of the corner bases, while a field umpire has the best angle to judge whether a ball has passed first or third base in fair vs foul territory.

Thinking about this another way, we know by rule that a ball that hasn't yet reached first or third base is neither fair nor foul until an action occurs to make it such (e.g., a fielder touches the ball). Similarly, a ball that has already bounced, as in the Texas-Anaheim play, will become fair or foul no later than when it reaches the front edge of first or third base. Accordingly, the plate umpire is responsible for declaring an all-else-equal ground ball fair or foul by fielder's touch, while the field/base umpire has primary responsibility for declaring an all-else-equal ground ball fair or foul by the ball-passing-over-base standard (which has nothing to do with a fielder's touch).

From his position in front, Gary sees "fair."
Chief Cederstrom Decides: As the plate umpire making one of the two conflicting calls, Cederstrom had the advantage of having seen the play. As the plate umpire, Cederstrom also had primary responsibility for making this call prior to the ball arriving at the base (though it was very close): with no runners on base on a ball not being hit into the danger "triangle" near home plate (e.g., where runner's lane interference is a potential call to make), there are no special considerations in play; there is no potential play at the plate for which a plate umpire might need to get in position (thus, the plate umpire won't transfer his fair/foul responsibility to the third base umpire).

About the ball being so close to the base, consider what we discussed just the other day regarding Crew Consultation and Getting the Call Right (Hanahan's MiLB ejection): "An umpire is urged to seek help when that umpire's view is blocked or positioning prevents such umpire from seeing crucial elements of a play." When comparing Scheurwater and Cederstrom's angles (forget whether the ball reached the base for a second), it sure appeared that Scheurwater's view may have been blocked while Cederstrom was in better position to officiate this play.

Thus, as the plate umpire with the best angle on a batted ball that had not yet reached third base, Cederstrom properly ruled the ball fair and furthermore judged that fielder Valbuena did not have a play on batter-runner Chirinos; thus, Cederstrom awarded Chirinos first base.

Sidebar (BRD): In NCAA college, a double-call similarly reverts to the UIC's judgment (NCAA Rule 3-6-i).

This rule does not specifically exist in high school. Rather, for NFHS high school play, Rule 10-2-3l states the UIC shall, "Rectify any situation in which an umpire’s decision that was reversed has placed either team at a disadvantage."

Under all codes, the ball becomes dead as soon as any of the umpires calls "Foul" or "Time" (NFHS 5-1-1h, "inadvertently announces 'Foul' on a ball that touches the ground") The only question remaining is whether, in the designated chief's judgment, the fielder would have retired the batter had the play not been killed prematurely. In this case, the answer was "no" and the runner was granted safe passage to first base.

Video as follows:
Alternate Link: Cederstrom and Scheurwater make conflicting calls, resulting in a conference (TEX)


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