Friday, September 1, 2017

Replay Review, Ground Rules, and Levi's Landing

A batted ball poised to land atop the green metal roof on AT&T Park's right field wall went to Replay Review a home run and came out the other end a fan interference-aided double.

Replay Review spent 5 minutes on this play.
*UPDATE*MLB Admits HR Replay Error in Giants Game (9/1/17).

This play is an exercise in ground rule particulars for AT&T Park, a quick revisit to baseball's fan interference rules, and a discussion of the definition of a rather common dictionary term. It's also a rudimentary review of sound structural engineering in the earthquake country known as California, and how a simple case of construction best practices led to a confusing situation.

The Play: With none out and one on (R2) in the bottom of the 9th inning of a 5-1 Cardinals-Giants game, Giants batter Brandon Crawford hit a 2-2 pitch from Cardinals reliever John Brebbia to deep right field near the foul pole. As the ball descended toward the wall, a fan reached across and in front of the foul pole to catch the live ball before it struck the outfield wall, roof, or pole.

The Call: 1B Umpire Tom Woodring signaled "home run," a call that contained several significant elements. First, Woodring ruled the ball fair. Second, Woodring ruled the ball left the playing field in flight. Third, Woodring ruled the ball had not been subject to spectator interference before leaving the playing field (or if it had, that the ball would have been a home run regardless of the fan's actions).

Conflict: Local Ground Rules vs Universal Ground Rules - Which Rule Supersedes the Other?
A fan reaches to grab a batted ball in flight.
Unfortunately, local ground rules in San Francisco appear somewhat in conflict with the Universal Ground Rules issued by the Office of the Commissioner. According to the AT&T Park Ground Rule Particulars, "batted ball landing on green metal on top of right field wall: Home Run." By contrast, the Commissioner's Universal Ground Rules issued for use at all MLB stadiums state, "all yellow lines are in play." As evidenced by the attached photograph, there is a yellow line painted onto the green metal on top of the right field wall at AT&T Park: the foul pole is clearly recessed and does not begin at the front edge of the green metal, yet no rule specifically states that a foul pole must be positioned at the front edge of dead ball territory (and, for structural engineering reasons we'll discuss later, it would be irresponsible to place the foul pole here). Again, however, a Universal Ground Rule does say that "all yellow lines" are in play.

Meanwhile, Official Baseball Rule 4.05, entitled "Special Ground Rules," states:
The manager of the home team shall present to the umpire-in-chief and the opposing manager any ground rules he thinks necessary covering the overflow of spectators upon the playing field, batted or thrown balls into such overflow, or any other contingencies. If these rules are acceptable to the opposing manager they shall be legal. If these rules are unacceptable to the opposing manager, the umpire-in-chief shall make and enforce any special ground rules he thinks are made necessary by ground conditions, which shall not conflict with the official playing rules.
The MLB Umpire Manual, regarding a fly ball striking the top of a wall, posits several contingencies:
A) "Unless provided otherwise by local ground rule, a fair fly ball striking the top of the outfield wall and bounding back onto the playing field shall be treated the same as a fair fly ball that strikes the outfield wall and rebounds back onto the playing field";
B) "Unless provided otherwise by local ground rule, a fair fly ball striking the top of the outfield wall and bounding over the wall shall be ruled a home run";
C) "Unless provided otherwise by a local ground rule, a fair fly ball striking the top of the outfield wall and remaining on the op of the wall shall be deemed a ground-rule double";
D) "Unless provided otherwise by local ground rule, a fair fly ball striking the top of the outfield wall that in the umpire's judgment would have bounded over the wall if not for the permissible action of a spectator shall be ruled a home run. A fair fly ball that strikes the top of the outfield wall and is picked up by a spectator while still in motion shall also be ruled a home run. A fair fly ball that lands on top of the outfield wall and is picked up by a spectator after coming to a stop shall be deemed a ground-rule double."

Thus, in conclusion, based on the MLB Umpire Manual's verbiage, the local ground rule supersedes the Universal Ground Rules insofar as a fair fly ball at the outfield wall is concerned. Thus, we're back to the AT&T Park ground rule about a batted ball "landing" on the green metal. Conflict solved.

Dictionary Definition, Landing: "an act of returning to the ground or another surface after a flight." As any pilot or aviation enthusiast will surely tell you, a full-stop "landing" encompasses everything from descending through the air until the airplane finally comes to rest.

Two types of outfield wall at AT&T Park.
Here's an ejection over an argument about
the concrete slant portion of the wall.
So can the ball still be moving/is the initial "strike" on the metal enough for a "landing"?
Back to the airplane example, I'm sure most of us have been on flights with a "bounce" landing: the plan bounces on the runway before finally completing its touchdown. Would you consider the first "bounce" part of the overarching "landing"? A glimpse at the MLBUM's "D)" provision might be a clue: if a spectator picks up a ball while it is still in motion, it is a home run. If a spectator picks it up after coming to rest, it is a ground rule double.

Wait, a spectator can cause a fair batted ball hit on top of a wall to be a home run or a ground rule double based on when (s)he touches it? Yes, per the MLBUM, it's a HR if touched while the ball is on top of the wall and still in motion, and a ground-rule double if touched while on top of the wall after the ball has come to rest, unless provided otherwise by a local ground rule. Still, a nice little loophole to consider if you're a fan of the home team.

In this case, AT&T Park's ground rule states a batted ball landing on the green metal is a home run.

Fieldin Culbreth displays a fan INT signal.
Spectator Interference Rule: Fan interference occurs when "a spectator reaches out of the stands, or goes on the playing field, and (1) touches a live ball or (2) touches a player and hinders and attempt to make a play on a live ball." Meanwhile, the ball becomes dead when it leaves the playing field or is touched by a fan. If the fan in San Francisco never reached out beyond the green metal roof atop the wall, then he never satisfied the "reaches out of the stands" provision of the spectator interference rule; thus, this play is not subject to a call of fan interference.

Let's see what the final call ended up being.

Woodring (L) and Everitt await NY's ruling.
The Review and Call: Upon Crew Chief Review initiated by 3B Umpire Mike Everitt (having just returned from Tuesday's injury in Colorado), the Replay Official in New York elected to overturn 1B Umpire Woodring's call and ruled the play a double, concluding that the fan had reached out of the stands and touched a live ball, and that, absent the fan's actions, the ball would not have landed on the green metal atop the right field wall.

As a result, the baserunner was awarded two bases (2B => HP) and the batter was similarly awarded two bases, for a double.

Actual location vs spot required for fan INT.
Conclusion: Based on the aforementioned discussion, side angle replays, and AT&T Park Ground Rule Particulars, there should have only been two potential outcomes for this play:
1) Woodring's HR call stands as called, or;
2) Woodring's HR call is overturned to that of foul ball.

The attached image demonstrates the fan's proximity toward the playing-edge of the right field wall, which would have been a necessary achievement in order to draw a call of spectator interference.

Thus, the Replay Official either employed particularly unique judgment in approximating the fan's reach past the leading edge of the green metal roof or failed to properly apply the local ground rule for AT&T Park's green metal-capped wall in right field.

Could the Giants Protest? Assume the ground rule was wholly misapplied. Replay Review Regulation II.L.4 dictates what happens when a team protests a Replay Review decision: "Official Baseball Rule 7.04 (formerly Rule 4.19 [concerning protests]) shall have no applicability to these Replay Regulations. No protest shall ever be permitted on judgment decisions by the Replay Official. Moreover, a violation of any rule or procedure set forth herein shall not constitute a basis for protesting a game."

Logically, this would be a HR without the fan.
History of the Right Field Wall at San Francisco's AT&T Park (and Why the Foul Pole is Recessed): In 2012, we discussed Rule 1.04 regarding field dimensions, and specifically cited the Giants' departure from Candlestick Park to AT&T Park. Due to the new stadium's proximity to San Francisco Bay and McCovey Cove, the Giants were granted an exemption to OBR 1.04's standard 325-foot minimum length for a foul line; in San Francisco, the right field foul line spans 309 feet. In exchange for the exemption, San Francisco built a higher-than-usual wall along the fair territory right field boundary: the wall is 24 feet high (in honor of Willie Mays, who wore #24). The spectator area along the top of the wall is presently known as "Levi's Landing" and the green metal roof atop the wall, which juts out above the right field warning track, was designed to minimize questions of spectator interference; hence the ground rule calling for an automatic home run for a ball landing on the green metal. Meanwhile, the foul pole is recessed because it would be structurally unsound for a foul pole to be placed on top of what amounts to a balcony: because the foul pole is of considerable height, it requires a foundation; no earthquake-conscious engineer, architect, or contractor in good faith would allow such a tall structure in California to be placed on the edge of a balcony without adequate support underneath.
Related PostRule 1.04 [2.01] Note (a): Minimum Field Dimensions (6/19/12).

Video as follows:
Alternate Link: Home run review results in a reversed ruling and double (STL)

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