Thursday, June 28, 2018

Tmac's Teachable Moments - Little Roller Up Along First

An umpire punched a batter-runner out while the ball rolled on the ground as his partner stumbled and fell along the first base line during the ensuing play at home plate, giving a belated "safe" sign. Tmac's Teachable Moments visits Los Angeles, where this comical scene played out at a major league stadium, all thanks to, as Vin Scully once put it, a "little roller up along first."

HP Umpire Todd Tichenor observes a play.
The Play: With two out and one on (R2 Ian Happ) Wednesday evening, Cubs batter Jason Heyward hit a soft ground ball up the first base line, where it was fielded by Dodgers pitcher Alex Wood and thrown wildly to first base, 1B Umpire Alan Porter calling Heyward out on the timing aspect of the play before quickly realizing that first baseman Max Muncy had not caught the ball, reversing his ruling to "safe," just as Dodgers second baseman Logan Forsythe, backing up on the play, collected the baseball and threw to catcher Yasmani Grandal in an attempt to retire baserunner R2 Happ, narrowly missing Porter with the throw in the process. Grandal then caught the ball and lunged in an attempt to tag the sliding Happ as HP Umpire Todd Tichenor, up the line to rule on the fair/foul status of the batted ball, began his hasty retreat, stumbling and crashing to the ground as the tag play was effected at home plate, finally signaling Happ "safe" once he regained his footing.

Analysis: First off, let's pretend there's no replay and no way for a team to check if the call is right.

There is so much going on here, it's almost impossible to begin. Let's start with our pre-pitch analysis, and then let's set it on fire because, frankly, if we're thinking of this perfect storm play before the pitch is even thrown, then we're probably missing about 80 pitches a game. This is a pretty wild play to plan for ahead of time...but with a runner on second and two outs, on a dribbler like batter Heyward's, it's still a possibility to keep in the back of the mind.

This is where instinct takes over, and HP Umpire Todd Tichnor's instincts are excellent.

The grass can be slippery when wet.
HP Umpire Todd Tichenor: He realizes there is potential for a close play at first which doesn't allow 1B Umpire Al Porter to take fair/foul (we'll get to Porter in a second). Combine that with the possibility of the ball being fielded in front of the bag and we have whacker fair/foul potential AND possible runner's lane interference (can't forget about RLI!). Accordingly, UIC Tichenor comes up the 1st base line to get the view. That's the expected play (fair/foul + play on batter-runner at first), and Tichenor executes it as an MLB umpire should.

1B Umpire Alan Porter: Porter also has a few potential things to thing about: Might I have a tag here? Could it come from the pitcher or the first baseman? Might there just be a close play at the base? Do I have an opportunity to get the potential fair/foul call or does the tag or time-based play at first mean I can't afford to hug the line (we call it a "force" in our UEFL shorthand, but we all know it's not technically a "force play" by rulebook lingo)? When you have a play like this, you have to play percentages.

1B Umpire Alan Porter saw the area near 1B.
Sometimes you get yourself in a jackpot and sometimes you win the jackpot. Here, Porter actually uses his eyes properly and finds the glove with the ball in it or so he thinks. There is a great shot of his eyes going to the ball at :12 and then a spilt second later he realizes the ball is missing and rolling on the infield dirt—if you pause the video at the 12-second mark, you'll see Porter squared to the expected play at first base, making an out call while still squared to first base, and, finally, adjusting to the loose ball up the right-field line and signaling the BR safe.

Probably a little too quick on the trigger, but if you show too much deliberation in a whacker play like this you look weak, unsure, or even lazy. With two outs, another split second of delay won't hurt. It must be something about the Dodgers: both Alex Tosi and Greg Gibson similarly punched out runners on plays where the fielder didn't catch the ball.
Related PostMuch Patience and Good Judgment - Reversing a Call (2/26/17).
Related PostGreg Gibson Reminds All Umpires: Patience is a Virtue (7/15/12).

This play is missing an umpire.
The Second Play (Happ Comes Home): Next, comes panic from both of our 1st base and home plate umpires. Porter is lucky he wasn't drilled by the throw to the plate and TT is halfway up the 1st base line and on his stomach. The worm's eye view proved advantageous as TT actually got the call right and Dave Roberts didn't so much as challenge or argue, probably thanks to the clubhouse telling him that the runner was safe at home (then again, we know that the Dodgers failed to appeal a Phillies baserunner's clear miss of home plate earlier this year, which might have cost LA the game, so who can really be sure what the video room saw...).
Related PostVideo Loss - Failure to Appeal Costs LA Run, Game (5/31/18).

But let's pretend we don't have replay and we're working a four-person mechanic... what could have happened? There are umpires who have covered third base from first (see DJ Reyburn) and it wouldn't be the first time a third base umpire had covered the plate. In fact, I think if you really want to shine as 3B umpire (Bill Miller) you realize what could potentially happen and you at least try to help out to get a view—2B Umpire Angel Hernandez has the batter-runner going to second, and there's ample time to get back to third base proper if that BR tries to press the issue after R2 has scored or become involved in a rundown.

The perfect storm visited LA.
Three-Person Crew: In the age of replay, there is less of this if any at all.  But there are times we have to pick up our partners and this would have been a great time to do it. As it turns out, the call was correct and we move on, but how do we prevent a disaster like this in a crew of three? Well, in the 3-umpire system, our 3rd base umpire would be in the middle with 2 outs and a runner on 2nd.  From the middle it's easier to be in touch with what the HP umpire has going on. Also, let's say the umpire's in C or Deep C, that's a fairly good position to see the play at the plate and if you have instinct, then a good move to make is toward the 3rd base line in fair territory—even as close as 10-15 feet from the play.  It would be almost as if the middle umpire is taking a steal at 2nd, but in a fun house mirror. Now to those playing devil's advocate who point out that second base is uncovered, I bring you umpiring 101 (get the first/more immediate call right). I don't care about 2nd until my very next play is covered, and the very next play here is on the baserunner trying to score.

Beware: Also this next paragraph goes to any size crew at any level: Beware of overcommitment.  Even though we got the call right in Cubs-Dodgers and TT shows great instinct to realize there is a play coming to the plate, did we really need to be 60 feet up the 1st base line? Could we have taken this play from, say, thirty feet? Over-hustling is a potential liability at times. All interesting things to ponder. Even when falling or getting caught out of position, don't give up on the play.

As the Official Baseball Rules' General Instructions to Umpires states:
Keep your eye everlastingly on the ball while it is in play. It is more vital to know just where a fly ball fell, or a thrown ball finished up, than whether or not a runner missed a base. Do not call the plays too quickly, or turn away too fast when a fielder is throwing to complete a double play. Watch out for dropped balls after you have called a man out.
And, similarly, as Tichenor demonstrated, "Do not come running with your arm up or down, denoting 'out' or 'safe.' Wait until the play is completed before making any arm motion."

Conclusion: This is a perfect storm play. It's very hard and not one we see everyday. Baseball umpiring is very humbling. Don't get too down on yourself if a crazy play like this happens to you, but understand how you handle the aftermath is what makes you or breaks you as an umpire. There are smiles all around after this play is over—Tichenor laughs it off with Grandal and that's what it's all about. Have Fun and Happy Umpiring.

Video as follows:
Alternate Link: Odd sequence in Hollywood ends with umpire hunched over & another on the ground (LAD)


Post a Comment