Saturday, September 1, 2018

Carded - Why West Confiscated Pitcher's Cheat Sheet

Joe West didn't umpire the infamous Niekro emery board/sandpaper ejection game of 1987, but he enforced a subset of the same foreign substance rule Saturday in Philadelphia when he confiscated relief pitcher Austin Davis' scouting report card in the top of the 8th inning of the Cubs-Phillies game, a card Davis kept in his back left pants pocket.

West tells Kapler why the card is illegal.
Niekro's ejection as Twins pitcher vs the California Angels on August 3, 1987 at the hands of HP Umpire Tim Tschida, similarly concerned a small flat sheet kept in the pitcher's pants pocket (although emery boards and sandpaper are expressly more sinister than a simple piece of laminated paper). Could this be a "what if..." scenario?

Executive Summary: Similar to Tschida's Niekro game, West's confiscation falls under the nooks and crannies of foreign substance Rule 6.02(c)(7), although unlike Niekro's emory and sand, Davis' card itself was not a foreign substance (if it were, Davis would have been ejected).

Instead, West took the card away from the pitcher pursuant to the authority bestowed upon him under Rule 8.01 in order to prevent the pitcher from potential further violation of 6.02(c)(7) in one of the baseball rulebook's provisions and prohibitions that carries no real penalty other than a "don't do that" instruction from the umpire. It had nothing to do with the information contained on the card—the information was legal, the vehicle for it was not.

Davis hands West the contested card.
The Play: Phillies reliever Davis took a small card—a scouting report cheat sheet—out of his pocket while standing on the mound between Cubs batters. 3B Umpire West jaunted over, asked Davis to relinquish the card, and subsequently put the card into his own pants pocket.

The Rule: After the game, West explained he was enforcing the foreign substance rule and thus removed the illegal object from the pitcher's person. Rule 6.02(c)(7) (Pitching Prohibitions) states that the pitcher shall not, "Have on his person, or in his possession, any foreign substance."

Rule 6.02(d)(1) states that any pitcher guilty of violating a Pitching Prohibition "shall be ejected immediately from the game and shall be suspended automatically."

Rule 6.02(d) Comment states that a warning may be issued in lieu of an ejection if the pitcher unintentionally violates 6.02(c)(2) and (3) only, which state the pitcher shall not "expectorate on the ball, either hand or his glove" nor "rub the ball on his glove, person or clothing," respectively.

No Official Baseball Rule prohibits the pitcher from possessing mere information relative to the opposition.

Analysis: To say West's enforcement was of 6.02(c)(7) is accurate, but requires further explanation. It is accurate in the sense that the enforcement concerns 6.02(c)(7), but it is not accurate to say this is a complete violation of 6.02(c)(7) because, per 6.02(d)(1), all violations of 6.02(c)(7) result in an automatic ejection and the 6.02(d) Comment exception and warning allowance does not apply.

Thus, we dig slightly deeper in the rulebook and find Rule 6.02(c)(7) Comment, which states:
The pitcher may not attach anything to either hand, any finger or either wrist (e.g., Band-Aid, tape, Super Glue, bracelet, etc.). The umpire shall determine if such attachment is indeed a foreign substance for the purpose of Rule 6.02(c)(7), but in no case may the pitcher be allowed to pitch with such attachment to his hand, finger or wrist.
West instructs Davis, "Don't do that."
This is what we call a "don't do that" provision (all encompassed under Rule 8.01(b)'s "Each umpire has authority to order a player, coach, manager or club officer or employee to do or refrain from doing anything which affects the administering of these rules"): the umpire is to instruct the player to stop doing something that is contrary to the rules, but for which no specific penalty exists other than to tell the player, "don't do that."

When it comes to attachments and accessories that are not deemed a foreign substance (or sleeves of differing lengths, or other player uniform infractions under Rule 3.03, etc.), the "don't do that" procedure allows the player to fix the minor infraction without penalty. If the player refuses, the player is subject to ejection, not for the initial infraction, but for objecting to an umpire's decision, as in Rule 8.01(d).

Kellogg invoked 8.01(b) to cut a long sleeve.
Related: In 2017, umpires Will Little and Jeff Kellogg ordered Cubs pitcher Eddie Butler cut off a portion of his shirt sleeves during Chicago's June 16 game against Pittsburgh. Butler's under-sleeves were not the same length and the Kellogg crew used their 8.01(b) "don't do that" authority to order Butler to alter his sleeve length to achieve compliance with Rule 3.03's same length provision.
Related VideoButler has sleeves cut off (6/16/17).

We also see Rule 8.01(c) ("Each umpire has authority to rule on any point not specifically covered in these rules").

Accordingly, West ruled the scouting card fell under the same spirit of the rules as a uniform infraction, bracelet, or other "attachment": the card itself was not a foreign substance, but instead merely a potential vehicle upon which a foreign substance could travel (ask Niekro or another sly pitcher how to rub and transfer a foreign substance from a flat sheet to a pitching hand). West said that Davis didn't intend to break any rules, but the card was not legal and had to go.

Joe Maddon joked, "the scouting report was written on the back of an emory board," while West pawned it off on the Commissioner's Office, "In the long run, maybe [the Commissioner's Office] will let him (have the card). Right now, my hands are tied until they say yes or no. Right now, until the office says it's OK to carry this, he can't do it."

Gil's CallAs the use of pitching analytics and scouting stats spreads across baseball, West is right: the Commissioner's Office will have to decide whether to allow or prohibit these cards—not for the data they contain, but for the foreign substance concern they present. However the league office addresses the issue, it will have to clearly specify what teams' and umpires' responsibilities are relative to these cards, for the sake of consistency and fairness.

Sidebar: I wonder if MLB will consider how pace of play is affected by a pitcher checking the card...

Conclusion: West's confiscation occurred pursuant to the spirit of 6.02(c)(7) concerning attachments not deemed a foreign substance, under the authority bestowed upon umpires by elastic clause 8.01(c), and the "don't do that" authority of 8.01(b).

Video as follows:
Alternate Link: Phillies reliever Austin Davis hands over scouting card in confiscation (PHI)


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