Friday, September 14, 2018

Case Play 2018-8 - Kick a Ball, Make a Call [Solved]

Boston clinched a playoff berth Tuesday night following an unusual play in the 6th inning with Toronto at bat, when the home plate umpire inadvertently kicked a wild pitch with a runner at third, calling "Time" and sending the Blue Jays baserunners back to their bases of origin.

HP Umpire Jim Wolf searches for a wild pitch.
What is the proper call for an umpire's kicked ball?

The Play: With one out and one on (R3), Red Sox pitcher Nathan Eovaldi's 3-0 pitch to Jays batter Kendrys Morales dove into the dirt and near HP Umpire Jim Wolf, who inadvertently kicked the ball far away from Red Sox catcher Sandy Leon, prompting Blue Jays baserunner R3 Devon Travis to jog toward home plate. Wolf called "Time" and sent Travis back to third (and awarded Morales first base on ball four).

Question: Is this the correct call and were the runners placed properly (R3 Travis sent back to third and batter-runner Morales to first)? If so, is this umpire interference or does some other rule apply?

Answer: The first thing one should notice about the umpire interference rules as portrayed in 5.06(c)(2), 6.01(f), and the Definition of Terms is that Umpire Interference exists under only two scenarios: 1) The plate umpire hinders the catcher's throw (to a base/runner or back to the pitcher), and, 2) a fair [batted] ball touches an umpire on fair territory before passing a fielder other than the pitcher, or before touching any other player.
Related VideoUEFL University: Umpire's Interference - Reviewing its Two Types (4/23/18).
Related PostStayin' Alive - The Umpire-Aided Triple Play (4/23/18).
Related PostRules 2.00 & 6.01(f): Umpire Interference (7/5/12).

Joe West kicks a ball into left field.
Accordingly, this play is not subject to any of the aforementioned rules. Yet during this play, clearly, baserunner R3 has absolutely zero intention of scoring until the plate umpire kicks the ball. What's the resolution?

Look no further than to Joe West for an example of another kicked ball—this one batted past the infield—that led to an extra base when a batter-runner had no intention of advancing beyond first until 2B Umpire West kicked the ball into shallow left field. Like Wolf, West put a new impetus on the ball by accidentally kicking it away from the fielders (or, more accurately, away from the charging outfielders), but unlike Wolf, West kept play alive because he kicked the ball after it had passed the infielders.
Related PostA Rare Off-The-Cowboy-Joe Double - Rule 5.06(c)(6) (8/24/16).

Counterpoint: How about Unintentional Interference, Rule 6.01(d) Comment, which states, "The question of intentional or unintentional interference shall be decided on the basis of the person’s action. For example: a bat boy, ball attendant, policeman, etc., who tries to avoid being touched by a thrown or batted ball but still is touched by the ball would be involved in unintentional interference. If, however, he kicks the ball or picks it up or pushes it, that is considered intentional interference, regardless of what his thought may have been"?

Or how about the MLBUM interpretation of 5.06(b) (ball goes out of play) that differentiates between a fielder deflecting the ball directly out of play, a fielder accidentally kicking the ball out of play, and a fielder intentionally kicking or deflecting the ball out of play?

Is there a way to incorporate 6.01(d) Comment or the MLBUM interpretation of 5.06(b) by using Rule 8.01(c)—umpiring's elastic clause ("Each umpire has authority to rule on any point not specifically covered in these rules")—to invoke common sense and fair play?
Related PostUEFL Case Play 2018-6 - Kicked Out of Play [Solved] (7/23/18).
Related PostMLB Ejection 057 - Fieldin Culbreth (1; Terry Collins) (6/1/17).

The answer, it turns out, is "no." 6.01(d) does specifically cover the application of unintentional interference by exempting the following classes of persons from its purview: "except members of the team at bat who are participating in the game, or a base coach, any of whom interfere with a fielder attempting to field a batted or thrown ball; or an umpire." [Underlined-bold text added for emphasis.]

Similarly, 5.06(b) very clearly talks about fielders, not umpires.

As 5.06(c)(2), 6.01(f), and Definition of Terms clearly illustrate where precisely umpire interference occurs, it is not within the rules nor within the spirit of the rules to use 8.01(c) to apply discretion to the aforementioned.

This is not umpire interference, the ball shall remain alive, and the runner, unfortunately (for the team that threw the wild pitch, that is), shall be permitted to score. The rules simply don't allow the umpires to correct for a situation caused, initially, by a defensive miscue to begin with. Whether one believes this is fair play or not is, ultimately, irrelevant: the rulebook allows little discretion for choosing when umpire interference does and does not apply.

Silver Lining? Wolf so confidently sold the call from the get-go that there was very little doubt as to what it was and why he made it. Unfortunately, it just wasn't supported by any concrete rule.

The ump giveth and the ump taketh away.
Common Sense and Fair Play: Ruling this play dead and sending the runner back to third base because he had no intention of scoring prior to the umpire's accidental kick might scream out, "that's fair," but it could get you into trouble with a manager who knows the rules real quick.

If Toronto protested the game based on this call (and lost by a reasonable margin, etc.), it stands to reason that the protest would be affirmed based on the rules that dictate this accidental kick by an umpire is not means to call the ball dead and return the runner.

That said, if the explanation was, simply, "I accidentally called time" (which, I don't believe it sure looked like "Time" was purposefully called), it becomes a matter not subject to protest. But knowingly ruling this umpire interference based on the kick is not supported by the rules.

Now if someone could help me out with determining whether Enrico Pallazzo's ejection of Joe West and Hank Robinson had anything to do with umpire interference or not, I'd be much obliged.
Related VideoSEA@LAA: Enrico Pallazzo Ejects Umpires Robinson, Cowboy Joe West (4/1/13).
Related PostEjections 1, 2: Enrico Pallazzo (Joe West, Hank Robinson) (4/1/13).

Official Baseball Rules Library
OBR 5.06(c)(2): "The ball becomes dead and runners advance one base, or return to their bases, without liability to be put out, when—The plate umpire interferes with the catcher’s throw attempting to prevent a stolen base or retire a runner on a pick-off play; runners may not advance."
OBR 5.06(c)(2) Comment: "Umpire interference may also occur when an umpire interferes with a catcher returning the ball to the pitcher."
OBR 6.01(f): "If a thrown ball accidentally touches a base coach, or a pitched or thrown ball touches an umpire, the ball is alive and in play."
OBR 6.01(f) Comment: "Umpire’s interference occurs (1) when a plate umpire hinders, impedes or prevents a catcher’s throw attempting to prevent a stolen base or retire a runner on a pick-off play; or (2) when a fair ball touches an umpire on fair territory before passing a fielder. Umpire interference may also occur when an umpire interferes with a catcher returning the ball to the pitcher."

Video as follows:
Alternate Link: Wolf without wanting whams wild wallop (BOS/TOR)


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