Saturday, March 10, 2018

Former NL Umpire and Union Pres Bob Engel Dies

Former Major League Umpires Association president and longtime National League umpire crew chief Bob Engel died in Nevada at the age of 84.

Engel, who officiated 3,630 regular season games from his 1965 debut until his final game in April 1990 and wore uniform #5, was selected to six League Championship Series and three World Series, ejecting 33 players and managers along the way (most common ejectee: Joe Torre and Davey Johnson, two times each).

After college and a stint in the US Army, Engel graduated from George Barr Umpire School in 1956 and was assigned to the Sooner State Class D League, working the California and Pacific Coast Leagues before his call-up to the National League in August 1965 and election to President of the Major League Umpires Association in 1974.

Engel withstood the 1979 umpires' strike, which ultimately afforded modern umpires in-season vacations, retirement plans and pensions, increased salaries, and better accommodation including per diems.

His career ended in controversy, charged with stealing over 4,000 baseball cards, cumulatively valued at $143.98, from Target; though Engel worked games even after being arrested, he eventually pleaded no contest to commercial burglary and petty theft, thus ending his baseball career.

A Bakersfield, CA native, Engel is a member of the Kern County Sports Hall of Fame.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Punishment Announced for ABL Dust-Up, Umpire Fined

The Australian Baseball League announced a series of fines for misconduct during February's ABL Championship Series between the Canberra Cavalry and Brisbane Bandits, disciplining two Brisbane coaches, umpire Takahito Matsuda, and both teams collectively.

In the 6th inning of the decisive game, benches cleared twice after a hit batsman and caught stealing play, respectively, drawing two ejections, including that of Brisbane first base coach Adrian Lamb for fighting; replays indicate Lamb pushed an opposing player at the start of the second bench-clearing incident.
Related Post: ABL Ejections - Takahito Matsuda & Bench Clearing (2/14/18).

According to the Disciplinary Review Panel's findings, Lamb and Matsuda each made unreasonable or unnecessary contact with a player/person (first offense), for which each was fined $150 AUS (approximately 117 US dollars). If Lamb and Matsuda plead guilty to the findings, the penalty will be reduced to $100 AUS ($78 US).

Brisbane Manager David Nilsson received a $100 AUS ($78 US) fine for throwing equipment (first offense), which may be reduced to $50 AUS ($39 US) upon an early guilty plea, while both teams were collectively fined $1,350 AUS ($1,052 US) because 27 players and coaches left their positions to partake in an on-field confrontation (27 x $50). No individual player received a financial penalty.

Matsuda's $100 early guilty plea fine exceeds the ABL umpire's game fee, according to a league source. The $150 "full" penalty amount constitutes 200% of the ABL's standard per-game officiating rate.

According to ABL disciplinary procedure, all parties have the option of contesting the panel's decision with the ABL Tribunal, whose decision may be appealed for a fee of $500 ($250 of which is non-refundable). If the appeal is successful, $250 is returned, but if it fails, the defeated party forfeits the entire $500.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Declaring a Tie - NCAA Game Ends After Ump Hurt

Tuesday's Florida Southern vs Mount Olive NCAA Division II baseball game ended in a scoreless tie after the home plate umpire left due to injury in the game's 7th inning.

Jim Joyce umpires from behind the mound.
Having sustained a foul ball injury in the 5th inning, Tuesday's home plate umpire persevered through the 6th and into the 7th, until a rotation play forced the issue as the afflicted plate umpire ran to cover a baserunner advancing to third base on a single to right field; the umpire ended up at a local hospital due to the game-related injury.

With a two-person officiating crew assigned to this inter-conference matchup, both head coaches agreed to end the game in a 7th inning tie rather than continue with one umpire. It was the finale of a brief two-game series.

College Rule: NCAA baseball rules allow for tie games: "Any regulation game called by the umpire with the score tied shall be declared a 'tie' game. Note: All individual and team averages from a tie game shall be incorporated into the official playing record" (5-10-b). Because the game was called in the 7th inning, it was a regulation ballgame (having gone at least five innings). Meanwhile, Rule 3-6-h states, "No umpire may be replaced in a game unless the individual becomes ill or injured." So while the umpire technically could have been replaced, with an out of conference Division II matchup (announced attendance: 25), it would have been highly unlikely for a replacement to be nearby.

Professional Rule: In professional baseball, a regulation game called with the score tied becomes a suspended game that must be completed at a future date (OBR 7.02(a)). If this same regulation suspended game is subsequently not completed prior to the last scheduled regular season game between the two teams, it becomes a "tie game" pursuant to Rule 7.02(b)(4)(B), unless either of the two teams involved would need to play the game in order to determine postseason eligibility or seeding, in which case the game must be completed prior to the playoffs. OBR 10.03(e)(1) instructs the official scorer to "record all individual and team actions up to the moment the game ends," with the exception of winning and losing pitchers.

OBR's replacement rule 8.02(d) states, "No umpire may be replaced during a game unless he is injured or becomes ill." Generally speaking, an umpire injured in a four-person game causes the crew to assume three-person mechanics, three umps beget two, etc.
Related PostDale Scott Exits with Injury, Joyce Umps Behind Mound (3/5/15).

Retrosheet maintains a repository of umpire changes during games dating back to 1871 (reason: "catch train"). According to the database, the last MLB umpire replacement occurred on July 14, 2011, when Cory Blaser entered the Brewers-Rockies game in its 4th inning to replace 2B Umpire Brian O'Nora, who had left shortly after the game began due to back pain.

From tmac:
Blaser umpired the AAA All-Star game in Salt Lake [on Wednesday, July 13] and was not scheduled to work another game until Friday [July 15] so he WAS sitting at home. When O'Nora got to the locker room [during the game on Thursday, July 14] and was deemed unfit to return, MLB execs called Blaser who must be able to drive very quickly (or was at the game having a beer (JOKE!)). This is a very unusual situation, as the ONLY time an umpire would be home (unless home is a city he works) would be during an all star break. I must start looking at a calender (or at least buy one).
Cubs-Pirates game ends in a tie.
Historical Note: The last tie in Major League Baseball occurred on September 30, 2016, when the evening's Cubs-Pirates game was called due to rain in the top of the 6th inning with a 2-2 score. Because that game was the last scheduled contest between the two teams for the 2016 regular season, and because the Cubs had already clinched home field advantage through the League Championship Series (best National League record...home field advantage for the 2016 World Series was decided by whichever league won the All-Star Game, the final year of MLB's 14-year "this time it counts" experiment), whereas Pittsburgh had already been eliminated from postseason contention, the game was declared final pursuant to OBR 7.02(b)(4)(B).
Related PostAnatomy of a Tie as Cubs-Pirates Game Ends in 1-1 Draw (9/30/16).

High School Rule: Under NFHS Rule 4-2-2, any game called at the end of five+ innings with the score tied shall be recorded as a "tie game," unless the state association has instituted a specific policy to address ties. As in the other codes, all individual and team statistics count for seasonal totals, but the game doesn't factor into a team's win-loss record. The NFHS umpire replacement rule is 10-1-6 ("No umpire may be replaced during a game unless he becomes ill or is injured").

Tuesday's was the final game of the Mocs-Trojans series and game time had been moved up in the day due to forecasted inclement weather later in the evening.

Wrap: Florida Southern Moccasins vs Mount Olive Trojans, 3/6/18

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Odd Position - Limits of a Legal Pitching Delivery

What exactly is a legal pitching delivery and is there a limit to what a pitcher can do on the mound?

Red Sox P Raudes brings hands over his head.
Meet Boston's Roniel Raudes, whose odd pre-pitch motion breaks the standard Windup vs Set Position rules with no runners aboard, and calls into question common conventions ordinarily associated with pitching.

The Legal Pitching Delivery Rule 5.07: Official Baseball Rule 5.07(a) identifies and describes only two pitching positions—Windup and Set—as legal, setting restrictions and penalties for misuse. To determine the legality of Raudes' ritual, in which he brings both arms above his head while knees buckle every which way, we need to figure out if Raudes is pitching out of Windup or Set Position.

The positions as described in 5.07(a)(1) and (2) are:

Simplified diagram of Windup vs Set Position.
5.07(a)(1), Windup Position: Occurs when a pitcher stands facing the batter, with the pivot foot in contact with the pitcher's plate (aka "the rubber") and the other foot free. In professional and college (NCAA) ball, the free foot can be positioned anywhere; in high school (NFHS), the free foot must be on or behind the rubber's front edge (the free foot needn't touch the rubber, but having both feet on the rubber is permissible). From here, any natural movement associated with delivery commits him to pitch to the batter without interruption or alteration. The pitcher is allowed to take one step backwards and one step forward with the free foot.

IN WINDUP POSITION, GENERALLY*: The pitcher's pivot foot is perpendicular to the rubber (⊤).

5.07(a)(2), Set Position: Occurs when a pitcher stands facing the batter with the pivot foot in contact with the pitcher's plate and the other foot entirely in front of the plate. In high school, the pivot food must be entirely inside the rubber's edges.

IN SET POSITION, GENERALLY*: The pitcher's pivot foot is parallel to the rubber (=).

SIDEBAR, BOTH POSITIONS: Pursuant to Rule 5.07(a) Comment, "The pitcher may not take a second step toward home plate with either foot or otherwise reset his pivot foot in his delivery of the pitch." Also known as the Carter Capps crow-hop, this is an illegal pitch with the bases empty, or balk with runners aboard.
Related PostCarter Capps Throws Illegal Pitch, Ejected After Hitting Ump (6/26/17).

Raudes pitches out of Set Position.
Analysis & Conclusion: Returning our attention to Boston pitcher Raudes, because his pivot foot (right foot) is oriented parallel to the rubber, it can be presumed he is in Set Position. As for his odd maneuver in bringing his hands and arms above his head BEFORE COMING SET, the rule makes no point of prohibiting the action; because no runners exist, he needn't stop once set. Key is the following section of 5.07(a)(2):
Before assuming Set Position, the pitcher may elect to make any natural preliminary motion such as that known as “the stretch.” But if he so elects, he shall come to Set Position before delivering the ball to the batter. After assuming Set Position, any natural motion associated with his delivery of the ball to the batter commits him to the pitch without alteration or interruption.
Preparatory to coming to a set position, the pitcher shall have one hand on his side; from this position he shall go to his set position as defined in Rule 5.07(a)(2) without interruption and in one continuous motion.
Therefore, Raudes' preliminary motion—a so-called extended stretch, as it were—is legal (and, oddly, "natural"), even though he is engaged and standing on the pitcher's plate throughout the move. It may be unorthodox, but as long as this preliminary motion occurs in one continuous motion, is consistently performed before every pitch (so as to be "natural") and concludes prior to entering Set Position, it is a legal play under OBR.

Usual: Perpendicular = Windup; Parallel = Set.
*SIDEBAR, Hybrid Position: As the accompanying diagram illustrates, a pivot foot at 90-degree angle to the rubber indicates Windup Position, while a pivot foot parallel to the rubber indicates Set Position...but what of a foot at a 45-degree (or so) angle?

After Dan Iassogna ejected Padres then-Manager Pat Murphy for arguing a balk call related to a hybrid stance, baseball's Rules Committee adopted 5.07(a)(2) Comment in order to address hybrid stances, noting that with a runner on base, a pitcher will be presumed to be in Set Position if the pivot foot is in contact with and parallel to the rubber, unless the pitcher notifies the umpire that he will be pitching from Windup Position.
Related Post: MLB Ejection 163: Dan Iassogna (3; Pat Murphy) (8/16/15).

A quick glance at the free foot requirement.
Thus, if any assumption or question exists, the "default" standard with runners on is to presume the pitcher is in Set Position.

It should be noted that "hybrid" is illegal in high school baseball (or, perhaps more accurately, there is no such thing as Hybrid Stance in high school), because the position of the free foot in Windup and Set Positions under this rules code are mutually exclusive; in Windup, the free foot must be on or behind the front edge of the pitcher's plate, while in Set, the free foot must be entirely in front of the front edge (the exclusivity prohibits an ambiguous "hybrid" state). In pro/college, however, the free foot in Windup is not restricted in the same way as it is in HS, so the "NFHS 'Tell'" graphic is not applicable to higher levels of baseball (OBR's change to Windup Position occurred prior to the 2007 MLB season). Hence, OBR's 2017 adoption of Rule 5.07(a)(2) Comment.
Related PostBalk - Pitcher Blown Off Mound, OBR Adopts Hybrid Rule (5/7/17).

Video as follows:

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Wanted Dead or Alive - Recording a Backswing Strikeout

Dodgers pitcher Brian Moran struck out Giants batter Andrew McCutchen Sunday afternoon on an eventual dead ball due to unintentional backswing contact that sent two stealing runners back to the bases whence they came. The following rules refresher clarifies interference vs. backswing contact, and busts a potential rule myth related to this play occurring with two strikes on the batter.

Plate Umpire Ripperger tracks the play.
With one out and two on (R1, R2) in the bottom of the 3rd inning of the Dodgers-Giants game, Giants batter McCutchen swung and missed a 3-2 pitch from Moran as baserunners R2 Joe Panik and R1 Brandon Belt attempted to advance, Dodgers catcher Yasmani Grandal's throw to third baseman Logan Forsythe arriving as Panik slid safely into the base.

With replays indicating McCutchen's follow-through made contact with Grandal during the course of his throw, HP Umpire Mark Ripperger ruled the play dead and sent the runners back to their bases of origin.

The Rule: OBR 6.03(a)(3) states, "A batter is out for illegal action when—He interferes with the catcher’s fielding or throwing by stepping out of the batter’s box or making any other movement that hinders the catcher’s play at home base."

Meanwhile, 6.03(a)(3) & (4) Comment states, "If, however, the catcher makes a play and the runner attempting to advance is put out, it is to be assumed there was no actual interference and that runner is out—not the batter...If a batter strikes at a ball and misses and swings so hard he carries the bat all the way around and, in the umpire’s judgment, unintentionally hits the catcher or the ball in back of him on the backswing, it shall be called a strike only (not interference). The ball will be dead, however, and no runner shall advance on the play."

Unlike Cutch, Travis was out.
Analysis: Plate umpire Ripperger administered this play properly. McCutchen's actions on Grandal did not cause the ball to become dead immediately, but once his throw failed to retire baserunner Panik, the ball became dead due to unintentional backswing contact.
Penalty: Runners return, batter is charged a strike (with a 3-2 count, McCutchen was out on three strikes, but NOT on interference).

As for the question of potential batter interference, McCutchen remained in the batter's box (a legal position) for the entire sequence, and, save for the bat contacting Grandal, committed no other infraction. Even though he swung and missed, he is still granted permission to stand in the batter's box through the completion of his natural swing/at-bat movement.

This is most certainly not an example of potential retired batter/runner's interference: because unintentional backswing contact is not "true" interference, this play cannot qualify for such "retired batter/runner's interference" consideration. For a related play that should clear up why backswing contact doesn't result in a runner being declared out if it's strike three on the batter, refer to the following Case Play link from 2016 concerning a 2-2 swing-and-a-miss by Red Sox batter David Ortiz. There is no "double whammy" in professional ball.
Related PostCase Play 2016-9 - A Backswing on Strike 3 [Solved] (8/26/16).
  • IMPORTANT NOTE (Baseball Rules Difference): NFHS (high school) rules does allow for a "double whammy" if the follow-through contact occurs with two strikes on the batter because, under high school rules, follow-through contact is interference. The double play isn't automatic, but it can be called if the umpire rules the interference prevented the defense from getting a second out.
  • In NCAA (college), like in MiLBUD/PBUC, "on a third strike, the ball is dead and the batter is out." Return the runners; unintentional backswing contact is not interference.
  • Finally, unintentional backswing contact is the term used in college and pro ball, while high school uses the term "follow-through interference." It does not matter whether the contact was intentional or not at the high school level; any follow-through contact between bat and catcher that hinders the catcher's further play is interference that causes the batter to be declared out (unless, for example, with less than two out, a runner stealing home is tagged out, in which case the ball remains live and interference is ignored), or, with two strikes on the batter, may subject the offense to a "double whammy" (both batter and runner declared out) if the umpire believes the interference prevented a possible double play.
  • Backswing interference in high school is a different infraction entirely and occurs when the batter's bat contacts the catcher prior to the pitcher's delivery, and results in an immediate dead ball (reset the play).
By contrast, on April 24, 2017, umpire Toby Basner riled up Toronto with a batter interference declaration in Anaheim when he ruled that Blue Jays batter Devon Travis, in stepping out of the batter's box while swinging at strike three, interfered with Angels catcher Martin Maldonado's throw (which was unsuccessful in retiring a baserunner). The key difference, naturally, is that while both McCutchen and Travis made bat contact with the respective catchers on the backswing, Travis illegally stepped out of the batter's box, as in 6.03(a)(3), whereas McCutchen remained in the box. Travis = INT (batter out, runners return); Cutch = Backswing Contact (Dead ball strike, runners return).
Related PostSorry Toronto - Batter's Interference Call Was Correct (4/24/17).

Wrap: Los Angeles Dodgers vs. San Francisco Giants (Spring Training), 3/4/18 | Video as follows: