Saturday, November 3, 2018

2018 Arizona Fall League Rising Stars Game Umpires

The Arizona Fall League selected four Minor League umpires to officiate Saturday's Fall Stars Game at Surprise Stadium. The AFL umpiring staff is composed of 12 umpires from the International (IL) and Pacific Coast (PCL) Leagues.

Related Post: 2018 Arizona Fall League Umpire Roster.

HP: Adam Beck. IL.
1B: Nestor Ceja. PCL.
2B: Alex Tosi. IL, 2nd AFL, MLB Spring Training.
3B: Brennan Miller. IL.

This is Alex Tosi (photo'd sprinting, below)'s second consecutive AFL Fall Stars Game assignment.

Ed Hickox's Offseason Charity & Angel Flight

MLB umpire Ed Hickox began his offseason in a familiar scene, aboard his Grumman Traveler fixed-wing aircraft. Captain Hickox, who holds a pilot's license, has been flying charity missions for Angel Flight since 2009 and flew to Panama City to help Hurricane Michael survivors in the Florida panhandle.

The part-time seasonal (or, rather "off-seasonal") detective for the Daytona Beach Shores Police Department sure keeps busy after baseball season ends. Explained Hickox to the Daytona Beach News-Journal, "I can't stay still, I guess. I get satisfaction out of being a public servant, helping people in need."

Hickox continued by explaining that the unique schedule of a major league umpire allows him to give back to the community during the winter months, which is why he started flying Angel Flight missions a decade ago:
"In the offseason, when I have the time and the opportunity, I take a mission. I try to do at least one every offseason. Very seldom is it for relief work. Mainly it’s to help people who are sick and can’t afford to go long-distance for treatment plans. If you love flying, what better way to fly than to help someone in need? It’s a nice thing to be able to do, and I’m just fortunate to be able to do it."
Hickox unloads supplies to relief volunteers.
Photos provided to Daytona Beach NJ.
This time around, Hickox flew a 500-pound load of supplies including food and water, diapers, and medicine to Panama City, where he and several other airplanes unloaded their cargo to waiting Hurricane Michael relief personnel. In 2010, for instance, Hickox flew to Haiti after an earthquake devastated that island.

Hickox graduated from the Harry Wendelstedt school and worked his first American League game in 1990. The Florida native was one of 22 umpires to lose his job in 1999, and one of three (the others being Bob Davidson and Tom Hallion) to work his way back through the minor leagues, regaining MLB status in 2005.
Related PostWUA Rebrands as MLB Umpires Launch MLBUA (8/13/18).
Related PostPlate Meeting Podcast Episode 1 - Bob Davidson (7/17/18).

Hickox is likely better known for his character and, coincidentally enough, his law enforcement job, rather than his on-field disciplinary enforcement. Hickox had one ejection in 2018 after a four-year drought (2014).
Related PostMLB Ejection 111 - Ed Hickox (1; Ryan Tepera) (8/7/18).

Friday, November 2, 2018

Arizona Fall League Welcomes NPB (Japan) Umpires

The 2018 Arizona Fall League welcomed two umpires from Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB), who joined the MiLB umpire roster in MLB's premiere offseason development program, producing a rare six-man crew in the AFL.

Fresh off the NPB season in Japan, umpires Chikara Tsugawa and Shinji Hashimoto flew to Arizona and have been officiating with American minor league umpires in the Fall League.

For instance, the October 30 Salt River Rafters-Mesa Solar Sox game might have sported an attendance of just 615 at Sloan Park, but its umpire manpower was playoff caliber, with HP Umpire Chikara Tsugawa, 1B Umpire Jansen Visconti, 2B Umpire Nestor Ceja, 3B Umpire Dan Merzel, LF Umpire Shinji Hashimoto, and RF Umpire Brennan Miller.

This isn't the first NPB-MLB umpire collaboration nor is it Tsugawa's first international umpiring experience, either. He officiated with Ted Barrett's crew during pool play of the 2017 World Baseball Classic tournament. Tsugawa also took part in the 2014 MLB Japan All-Star Series, which featured split squads of NPB and MLB officials.
Related Post2018 Arizona Fall League Umpire Roster (10/1/18).
Related Post2017 World Baseball Classic Umpire Roster (3/6/17).
Related PostRoster: 2014 MLB Japan All-Star Series (11/11/14).

Hashimoto worked the November 2006 NPB-MLB All-Star Series at the Tokyo Dome, a partnership between the USA and Japan umpiring bodies that clearly continues into the present day.

Tsugawa and Hishimoto were crewmates during the 2018 NPB season and are now crewmates in the 2018 AFL.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

UEFL Year End Award Nominations for 2018

Award Nominations: The Umpire Ejection Fantasy League prepares to distribute its Postseason Awards to eligible umpires* who, during the past season, have demonstrated significant performances to fit the terms of one of these awards (UEFL Rule 4-4).

Link to Postseason Awards Ballot (also appears below).
a. Umpire of the Year (min. 1 / max. 1 umpire)
b. Promising Umpire of the Year (min. 1 / max. 2 umpires)
c. Honorable Umpire of the Year (min. 0 / max. 2 umpires)
d. Fill-In Umpire of the Year (min. 0 / max. 1 umpire)
e. Most Improved Umpire (min. 0 / max. 1 umpire)
f. Crew Chief of the Year (min. 0 / max. 1 umpire)
g. Best Ejection of the Year (min. 0 / max. 2 ejections) [Link: 2018 MLB Ejections (UEFL Portal)]
h. Most Disappointing Season (min. 0 / max. 1 umpire)

Click here for the complete history and list of UEFL Postseason Awards recipients.

Please take your time in consideration of an umpire for as many or as few awards as you prefer; Ballots will be accepted until 11:59 PM PT on Sunday, November 4; Awards distribution will begin Monday, November 5. To cast your ballot, complete the following voting form.
Points scale for post season awards: a. (+5); b. (+3); c. (+2); d. (+2); e. (+1); f. (+1); g. (+1); h. (-1).
*Eligible umpires are listed on the ballot for each applicable category. For instance, only umpires on the full-time staff roster and any fill-in umpire that has worked at least 115 games over the course of the season are eligible for Awards a-c, e, f and h. You may also write in an umpire if such umpire does not appear by commenting on this post. Make sure you use the phrase "Write In" so it is counted.

Triple-A Umpires with over 115 MLB games in 2018: Lentz (149), Segal (141), Whitson (141), Blakney (126).

a. Umpire of the Year: This Umpire has been the best MLB Umpire the past year, bar none. This Umpire has been more dedicated, professional, and positive than all others. This award will be given to one umpire.
b. Promising Umpire of the Year: This Umpire has been dedicated, professional, and has worked hard. Perhaps a rising star, the Promising Umpire of the Year is an umpire to keep an eye on, for an expectation of great things down the line. Formerly known as Noteworthy Umpire of the Year, this award will be given to one or two umpires.
c. Honorable Umpire of the Year: This Umpire has been the most honorable Umpire during the past year. Perhaps through Community Service, or through struggling with and overcoming his own difficulties, this Umpire has been the most personally admirable of all. This award may or may not be given to either one or two umpires.
d. Fill-In Umpire of the Year: This Umpire has been the best AAA Call-Up Umpire the past year, bar none. This Umpire has been the most dedicated, professional, and positive AAA/Non-MLB Full Time Umpire of all non-MLB Full Time Umpires. This award may or may not be given to a maximum of one umpire.
e. Most Improved Umpire of the Year: This Umpire has improved his overall performance from the previous season more noticeably than any other Umpire. Generally, this umpire has developed into a solid arbiter within the past year. This award may or may not be given to a maximum of one umpire.
f. Crew Chief of the Year: This Umpire has been the best MLB Umpire Crew Chief, the past year, bar none. This Umpire has led his crew(s) better than all others. This award will be given to one umpire.
g. Best Ejection of the Year: In the form of "Ejection 123: Umpire (1)," this award recognizes the best ejection(s) of the year. Nominated and selected due to form, mechanics, entertainment value, reason for ejection, or overall quality, the Best Ejection of the Year is awarded to one or two umpires for one or two specific ejections. The award may be given to one umpire for two separate ejections, in which case, he receives one point for each ejection.
h. Most Disappointing Season: This Umpire has demonstrated a regression in ability, and might have had a regrettable incident(s) occur in-season. The Most Disappointing Season award may or may not be given to a maximum of one umpire.

Ballot as follows:

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Twofer - Plate Umpire Ted Barrett's 18-Inning Night

Baseball is often thought of as a sport where its umpires don't have to be in peak best physical condition. From Simpsons to Seinfeld, the "fat umpire" shtick persists. And then there's Ted Barrett and his World Series crew, 18 innings spanning seven hours and 20 minutes, and umps whose very fitness contrary to the out-of-shape trope enabled these six men to get through a continuous pattern of standing, walking, jogging, running, and—oh yeah—making calls on a baseball field during the third-longest game in Major League history, and the longest postseason game of all-time.

Ted Barrett worked 18 innings behind the plate.
For home plate umpire Barrett himself, add 561 squats (without sitting) over 7:20 of game time, and on top of everything else, you have the sorest thighs in all of baseball, and a not-so-brief glimpse back at a man who used to spar with the likes of boxers George Foreman, Evander Holyfield, and Mike Tyson.

In 2017, Referee showed us that MLB has taken umpires' fitness to the next level, emphasizing several programs to keep the staff in shape and, according to MLB Umpiring Director of Medical Services Mark Letendre, change the perception surrounding the "fat and out of shape" caricature.

But especially for a plate umpire, the physical demands of 18 innings don't paint the whole picture. Barrett told the New York Times that in addition to physically having to work leg and back muscles over the course of the record-setting 440 minutes of baseball in Game 3 of the 2018 World Series, "the mental part is really tough, because you've got to concentrate. It's just complete concentration every pitch, just staying in the moment and fighting any temptation to let your mind wander."

Barrett saw 561 pitches (286 callable).
And for the Rev. Dr. officiating the ceremony known as Game 3 Friday night (you can also call him "Reverend Doctor Crew Chief"), it's a theme that he knows quite well, as his dissertation for Trinity University was entitled, "An Investigation of Faith as a Life Principle in the Lives of Major League Umpires."

Barrett explained how said faith got him through 18 innings at Dodger Stadium: "For me it’s a lot of prayer, it’s quoting verses in my head, and that just helps me stay focused, stay locked in."

Barrett's Calling for Christ ministry for professional umpires grew out of a divided channel that emanated from The Baseball Chapel in 2007, which Barrett was not in charge of. Umpires such as Josh Miller described his experience with the Chapel thusly: "From Day 1 it was uncomfortable...You have a guy coming in and preaching to you about something you don’t believe in, it throws you off mentally."

Al Clark dealt with bigotry in his journey.
Miller also said that he experienced bullying as a result of his Jewish faith. Retired AL umpire Al Clark said he experienced similar anti-Semitism—even threats that made direct reference to his religion, allegedly from Hall of Fame umpire and NL Supervisor Al Barlick—and Bruce Froemming was caught as recently as 2003 using a slur of his own.

When Barrett developed Calling for Christ to fill the void, and as he progressed in his studies into faith, Barrett made it a central point to mold the group's mission to fully embrace and welcome umpires of all walks of life and spiritualities, from atheist beliefs to religious prayer diversity and beyond. CFC grew to establish relationships with Jewish and Muslim clergy, and under Barrett's leadership is in a position to support any umpire and any faith with a key theme of inclusiveness.
Related PostAngel Hernandez, MLB, and Discrimination (Part 2) (7/13/17).

This message of personal virtue ultimately led Barrett to become the most-decorated umpire in UEFL Postseason Awards history, having earned three Crew Chief of the Year titles (2014, 16, 17), three Honorable Umpire of the Year awards (2012, 13, 14), and one (Best) Umpire of the Year trophy (2014).

All of this—and an UMPS CARE visit to Boston Children's Hospital alongside Jeff Nelson, Jim Reynolds, and Tim Timmons on the morning of Game 2—led to a historically challenging game in Los Angeles, during which Barrett logged a 96.9% plate score, actually improving over the final nine innings of the game, and missing just nine pitches on the night...which amounts to just 1.2 per hour.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Plate Meeting Podcast #7 - Call for Q's - Gary Darling announces its seventh Plate Meeting podcast episode with guest Gary Darling, a 26-year MLB umpire veteran with 3,270 regular season games, 10 Division Series, 5 LCS, and two World Series. Now's your chance to ask Gary questions about his career, including any one of his 111 ejections, UMPS CARE and charitable endeavors.

Darling began his professional umpiring career with the Northwest League in 1980, and officiated the California, Texas, and Pacific Coast Leagues before his promotion to the National League staff in 1988. He was one of the 22 umpires who lost their jobs in the 1999 mass resignation event, and was rehired to the league in 2002, alongside Bill Hohn, Bruce Dreckman, Joe West, Larry Poncino, Larry Vanover, Paul Nauert, and Sam Holbrook.

Since his return, Darling promoted to Crew Chief, officiated Division Series his first and second years back (in addition to 2005, 07, 08, 10, and 13), and worked his first World Series just a year later, in 2003 (his second World Series was in 2010).

In 2005, Umps Care was initially founded to assist retired umpires and their families in financial difficulty, but the group's mission shortly expanded and, under President Darling's leadership, UMPS CARE regularly began to run programs such as BLUE Tickets and the BLUE for Kids hospital visit event, charity golf outings, the annual online auction at, and even an UMPS CARE Charities All-Star College Scholarship award.

The Plate Meeting, a Left Field Umpire Podcast is CCS's official audio show where we talk umpiring with umpires, and discuss officiating related issues, including analysis or other conversation pertaining to plays, ejections, rules, and more.

To subscribe to The Plate Meetingvisit our page, which offers external links to popular podcast providers, such as Apple Podcasts/iTunes, Spotify, Radio Public, and, coming soon, Google Podcasts.

Be sure to follow us on Twitter 🐦 (@UmpireEjections) and like on Facebook 👍 (/UmpireEjections).

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Runner's Lane Interference - 2018 World Series Edition

A runner's lane interference no-call during Game 4 of the 2018 World Series led to a four-run Dodgers rally as HP Umpire Chad Fairchild opted against RLI when Los Angeles batter Cody Bellinger got in the way of Red Sox catcher Christian Vazquez's throw to Steve Pearce, causing the ball to veer into right field. Was this the correct ruling?

An interference no-call sparked an LA rally.
Fortunately for Boston, it's all a footnote now, as the Sox capitalized late to defeat Los Angeles and take a commanding three games-to-one Series lead.

Let's rewind the tape, consider the relevant rule and interpretation, and adjudicate the play from scratch. For good measure, we'll visit the 2014 Japan Series, where a very similar runner's lane interference play sealed the Nippon League's championship round. How about that for a postseason finale?

The Play: With one out and the bases loaded in the bottom of the 6th inning of Game 4, Dodgers batter Cody Bellinger hit a ground ball to Red Sox first baseman Steve Pearce, who threw to catcher Christian Vazquez, Dodgers baserunner R3 Enrique Hernandez out at home. After tagging home plate, Vazquez's return throw to first base sailed into foul territory near right field and allowed Dodgers baserunner R2 Justin Turner to score. With two out, ensuing batter Yasiel Puig hit a three-run home run to complete LA's four-run inning.

The Call: HP Umpire Chad Fairchild ruled Hernandez out on the force play at home and no-called the potential runner's lane interference (RLI) on batter-runner Bellinger at first.

The Rule: The relevant rule is OBR 5.09(a)(11), which states:
A batter is out for interference when—In running the last half of the distance from home base to first base, while the ball is being fielded to first base, he runs outside (to the right of) the three-foot line, or inside (to the left of) the foul line, and in the umpire’s judgment in so doing interferes with the fielder taking the throw at first base, in which case the ball is dead. [Batted ball exemption is inapplicable here]
*Important: "Fielded to" includes any ball thrown to first base, such as an F2-F3 double play try.

Rule 5.09(a)(11)'s associated comment states, "The batter-runner is permitted to exit the three-foot lane by means of a step, stride, reach or slide in the immediate vicinity of first base for the sole purpose of touching first base."

SIDEBAR (College/High School BRD): NCAA Rule 7-11-p's Approved Ruling states that, "If the batter-runner is running illegally to first base and his being outside the lane alters the throw of a fielder, hinders or alters a fielder’s opportunity to field the throw, or the batter-runner is hit by the throw that has been made in an attempt to make a play, it shall be called interference and the batter-runner is to be called out." NFHS simply puts him out for running outside the lane (8-4-1g).

Crew Chief Ted Barrett explains RLI.
Ted Talk: In 2015, Chris Welsh and Ted Barrett—possibly a pilot episode for BaseballRulesAcademy—recorded a segment about runner's lane interference. Barrett, crew chief for the 2018 World Series, explained RLI thusly: "If he's running inside [the foul] line all the way and he gets hit with a thrown ball, he's probably going to be out for interference."
Related VideoTECH TALK with Ted Barrett (FS Ohio).

Analysis: Both Wendelstedt and Evans interpretations agree with Barrett's summation, but the offending batter-runner doesn't actually have to get hit with a ball for RLI to be called. For instance, here's Wendelstedt: "A runner that is running the entire distance outside of the running lane will not be protected if he interferes with a play at first base, even if it is in his last stride or step to the base. In order to be protected, this last step must be when he first exits the running lane."

Regarding the throw, Wendelstedt writes, "The determination is not whether the throw is true, but whether it could still reasonably retire the runner."

Pearce and Bellinger tangle at first base.
Batter-Runner Not in Lane: In rewatching the video, first and foremost, we see that Bellinger runs the entire length from home plate to first base completely in fair territory and not within the runner's lane at the 45-foot mark, nor on the chalk line. Accordingly, the first criterion for RLI (BR not in the lane) is satisfied, and per the interpretation manuals, Bellinger is liable to be called for interference anywhere from the 45-foot mark until he arrives at first base, including his last stride or step (e.g., you can't exit a lane when you were never in the lane to begin with).

The Catcher's Throw: After forcing out Hernandez, F2 Vazquez throws down the line—and lane—and sets up contact between Pearce and Bellinger at first base as Pearce attempts to catch the throw while Bellinger attempts to touch first base. Because the throw arrives at the position Pearce would have tried to assume had Bellinger not interfered at about the same time that Bellinger arrived at first base, it follows that, yes, the throw could have reasonably retired the runner if not for the runner's interference with the fielder taking the throw. It would be a bang-bang play to be sure, but we're not concerned with calling anyone "safe" or "out" at this point. We're just looking for whether the throw could have reasonably retired the runner.

F3 Pearce's catch attempt is interrupted by BR.
Timing: This may mean that the umpire has to consider a fielder stretching to catch a ball in front of first base, such that RLI can actually occur in front of the bag, and before the ball physically arrives at the base itself. Just because the runner has touched first base before the ball doesn't mean he has suddenly reached a safe zone and is protected from RLI... Interference can still be called on a runner based on his actions prior to his arrival, and before the ball actually arrives at his location. Remember the golden is not a requirement for interference or obstruction, and interference can occur prior to, or in the absence of, actual contact.

Question whether the throw was reasonable.
This came up with a 2016 play (Mike Scioscia tried protesting a game because Phil Cuzzi didn't call interference...just like Alex Cora's attempted complaint on Saturday...RLI is a judgment call, cannot be challenged for Replay Review purposes, and cannot be protested). The only difference was that batter-runner Raul Mondesi quite clearly beat the throw to such a degree that it could not have "reasonably retired the runner." Because the "reasonably retire" criterion wasn't satisfied, the play was not runner's lane interference. It's not whether the runner beats the throw to the base, but whether the runner beats the throw to the fielder, who may be attempting to stretch in front of the base, and if he is illegally interfered with, RLI should be called.
Related PostAngels Protest Cuzzi RLI No-Call in Kansas City [Denied] (7/27/16).

Is slide INT a realistic possibility here?
TMAC'S TAKE: I have RLI, but there's more to this play than meets the eye—what are our responsibilities and in what order? This may be up for debate, but the first thing is our force play, then we are looking for potential slide interference—in a game of this magnitude we can't miss slide INT...or can we? Slide INT is reviewable and RLI is not... I can see exactly why Fairchild was in the spot he was and may have missed RLI and i don't fault him a bit. Whether or not your have RLI (and for the record I do), this is a bastard play based on everything you have to watch.

An illegal lane runner gets no leniency re: RLI.
Gil's Call: In real time, I too had RLI based strongly on the runner's failure to attempt to run in the lane for his entire trip down to first base. The WUM/Evans interpretations are explicit: there is to be no leniency for a runner who makes no attempt to comply with the RLI Rule 5.09(a)(11). The trickier part of the play comes in with whether the throw can reasonably retire the runner. In my estimation, it can. If Bellinger doesn't stop Pearce from reaching out, I think the fielder catches the ball, and I think he possibly catches it before the runner touches the base. I'm not considering "what happens if Bellinger is in the lane" because, as previously stated, there is to be no leniency extended to a violative batter-runner.

I'm rather a fan of this look from 1BL ext.
I'm also not thinking about "safe" or "out"—just "reasonable," and I think this play fits that bill. It's close enough, naturally, that, like tmac, I wouldn't fault a no-call, either, though I would still consider it a personal miss. Just a matter of judgment, which happens to be during the World Series.

Finally, I refer to the 2014 Japan Series (see below) vs Saturday's Game 4 RLI plays in regard to umpire positioning. In 2014, the NPB plate umpire is first base line extended and has a great view down the line at potential RLI. On Saturday, the MLB umpire is very shallow third base extended watching for slide interference (maybe?) before pivoting to the potential RLI. Like all line calls, I am a firm believer in getting on or approximately on the line/extended line in order to have the best chance at judging the play, whether or not you ultimately have RLI. That's what works for me, and quite obviously, I'm not in the major leagues, so your mileage may vary, but having to look for slide interference, a force play at home, and RLI really has a way of complicating matters.

Nippon Series ends on a similar RLI play.
Precedent/History: The 2014 Japan Series actually ended on a similar RLI play, with a champion crowned in the NPB as a result of a runner's lane interference call on an attempted double play with the bases loaded in the top of the 9th inning. Just as Bellinger did in Game 4 of the 2018 World Series, Hanshin batter Tsuyoshi Nishioka grounded into a fielder's choice at home plate. Then, as SoftBank catcher Toru Hosokawa attempted to complete the double play by throwing to first base, Nishioka tangled with SoftBank first baseman Yuki Yoshimura, resulting in a game-ending RLI ruling as umpires deemed that Nishioka interfered with Yoshimura's attempt to field a throw that could have reasonably retired him.
Related VideoRound 5 of 2014 Japan Series Ending Between Softbank and Hanshin (10/30/14)

Miller called Contreras out for RLI at first base.
In August, Bill Miller ejected Joe Maddon for arguing a correctly officiated RLI call against Cubs batter-runner Willson Contreras, who ran inside of the foul line and out of the lane on his way to first base, interfering with Nationals first baseman Matt Adam's opportunity to field pitcher Greg Holland's throw. This was a correct call because the runner was illegal the entire time down the line.
Related PostMLB Ejection 116 - Bill Miller (1; Joe Maddon) (8/10/18).

Segal rules RLI on Rangers BR Tocci.
In July, Chris Segal ejected Jeff Banister over a correctly officiated RLI sequence involving Rangers batter-runner Carlos Tocci, who advanced the entire distance from home to first in fair territory, such that the "exit" exemption of RLI did not apply and Tocci was called out for interfering with Tigers first baseman John Hick's ability to catch a throw that could have reasonably retired the runner, even though the ball hit him during his last stride to first base. Again, there is no leniency when a runner is 100% out of the lane.
Related PostMLB Ejection 090 - Chris Segal (3; Jeff Banister) (7/8/18).

Nelson calls Heyward for RLI at first base.
In 2017, Jeff Nelson called Cubs batter-runner Jayson Heyward out for runner's lane interference after Heyward was hit by a throw as he touched first base, preventing Giants first baseman Brandon Belt from fielding a throw from pitcher Matt Moore. Again, the rule has nothing to do with the runner actually touching first base or not, the only consideration, provided that the runner is illegally not within the runner's lane, is whether or not the runner's actions prevented the fielder from fielding a throw that could "reasonably retire the runner."

Video as follows: