Friday, June 28, 2019

Case Play 2019-4 - Turner's Slide Tackle [Solved]

When MLB adopted its bona fide slide/interference rule, baseball didn't envision a mid-base sliding tackle like that of Dodgers 3B Justin Turner against Diamondbacks SS Nick Ahmed, in the baseline between first and second base, when Ahmed attempted to tag Turner during a ground ball on the infield. This Case Play examines the relevant sliding rules for such a play—does Official Baseball Rule 6.01(j)—Sliding to Bases on Double Play Attempts—apply to slides effected more than 10 feet in front of a base?

The Play: With none out and one on (R1) in the top of the 4th inning of 6/25/19's Dodgers-Diamondbacks game, Dodgers batter Justin Verdugo hit a first-pitch slider from Diamondbacks pitcher Robbie Ray on the ground to shortstop Ahmed (playing on the right side of second base as part of a defensive shift). Ahmed fielded the ball and attempted to tag Turner while looking toward Verdugo for a potential double play at first base. Instead, Turner went into a slide, which caused Ahmed to trip and fall, and allowed Verdugo to reach first base safely.

SIDEBAR: 1B Umpire Alan Porter was patiently positioned at first base waiting for a potential play. It stands to reason that if not for Turner's early slide that tripped up fielder Ahmed, this would have likely resulted in two outs. In other words, this was a double play attempt in the making.

Turner undercuts Ahmed between the bases.
The Call: Initially ruled safe by 2B Umpire Jim Reynolds—he had deemed that Ahmed failed to tag Turner—Crew Chief Mark Wegner signaled that Replay Review had overturned the call to an out on R1 Turner as the result of Diamondbacks Manager Torey Lovullo's challenge.

Case Play Question: Was this the correct ruling, or should a double play have been awarded? If so, is this a reviewable call or would a potential interference call have to come from the umpires on the field? If video hadn't indicated that Ahmed's glove tagged Turner on the shoulder, would the proper call have been to declare all runners safe (as Reynolds ruled), Turner out, or both Turner and Verdugo out?

Answer: There are two rules-correct outcomes here. Either R1 Turner is out or both R1 Turner and BR Verdugo are out. The difference between the first and second outcome is entirely "umpire judgment."

UEFL Case Play 2019-4 Video Answer.
First and foremost, the slide interference/bona fide slide Rule 6.01(j) does not apply here because this is not a play at a base. The purpose of 6.01(j) is to protect the fielder from an illegal slide wherein the fielder attempts to tag a base with his foot to complete a force out (in the furtherance of a potential double play). That rule goes hand-in-hand with the elimination of the "neighborhood play" exemption at second base for double plays.

Here, because there is no attempted tag of a base with a foot—just of a runner with a glove—there is no 6.01(j) protection for the fielder. That makes the play not subject to review for interference (the tag/no tag issue is still reviewable), which means the only way to get a double play here is "old school" Rule 6.01(a)(6), which outlines what willful and deliberate interference is regarding a runner attempting to break up a double play.

This is a purely judgment call, and the intent of the runner shall govern. If you rule that Turner intended to interfere in order to deprive the double play, then you'd get a double play due to willful and deliberate interference. If you rule that Turner did not intend to do this, then only Turner is out.

In this sense, the rule penalizes the nefarious player while ignoring what could be deemed a reckless play by an ignorant runner. Naturally, if your league has a malicious contact clause (which MLB does not), you may deem it appropriate to consider whether the nasty slide has risen to that level.

Official Baseball Rules (OBR) Library
OBR 5.09(a)(13): "A batter is out when—A preceding runner shall, in the umpire’s judgment, intentionally interfere with a fielder who is attempting to catch a thrown ball or to throw a ball in an attempt to complete any play. The objective of this rule is to penalize the offensive team for deliberate, unwarranted, unsportsmanlike action by the runner in leaving the baseline for the obvious purpose of crashing the pivot man on a double play, rather than trying to reach the base. Obviously this is an umpire’s judgment play."
OBR 6.01(a)(6): "It is interference by a batter or a runner when—If, in the judgment of the umpire, a base runner willfully and deliberately interferes with a batted ball or a fielder in the act of fielding a batted ball with the obvious intent to break up a double play, the ball is dead. The umpire shall call the runner out for interference and also call out the batter-runner because of the action of his teammate."
OBR 6.01(j) [Sliding to Bases on Double Play Attempts]: "If a runner does not engage in a bona fide slide, and initiates (or attempts to make) contact with the fielder for the purpose of breaking up a double play, he should be called for interference under this Rule 6.01. A 'bona fide slide' for the purposes of Rule 6.01 occurs when the runner:"
OBR 6.01(j)(1): "begins his slide (i.e., makes contact with the ground) before reaching the base;"
OBR 6.01(j)(2): "is able and attempts to reach the base with his hand or foot;"
OBR 6.01(j)(3): "is able and attempts to remain on the base (except home plate) after completion of the slide; and"
OBR 6.01(j)(4): "slides within reach of the base without changing his pathway for the purpose of initiating contact with a fielder."
OBR 6.01(j): "A slide shall not be a “bona fide slide” if a runner engages in a “roll block,” or intentionally initiates (or attempts to initiate) contact with the fielder by elevating and kicking his leg above the fielder’s knee or throwing his arm or his upper body."
MLBUM 49: "If, in the judgment of the umpire, a runner willfully and deliberately interferes with a fielder attempting to catch a thrown ball or attempting to throw a ball with the obvious intent to deprive the defense of the opportunity to make a double play, the umpire shall declare the runner out for interference and shall also declare the batter-runner out for the interference of his teammate."

Video as follows:

Alternate Link: Video Answer to UEFL Case Play 2019-4 relies on umpire judgment (CCS)


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