Friday, June 7, 2019

Replay Rewind - Fan INT & Com Clarity

Baseball's gameday communication problem exists largely because MLB umpires don't verbally communicate with fans or media during the game, the same way NFL and NHL referees have microphones to announce penalties or the way NBA officials walk over to the scorer's and media tables to explain calls.

All we have in baseball is a public address announcer's statement based on the official word accompanied by a visual mechanic—out, safe, no violation (one-hand washout/safe), score the run, waive the run, home run, base award, fair, foul ball, foul tip, hit batsman, strike, ball, obstruction, offensive interference, catcher's interference, fan interference...

...And it's such a fan interference call that brings about this edition of Replay Rewind.

Remember in 2017 when the Associated Press hinted that microphones may soon arrive for MLB umpires? That didn't happen, and instead, we got a leaked Tom Hallion "ass in the jackpot" video that MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred tried to scrub from the internet, and which a related communication with the Umpires' Union recently became the subject of an MLB inquiry related to the Angel Hernandez lawsuit.
Related PostUmpire Microphones May Arrive in MLB This Year (4/18/17).
Related PostRevisiting the Situation - Tom Hallion & Terry Collins (6/13/18).
Related PostRob Manfred is in the Jackpot - CBA Cut Hallion-Collins (6/15/18).
Related PostMLB Fight with Hernandez Evokes 20-Year-Old Feud (5/24/19).

MLB tried to hide Hallion/Collins audio.
Anywho, a UEFL fan watching Wednesday's Twins-Indians game sent me a note regarding a play in the bottom of the 5th inning after Indians batter Francisco Lindor was safe at first base due to an overthrown ball.

The Play: With none out and none on, Lindor hit a ground ball to Twins third baseman Miguel Sano, whose throw to first base sailed wide and toward the wall beyond first base, in foul territory. The ball caromed off the bottom of the wall and popped into the air, above the warning track, whereupon a fan appeared to reach over the wall—through the boundary plane separating the field of play from the spectator area—and touched the live ball.

The Call, Replay, and Confirmation: After consultation, Chief Jeff Nelson's crew awarded Lindor second base, prompting a challenge by Twins Manager Rocco Baldelli. Replay Review returned in agreement, confirming HP Umpire Laz Diaz's ruling of fan interference and second-base award for batter-runner Lindor.

Nelly's crew gets together after the play.
The Rule: This was obviously spectator interference, as the fan clearly reached over to touch the live ball, but the question is rather what happens to the runner(s)? Pursuant to Official Baseball Rule 6.01(e), "When there is spectator interference with any thrown or batted ball, the ball shall be dead at the moment of interference and the umpire shall impose such penalties as in his opinion will nullify the act of interference."

Analysis: Under this "nullify the act" principle (which also shows up in Obstruction Type 2/B situations, e.g.) the umpires must determine what would have happened had the violative act—in this case, fan interference—not occurred. Both the on-field umpires and the Replay Official determined that, had interference not occurred, Lindor would have advanced to second base, and that's why he was awarded said base.

Proper Mechanics: From an umpiring standpoint, everything was handled properly. Diaz, off-camera, declared the ball out of play in real-time, the crew convened after the play to determine that the penalty for fan interference, in order to nullify the act in this situation, would be to award the batter-runner second base, and, upon receipt of the Replay Official's verdict, Crew Chief Nelson visually indicated 1) fan interference, and 2) the batter-runner shall be placed on second base.

Not every Replay is as simple as safe or out.
Communication Problems: The problem, then, is for anyone who isn't familiar with Umpiring Sign Language (USL, ©CloseCallSports), it's not all that easy to figure out 1) what the original ruling was, 2) what exactly was replayed, and 3) what the final outcome was.

The stadium's public address announcer does announce 1) and 3)—the PA listens in for the official verbiage and then dictates this to the stadium—but this isn't too helpful for a television audience subject to broadcasters that aren't all that great with rules to begin with.

Of all replays shown of the play beyond first base, we only see one umpire—1B Umpire Roberto Ortiz—who doesn't make any call whatsoever as the ball leaves the playing field in the fan's hands.

Umpire Ortiz is the only official pictured.
To an umpire, the obvious answer is that we don't see the first base umpire make a call because that's not his call to make. In this situation, the plate umpire has boundary responsibilities, so HP Umpire Diaz, off-camera and in a much better position than any other umpire, is the one making the dead ball call. Because Diaz isn't shown on camera, it'd be very easy for the average fan to assume that the crew didn't make a call whatsoever when, in fact, Diaz did acknowledge that a live ball had died.

The broadcast acknowledged that the crew met to discuss the play, but never followed up with the umpire's ultimate pre-replay determination, all while the public address announced that the Twins were challenging the umpires' ruling that a fan had interfered with the ball.
Nelson signals review's interference finding.

After Replay Review confirmed the crew's ruling, the broadcast was confused whether the runner would be sent back to first or placed at second base, despite Nelson pointing the runner to second base.

Gil's Call: This confusion could be easy to clear up with a better communication system. As for the reluctancy to incorporate microphones, especially re: Hallion/Collins, there's a pretty significant difference between a hot mic during an ejection argument and a deliberately activated microphone during the public announcement of a ruling.

The microphones are already there.
MLB would be wise to shore up the communication issue by adopting the Nippon Professional Baseball approach to placing a microphone on field level for the umpires to use in communicating tricky rulings to the stadium—by not putting the PA microphone on the official like the NFL or NHL does, baseball would avoid a Hallion/Collins situation, while still allowing umpires to communicate with the fans. The Replay Review headsets already have microphones—just add the capability to flip a switch and broadcast to the stadium. Take Ed Hochuli or Wes McCauley out to the ballgame, and give us something like:
Minnesota has challenged the call that a spectator interfered with play and the decision to award the batter-runner second base...
And after the review:
After review, the ruling on the field has been confirmed [or, in McCauley fashion, "the ruling on the field has been...confirmed!]. The spectator reached through the plane separating the stands and playing field, and touched a live ball while it was over the playing field. This is fan interference, the penalty of which shall be to nullify the act. In other words, the penalty is to determine what would have happened had the fan not interfered and to place baserunners accordingly. In this situation, the crew deemed that had the fan not interfered, Lindor would have advanced to second base and awarded him second base in order to nullify the act. The Replay Official confirmed this ruling. Minnesota loses its challenge.
Field-adjacent microphones: a chance for umpires to regain some personality that was lost when MLB asphyxiated the American and National League offices for Y2K.

Video as follows:
Alternate Link: Replay Review confirms Laz Diaz's boundary ruling (CLE)


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