Sunday, July 14, 2019

Atlantic League Overturns Umpire's Judgment Call

The Atlantic League made more baseball history by overturning an on-field judgment call, reversing HP Umpire Steve Leonardo's out call on a game-ending play at the plate following protest from the Somerset Patriots to the league office after the game. Despite Official Baseball Rule 7.04's prohibition of judgment call protests, the league ordered the Somerset Patriots and New Britain Bees to resume from the time of the reversed call.

The Patriots argue to no avail after the out call.
The Play: With two out and none on in the bottom of the 9th inning of Saturday's Bees-Patriots game in Somerset, Patriots batter Ramon Flores hit a fly ball off the wall and attempted to score on an inside-the-park home run as Bees catcher Logan Moore attempted to field second baseman Jonathan Galvez's throw. Ruled out for the third and final out of the night by HP Umpire Leonardo, replays indicate catcher Moore had dropped the ball.

Protest: With Replay Review not in use in the Atlantic League, the game ended and the Somerset Patriots appealed to the league office for intervention. Despite Official Baseball Rule 7.04, which plainly states, "No protest shall ever be permitted on judgment decisions by the umpire," the Atlantic League affirmed Somerset's complaint and ordered the game replayed from the point of interruption: Flores' run shall count and the game is resumed in the bottom of the 9th inning with the score tied at 7.

An umpire called an out on this play.
SIDEBAR: This should go without saying, but it's always good to say it. OBR's General Instructions to Umpires states, "Keep your eye everlastingly on the ball while it is in play." When it comes to an out call, the old adage of "show me the ball," although not always practical in the modern baseball environment, nonetheless carries a wise lesson. Patience is key on big plays such as a potential game-tying out/safe call at home plate with two outs in the ninth inning.

The final sentence of this instruction states it best: "Watch out for dropped balls after you have called a man out." For more on this lesson of glove-and-ball tricks—and this is where Todd Frazier's reputation precedes him, as Frazier duped 3B Umpire Mark Wegner into calling an out on a play wherein the batted ball fell into the stands—see the following related post.
Related PostReplay Rewind - Hollywood Magic at Dodger Stadium (9/5/18).

Loose ball on the ground after the out call.
Gil's Call: This is more publicity for the Atlantic League, although this too (and overruling an umpire's judgment is not one of the announced rules changes in the ALPB) opens the box to controversy. Although this out call was clearly erroneous as the catcher very clearly appeared to drop the baseball in his tag attempt, where do we draw the line in overturning on-field judgment?

HYPOTHETICAL: For instance, what if the umpire's call here was incidentally correct because the runner had actively swiped at the catcher's glove and committed interference in order to knock the ball loose? In other words, what if the umpire called the runner out on the tag—an objectively incorrect call—but nonetheless got the call correct because of interference that went undetected?

A-Rod swipes at Arroyo's glove in 2004.
In Game 6 of the 2004 American League Championship Series, Yankees batter Alex Rodriguez was ruled safe by 1B Umpire Randy Marsh on a play at first base. After consultation with HP Umpire Joe West, the call was changed to "out" due to interference, as replays indicate that Rodriguez appeared to swat at Red Sox pitcher Bronson Arroyo's glove, causing the ball to come loose.

It's sometimes helpful to use extremely clear and extreme examples such as A-Rod's 2004 ALCS interfering swipe to illustrate concepts, as generally, most controversial decisions on a baseball field involve plays which are not so obvious and much more difficult to officiate.

High schools have learned their lessons.
With Replay Review, a lengthy list of regulations and procedures govern how plays are to be examined and adjudicated in real-time. In leagues without video instant replay, and in the case of post-game judgment call protests, the process becomes significantly muddier, especially with OBR 7.04's statement that prohibits judgment call reviews. How far is too far and what is and isn't reviewable via post-game league office intervention?

Real Life Example: High schools are finding out. Whereas the New York State Association of Independent Schools (NYSAIS) in 2018 declined to intervene in a basketball game following a protest of a scoring error, the Georgia High School Association (GHSA) made a name for itself after affirming a grainier judgment call protest in baseball.
Related PostNY State Federation Dismisses HS Basketball Protest (3/27/18).
Related PostDangerous Precedent - GHSA Overturns Judgment Call (5/22/17).

After GHSA opened the door to judgment call protests, member schools began calling the association with complaints, culminating in the GHSA Board's decision to amend its bylaws so as to bar future protests based on judgment calls, following an appeal filed by the Peach County HS football team regarding a side judge's alleged error.
Related PostGHSA Amends Bylaws to Exclude Judgment Calls (12/20/17).

The aforementioned portrays the potential complications for plays of this nature, and a league which violates the rules of professional baseball in OBR 7.04 in order to right an immediate wrong without thinking of greater implications and consequences places itself in jeopardy of going the way of GHSA.

SIDEBAR: For this reason alone, Bud Selig's decision in declining to overturn Jim Joyce's out call in the Armando Galarraga imperfect game was a procedurally proper ruling. MLB obviously put into place Replay Review afterward, but at the time, there was no rules-legal recourse for reviewing such an out/safe judgment call, and it is still illegal and in conflict with the Official Baseball Rules to entertainment a protest based on a judgment call after the game.

Video as follows:

Alternate Link: Flores is ruled out at home plate to end Saturday's Bees-Pats game (SPN/CCS)


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