Monday, August 26, 2019

The Players Weekend Uniform Hiccup

MLB's Players Weekend was beset by a series of uniform and equipment issues that should serve as a lesson for all umpires to pay attention to one of the more neglected parts of the rulebook. When rules committees announce annual rule changes and the uniform/equipment section starts listing approved Pantone colors—Rule 3.00 in professional baseball—umpiring turns tedious. When is anyone ever going to need to know these rules and why does it matter?

Answer: Like them or hate 'em, the all-black and all-white uniforms created for the 2019 edition of MLB Players Weekend caused a notable issue with pitchers for the team wearing all white uniforms a la a cricket squad, and for customized-yet-unapproved player bats.

The reason teams don't ordinarily wear white hats is because of Official Baseball Rule 3.03(g), which states, "No part of the uniform shall include a pattern that imitates or suggests the shape of a baseball."

It's a problem for a pitcher, specifically, to wear a white hat when his release point of a white baseball often falls near his head, where the cap is worn. For this reason, MLB ordered pitchers of teams wearing white uniforms during Players Weekend to wear black hats...

...Which in turn violates Rule 3.03(a) ("All players on a team shall wear uniforms identical in color, trim and style, and all players’ uniforms shall include minimal six-inch numbers on their backs") and OBR 3.03(c) ("No player whose uniform does not conform to that of his team-mates shall be permitted to participate in a game").

Selective rules stickler and Cubs Manager Joe Maddon picked up on the "awkward" nature of having pitcher Jon Lester wear a black hat with position players wearing white, and decided "for the sake of uniformity we'd all wear the same hat. A solidarity kind of move" that also corrected an apparent League-ordered violation of Rule 3.03(a)/(c)...except that MLB shortly thereafter ordered Chicago to return to the pitcher-black, position player-white hat color scheme, effectively reinforcing a rules violation.

Welke's Bat Ejection: This is all fine and well—who really cares about uniform rules, anyway—until we consider that teams have the ability to protest a game based on an umpire's failure to enforce the rules (or for a misinterpretation of said rules).

Enter Bill Welke, who, as plate umpire at Dodger Stadium on Sunday, prohibited Yankees batter Tyler Wade from using his custom-silver-colored bat made especially for the weekend series.

Welke, who took heat from New York media for his bat-ban, enforced Rule 3.02(d), which states, "No colored bat may be used in a professional game unless approved by the Rules Committee."

Welke purportedly said Wade's silver-painted bat was "too shiny," and that makes sense. After all, if pitchers can't wear a distracting white hat, batters shouldn't swing brightly-colored bats.

Why Even Bother Enforcing the Rule? Assume Wade hits a line drive up the middle using his illegally-colored bat. Dodgers Manager Dave Roberts then protests the game, asserting that his pitcher and/or middle infielders were hindered in reading the ball off the bat due to the bat's unapproved hue, causing a fraction-of-a-second delay in reaction time, which allowed the batted ball to sneak into center field. Wade then becomes the tying/winning run, etc.

Gil's Call: Something tells me if the Rules Committee was involved in the creation of the Players Weekend uniforms, we wouldn't have seen the approval of an all-white uniform that necessitated a different (and illegal, for failure to match teammates) hat for the pitching staff. And because of this hiccup, Bill Welke receives a case of unnecessary umpiring villainy for simply enforcing a rule whose violation could have been prevented through planning.

Video as follows:

Alternate Link: The Players Weekend Uniform Violated MLB/OBR Rules (CCS)


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