Saturday, October 24, 2020

Was Max Muncy's Fall From 2nd Base a Legal Out?

When Dodgers batter-runner Max Muncy slid into second base during the 5th inning of Saturday's #WorldSeries game, Rays shortstop Willy Adames tagged him out, but was there an illegal force-off that 2B Umpire Mark Carlson missed? Momentum notwithstanding, should Muncy have been declared safe for the fielder's improperly forcing him off of second base?

In 2018, we reviewed a similar fielder-pushes-runner-off-base question in Anaheim, when Blue Jays infielder Devon Travis kept a tag on Anaheim's Jose Fernandez, finding an out as Fernandez momentarily lifted his left foot off of the bag. Even before that, Twins first baseman Kent Hrbek may too have pulled Braves baserunner Ron Gant off of first base during Game 2 of the 1991 World Series. What's the rule?
Related PostReplay Rewind - Runner Pushed Off Base (6/25/18).

With Official Baseball Rule 5.09(b)(4) appearing rather generic (a runner is out when "he is tagged, when the ball is alive, while off his base"), the bread and butter for this call is found in the Definition of Terms: "OVERSLIDE (or OVERSLIDING) is the act of an offensive player when his slide to a base, other than when advancing from home to first base, is with such momentum that he loses contact with the base."

Voluntary adjustment or forced off?
Even more to the point, the MLB Umpire Manual states, "If in the judgment of an umpire, a runner is pushed or forced off a base by a fielder, intentionally or unintentionally, at which the runner would have otherwise been called safe, the umpire has the authority and discretion under the circumstances to return the runner to the base he was forced off following the conclusion of the play."

Finally, this play is largely officiated, just as Carlson does here, with patience and great regard for its totality: To determine whether the "runner would have otherwise been called safe," several questions must be asked.

Has the runner's slide left him with momentum into the base? Has he proven himself to possess body control thus enabling him to undoubtedly remain on the base, if not for the fielder's actions? Did the fielder exert his own momentum onto the runner to cause the runner to break contact with the base? Would the runner have had a tough time remaining on the base without the fielder's presence? Who initiated the bulk of the contact to begin with?

Gant is vertical while Muncy is leaning.
This play between Muncy and Adames contrasts with Gant and Hrbek thusly: When Gant steps back into first base, he remains vertical and appears to arrest his momentum that would have otherwise taken him into foul territory. Muncy, however, appears to maintain a lean to the left of the base (oriented toward third base) even prior to falling into Adames' arms; he doesn't appear to be trying for third, naturally, but nonetheless portrays a center of gravity that is consistently moving away from second base without the same deceleration displayed by Gant.

The aforementioned occurs prior to the fielders' potential actions in forcing the runner off the base: In Minnesota, Hrbek pulls his glove upward while hooked underneath Gant's leg, thus causing Gant to rise off the base, all occuring after Gant demonstrated body control while remaining in an upright posture.

Meanwhile, in Arlington, Muncy is already falling toward third base prior to Adames wrapping his arms and potentially pulling backward.

For this reason—body control demonstrated by Gant and not by Muncy—it would appear that 2B Umpire Mark Carlson correctly ruled Muncy out at second base, for failing to demonstrate that he would have been unequivocally safe if not for Adames' actions.

Video as follows:

Alternate Link: Was WS Muncy-Adames Tag Play at 2B the New Gant-Hrbek? (CCS)


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