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:

Thursday, October 22, 2020

In COVID Era, Wendelstedt Turns to Online Ump School

When 2020's MLB postseason began, Hunter Wendelstedt was one of only a few umpires who did not take the field. Turns out, with his foot in a boot, he physically couldn't. Instead, he wondered how to operate his umpire school in a COVID-19 world where prospective students throughout the country either might balk at the risk of in-person instruction, or, much like Hunter and the 2020 postseason, would be physically unable to travel to Ormond Beach for one reason or another, where the Wendelstedt Umpire School has been operating for decades.

In a year when MiLB Umpire Academy announced the cancellation of its January 2021 session as well as the 2021 Minor League Baseball Advanced Course due to the pandemic, the Wendelstedt School might have befallen a similar fate, now well known to countless small businesses.

But the Wendelstedt School isn't just a small business: According to the Florida Department of Education, it is a licensed independent educator, and as so many educators have done in 2020, Wendelstedt prepares to adapt to a new model of coursework: distance learning. "We have to be flexible," explains Wendelstedt, who expects his recuperation from a high ankle sprain should have him back on the field by 2021.

Enter The Wendelstedt Umpire School Online Prep Course, a five-week online program that kicks off November 28, 2020 and will reward a partial scholarship to the flagship, in-person Wendelstedt Umpire School to the student who earns the highest grade (there are nine online quizzes and a final exam).

Even ump school is going online.
As Wendelstedt prepares for this newest venture, he explains how the idea of an online program came into existence: "This idea has been something I've been thinking about for a while. We've started to use video at our banquet in order to teach the guys about some of the greats like Lee Weyer and some of the older guys who came before and paved the way. So we started putting stuff on CDs and now digital, and last year we started taping the field work as we try to adapt how we teach to the changing times. If you miss something you can watch it, and that's what this is all about. We train umpires and now we're training them in the virtual world."

Wendelstedt credits his staff with the tech savviness to undertake the new online effort. Explains Director of Online Instruction Ben Engstrand, "This course was absolutely created as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic. We believe it is our responsibility to provide umpires with as many opportunities as possible."

Harry & Hunter Wendelstedt, 1998.
Says Hunter, "This class is really for anyone who loves the game, but also wants to learn the rules the right way. Look at Laz [Diaz]. He came to school and it hasn't always been easy for him and now he's just called Game 1 of the World Series in that bubble environment which has challenges that most aren't aware of."

There will be a lot of unknowns ("We don't know anything about how the system will be next year" says Hunter), but in the coronavirus era, even umpire school must adapt.

Will it work? That's another unknown, but Hunter chalks up the new approach to his upbringing: "I've grown up around dad [former National League umpire Harry Wendelstedt] and this is what we do."

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Former MLB Umpire Derryl Cousins Dead at 74

As MLB begins its 2020 World Series, the umpiring community mourns the loss of former AL and MLB umpire Derryl Cousins, who died at the age of 74, one year after baseball lost Eric Cooper during the 2019 postseason.

Born on August 18, 1946 in Fresno, California, Cousins presided over 4,496 regular season contests, five Division Series, seven League Championship Series, three World Series, and three All-Star Games, in addition to serving as crew chief for the 2009 World Baseball Classic in Los Angeles during his 34-year major league career.

During his time officiating in the majors from 1979 through 2012, Cousins ejected 123 players, coaches, and managers, ranging from Whitey Herzog and Reggie Jackson in the 1970s and 1980s to Joe Maddon, Lou Piniella, and Tony LaRussa in the 2000s (Bobby Cox: three times).

At the time of his retirement, Cousins was the active staff leader in games worked and his umpiring partnership with Joe Brinkman still holds the record for most games officiated as crew partners in major league history (2,123 games).

Cooper, who passed away on October 20, 2019, and Cousins, whose death comes one year later, served on the same crew during the mid-2000s, when Cousins chiefed a foursome that included Angel Hernandez, Cooper, and Marty Foster.

Cousins' uniform number 13 is currently worn by umpire Todd Tichenor, who is officiating his first career World Series in 2020.

Monday, October 19, 2020

2020 MLB World Series Umpire Crew Roster

Major League Baseball announced umpire assignments for the 2020 #WorldSeries between the Los Angeles #Dodgers and Tampa Bay #Rays, featuring a crew of seven MLB umpires led by chief Bill Miller. Full roster and rotation for the Fall Classic follows.

Crew Chief Miller is indicated in bold text and by the -cc suffix, regular season crew chief Jerry Meals with an asterisk (*), interim crew chiefs Mark Carlson, Laz Diaz, and Marvin Hudson with a degree (°), and Todd Tichenor's first World Series assignments by the tag (^1st World Series^). The following crew is presented in Game 1 rotation with plate umpires for each subsequent game indicated in brackets.

Umpires in 2020 do not rotate through New York; instead, the seven-person crew features a standby/off official who does not work on the field the day prior to their plate assignment.

In this final stage of MLB's four-round postseason, as in the semifinal LCS, the rotation is as follows: RF-LF-3B-2B-1B-Off-HP, such that an umpire who begins Game 1 at first base will be off for Game 2, work behind home plate for Game 3, and move to right field for Game 4.

2020 World Series (Los Angeles Dodgers vs Tampa Bay Rays) Umpires:
HP: Laz Diaz° [Game 1 Plate] - 1 Wild Card, 7 Division Series, 3 LCS, 3rd World Series
1B: Bill Miller -cc [Game 3 Plate] - 6 Wild Card, 8 Division Series, 7 LCS, 4th World Series
2B: Chris Guccione [Game 4 Plate] - 5 Wild Card, 7 Division Series, 4 LCS, 2nd World Series
3B: Marvin Hudson° [Game 5 Plate] - 1 Wild Card, 7 Division Series, 2 LCS, 2nd World Series
LF: Jerry Meals* [Game 6 Plate] - 1 Wild Card, 9 Division Series, 2 LCS, 2nd World Series
RF: Mark Carlson° [Game 7 Plate] - 2 Wild Card, 5 Division Series, 5 LCS, 2nd World Series
7th/Off: Todd Tichenor ^1st World Series^ [Game 2 Plate] - 2 WC, 5 DS, 1 LCS, 1st World Series

Replay Officials: Adrian Johnson (Lead Replay Official) & David Rackley (Assistant).

Pursuant to UEFL Rule 4-3-c, umpires selected to appear in the World Series receive four bonus point for this appearance, while postseason crew chiefs receive an additional bonus point.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Teachable - Postseason Manny's Head Over Heels

When Tampa Bays RF Manuel Margot leaped to catch an inning-ending fly out during Game 2 of the Astros-Rays ALCS, he wasn't the only man who sprinted to make a play. Enter umpire Manny Gonzalez, fresh off his first-career ALCS plate assignment, who ran from his position as the right field umpire to officiate Margot's jump over the foul territory wall at Petco Park.

With two out and two on in the top of the 2nd inning, Astros batter George Springer hit a 1-1 sinker from Rays pitcher Charlie Morton on a fly ball to right field where outfielder Margot attempted to make a catch, diving into the spectator area while catching Springer's fly ball in flight for the third out of the inning.

Gonzalez hustles to see the play.
While our rules exercise here simply asks what would have happened had Margot completed this play with just one (or none) out and runner(s) aboard [the answer involves Rule 5.06(b)(3)(C) ("Each runner, other than the batter, may without liability to be put out, advance one base when—a fielder, after catching a fly ball, steps or falls into any out-of-play area") and, more pointedly, OBR 5.06(b)(3)(C) Comment ("If a fielder, after having made a legal catch, should step or fall into any out-of-play area, the ball is dead and each runner shall advance one base, without liability to be put out, from his last legally touched base at the time the fielder entered such out-of-play area"), the primary purpose of this Tmac's Teachable Moment is to highlight the right field (or first base during regular season) umpire's responsibility.
Manny waits before making a call.

During this play, RF Umpire Gonzalez sets himself on the right field foul line, as the first consideration is fair/foul. As Margot locates the ball and runs into foul territory, our umpire's responsibility—the determination of fair/foul almost certainly decided as the latter—shifts to catch/no catch.

When Margot tumbles over the wall and out of play, Gonzalez sprints to the corner to see fielder Margot emerge with the baseball in his glove. Satisfied as to the completed catch, Gonzalez signals the out.

Notice that Gonzalez doesn't give an "out" mechanic prior to confirming that Margot actually has the baseball. On an out-of-play boundary catch/no catch situation, regardless of zero/one/two outs, the immediate outcome is largely the same: the call will either be "out [catch]" or "foul."

Angel Hernandez called a similar play.
Both of these calls will result in "Time" and a dead there's no reason to rush the call.

Time will be out either way and waiting a few seconds to confirm the call in one's mind won't hurt the game. Find the ball and then make the call. If the catch doesn't end the inning, enforce OBR 5.06(b)(3)(C) by moving the Houston runners up a base and scoring that run from third.

In this situation, with two outs, there is no so-called penalty or remedy to prescribe, but with fewer than two outs, the call is consequential because, with a runner on third base, catch/no catch is the difference between a run scoring and a simple foul ball.

TTM sponsored by OutWestOfficials.
For instance, Angel Hernandez officiated a similar play during the 2012 Baltimore-New York ALDS at Yankee Stadium, only in that game, outfielder Nick Swisher did not catch the ball. Hernandez waited, actually leaned into the stands to look for the ball amidst the scrum of Yankees fans, and emerged with a safe call.

As the General Instructions to Umpires section of the rulebook states, "Wait until the play is completed before making any arm motion."

Video as follows: