Wednesday, May 5, 2021

What's an MLB Umpire to do About a Lineup Card Snafu

Tuesday night in Philadelphia and Seattle, two teams—Phillies and Mariners—were caught by two other teams—Brewers and Orioles—attempting to use players either not listed on the umpires' official lineup card (PHI vs MIL) or not listed on a copy of an opposing team's card (SEA vs BAL). What is the roster/substitution rule and what is the proper procedure for dealing with a player not properly listed?

Philadelphia: As the 6th inning of Tuesday's game against Milwaukee concluded, Philadelphia manager Joe Girardi went to the bullpen to bring in relief pitcher Enyel De Los Santos. As De Los Santos arrived to throw practice pitches, Brewers manager Craig Counsell called to the umpires about a potential lineup error. HP Umpire Dan Merzel met with Crew Chief and 1B Umpire Marvin Hudson, 2B Umpire Quinn Wolcott, and 3B Umpire Hunter Wendelstedt and the umpires determined that De Los Santos was not listed on the Phillies' lineup card—not as a starter and not as a substitute/bench player. The umpires ordered De Los Santos out of the game and Philadelphia brought in pitcher David Hale (who was properly listed on the lineup card as a substitute).

: Tuesday's Orioles-Mariners game began with a walk to O's leadoff batter Cedric Mullins. As soon as Mullins' at-bat concluded, Baltimore manager Brandon Hyde exited his dugout to speak with HP Umpire Lance Barrett, alleging that Seattle improperly started Sam Haggerty in left field instead of Taylor Trammell as listed on the lineup card Hyde purportedly possessed. Upon consultation with 1B Umpire Tim Timmons, 2B Umpire Carlos Torre, and 3B Umpire + Crew Chief Alfonso Marquez, the umpires deemed that the official lineup card—the version the umpires were given—properly listed Haggerty as a starter and, thus, no further action was taken.

Relevant Rules: Official Baseball Rule 4.03 (Exchange of Lineup Cards) is not just exorbitantly boring, it has been superseded by COVID protocols and technology: when lineups are locked in, they are exchanged electronically via MLB mobile app prior to the game and, thanks to this, all four umpires now carry lineup cards on the field. In 2021, there is no physical pre-game exchange of lineup cards.
However, this ceremonial exchange is important, for when it occurs, "thereafter, no substitutions shall be made by either manager except as provided in the rules" (OBR 4.03(d)).

It's Complicated: OBR 4.03(c) states, "As a courtesy, each lineup card presented to the umpire-in-chief should list the fielding positions to be played by each player in the batting order. If a designated hitter is to be used, the lineup card shall designate which hitter is to be the designated hitter. See Rule 5.11(a). As a courtesy, potential substitute players should also be listed, but the failure to list a potential substitute player shall not make such potential substitute player ineligible to enter the game."

Thus, at the professional level, simply forgetting to list a substitute would not appear to make that player ineligible to appear in the game (this is not necessarily true at all levels, for instance, NFHS/high school rules state that discovery of an illegal substitute results in restriction of that player to the bench/dugout and, if that player was on offense at the time, the player shall be called out [NFHS 3-1], also see 1-2 ["the name and shirt number of each eligible substitute should also be listed...the umpire shall not accept the lineup card until all substitutes are listed"]); however, 1-2 states there is "no penalty" for violation of this rule (effectively making it legal to add a player after the game has started).

PHI's Even More Complicated
: Notwithstanding the above, OBR 4.03(c) requires teams to additionally designate "each player eligible to play in the game as a pitcher, a position player, or a 'Two-Way Player.'" Thus, in Philadelphia, De Los Santos was not ineligible solely because he didn't appear on the lineup card as a substitute; instead, he was ineligible because the Phillies failed to designate him as a pitcher or two-way player. (Had he attempted to enter the game as an outfielder, he would likely have been deemed ineligible for Philadelphia's failure to designate him as a position or two-way player).

PHI Aftermath: De Los Santos was not permitted to pitch and a new, eligible, pitcher (Hale) was brought in. Hale was given as much time as umpires deemed necessary to warm up, pursuant to OBR 5.07(b) regarding warm-up pitches, which umpires have interpreted to apply during ejection and similar situations wherein an unexpected substitution of the pitcher occurs.

SEA This: Returning to OBR 4.03, we find that only one version of a lineup card is official: that which is submitted to umpires, ordinarily at the plate meeting, but electronically in the COVID era. Although Hyde received a lineup that seemed to indicate Trammell as starting in place of Haggerty, Hyde's version was not the official version and, thus, null and void.

Strategery: Nonetheless, by waiting until after the first pitch to bring the lineup issue to the umpires' attention, Hyde was hoping for a double whammy: he wanted Haggerty removed (and thus ineligible to re-enter, as in OBR 5.10(d) ["a player once removed from a game shall not re-enter that game...If such direction to remove the substituted for player occurs before play commences with the player improperly in the game, then the substitute player may enter the game. If such direction to remove the substituted-for player occurs after play has commenced with the substituted-for player in the game, then the substitute player shall be deemed to have been removed from the game (in addition to the removal of the substituted-for player) and shall not enter the game"]) and an unprepared Trammell ordered in to play left field.

However, because the official lineup transmitted to the umpires featured Haggerty as Seattle's starting left fielder, Hyde's strategy was all for naught.


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