Friday, August 12, 2022

Ask UEFL - Little League Game-Ending Fair/Foul Decision

The Little League World Series' Northwest Region Championship game between Oregon and Washington ended in extra innings after a confusing fair vs foul ball ground ball down the left field line, in which Replay Review upheld an on-field fair ball call despite the 3B Umpire signaling "foul" what happened?

Play: With one out and one on (R1) in the bottom of the 7th inning (an extra inning for Little League's regulation 6-inning game), Washington's batter hit a bounding ball on the ground toward third base. The ball passed the third base bag, untouched, and the 3B Umpire signaled "foul"; however, the play continued and the runner from first ran to home plate, scoring the winning run.

: Following review, in which the on-field call was determined to be "fair"—likely as called by the home plate umpire—the ruling stood and the winning run upheld. MLB does not allow fair/foul balls passing third base like this to be reviewed, but Little League generally qualifies more plays for review. The rule regarding conflicting umpire signals states that umpires may elect to adopt either decision, based on which one the umpire-in-chief (or crew chief, if one is designated) is correct ("If different decisions should be made on one play by different umpires..the umpire-in-chief shall determine which decision shall prevail, based on which umpire was in best position and which decision was most likely correct. Play shall proceed as if only the final decision had been made" [OBR 8.04(c)]). Because of that last sentence, U3's foul ball mechanic may be deemed inadvertent and thus ignored, despite the defense possibly stopping due to the signal.

Sidebar: The concept of "once rung, one cannot unring a bell" comes into play; in umpire philosophy, the general idea is that once a dead ball or "Time" signal is given, reversing such a signal is very difficult due to the premature killing of the play. That said, Replay Review's aim is to get the call right, even if that means reversing what in past eras may have been deemed irreversible.

Analysis: In Little League, volunteer umpires during regular season gameplay usually work in crews of one (solo games), two, or maybe three. Four-person during regional playoffs and six-person during the Little League World Series in Williamsport are not crews generally, if ever, seen at local ballparks.

As such, we review that in all configurations except for four- and six-person umpiring crews (this includes a three-person crew's alignment for a runner on first base only), the home plate umpire retains calling responsibility for all fair/foul decisions along the left field foul line, including batted balls bounding past third base.

In crews of four and six, naturally, the 3B Umpire has responsibility for all batted balls bounding past the front edge of third base, but in the one-two-three crew alignment, there is no umpire physically standing along the left field foul line, leaving that call to the plate umpire. That's likely why the plate umpire made a call.

Teachable: The key, then, is to review mechanics and responsibilities during pre-game preparation, especially when working in a crew of more umpires than is usual. That way when quick-developing close plays like this occur, the mechanics refresh will hopefully allow for proper coverage and lessen the likelihood of conflicting calls.

Video as follows:

Alternate Link: LLWS prelim tournament game ends after conflicting calls (ESPN/CCS)


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