Last October, I wrote a piece in this space about the relationship between umpiring, the rule book, and common sense. In practice, you cannot have all three of these at one time – and when push comes to shove, it’s common sense that usually left out.
Of course I am revisiting this topic because of last night’s bottom-of-the-ninth play that almost lost the game right then and there for Atlanta and got Fredi Gonzalez ejected. Once again, common sense was jettisoned.
First off, here is the play, in all its excellently-executed glory:
This is the video link supplied by major league baseball that includes all of the wonderful stuff that ensued. I wish to point out a few things:
- The basic facts are not in dispute here. Yes: Andrelton Simmons‘ foot came off the bag at second base before he secured the ball. In fact, I’ll even include two stills on different angles, cut from the video above, to show that.
- It was mentioned both on the Braves and Mets broadcasts that Mets’ Manager Terry Collins was told by the umpires that it “was a Neighborhood Play” and therefore not subject to review.
- Something Collins said therefore (obviously) changed the minds of the umpires and convinced them that they should perform a review. If logic were to prevail – and frankly, doubt that it does here – then there would have to be something else about the play to have the umpires accept Collins’ premise that it wasn’t a “Neighborhood Play”.
- You can hear the Mets announcers declare “Look, [Eric] Campbell was nowhere near him; it’s not as though [Simmons] was in danger of being run over.” Balderdash. At full speed, that’s a half-second away from having your right ankle exposed to a slide… while you aren’t even facing the runner who you know to be arriving as fast as possible on a bang-bang play.
- Second basemen and shortstops are taught to get close enough, to get the ball, and to get outta harms’ way. This is normal. This is exactly why the “neighborhood play” was exempted from replay review. It’s specifically for the purpose of injury avoidance.
- Before replay, the general guideline was not that the fielder should be on the bag, or even touch the bag, but that he should be judged able to reach second base at some point when he crossed through the area.
The umpirates were sought out last night, and here was their explanation:
Umpire Mike Everitt [who was on 1st base last night]: “We reviewed the call because, in our judgment, we felt the throw took the fielder off the bag. We judged that the throw took him off the bag. [originally 2 tweets]
— David O’Brien (@ajcbraves) July 8, 2014
There is a word for that statement… let me see. Oh yeah – it’s called a lie. A knowingly false statement. Take a look at the photos above. Perfect form. A perfect chest-high throw from Chris Johnson (which is saying something). A perfect two-handed catch by Simmons. Could he have stayed on the bag? Sure he could have. But that’s not the point. The point is that Simmons does what he always should do: get out of the way of a 200 lbs. Eric Campbell barreling in on the base on which his foot extends.
Oh, by the way: Simmons was given the error (an error had to be issued) on the play. Yes, the Mets’ Official Scorer knew instinctively that that the throw had not pulled Andrelton off the bag!
Here’s another umpire comment:
Ump Tim Timmons [manning 3rd last night]: “He’s trying to complete the double play quicker. He’s trying to gain an advantage.” — David O’Brien (@ajcbraves) July 8, 2014
Are you saying this because he was gaming the system or because you’re now trying to justify your choice to declare a ‘not neighborhood play’? Either way, Tim, this was not your call to make! Sure/yes: if he made the play slower, or was otherwise delayed in getting the ball, there would be another word more suitable to describe the situation: that word being “safe”.
[Sean Barber was the umpire on 2nd base who made the original 'out' call - he was not quoted after the game.]
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood… dashed.
Even when faced with ‘neighborhood abuse’, there were more supporters than detractors of the practice. But this example from the 2013 ALCS had some people worried. But it’s also an example of the kind of things that shortstops and second basemen have been getting away with over the past several decades – without serious question or challenge.
Nonetheless, this article (from May) captured the mood of the league: “there was no real appetite to make the neighborhood play reviewable. Like ball and strike calls, it remains immune from video scrutiny.”
This quote from Tony La Russa sums the rationale up quite nicely:
“This is for safety,” said Tony La Russa, a Hall of Fame manager who was a key member of the replay committee, when asked why the neighborhood play remained protected. “Nobody wants these guys getting clobbered.”
Except now, Terry Collins appears to know the secret handshake to change decades of baseball practice, safety, and tradition. Apparently, HE owns the compromising photos of what these umps are doing in their spare time. He alone should negotiate peace in Jerusalem and he alone can unify Iraq, for he knows how to make people perform a 180° opinion turn within a matter of sixty seconds.
But according to AJC’s Dave O’Brien, Collins managed to successfully argue that since no double play was ‘possible’ at first base, then the neighborhood play ‘rule’ did not apply.
Juan Lagares beat the relay to first by about a full step, true. But again, that translates to something between 1 and 2-tenths of a second. Heck, it was closer at first base than at second. So once again, we have umpires making up the facts to suit the result – not using logic, reason, and even video evidence to influence them.
Instead a single, obviously biased manager’s opinion was sufficient.
Even the MLB is Against the Braves
Major League Baseball issued a statement after the game: “The replay regulations allow umpires to determine if they considered a play to be a neighborhood play or not, based on a variety of factors. Some of the factors they consider are the throw and if the play [sic] receiving the ball is making the turn. Umpires might consider whether it was an errant throw or if a player receiving a throw who is not at risk of contact made an effort to touch the bag.”
I cannot personally fathom how you’d view this in any light other than “neighborhood play’. Especially since that was their clear, original interpretation!
I believe Atlanta should have played the game under protest. Even though the Mets failed to score, there were profound implications: extra batters, extendeded use of a pitcher, changed scenarios, etc. Plus the Braves would now have had the chance to get a more definitive statement on the ‘neighborhood play’ and all of its ramifications… whether the protest was upheld (this almost never happens) or not.
The May article cited above quotes former ump Jim Evans – who teaches umpires – as saying that “as long as the timing is correct, players will get the call if they miss the base by a minimal margin”. I don’t think anyone can possiblly argue that last night’s play didn’t fit within the bounds of that definition… even Terry Collins.
I so much hope that a similar play comes up before the end of this series… with the Mets on the receiving end of the rule-change this time. I want Terry Collins to walk up and take the opposite side of that argument.
But then again, who knows on which side of the rule common sense and logic will fall the next time?
Or maybe Fredi Gonzalez oughta sign up for that seminar that Terry Collins is offering on persuasive speaking techniques.