By: Tyler King
For better or for worse the modern game of baseball is at war with the “interpretive play”.
There is no denying it. With the rise of instant replay and coaches challenges in most professional sports, we are witnessing the death of traditional refereeing and umpiring - the so-called “human element” of the game.
We all want the correct call to be made, but at the same time it can suck for fans like me who had worked so hard building a long list of umpire-directed heckles.
“Hey ump... is that screen in the replay booth High-Def?” You see what I mean? It’s just not the same.
Sometimes it’s tough not to miss the good old days - when a botched call meant a manager was likely getting tossed. If nothing else it was always great theatre, with all the spitting and tantrums and dirt-kicking...
But on Sunday afternoon, during a bizarre ninth inning rally by the Blue Jays, we got a rare glimpse back into that not-so-simple past - a reminder as to why there will always be a need for umpires.
Although there was no managerial tirade on this day, a play involving an umpire’s discretion had to be made.
If you saw Sunday’s game against the Houston Astros, or even caught the highlights, you’ll probably know exactly what play I’m referring to.
With one out in the ninth inning, and Jose Reyes on second after his fourth stolen base of the series, Jose Bautista hit a sky-high pop-up over the middle of the infield.
And that’s when things went wonky. (The Jays were still trailing 6-5).
After noticing that this ball would clearly be caught, Reyes sauntered back to claim his ground on the bag. But the ball took a flight straight over the head of Reyes, who ducked and covered anticipating that the pop-up could fall directly on top of him.
As Astros shortstop Jonathan Villar tried to make the catch, he collided with Reyes - still firmly planted on second - and dropped the ball.
No need to consult my book of umpire heckles. The play went in the Blue Jays’ favour.
(Oh ya... it was also somehow scored a hit for Bautista. Put that one in your pocket for a rainy day, Jose).
Reyes and Bautista were immediately called safe and, with only one out, it set up a double-steal followed by the game winning base hit by Chris Colabello.
As the walk-off mob made it’s way out into left field, most of us still hadn’t wrapped our heads around that strange pop-up.
What the heck’s the rule there?
If you’re any good at reading lips you would have seen Danny Valencia in the dugout, mouthing, “I have never seen that before.”
He definitely wasn’t the only one. Astros manager A.J. Hinch was basically out of the dugout by the time the umpire motioned “safe”.
For a moment, it looked as if Hinch might get his way.
As the umpires huddled to discuss the situation, their body language made it seem like they were at a loss, that they really didn’t know what to do.
No matter, the call stood.
“My interpretation was that [Reyes] has to make an attempt to get out of the way. He can't just hold his position," said Hinch, referring to the rule of “interference”.
After the game, Jays manager John Gibbons admitted that he would of had the same concerns as Hinch if he had been on the other side.
...“But I’m not on that side,” Gibby added.
Unsatisfied, I decided to take matters into my own hands and find out if this was some sort of divine intervention - an omen from the baseball gods atoning for all the injuries and injustices they have bestowed upon us.
Or maybe, just maybe, it was a simple case of good old-fashioned quality umpiring.
In the MLB “2015 Official Rules” book, it states on page 63:
“Rule 6.01(a) Penalty for Interference Comment (Rule 7.08(b) Comment): A runner who is adjudged to have hindered a fielder who is attempting to make a play on a batted ball is out whether it was intentional or not.”
Upon seeing that, I was ready to claim it a botched call and start offering up my prayers of thanks. But I decided to keep reading.
In the subsection directly below, it says:
“If, however, the runner has contact with a legally occupied base when he hinders the fielder, he shall not be called out unless, in the umpire’s judgment, such hindrance, whether it occurs on fair or foul territory, is intentional.”
Case closed, Mr. Hinch. It appears you were a victim of no injustice on that day, only a great and seemingly correct call by the umpiring crew.
I probably owe more than a few umps some apologies over the years. They really do get it right most of the time.
Of course, we could argue the definition of “intentional” all day long. But nowhere in that clause does it say Reyes needed to make an effort to “get out of the way”.
A friend of mine joked that it wouldn’t even have mattered if the call went against us as Colabello, who has been absolutely clutch in late inning situations this season, would have smacked a two-out two-run homer and won the game anyway.
But since I wasted all this time reading the rule book, I felt inclined to tell him:
“If the umpire declares the hindrance intentional, the following penalty shall apply: With less than two out, the umpire shall declare both the runner and batter out. With two out, the umpire shall declare the batter out.”
In other words... ball game over, Blue Jays lose.
But it was not to be (thank goodness). And the Jays go marching on...
Follow Tyler and #section108 on twitter: @tylerjoseph108