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Methinks He Dost Protest Not Enough
2004-04-28 23:47
by Mike Carminati

Chula!

There was a little incident last Wednesday atóI was about to say the VetóCitizens Bank Park that I failed to comment on. It was the second game in the Marlins-Phils series last week.

The game was tied with the Phils batting in the bottom of the ninth. Armando Benitez had just entered the game and Placido Polance took his first offering down the line in left on a rope. The ball skidded four times and came to rest on at the moment of the fourth bounce at the base of the wall in left directly to the right of the 329' sign. Left fielder Jeff Conine gave chase but stopped and raised his hands to get the umps' attention. Polanco was just rounding second and continued to round the bases. Third base umpire Ed Rapuano had called a ground-rule double once Conine raised his hands.

Manager Larry "If I Only Had A Brain" Bowa protested vehemently and somehow was not ejected from the game. The ball was easily extracted by Conine after the play was dead. Apparently, the wall at the new park has a small groove at its base which is, oddly enough, the exact size, depth and height, for a baseball to get wedged. I guess it's a space to store the copious amounts of batteries thrown on the field when, say, J.D. Drew is in town. The ball was clearly visible the entire time, but Conine never made an attempt to remove it from the wall. Actually, he signaled for a GR double before he was in a position to field the ball had it caromed off the wall. It was a smart play as Polanco probably would have gotten a triple had the ball not gotten wedged.

After the discussion Bowa told the umps that he was formally protesting the game, which drew Florida manager Jack "Don't call me Trader" McKeon out of his lair, though I donít see what he possibly could have been arguing. Bowa is well within his rights to protest any game. Besides the umps were not the ones ruling on the protest. Bowa later summed up his argument in a cogent argument that was free of bleeps (wow!), "Just because he (left fielder Jeff Conine) throws his arms up, it doesn't matter. You have to play it"

Anyway, the next batter Bobby Abreu flied out to center, the Phils were eventually retired in the ninth without scoring a run, and the Marlins won, 8-7, in twelve as is their wont against the Phillies. One could argue that Abreu's fly could have plated Polanco as the winning run, had the ball not gotten stuck.

The protest was formally rejected by Bob Dupuy, of all people, this weekend. So now its officially official. However, I wanted to take a look at the Phils' ground rules to determine if a) the ump made the right call in the first place and b) if MLB should have ruled otherwise.

Here are the ground rules from the major league site:

Philadelphia Phillies - Citizens Bank Park

- Ball has to actually enter dugout area or hit the yellow bars or yellow line to be considered out of play.

- Ball entering open area above end of dugout inside yellow line is considered out of play.

- Glass areas of fence have openings at top. If ball sticks in opening it's a ground rule double. Ball off the yellow line at the top of fence is in play.

- In left and right field the stands protrude to a point near the foul lines. If ball lands in fair territory and bounces over the points and lands in the playing area, it is considered to be in the stands and ruled a ground rule double.

- A ball landing in fair territory and hitting pipe to right of right-field foul pole is in play.

Pretty sparse, eh? There's no mention of the groove at the base of the fence. However, is there a general rule that can be invoked in this case? There is rules 6.09(e) and 6.09(f), which seem to overlap a bit:

6.09(e) A fair ball, after touching the ground, bounds into the stands, or passes through, over or under a fence, or through or under a scoreboard, or through or under shrubbery, or vines on the fence, in which case the batter and the runners shall be entitled to advance two bases; (f) Any fair ball which, either before or after touching the ground, passes through or under a fence, or through or under a scoreboard, or through any opening in the fence or scoreboard, or through or under shrubbery, or vines on the fence, or which sticks in a fence or scoreboard, in which case the batter and the runners shall be entitled to two bases;

And the Lord spake, saying, "First shalt thou take out the Holy Pin. Then shalt thou count to three, no more, no less. Three shall be the number thou shalt count, and the number of the counting shall be three. Four shalt thou not count, neither count thou two, excepting that thou then proceed to three. Five is right out." (Monty Python and the Holy "Rich" Grail)

I guess it comes down to your definition of "sticks". Given that neither umpire nor the fielder was close to the ball when it got wedged in the fence, I do not see how that determination could be made. The ball was on the ground and visible. It's not like it disappeared in a wall of ivy. Nor did it get wedged in mid air.

Of course, it's a basic tenet of the game that the ump's judgment is sacrosanct. And if you need a rule for it, here's 9.02(a):

Any umpire's decision which involves judgment, such as, but not limited to, whether a batted ball is fair or foul, whether a pitch is a strike or a ball, or whether a runner is safe or out, is final. No player, manager, coach or substitute shall object to any such judgment decisions.

So could Bowa have technically protested? Let's look at that rule:

4.19 PROTESTING GAMES. Each league shall adopt rules governing procedure for protesting a game, when a manager claims that an umpire's decision is in violation of these rules. No protest shall ever be permitted on judgment decisions by the umpire. In all protested games, the decision of the League President shall be final. Even if it is held that the protested decision violated the rules, no replay of the game will be ordered unless in the opinion of the League President the violation adversely affected the protesting team's chances of winning the game. Whenever a manager protests a game because of alleged misapplication of the rules the protest will not be recognized unless the umpires are notified at the time the play under protest occurs and before the next pitch is made or a runner is retired. A protest arising on a game ending play may be filed until 12 noon the following day with the League Office.

Keep in mind that there are no league presidents anymore, but that MLB has failed to update the rule. Bowa did notify the umps before the next pitch was thrown, so he's OK there. The ruling did adversely affect the protesting team's chances, so he's OK there. However, was any rule violated by the ump? Not really. I guess if itís a judgment call, whether the ball was technically stuck or whether it was merely resting at the base of the wall. The protest was invalid and therefore, should have been rejected.

However, there are good judgment calls and there are bad judgment calls. Ask Jeffery Maier. The ball got out to left so quickly that neither Rapuano nor Conine was in a position to determine if the ball were truly stuck. And Rapuano made the call before Conine ever touched the ball. He, in fact, did not bother to touch the ball until the play was dead and Polanco had already circled the bases.

Basically, this comes down to a lazy, lousy call by the ump in a close and potentially important game and to a great appeal by a veteran player that staved off a Florida defeat. The play should stand, but Rapuano should be taken to task. The entire rule should be reexamined and better defined. Since it is easy to determine the results if the rule is applied (i.e., all runners and the batter advance two bases), play should continue until the ball is dead and then the umps should confer to get the right call. Force Conine to at least attempt to field the ball. If it is clear that he is making an honest attempt but cannot recover the ball, call a ground-rule double. If not, let the runners advance where they may. Judgment should be used for the gray area, but the judgment should be based on how the play unfolds not just the gestures of the nearest fielder.

There is one rule that should have guided Rapuano and didnít. It is 9.05. Here is the section to which I refer:

[To the umpires] Carry your rule book. It is better to consult the rules and hold up the game ten minutes to decide a knotty problem than to have a game thrown out on protest and replayed.

I know that he didnít do anything to violate the rules. But in the broader sense he didnít do all that he could to ensure the right call was made. I know it's only April, but the Marlins and Phils look like they may have a battle on their hands for the division title. I would hate to see the it come down to a one-game difference after this one.

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