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Spare the Manual and Spoil the A-RodóRodriguez Gets Slapped Back
2004-10-20 13:09
by Mike Carminati

After my initial reaction last night MLB has released a myriad of information on Slap-Gate. First, here is the text to what one article refers to as "Section 6.1 of the official rule book:"

"While contact may occur between a fielder and runner during a tag attempt, a runner is not allowed to use his hands or arms to commit an obviously malicious or unsportsmanlike act. Such as grabbing, tackling, intentionally slapping at the baseball, punching, kicking, flagrantly using his arms or forearms ... to commit an intentional act of interference unrelated to running the bases."

That clears up some of the gray area in the definition of offensive interference and it does clear up the ruling. A-Rod did "use his hands or arms". The play certainly wasn't malicious. See the Robert Fick play in the playoffs last year for that (i.e., when he hit Chicago first baseman Eric Karros with a forearm as he passed Karros, who was awaiting the throw to first). It was probably unsportsmanlike and he did "intentionally [slap] at the baseball...to commit an intentional act of interference unrelated to running the bases"

OK, so like E.G. Marshall in Twelve Angry Men, I'm finally convinced. A-Rod was out.

Since the definition of offensive interference states that if the batter-runner breaks the rule, all runners return to their original bases. That's why Jeter was back on first. Had A-Rod been on first and Jeter on second and they tried a double-steal, if A-Rod done the same thing to Bellhorn on a tag at second as he did to Arroyo, he would be out (unless the secret "rule" has provisos specifically for individual bases) and Jeter would be at whatever base he last occupied prior to the interference. If the umps judged that Jeter made it into third before the interference, he would remain there. If it were a run-down and Jeter had already scored, the interference would not have wiped the run off the board.

One last note on the "rule" itself. According to this information (thanks to Doug for the link), umpire Rich Rieker states, "On page 19 is a quote from the rulebook; and the other side, section 6.1, that's out of our umpire manual for Major League umpires." MLB does not make public this umpire manual at least not to my knowledge, nor is it referenced directly or even acknowledged in the "official" rule book that MLB publishes on its site.

I have written to MLB to get a copy of the manual or at least the full text of the rule. My initial reaction is then that every play at the plate is interference. How many plays do you see at the plate where a runner tries to jar a ball loose from the catcher with his foot, hand, arm, elbow, tuchus, or whatever other part of his anatomy he happens to have handy. Does this "rule" (or rather interpretation of a rule) apply to tags at the plate? Enquiring minds want to know!

But back to last night's play. Could he have done something that was not illegal to avoid the tag?

Well, Arroyo was running right toward him, so he couldn't merely out-run the tag.

Could he have slid? Well, he was pretty far from the bag (about five feet) and had the first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz in his way.

That brings up an interesting subject. Mientkiewicz obstructed first base ump Randy Marsh's view, leading to the initial miscall. However, could Mientkiewicz been called for obstruction? Joe Torre seems to think so, "And there was also a player on the Red Sox who was in the line that didn't have the ball, which can be an obstruction play." He is slightly biased, however.

What Mientkiewicz was doing in no-man's land is beyond me. Maybe he was providing moral support for Arroyo. He did break for the ball initially, but when Arroyo got to it first, isn't it his job to go back and cover the bag. I guess you could argue that he was there to back up Arroyo, but he clearly was standing in A-Rod's way, had he gotten past Arroyo. Most likely, it was some sort of brain cramp in the middle of action. Hey, it was a bang-bang play and no one knew what it was about for a couple of minutes anyway. I can't blame him. That said, had A-Rod been able to avoid Arroyo's tag (as well as his body), I would bet that Mientkiewicz would have been called for obstruction had A-Rod not been able to get to first safely, unintentional obstruction but obstruction all the same.

By the same token if A-Rod had avoided the tag but collided with Arroyo and then had been subsequently tagged before reaching first, the Yankees would have a good argument for obstruction. Here's the definition from the official rule book, otherwise known as, the "rule book sort of" from now on:

OBSTRUCTION is the act of a fielder who, while not in possession of the ball and not in the act of fielding the ball, impedes the progress of any runner. If a fielder is about to receive a thrown ball and if the ball is in flight directly toward and near enough to the fielder so he must occupy his position to receive the ball he may be considered "in the act of fielding a ball." It is entirely up to the judgment of the umpire as to whether a fielder is in the act of fielding a ball. After a fielder has made an attempt to field a ball and missed, he can no longer be in the "act of fielding" the ball. For example: an infielder dives at a ground ball and the ball passes him and he continues to lie on the ground and delays the progress of the runner, he very likely has obstructed the runner.

Also, Jeter would have been awarded second and A-Rod first by this sort-of rule:

7.06

When obstruction occurs, the umpire shall call or signal "Obstruction." (a) If a play is being made on the obstructed runner, or if the batter runner is obstructed before he touches first base, the ball is dead and all runners shall advance, without liability to be put out, to the bases they would have reached, in the umpire's judgment, if there had been no obstruction. The obstructed runner shall be awarded at least one base beyond the base he had last legally touched before the obstruction. Any preceding runners, forced to advance by the award of bases as the penalty for obstruction, shall advance without liability to be put out.

It's a judgment call on a play that never enfolded the way I described, but it would an even more tangled mess.

Of course, these sorts of issues are just tinker toys for Bronson Arroyo, a man who chose to have his hair in corn rows. "No, there was no doubt at all," Arroyo said. "I haven't watched the replay, but it's got to be plain as day."

A-Rod had his own take on the call. "They said I should have ran him over, kind of like a catcher," Rodriguez said. "I can't go out of my way to knock the ball out of his hand. I was perplexed by the whole situation."

"I don't know what I tried to do. I knew he was coming, and I know that the line belongs to me. Looking back, maybe I should have run him over."

Obviously, he was perplexed, even befuddled. He did apparently know enough to attempt to cover up the play. One could see him arguing after the reversal and tell by the way he recreated his arm motions that he was arguing that it was an unintentional slap from the natural motion of his running. (At least that's what he appeared to be arguing to me.)

Anyway, A-Rod's confusion points out a glaring issue here. Why is this double-secret umpire's manual not made public if it is going to be used to arbitrate in these situations in critical games? Had A-Rod or the other players even had access to the manual to know what was and what was not legal?

But is his assessment valid? Could he have bowled Arroyo over? Let's ignore the fact that Arroyo's body was still on the other side of the foul line and by running him over, A-Rod would have been called for running outside of the basepath. Let's say A-Rod hit a dribbler to first and the first baseman walked down the line in the basepath to tag him. Can A-Rod run him over if he so chooses? It's legal at home plate.

I don't see a ruling here specifically on this play, but my inclination is that it would be included in the above "malicious or unsportsmanlike act[s]". Then again, what play in the plate would not be called interference if super-secret rule 6.1 were applied on all plays.

A-Rod had one other option that has not been but should be discussed. He could have leapt over Arroyo and Mientkiewicz, a la Willie Mays Hayes (a.k.a. Wesley Snipes or was that the Omar Epps incarnation) in one of the "Major League" movies. Some would argue that for $25 M a year, he should be able to fly to first. Given that Schilling's appearance seemed more like something out of Hollywood than the Bronx, maybe in the TV movie, A-Rod will be able to fly.

At least Rodriguez learned his lesson. His assessment, "I don't want those umpires meeting any more. Every time they have a meeting, they make a call against the Yankees. No more meetings." The baseball equivalent of Frankenstein's "Fire bad!" conclusion.

One last note on interference. When Terry "Chicken Little" Francona pulled his men from the field and the storm troopers entered the field of play, what would have happened if one of the balls (one from the field, not the stands) had hit one of them? Well, to quote "Scarface", "There's an answer for that, too, Tony":

3.15

No person shall be allowed on the playing field during a game except players and coaches in uniform, managers, news photographers authorized by the home team, umpires, officers of the law in uniform and watchmen or other employees of the home club. In case of unintentional interference with play by any person herein authorized to be on the playing field (except members of the offensive team participating in the game, or a coach in the coach's box, or an umpire) the ball is alive and in play. If the interference is intentional, the ball shall be dead at the moment of the interference and the umpire shall impose such penalties as in his opinion will nullify the act of interference. NOTE: See Rule 7.11 for individuals excepted above, also see Rule 7.08 (b). The question of intentional or unintentional interference shall be decided on the basis of the person's action. For example: a bat boy, ball attendant, policeman, etc., who tries to avoid being touched by a thrown or batted ball but still is touched by the ball would be involved in unintentional interference. If, however, he kicks the ball or picks it up or pushes it, that is considered intentional interference, regardless of what his thought may have been. PLAY: Batter hits ball to shortstop, who fields ball but throws wild past first baseman. The offensive coach at first base, to avoid being hit by the ball, falls to the ground and the first baseman on his way to retrieve the wild thrown ball, runs into the coach; the batter runner finally ends up on third base. The question is asked whether the umpire should call interference on the part of the coach. This would be up to the judgment of the umpire and if the umpire felt that the coach did all he could to avoid interfering with the play, no interference need be called. If it appeared to the umpire that the coach was obviously just making it appear he was trying not to interfere, the umpire should rule interference.

Of course, this rule may be superceded by the super-dooper submanual of umpiral knowledge, that exists some in the basement of the Hall of Fame. So you never know.

I have to say that everyone overreacted to the supposed melee in the stands. Yes, there were fans throwing things, though how they got baseballs past security I'll never know. Were they foul balls not thrown back? Did anyone notice fans throwing balls onto the field at Fenway, and at least in one case from the street? By the way, when did Fenway become Wrigley? Look just because you're both old stadiums, it doesnít mean you have to abide by the same rules.

Anyway, as for security, what did they expect after two controversial plays were overturned, each time after a lengthy conference? The crowd reacted and then stopped as far as I could tell. Besides does anyone remember that in 1999, during Game 4 of the ALCS, the Fenway Faithless went berserk and throw bottles on the field after a call didn't go their way. I don't remember there being the same reaction then. And this was when the Sox were trailing 9-2 in the bottom of the ninth, with no real hope of winning the game.

All I can say is, "Sheez". We Phils fans are used to seeing games played under a constant barrage of batteries. What's a few baseballs? In Oakland and Chicago they throw cell phones. You'd think that a game played in the Bronx would have had combatants of sterner stuff.

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