It's almost a full twenty four hours since what was perhaps the worst call by an umpire in a big game ever, and we're still talking about it.
By the way, some would say the Don Derkinger miscall that helped the Royals win the 1985 World Series was worse. I'll agree that this was a closer play, but I think the ramifications are much more far-reaching.
I think it's finally settling in that there were two issues with the call. First was the call itself, of course. The second was Eddings calls his "mechanic" to communicate his judgment in the call.
I was pretty sure when I saw the play with the naked eye that it was a catch, and nothing has convinced me otherwise. But it was close, and if that were the extent of the damage, there are worse calls.
However, the mechanic that Eddings was inexcusable. I, along with everyone watching or participating in the game, am convinced that a punchout mechanic means, "You're out." The only person who was unsure on this point, unfortunately, was the man making the call. He made two gestures. The first was a flat hand straight out to indicate that the batter had swung. The second was the punchout.
After the game, Eddings explained that his rheumaticism was acting up, or words to that effect:
Q: Doug, the replay seemed to clearly show you called swing [arm straight out] and then out [punchout]. What was your interpretation?
Doug Eddings: My interpretation is that's my strike 3 mechanic, when it's a swinging strike. If you watch, that's what I do the whole entire game.
Actually, this is not true. On an earlier strikeout on a ball in the dirt, Eddings immediately indicated the "swung" signal. However, he did not do the punchout until the catcher tagged the batter out.
Besides, let's say that Eddings' story were true, what would the punchout indicate? The third strike was already called by the "swung" call. Why would he need the punchout for a third strike as he alleges? (Unless he thinks the players can't count.) Of course, the next thing to call is the out. That tells everyone that the third swing was caught cleanly and the play is over.
I believe that this is what Eddings was indicating when he saw Paul rush off the field. Given his angle, the best he could do was guess as to whether or not it was caught. When Paul was convinced the batter was out, so was Eddings. So he showed the punchout. But when Pierzynski turned around and ran to first, he sold Eddings on the idea that the ball bounced.
Basically, the worst part of the call was not making a call at all ore at least not one he would stand by. Eddings alludes to this in his Michael Brown-esque press conference:
Doug Eddings: I did not say "no catch." If you watch the replay, you do watch me -- as I'm making the mechanic, I'm watching Josh Paul, so I'm seeing what he's going to do. I'm looking directly at him while I'm watching Josh Paul. That's when Pierzynski ran to first base.
He admits that he made no call and just watched the play develop. It's unfortunate for Josh Paul that Pierzynski, oddly enough, was more imaginative than he was.
Yes, Paul should have tagged Pierzynski, and then the play would have been over. If for no other reason there was a waffling moron standing behind him making the call. Had Paul been given any indication that the play was not dead, I'm sure he would have tagged out Pierzynski who was in no hurry to get to firsthe even crossed the plate.
Some have tried to make Paul the scapegoat for the odd play. The umps floated a story that the ball had bounced to undercut him even further:
Q: Do you still stand by your call?
Doug Eddings: Yes, I do. We saw a couple different angles, and if you watch it, the ball changes direction, so I don't see how you guys can say it's clearly a caught ball.
Rich Reiker, umpire supervisor: We've looked at it in the truck. We've blown it up. I'm sure some of you have seen that angle. We have some technology, and Jerry Crawford saw it, also, the whole crew, and there was definitely a change in direction there. At this point I would say at best it's inconclusive. I wouldn't totally agree that the ball was caught, but there was a change in direction there that we saw and the replay is available to us We're claiming that the ball hit the ground and went into the glove.
That is like floating a story that the governor of Louisiana never called a federal emergency, when you know it's not true, though that would never happen.
They continued but were kind enough not to call him a buffoon:
Q: I'm not sure who this was directed to but I guess Doug: Isn't it customary if it's borderline that the catcher just routinely tags the guy and gets it over with?
Doug Eddings: Yes, that's why I was pretty shocked at what took place, and that was what (I was) kind of talking to Scioscia about. Josh Paul, like you said, especially if you guys have seen the replay, it was questionable.
Rich Reiker: And since Doug did not say that the batter was out, play continues, and that ball is alive.
Thanks, Rick. Make sure that you float the story that Eddings never said the word "Out" even if he punched the batter out.
If a punchout does not mean the play is over, how is the defense to know whether or not to tag the batter out? In a particularly loud play even the catcher may not be able to hear the ump if, as the seem to claim, that is their "Mechanic" for calling an out.
If it's a high fastball, that catcher had better still tag the batter out. Tag him out on every play because you never know if it'll be overturned by some idiotic ump. "Yes, it was in the glove five feet above the ground, but we saw a change in direction at the last second so it's a trap."
It's a disgrace. Up is down, dogs and cats sleeping together. There is no reality.
But let's be clear about this: It does not mean that baseball should turn to instant replay. The call itself was not the problem. Frankly, I don't care which way he calls that play. My problem is that the ump took no control of the play. He didn't make a timely call. He let one player (Paul) and then another (Pierzynski) sway his judgment.
Let's say that there was instant replay on the play and it indicated Paul had trapped the ball. Would they just let it stand after the players thought Eddings called the third out. The call itself wasn't the problem; the communication was, and instant replay can't do anything about that.
I tried to research the play via Rich Marazzi's always illuminating book, The Rules and Lore of Baseball. I found some similar plays but nothing that matched this call. However, I'll present a view of the more interesting ones here with the hope that they can shed some light on the play. And what the hey, I love this stuff:
Here's one that's very similar in that the defense started to leave the field, the catcher flipped the ball to the mound, and the runner instigated the odd play:
Tiger pitcher Earl Wilson almost circled the bases when he struck out in a game against the Twins at Minnesota on April 25, 1970.
In the seventh inning of that game, Wilson struck out for what appeared to be the final out of the inning. However, Tiger third base coach, Grover Resinger, saw that Twin catcher Paul Ratliff had trapped the ball in the dirt on the third strike. Ratliff, according to the rules, was compelled to tag Wilson or throw to first base. Instead, Ratliff rolled the ball back to the mound [Mike: This part sounds very familiar].
Most of the Twins were in the dugout when Resinger told Wilson to start running. Wilson ran and was already rounding third and beginning for home when the Twins decided to play defense. Twins outfielder Brant Alyea got the ball and threw to Leo Cardenas who was waiting at home plate along with Ratliff who decided to return. Wilson tried to get back to third, but was tagged out by Alyea who took Cardena's return throw.
So you can score that a 7-6-7 out.
Here's one again where a coach urged a player to go for first though this one occurred in a in a World Series game:
In the 1931 World Series played between the St. Louis Cardinals and Philadelphia Athletics this boner took place in the second game.
The Cardinals were leading 2-0 there were runners at first [Jimmy Dykes] and second [Jimmie Foxx, with two outs] Jimmy Moore who was at bat with the count 2-and-2, swung at a low pitch and missed it. But the ball hit in the dirt and Jimmy Wilson, the catcher, instead of tagging Moore or throwing to the first baseman fired the ball to Jake Flowers, the third baseman [what? No, Jimmy was available]. Many of the Cardinals thought that Wilson made a clean catch of the third strike and started running off the field [sound familiar?], assuming that the game had ended. However, Eddie Collins, coaching for Connie Mack, knew what had happened and yelled for Moore, who was standing at the plate, to run down to first base. Moore made it to first safely as did Dykes to second and Foxx to third.
Here's one that deals with a miscall by the ump. However, it's the opposite of yesterday's play:
The West Haven Yankees and Three Rivers Eagles met on July 25, 1973 at West Haven. It was the top of the fourth inning and Eagle right fielder Toro DeFreitas was at bat. Yank pitcher Ron Klimbowski bounced a good curve in the dirt a foot outside at home plate. DeFreitas, a free-swinging power hitter, lunged at the ball and missed.
Umpire Hal Vann signaled him out [I wonder what his mechanic was]. Yankee catcher Bill Stearns bounced into fair territory to make the throw to first base and clinch the out. Suddenly, Stearns relaxed and flipped the ball to third baseman Doug Stodgel throwing the ball around the horn. DeFreitas alertly went to first. Eagle manager Jim Snyder ran out of the dugout to Vann and, after a consultation with base umpire Fred Brocklander, Vann awarded DeFreitas first base.
Finally, this one is not all that relevant to last night's game, but it's just too interesting to pass up:
Another play involving a catcher holding a third strike happened to Nick Bremigan when umpiring a Florida State league game in 1969. The bases were loaded, with two outs and a 3-2 count on the batter. The next pitch was swung at and missed, but muffed by the catcher and wound up laying [sic] on the ground beside home plate. In this situation, the batter is allowed to try for first base, since there are two outs. The catcher retrieved the ball and as he was making his throw to first, he inadvertently stepped on home plate with his front foot while he still had possession of the ball. Although the ball wound up in right field, I had to nullify all "runs," since the catcher legally recorded the third out by stepping on home plate and forcing the runner from third, even though he had no idea what he was doing. But there is no rule that says he has to know what he's doing to execute a force playand he didn't! The offensive team didn't buy it right away, but the ruling stood.