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Sports Medley: J'accuse ...! It’s True! Nobody Knows How to Play this Game: 16 Oct 17

by Tony Medley

In last Wednesday’s fifth and final game of the series between Cleveland and the Yankees, with the Yankees leading 5-2 and two outs and a runner on first and two strikes on Cleveland batter Austin Jackson, Jackson took what umpire Jeff Nelson called the third strike. Nelson improperly called Jackson out but he did not see that New York catcher Gary Sanchez dropped the third strike (see photo) so what should have been the final out of the game giving the Yankees a 5 to 2 victory actually wasn’t. Pursuant to OBR rules 5.05 and 5.09, however, when the catcher drops a third strike the batter becomes a runner and must be tagged out or thrown out. But instead of tagging Jackson, Sanchez merely picked the ball up and ran to the mound to congratulate pitcher Aroldis Chapman, celebrating victory.

All Jackson had to do was run to first base and the game would have continued with Cleveland having two runners on base and the tying run at bat with two outs. But Jackson just walked away (which, according to the rules, constituted the putout) and the Indians conceded defeat.

Yet nobody, not the announcers, the sportswriters, the players, or the managers, has said a word about this, which says a lot about the people involved with baseball today.

I’ve written, as above, about catchers and players and managers not knowing the rules (or much of anything else). But that condemnation includes umpires, too. In the fifth inning of the fifth game of the Chicago-Washington game, the pivotal play involved both the umpire and the Washington manager being woefully ignorant of the rules.

With first base open, Washington pitcher Max Scherzer intentionally walked Jason Heyward. Javier Baez swung at three straight pitches, including a third-strike slider that slipped through catcher Matt Wieters’ legs to the backstop. Wieters was struck in the mask during Baez's backswing, but then compounded his mistake after recovering the passed ball by firing it past both first baseman and second baseman. Baez reached second, Heyward advanced to third and Russell scored on the play.

Weiters, however knew something was wrong and appealed to home plate umpire Jerry Layne, the crew chief, apparently citing interference for being hit with the bat (not accurate, see rule quoted below that parenthetically specifically rules out interference).

OBR 606 (c) says, “If a batter strikes at a ball and misses and swings so hard he carries the bat all the way around and, in the umpire’s judgment, unintentionally hits the catcher or the ball in back of him on the backswing, it shall be called a strike only (not interference). The ball will be dead, however, and no runner shall advance on the play.” (emphasis added).

Umpire Layne was as ignorant as the players generally are, and told Wieters the rule only applies when a runner is attempting to steal a base, which is nonsense. The rule cited above says nothing about “stealing a base,” and is unambiguous that the ball is dead from the moment the bat hits the catcher.

So the umpire’s ignorance was a big cause of Washington’s defeat, but the blame doesn’t lie there alone. Washington has a manager, Dusty Baker, who always looks perplexed when the camera zeroes in on him. Baseball has a long cherished rule that if a manager thinks that an umpire has made an incorrect ruling, he may play the game under protest. If the protest is upheld the game is then replayed from the time of the improper ruling. Baker made no such protest, so there’s nothing that can be done. In the end, the basic fault must be shared between two clueless men, umpire Layne and manager Baker.

These incidents just serve to confirm my long-held view (buttressed by the way they manage pitchers) that the people who play and run baseball today have no idea what they are doing and they greatly diminish the best game ever created.