Baseball is back! That means it's time for taking tiny details WAY too seriously once again

In honor of pitchers and catchers reporting for duty to spring training, I thought I'd repost a lengthy pieceI wrote about a tiny part of the massive baseball rule book. For context, this was written after Game 1 of the 2013 World Series, in which Pete Kozma screwed up catching a softly thrown ball at second base and yet the umpire still managed to call the runner out. Of course, the other umpires overturned that bad decision, because otherwise you would still remember it as one of the worst calls in baseball history. What follows is an exhaustive, pretentious and long-winded look at the rules surrounding this incident; in other words, a perfect tribute to the begininng of the baseball season.


Here's why the umpires made the wrong decision at second base last night .... And this is why they are changing the rules It was clear to everyone watching at home. Kozma never had the ball in his glove. Full speed, on the field, just ten feet away, the ump got the call wrong. Really wrong. I've maybe never seen a more wrong out call before. Boston manager John Farrell rightly comes out to ask what could the umpire possibly be thinking. The other umpires huddle up, which Joe Torre says is a message they have for each other that the call might be wrong. Farrell continues his appeal to one of the umpires who didn’t make the call. Eventually, all of the umpires have gathered, they talk about it and reverse the call. Good work, guys. They got the call right. Why doesn't this sort of thing happen more often? Well, because it's against the rules, that's why. The rules concerning umpires are decidedly murky. Did you know that every call on a baseball field is final. Ump was right, no matter what he calls, how egregious the screw up was, no appeals. Rule: 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.” Oh, but managers can appeal. Rule 9.02(b) says they can “if there is reasonable doubt that any umpire’s decision may be in conflict with the rules.” OK, so, final, except sometimes. Usually these appeals are reserved for rules the umpire might have forgotten to enforce such as a runner going out of the basepath, interference, or another one of the more esoteric rules. Murky. Some would say the out call was a judgment call, it’s “whether the runner is safe or out,” therefore final. Others would say it’s worthy of an appeal, because the umpire had ruled that the ball had come out during the ball transfer. Therefore it should fall under the auspices of the decision being “in conflict with the rules.” I side with the latter group, because I think the rules are kind of murky specifically to allow umpires to cast a wide net. You go John Farrell. Doubt reasonably. But heres one thing the rule book isn't murky on. How that appeal goes down. Rule 9.02(b), the one that allows managers to appeal says this: “Such appeal shall be made only to the umpire who made the protested decision.” So that shot of John Farrell appealing to the home plate umpire after talking to the guy who made the call, that's Farrell breaking the rules. He can't do that. Why not? Let's move on to rule 9.02(c) for an explanation: “If a decision is appealed, the umpire making the decision may ask another umpire for information before making a final decision. No umpire shall criticize, seek to reverse or interfere with another umpire's decision unless asked to do so by the umpire making it.” It all goes back to that previous rule that all umpire decisions are final. The MLB rules don't allow for the umpires to even consider overturning a call unless the guy who made it is pretty sure he screwed it up. Joe Torre said: “When they’re going to talk about it, whether it’s overturned, the umpires sort of collapse as they did on Dana. That lets them know. That’s a sign that they have with each other.” DeMuth, the umpire that made the bad call, concurred. “I had crewmates that were giving me the signal that they were 100 percent sure that I had the wrong call.” Sorry guys. That's specifically prohibited by the rules. It’s “interfere(ing) with another umpire’s decision” before being asked to do so. The issue then is not whether or not they got the call right (they did, clearly); it becomes whether it is justifiable for the umpires to completely ignore the rules regulating appeals to get the call right. Nothing in the rule book states that one rule is more important than another. They are all given equal weight. Of course the missed out call was much more obvious, more egregious. But that turns this whole thing into a moral dilemma, not one about the rules being properly applied. Do we ignore one rule to correct a previous mistake? Do two wrongs make a right? Should we kill one guy to save five others? Overturning that call at second base isn’t about properly applying the rules of baseball, it’s about making the morally right decision, which in a game of baseball comes down to placating the most people. The Red Sox and their fans would have been outraged had the call stood. Casual fans used to replay in the NFL would be baffled. Cardinals fans may grumble this morning about what precedent it sets for the series, but can’t be too upset that their undeserved lucky break was taken away. But baseball isn’t about making people happy. If it were we’d be in the midst of a Dodgers vs. Pirates World Series. The baseball rulebook is there to make the game fair, to provide a level playing field for unbiased competition. Bad calls happen to all teams. Bad luck happens to all teams. That’s why they play seven. That’s why they play 162. The rules are there to help everything shake out the right way at the end. What happened last night pointed out a glaring hole in the rulebook. The fact that if an umpire makes a bad call only he can decide whether he blew it is stupid. It’s a bad rule. That’s why they are changing it next year. Next year. But this year, under the current rules, the umps made two bad calls. After the bad call was made at second base, the rule-breaking appeal should have been ignored. This is the same reason that, if it’s proven that Jon Lester did apply a foreign substance to the ball, the outcome of last night’s game should not be overturned. The rules state that if a player is caught applying foreign substances to a ball he should be kicked out and suspended, but what has happened in the game stands. Is that morally right? Is that fair? It doesn’t matter, it’s the rules. Certainly the MLB is happy with what happened last night at second base because it was the morally correct decision. It just wasn’t the right one.

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