Plenty of Blame to Go Around in Cards/Reds Debacle

There’s a lot of (understandable) anger and frustration in the baseball world this morning, with people still fuming and/or baffled by the way last night’s game between the St. Louis Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds ended. In case you missed it, here it is:

And here is Reds manager Bryan Price’s reaction:

You can definitely understand Price’s frustration. The umpires clearly missed a call that might have cost his team the game, and the reason instant replay exists is to get missed calls right.

Price wasn’t alone. Some big names in the baseball media had some strong feelings on Twitter:

I am a strong proponent of getting the calls right, but I’m going to play devil’s advocate on this one with three points:

1) It’s not like the umpires counted to ten and then ran off the field. According to crew chief Bill Miller, “In this situation, Bryan Price did not come up to the top step. I looked into the Cincinnati dugout and Bryan Price made no eye contact with me whatsoever. And then after 30 seconds, he finally realized somebody must have told him what had happened and we were walking off the field.” The umpires had no reason to stick around, because if they had known it was a bad call they would have made the correct call to begin with. The game ended, Miller looked at Price and saw no indication that they might want to challenge the play, so they left.

2) Price’s excuse is weak. The umpires didn’t see it, so how do they expect us to see it? Well, Bryan, for starters, the closest person in the stadium to the play was your left-fielder Adam Duvall, who did see the play clearly. “I saw it,” said Duvall. “I heard it. There’s a gap in between the sign and the fence. I wasn’t sure if it was in play or not.” This was Duvall’s ninth start in left field at Busch Stadium this season. If he doesn’t know the ground rules, either he or one of the coaching staff really dropped the ball. He should have immediately thrown his hands in the air when the ball hit the sign, which, if nothing else, would have signaled to Price and the umpires that maybe they needed to look at it.

Even beyond Duvall not knowing the rules, though, is the fact that Price waited for a call from the replay room to do anything. Bryan, the game just ended. There’s nothing left to save your challenge for. Either you or someone on your staff should have had at least a good enough view to say, “Hey, that ball hit somewhere within 10 feet of those signs. We don’t have a good view so we don’t know for sure that it should have been a ground-rule double, but heck, what have we got to lose?” Because the answer is “nothing.” There is nothing to lose by challenging there. The replay phone should never have come into play.

3) There are consequences to rules not being enforced. The rule exists that game-ending plays need to be challenged immediately (because, apparently, the writers of the rules were familiar with the “What have you got to lose, dummy?” principle we just discussed). If the umpires had come back out of the tunnel to review the play when they technically weren’t allowed to, the Cardinals would have had some pretty justifiable anger. The game was officially over when the umpires left the field; to restart it because Bryan Price happened to wake up from his nap wouldn’t be fair to the Cardinals at that point.One point that keeps popping into my head as I argue with myself over this is the George Brett pine tar game from 1983. In that case, the umpires called the rule by the book, but the league overturned it and counted Brett’s home run even though he was technically doing something illegal when he hit it. It seems like the Yankees probably had pretty good grounds for being really upset about that ruling.

But here’s the difference: The rule Brett was breaking had been effectively deemed unenforceable due to that fact that players broke it all the time but were never called for it. It’s the same concept of Chase Utley’s dropped suspension from last year — MLB realized they couldn’t enforce a rule they had never enforced before, and in both cases, they just changed the rules instead.

This is the first time a game has ended because a manager was too slow to challenge a game-ending call. How do we know it was the first time? BECAUSE THE INTERNET EXPLODED WHEN IT HAPPENED! There’s no unenforced precedent to fall back on here.

I’m not saying the result was right. I’m saying the result was the only thing it could be given the existing rules and Price’s blunder.

That said, the rule should be changed immediately. I don’t know what the rule should be — do the umpires have to wait until the manager has actually spoken the words, “I, Bryan Price, being of somewhat sound mind and body, do hereby decline my right to challenge this game-ending call even though there is literally no downside to doing so”? Well, maybe not quite so specific in the wording, but something like that might work. Rather than taking no eye contact as an indication of no challenge, maybe the umpires should be required to make eye contact with the losing manager and get a thumbs up or thumbs down signal. I don’t know, but obviously if the goal is to get calls right and an important game ends on a call that is clearly wrong, the rules should strongly lean towards making it unlikely that they won’t correct the call due to a technicality.

Beyond that, I guess the only other solution is for outfielders to know the rules and managers to watch the game. Even when they’re just playing out the string of an awful season.

UPDATE: Based on some comments on social media, two quick clarifications:

  1. Clearly, the umpires got the call wrong on the field, and that is a big problem. It has been suggested that perhaps the umpires are erring on the side of keeping the play running, knowing that it’s easier to send a runner back to a base than to guess where he might have ended up had they not blown the call dead. In this case, had the umpires called a ground-rule double and then replay showed that it wasn’t, they would have faced the impossible decision of whether to end the game by awarding the run to the Cardinals or to stop Matt Carpenter at third base anyway. If there was any inkling of “I’ll make the safe call and trust replay to sort it out” in this case, there is no excuse for the umpires not huddling up to try to get the call right, which would have given Price time to wake up, wipe the sleep from his eyes, and do his job.
  2. Just as clearly, what a stupid stadium design! Why in the world are there signs that are out of play in that location? Either make them part of the playing field or move them. It’s amazing that this doesn’t come up more often.

2 Responses

  1. comish4lif

    My only point of disagreement is on the Duvall point. If you are on the field, and the ball is bouncing around, you have to play it and not look for the umps to help you out. It’s different if the basball is lost in the ivy, or jammed somewhere in the wall padding, but if the ball bounces to a player, you cannot expect that player to throw his hands in the air (like he just don’t care), and let the ball bounce by him.

    Adding, I just cannot believe none of the Reds players engaged the umpire. Doesn’t arguing the play hold the umpires on the field? What was Duvall doing while the umps were looking for eye contact?

    • Jeff J. Snider

      Yeah, I didn’t necessarily mean that Duvall should have thrown his hands in the air INSTEAD of fielding the ball. As soon as the ball hits out of play, you throw your hands up. You still play the ball, but then as soon as you’ve made your throw you again throw your hands up and run to the umpire and argue your case. SOMETHING to get the point across that the ball was out of play. The only explanation here (which Duvall admitted) was that he didn’t know the ground rules.


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