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The umps deny that there is an unwritten rulebook

Oct 19, 2009, 8:25 AM EDT

In the wake of the Erick Aybar play on Saturday night, an article in today’s New York Times attempts to debunk the notion that there are any unwritten rules:

But as often as Major League Baseball umpires have been caught
making the wrong calls this October, Layne’s call could help eradicate
the notion that umpires make certain calls according to historical
precedent, and not what actually happened on the field.

instance, there is no such thing as tie goes to the runner. And pitches
are not strikes if they go over the so-called “black” part of the plate
for the simple reason that there is no black part of the plate in Major
League Baseball.

And umpires do not give credit to a fielder for
making a good throw, [MLB’s VP of umpiring Mike] Port said. If a tag is not made before the runner
hits the bag, then the umpire is supposed to call him safe.

The gist of the article is that if any of those plays are called, it’s simply a matter of the umpire getting the play wrong, not a matter of umps enforcing rules from some unwritten rule book or based on tradition or whatever.

I won’t deny that they’re technically wrong calls, but we see those plays called all the time, right? I mean, the assertion that “there is no such thing” as balls on the black being strikes or the neighborhood play runs counter to our obvious experience watching games.  In light of that, one of two things has to be the case: (a) there really is an unwritten rulebook; or (b) umpires get way more calls wrong than they’ll ever admit to because, like I said, we see that stuff called every single day.

So here’s the question I’d really like to see answered by umpire czar Mike Post, who is quoted in the article: are umpires disciplined or deducted points in evaluations or whatever when they call an out on the neighborhood play? Or when they call a consistent but technically wrong strike zone? I have this feeling that they aren’t or, at the very least, that “we’ve been calling it that way for 100 years” is viewed as an acceptable defense when umps are being graded and evaluated by their bosses.

If so, then there truly is an unwritten rulebook in practice.  Which may or may not be a good thing (I’m split on some of these things), but it certainly means the linked article is more of a propaganda piece than anything else.

  1. Orlando - Oct 19, 2009 at 9:03 AM

    The inconsistency in the length of the players’ trousers is driving me mad.

  2. Orlando - Oct 19, 2009 at 9:04 AM

    The inconsistency in the length of the players’ trousers is driving me mad.

  3. whoman69 - Oct 19, 2009 at 9:04 AM

    Laughable. If they want to make this claim they don’t give a neighborhood play or add a few inches to the outside corner of the strike zone then they’re totally inept. They want to make that claim then the ump missed the call several times and got it right once.

  4. Phil - Oct 19, 2009 at 9:13 AM

    Saw a Mickey Mantle at bat in a World Series game on a vintage TV broadcast recently. On a six or eight pitch at bat, Mantle never once left his stance in the batter’s box. What a novel approach. I think umpires already have the latitude to stop the between-pitch stolls. I guess they enjoy the break.
    And, yes, he knew how to wear his uniform trousers – as did everyone else in the game.

  5. Randy - Oct 19, 2009 at 10:56 AM

    Manny looks like he’s wearing pajamas.

  6. Omega - Oct 19, 2009 at 11:13 AM

    No wonder the umps have such a tough job and make bad calls all the time. They have to read and memorize a book of rules which was never written…

  7. JimC - Oct 19, 2009 at 11:35 AM

    I agree Orlando- todays players don’t even know how to wear a baseball uniform. ESPN has a channel that plays old games from the 60’s and 70’s- there were no sloppy dressers on those teams- it wasn’t tolerated- but they didn’t take steroids or other drugs that seem to have the side effect of making users anti-social.

  8. Marty Foster - Oct 19, 2009 at 11:49 AM

    And umpires do not give credit to a fielder for making a good throw, [MLB’s VP of umpiring Mike] Port said. If a tag is not made before the runner hits the bag, then the umpire is supposed to call him safe.

    Oops! Sorry Mr. Jeter 😦

  9. Church of the Perpetually Outraged - Oct 19, 2009 at 11:52 AM

    but they didn’t take steroids or other drugs that seem to have the side effect of making users anti-social.

    Take off the tinfoil hat and stop making ad hominem attacks.

  10. Steve Stein - Oct 19, 2009 at 1:07 PM

    Craig, notwithstanding the substance of your post, I’m wondering – Have you ever called balls and strikes in games at any level of baseball at all? I have (though I don’t have any umpiring training), and I found it to be surprisingly difficult. Yes, I know that’s what the umps are paid for, but I bet it’s rare that the home plate umpire gets every call right.

  11. ToddInVA - Oct 19, 2009 at 1:16 PM

    I’ve got to take exception with Aybar’s “no such thing as a tie goes to the runner” sentence; it’s in the written rule book, fer cryin’ out loud.
    Rule 6.05j – The batter is out when… After a third strike or after he hits a fair ball, he or first base is tagged before he
    touches first base;
    Rule 7.08e – The runner is out when… He fails to reach the next base before a fielder tags him or the base, after he has been
    forced to advance by reason of the batter becoming a runner.
    If either the batter or runner reach base simultaneously with the ball on a force play, then by definition the base was not tagged *before* the runner touched it, and so by rule the batter/runner is safe, meaning that ties do go to the runner.

  12. Hojo - Oct 19, 2009 at 1:33 PM

    I agree. I umpired Little League Baseball for three years and it was one of the most difficult jobs I have had. That’s why I try not to criticize umpires for making mistakes, simply because I have probably made the exact same mistake before. Umpires are only human, after all, and if someone thinks they can do better, what’s stopping them from umpiring somewhere themselves? Plenty of youth and adult leagues are always in need of them.
    Craig is also right that these calls happen every day. They just tend to stand out more in the playoffs because of the massive scale of the games.

  13. Craig Calcaterra - Oct 19, 2009 at 1:38 PM

    Never, Steve. And I don’t dispute for a minute that it’s a tough job. My issue is that the umps can’t have it both ways: specifically, they can’t say (or have it implied on their behalf) that they get almost every call right when the zones are all over the place and so much of that unwritten rulebook seeps into the conversation. I think that, overall, they do a good job, but if they’re going to insist that there are only right calls and wrong calls (and no gray areas implied by the unwritten rules) they have to admit that there are plenty of wrong calls made every game.

  14. John - Oct 19, 2009 at 3:00 PM

    MLB should just get rid of the umpires and simply go to the TV monitors to get it right, including balls and strikes using PitchTRAX technology. 😉
    *note – the comments above were posted in a facetious manner so calm down, don’t cry.

  15. scatterbrian - Oct 19, 2009 at 4:43 PM

    Wow, that was an awesome attempt at connecting two irrelevant things. Regardless of the fact that players from the 60s and 70s were taking drugs, don’t you think that people back then were complaining about the uniforms being too tight or whatever? Next time you can go with brevity and just say “Maaah, kids these days!”

  16. Max Hesh - Oct 19, 2009 at 5:57 PM

    Unfortunately, this article make a presumption that the writer is making the right call and not the Umpire. It is written from the perspective of an ignorant fan rather than someone who has researched the subject properly. While Umps will miss calls, fans,viewers,announcers,analysts,players,coaches & the like too often are clueless to the rules and the limitations of the 2D images that they are watching

  17. Max Hesh - Oct 19, 2009 at 6:08 PM

    MLB Umpires call the Strike Zone by the book. You just don’t know what the “book” actually is! I guarantee you do not understand the rule. Very few fans do. 2nd of all, MLB enforce the rules that the Game (Players,Coaches,Owners,Mgt) present them. MLB cant be wrong. They make the rules even if we dont like them. And I’m curious what part of the Strike Zone Rule do you believe is being misapplied?!?

  18. Stuky - Oct 19, 2009 at 10:43 PM

    HI David,
    In regards to your article below-
    I am a 38 year old baseball fan for 30+ years and still play sandlot ball and played DI baseball back in the day. How can you justify that call @ 2nd?
    If that same play happens 100 times, maybe 5 times its called? There has been a precedence set on that call. You don’t make that call in extra innings in a playoff game especially if the runner was going to be out @ first anyways.
    The best umpires are the ones that you don’t know are there. If that call is not made, NOBODY even second guesses it??
    Maybe you should do a story on Petite’s move to first? Its a balk every time, the front foot crosses the rubber and plane.
    Maybe you should do a story on umpires giving close call’s to superstars or to pitchers that are around the plate consistently. What should it matter?? Well guess what, it JUST DOES!!
    TV and HD is changing the game and its not right!!!

  19. josh - Oct 20, 2009 at 9:09 PM

    I’ve been to umpire school (Jim Evans Academy of Professional Umpiring), and we went over the neighborhood play in class. You call a runner safe if the 2nd baseman or shortstop egregiously misses the bag. It’s a safety issue otherwise.
    And tie doesn’t go to the runner. You get sent home if you say that crap at school. The rule book says a runner must beat the throw. Those rules quoted by a commenter aren’t applicable to force plays.

  20. fish oil - Jan 16, 2010 at 8:26 AM

    The cost of fish oil capsules has risen significantly. I am giving my son 2 capsules a day to help him with math. Does anybody know where I an find an cheap solution? By the way, it is great. His grade went up 2 grades after consuming fish oil capsules.

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