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What happens to “the neighborhood play” if managers are given replay challenges?

Oct 17, 2013, 9:12 AM EDT

There was a classic neighborhood play in last night’s Sox-Tigers game. And it has me wondering about the future and instant replay.

The scene: Austin Jackson on first base, Jose Iglesias at the plate. He grounds it to Pedroia who bobbles it, then flips it to Stephen Drew at short who tries to start a double play. You can watch the play in real time at the :18 second mark here:

Note that Drew takes that throw pretty far off the second base bag. Here’s a still:


We are all familiar with calls in this situation. In order to keep shortstops and second basemen from being destroyed on close plays, umpires have routinely called base runners out as long as the middle infielder was “in the neighborhood” of the bag when he accepted the throw. Most often it’s a situation in which the fielder skids a foot across second base and takes the throw a second later.  It’s a pretty smart instance of latitude, obviously, because you do not want guys having their knees blown out as they try to ensure that the foot is on the bag in every instance.

This one, of course, was more extreme than you usually see, Indeed, it wouldn’t have surprised me a bit if the ump had called Jackson safe here because of how far off the bag was when Drew took the throw. But rather than dwell on it for purposes of this game (it happened, it’s over), I’m more interested in thinking about what could happen with this play, and all neighborhood plays, if it were to occur in a future with a replay challenge system like the one we’ve been told to expect.

If managers can challenge this play, Jim Leyland certainly comes out to challenge it, right? Why wouldn’t he?  Unlike last night where any argument he might have made about it would have been pointless, in a replay system he has a chance to get an out back.  And if there is replay on it and he did argue, the umpire clearly must rule that Jackson was safe, yes? We could probably live with that — this play was on the extreme end — so probably not too big a deal.

But now picture a more typical neighborhood play when the fielder skids his foot across the bag but takes the throw a second later. Wouldn’t a manager be wise to challenge those too? Like, every one of them? I mean, an out is valuable! Don’t umps have to call it how the replay actually shows it then? The entire point of replay to take out those fuzzy areas of umpire judgment, after all. And if neighborhood plays get challenged and outs get overturned, doesn’t that mean the end of the neighborhood play? And doesn’t that put middle infielders at greater risk of injury?

Of course it’s possible MLB could make a rule that the neighborhood play is not subject to challenge. That would be hard, though, because as it is now, there are still instances where umps do call runners safe if the neighborhood is too big. And there are plays at first base sometimes where the first basemen is given the benefit of taking his foot off the bag early in the interests of not getting stomped on.  Where do you draw the line on a matter that, historically, has been part of an umpire’s judgment and discretion?

And if MLB doesn’t say the neighborhood play is exempt from replay, how do managers approach it in real life? It’s hard for me to imagine that managers would actually challenge normal neighborhood plays as a matter of course because, man, that’d be kind of a jerk move. But sometimes one out would be critical and maybe they do? Do they challenge it in tight games but not blowouts? Late innings but not early? How does that work? And does it become a strategic tool for managers? It’ll be interesting to see.

For my part, though, “interesting” does not mean “good.” I want the umpire to maintain discretion in that situation, not have the neighborhood play become something managers can tinker with in order to gain strategic advantage. More broadly, I want umpires and umpires alone to be the ones who decide how rules are interpreted. And if we had a replay system that was instituted and run by umpires (with my preferred “fifth ump in the booth” system), they’d be able to.

With a challenge system, who knows how it’ll go?

  1. bisonaudit - Oct 17, 2013 at 11:41 AM

    Managers may not challenge all of the close ones, they’ve got middle infielders too.

    You may also see a change in the way the infielders play. A lot of times what they’re doing, especially the shortstop, is more about shortening the throw from the second baseman and then on to first than it is about safety. If they want to be safe they can keep the bag between them and the runner but that kills their momentum and puts their body on a less direct vector to first base making the throw harder.

  2. dhwjr - Oct 17, 2013 at 11:58 AM

    The 5th Umpire in the booth is EXACTLY how it should be done. Let the umpires umpire. The challenge system is silly

  3. offseasonblues - Oct 17, 2013 at 12:19 PM

    Others have already said it, but it can’t be repeated enough. This is a perfect example of why the challenge system is counter productive, and the umpire in the booth is a much better solution.

    It’s also a perfect example of where the human element is actually needed – as opposed to balls and strikes.

  4. hairpie2 - Oct 17, 2013 at 12:24 PM

    Good idea…. baseball needs to find a way to get slower.

  5. mplsjoe - Oct 17, 2013 at 12:30 PM

    Most managers will not challenge most neighbrohood plays. Culture of the game, unwritten rules and all that. Plus, they will want the call when their team is on the field. It’s the same reason most managers don’t challenge most opposing pitchers with crap on the bill of their caps or on their arms. They want their pitchers to be able to use the same crap.

    That said – BS. The neighborhood play should be aboloished. Of the fielder is off the base when he recieves the ball, the runner is safe. Leaving that call to the discretion of the umpire gets results like we saw last night, and gets no consistency. Change the rule if you want – officially make it an umpire judgment call, which I would not support – or enforce the rule as written.

  6. wordyduke - Oct 17, 2013 at 1:29 PM

    This particular play “evened out,” as Jose Iglesias was called “safe” at first base despite probably getting to the bag a millisecond after Drew’s throw.

    If would have been a great injustice to the Tigers if the “neighborhood play” had allowed the Red Sox to get a double play to which they were not entitled.

    • jm91rs - Oct 17, 2013 at 1:51 PM

      I thought it looked like he beat that throw too. Should have been no outs on that play.

    • newlydead - Oct 17, 2013 at 1:58 PM

      in the replays it looked like he beat the throw to first

    • dtownbeatdown - Oct 17, 2013 at 5:22 PM

      I agree it was evened out. But Jackson being called out could of hurt Tigers in the long run because he wouls have scored that inning. Luckily for Tigers fans Boston didnt come back. But 1 run or mistake by the umps in this series could be huge for obvious reasons.

  7. nobody78 - Oct 17, 2013 at 1:36 PM

    Maybe they’ll start preventing the baserunner from slamming into the shortstop or second baseman so hard he risks injury.

  8. jm91rs - Oct 17, 2013 at 1:52 PM

    Is there a reason a guy going in with his arms up and head up so high shouldn’t get a ball to the face? He’s trying to make the throw hard by blocking it, might as well let him block it by hitting him in the face or arm. I bet if it hits his arm the interference would be more obvious and they might get the automatic double play.

  9. thesportsjudge - Oct 17, 2013 at 1:57 PM

    IF they allow this, allow 1 challenge per GAME…including extra innings. This way, the weight of the situation will be factored in to the managers decision.

    • bleedgreen - Oct 17, 2013 at 3:27 PM

      The thing is, you shouldn’t lose your challenge if you’re deemed right. Why should your team be punished for making the Umps get the right call? Just like in football, you should keep your flags if you’re correct on your challenge?

      • umrguy42 - Oct 17, 2013 at 5:10 PM

        Well, that’s not exactly how the NFL does it – you get 2 challenges in regulation, and if you use both AND win both, you get 1 extra (also for use in regulation – all reviews in OT are booth reviews).

      • bleedgreen - Oct 18, 2013 at 8:31 AM

        i know how the NFL does it, I was just saying that I dont think that thats how it SHOULD work. Why should you not be able to force the refs to get it right if you’re correct?

      • thesportsjudge - Oct 17, 2013 at 7:23 PM

        True. Good call mate.

  10. temporarilyexiled - Oct 17, 2013 at 2:33 PM

    Multiple-part answer (no doubt some of which is bullshit):

    Middle infielders start receiving bonus hazard pay.

    Offense gets a now-needed boost.

    Runners better keep on their batting helmets.

    Umpires have more chances to screw up and then be shown up, not necessarily leading to better results.

    Right and wrong way to take out a play becomes more of a focus, leading to (see above) results.

    More reasons to throw that flag…goggles now become mandatory.

  11. cktai - Oct 17, 2013 at 3:27 PM

    Baseball was years ahead of its time. Why use the oldfashioned touching of the base when you can wirelessly transmit the presence of the baseball in your glove using near-field communication?

  12. bh192012 - Oct 17, 2013 at 4:27 PM

    Makes me wonder when a manager will get the call overturned for sliding past 2nd base or some other obvious gross take out attempt.

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