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A strange replay in Oakland reveals a big hole in the replay rule

Jul 4, 2014, 9:04 AM EDT

Screen Shot 2014-07-04 at 9.03.24 AM Getty Images

The Oakland A’s were put in a lose-lose situation by an umpire’s call and an instant replay decision in yesterday’s game against the Blue Jays. It was a play and a call which should, if anyone is paying attention, lead to an immediate tweak to the instant replay rule.

Here’s what happened: with one out in the second inning, the Blue Jays loaded the bases against Sonny Gray and the A’s. Anthony Gose hit a grounder to A’s first baseman Nate Freiman. Freiman appeared to tag Munenori Kawasaki as he ran for second base, but umpire Vic Carapazza ruled that Freiman missed the tag and Kawasaki was safe. The play is still in motion with runners heading toward every bag. Freiman fires the ball home to catcher Steven Vogt. Vogt receives the ball and steps on home plate to get the force out of Edwin Encarnacion, who was running from third. Play ends. You can watch it all here.

Blue Jays manager John Gibbons comes out to challenge the call on the Freiman tag of Kawasaki. That is, he comes out in an effort to have his own base runner, who was called safe, called out. He does so because if Kawasaki was tagged, there was no force play in effect at home and Encarnacion needed to have been tagged, rather than forced out. After a four minute+ review, it is ruled that, yes, Kawasaki was tagged and that Encarnacion, since he was not tagged, was safe at home. A run was awarded to the Jays.

Which is totally freaking insane.

Vogt had absolutely no reason to tag Encarnancion. He was, quite reasonably, relying on the call that was just made in real time during an active play — that Kawasaki was safe and thus a force play was in effect — in doing what he did. By awarding the run the way it was rewarded, the umpires and replay officials were doing more than correcting a call. They were creating fictions. Bob Melvin played the rest of the game under protest. Luckily for the A’s and the league it ended up not mattering, as the A’s won the game regardless.

You can’t anticipate every eventuality when a new rule is put in place, but you can certainly move quickly to patch a hole. Major League Baseball needs to patch this hole immediately and acknowledge that the players can only act based on what they know at the time, so what is known at the time has to control. There needs to be an immediate tweak to the rule which goes something like this: if an umpire’s call on the field affects the subsequent decision-making of players on the same play, the call is not reviewable.

  1. dracko19 - Jul 4, 2014 at 4:18 PM

    Craig – making these plays ‘not reviewable’ is silly. What should occur is the following: if upon review a mistake is found, the play is dead at that point and the umpires will position players on bases accordingly”. This would be similar to football where it appeared the QB fumbled and all kinds of crazy followed, but upon review it was simply an incomplete pass – play is dead at that point.

    • dcburden - Jul 4, 2014 at 4:48 PM

      I don’t think the incomplete pass analogy is a good one – in that case, the play really is dead – but I think you’re on the right track. It should be that the play is dead as of the moment of the blown call, with baserunners returned to their last safe base. (I don’t think you can award runners the benefit of the doubt like you would on a ball thrown out of play.) I’m not sure what the fairest outcome is for the batter.

      Furthermore, I agree you shouldn’t be able to challenge a call where your player was called safe to try and get him called out.

  2. wheels579 - Jul 4, 2014 at 5:21 PM

    I think the point being missed here is that the purpose of replay review is to correct erroneous calls. The fact that tagging the base runner removes the force out at home plate resulted in a run for Toronto that they absolutely would have received by rule had the play been called correctly on the field by the first base umpire. Vogt had to make a choice very quickly in a chaotic situation but it still turned out to be the wrong choice whether he had time to see the umpire’s safe call or not, which may have been difficult since he must track the ball at the same time and get set up on the plate. The replay review got the call correct, but now we don’t want that? Contradicts the purpose of having replay at all in the first place.

    • wjarvis - Jul 4, 2014 at 5:40 PM

      The point of review is to have blown calls not impact the outcome of a game.

      I don’t buy for a second that Vogt didn’t see the safe call. When is the last time you saw a major league player not make any attempt to get an out when it’s probable that they would. It’s possible he wouldn’t be able to get the tag applied, but my guess is he does at least 9 out 10 times.

    • twinfan24 - Jul 4, 2014 at 6:43 PM

      But, if it were called correctly on the field, maybe the first basemen just goes to first, gets the double play, and then the inning ends with no run scored. Surely, you didn’t type that long, long response and fail to think of the obvious flaw, did you?

  3. wjarvis - Jul 4, 2014 at 5:26 PM

    I think the easy fix is that like a penalty in football, the team can either accept the penalty or decline it and take the result of the play.

    So for baseball the team that the original blown call went against can choose whether to accept the original outcome of the play or the corrected outcome following review.

    • rambose99 - Jul 4, 2014 at 6:00 PM

      I believe yours is the correct solution.

  4. wheels579 - Jul 4, 2014 at 5:45 PM

    Also, Frieman should be aware that tagging the runner removes the force at any base. He should be aware of that before the play begins, so his choice set the course of events in motion. Either attempt to turn the dp at another base OR come home with the ball to be sure the run doesn’t score. So those that say Gibbons should not be able to challenge his own runner’s safe call should realize Bob Melvin protested the game essentially because his first baseman didn’t understand the situation. Making these plays non-reviewable may complicate more than it simplifies.

    • wjarvis - Jul 4, 2014 at 6:14 PM

      Except that’s not true, Freiman made a play that had a very high probability of being a double play, he quickly applied a tag and got the ball to home plate well in advance of the runner to apply the tag. The tag wasn’t applied because the runner was forced out during play. With all the focus on trying to avoid contact at the plate, I’m not sure how you tell players now you should block the plate and apply a tag just in case.

  5. wheels579 - Jul 4, 2014 at 5:59 PM

    As soon as the tag is made, the force play is eliminated. That is the rule. That is why the call was reversed. The blown call cost Toronto a run, until replay got it right. Of course Vogt (probably) would attempt to tag the runner if the ump called the base runner out, but the ump’s incorrect call did not deny him the opportunity to tag, it simply influenced his decision not to. If Vogt still has the opportunity to tag the runner coming home, how can they make this type of play non-reviewable henceforth? Melvin & the A’s were denied nothing here.

    • clydeserra - Jul 4, 2014 at 10:46 PM

      no. no it didn’t cost the Jays a run. the blown call prevent the A’s from turning an easy easy double play and being out of the inning.

  6. wheels579 - Jul 4, 2014 at 6:26 PM

    But the force out was incorrect. So it’s not a force out. That is a baseball rule. So how do you make this play non-reviewable and deny Toronto a run when the rule states that the run should score when the force play is eliminated? Ignore the rule simply because the catcher made a choice based on the ump’s incorrect judgment? The catcher still had time to record the out even if he didn’t attempt to do so.

    • wjarvis - Jul 4, 2014 at 8:02 PM

      The force is only eliminated if the runner is called out. In this case when Vogt received the ball the force was still in effect, so he acted correctly.

      Whether you like it or not the call of the umpires has an effect on the actions of the players. The fact that you mention the catcher had time to apply the tag only enhances that point, if he couldn’t record the out by the force play he would have tagged him for the out. As called on the field he had no incentive to tag the runner.

      The play is not that dissimilar to fan interference, where the play is dead once interference occurs and the umpire has discretion to impose penalties to nullify the interference. In this case the umpire interfered with how Vogt would attempt to get an out. That’s not in the rule book though so the Ump did not have the ability to do that in this case.

  7. wheels579 - Jul 4, 2014 at 7:15 PM

    The irony here is if there were no replay review and Toronto was denied that run, everyone would complain about the lack of replay review. Here we have review, the play was reviewed and overturned based on the rules in effect long before review was made possible, and everyone seems to think the play should be non-reviewable due to events resulting from the umpire’s incorrect call. Can’t have it both ways, folks.

  8. wheels579 - Jul 4, 2014 at 8:22 PM

    Then wouldn’t every incorrect umpire call amount to an umpire interfering with a player’s attempt to make a play, one way or the other? The point is there is no easy solution from a rule or policy change. If MLB does that, chances are it opens a Pandora’s box of sorts and makes things worse. And we’ve seen plenty of examples of that already. If you turn that type of play into a dead ball, it becomes a greater injustice to the offense.

  9. billkamps - Jul 5, 2014 at 7:27 AM

    Baseball is a funny game and this is why many, many plays are not reviewable. The ball that is called foul, but should have been fair, how does this get reviewed ? It is like the penalty in football that should not have been called, we don’t know what would have happened had the play been called correctly.

    For more than 100 years we got along without instant replay in baseball. There were errors made all the time, and it was just considered part of the game. Now we have replay, but we are discovering there are limitations, and it cant make things perfect. There will still be blown calls that cant be fixed, and it is still part of the game.

    It is easy to think of many types of blown calls with runners on base, that will result in a mess. Trying to parse what to do in each circumstance would take a long time, and result in creating more weird situations.

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