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May 11, 2016 / Nat Anacostia

The umpires strike back

There’s an old saying, “You can’t fight city hall.” In baseball, the equivalent is “You can’t fight the umpire.”

In Monday’s game against the Tigers, Bryce Harper was ejected basically because umpire Brian Knight was thin skinned and wanted to make himself the center of the game. When Clint Robinson followed with a walk-off home run and Harper joined the celebration while dropping the f-bomb on the ump, the nation’s media weighed in. And while most of them condemned Harper, some of them also pointed to the arbitrary and unfair nature of Knight’s ejection of Harper that instigated the incident, thereby embarrassing the entire class of umpires. It was inevitable that they would take their revenge on the Nationals.

Their opportunity came in the top of the sixth inning of tonight’s game. Anthony Gose had just singled, loading the bases with the score tied 3 to 3 with one out. The next batter, Andrew Romine, grounded to second baseman Daniel Murphy, who flipped to shortstop Danny Espinosa for the force, but Espinosa’s throw to first was too late for an inning-ending double play, so the Tigers scored the go-ahead run.

The Nats infielders immediately pointed toward Gose, indicating that he had made an illegal slide into second base, and Dusty Baker called for umpire review. Based on the language of the rule, it seemed like an open-and-shut case. The rule says:

If a runner does not engage in a bona fide slide, and initiates (or attempts to make) contact with the fielder for the purpose of breaking up a double play, he should be called for interference under this Rule 6.01. A “bona fide slide” for purposes of Rule 6.01 occurs when the runner: (1) begins his slide (i.e., makes contact with the ground) before reaching the base; (2) is able and attempts to reach the base with his hand or foot; 2016 Official Baseball Rules (PDF)_2016 Official Baseball Rules 3/15/16 2:38 PM Page 70 Rule 6.01(j) to 6.02(a) 71 (3) is able and attempts to remain on the base (except home plate) after completion of the slide; and (4) slides within reach of the base without changing his pathway for the purpose of initiating contact with a fielder.

Gose was clearly not  attempting to reach the base and was clearly attempting to break up the double play by forcing Espinosa to move out of his way. But the anonymous New York umpires reviewing the call would not be deterred in their efforts to punish the Nationals. They upheld the call, explaining that although Gose didn’t make a bona fide slide, “his actions did not hinder or impede the fielder.” Which, as F.P. Santangelo ranted, is clearly nonsense – Espinosa had to take an extra step before his throw to avoid Gose plowing into him. How couldn’t that not have hindered and impeded him as a fielder? Furthermore, what’s the point of having a rule against runners making illegal slides if the enforcement of the rule is going to be up to the arbitrary whims of the men in blue?

The umpires’ decision clearly changed the outcome of the game, and it was clearly contrary to the new stated rule, and also contrary to how similar slides have been called previously this year. But when the umpires as a class decide to gang up on a team and make them pay, resistance is futile. The umpires always get the last word. Although I wish the bad umpires could be fired, it’s not going to happen and they’re going to continue protect their own fraternity and to misuse their authority.

The other frustrating episode of tonight’s game came in the eighth inning, when Wilson Ramos singled with one out and the Nats trailing 5 to 4. My immediate thought was that Michael A. Taylor is still available and should pinch run for Ramos, who—as much as we all love him—has to be a leading contender for the title of slowest player in the majors. With two outs, Clint Robinson hit a double and Ramos was thrown out attempting to score from first. After the game, Baker said he was planning to pinch run for Ramos if he reached second. I”ve seen Baker do that a couple of times before and I haven’t understood it. If a pinch runner would be useful scoring from second on a single, wouldn’t he also be useful in scoring from first on a double, going from first to third on a single, preventing the double play, possibly stealing a base, and all the other ways a good runner can help you in the late innings of a close game? IMO, this wasn’t one of Baker’s better decisions.

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