Trashing MLB referees is a baseball tradition that goes back a century, sometimes for good reason and sometimes not. Umpiring is a difficult, ungrateful job where fans expect you to be perfect in a game with 100-mph projectiles, split-second reactions, and a 188-page rulebook.
And yet, it may be time to sit down and have an important conversation, for MLB seems to have a massive problem on their hands: MLB judges have forgotten how base running works.
The latest example of the bizarre disease came on Saturday when Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Matt Joyce hit what looked like a doubles game against the New York Mets. Shortstop Francisco Lindor, who had switched over, fielded the ball, missed a mark on baserunner Andrew McCutchen and then threw Joyce out at the start.
The judges responded by calling out a man: McCutchen.
Incredibly, McCutchen was called out by sophomore Jose Navas under the rule that a runner is out if he deviates from a base path (defined as a straight line to the base) when a roof attempt occurs. From the moment Lindor had the ball to the moment he left the mark, McCutchen ran in a straight line.
The call to the field was reviewed, but only to determine if Joyce was out at first base as he was. The SNY broadcast booth summed it up best:
“So the guy who was in safety, they shouted out and the guy who was out, they called the safe. I mean, just a disastrous sequence for this umpiring crew.”
Making the whole situation even more embarrassing for MLB was almost the exact opposite that happened earlier in the week when the Milwaukee Brewers played the Miami Marlins.
With runners on the corners and two outs, Brewers pitcher Zack Godley induced a light base ball down the first line, fielded the ball and threw it to first to get Isan Diaz. An easy out … until the first base judge Marty Foster decided that Godley had interfered in Diaz’s basepath and called Diaz safe.
You can judge for yourself, but it seems pretty clear that Godley never even touched dirt.
It seems wrong, but for sure, let’s conclude that even the grass along the first baseline is the runner’s area. Hi, wait a minute, this concept sounds familiar …
OK, fine, so we have no idea where a runner’s path along the first baseline starts and ends. What about home plate?
We can certainly rely on judges to say if a runner did something as simple as touching the home plate, right?
Complaining about referees is one of the longest traditions of baseball, but so far 2021 seems to encounter even more astonishing calls than usual. Strike zones have also seemed to be a problem, with zones sometimes expanding to a confusing degree. To make it all even more frustrating is that some of these calls are blown away with the benefit of replay. Some calls can not be reviewed, but that the Alec Bohm game above was, like, a number of pieces this year that should have been overturned.
It’s hard to see what MLB could do to address this beyond telling its referees to be better and perhaps expanding the boundaries of what can be reviewed, but even the latter option could be to open a Pandora’s box.
In the meantime, we can at least relax with the knowledge that judges will not do anything really crazy, such as to give a team a win because a hitter stuck his elbow in the strike zone, right? Right?
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