Sunday, April 12, 2009

The magnificent rules of baseball

Today's Dodger - Diamondbacks game was a wonderful lesson in the arcane rules of baseball. Baseball is a simple sport, but there are an amazing number of circumstances that require complex rulings. Today's game had one of those instances, and Joe Torre did an outstanding job of being sure that the Dodgers came out on the right side of the equation.

Here's what happened: Runners on Second and Third, one out. Line drive to the pitcher who throws to second. The second baseman skips the bag and tags the runner out. Prior to the tag, the runner from third crossed home plate. Double play, inning over, the Diamondbacks leave the field. No run scored. Right? After all, the runner on third didn't tag up.

Well, not quite. See, here's what section 7.10 has to say:

7.10 Any runner shall be called out, on appeal, when—

Ok, first off, the runner is not automatically out. There has to be an appeal to the umpire. Thus, running from third to home before the ball is caught doesn't mean you are out automatically. So under what circumstances are you out? Let's keep reading:

(a) After a fly ball is caught, he fails to retouch his original base before he or his original base is tagged;

Ok, he is out if he doesn't run back to the base, wait for it, _before he or his original base is tagged_.

So, because the Arizona Diamondbacks did not throw the ball the third and appeal to the umpire for the out, the runner is safe. But that shouldn't matter right, because there were already three outs. Wrong. The runner from second was tagged after the runner from third ran home. According to the rules of baseball, the run counts because it scored before the third out was made in the inning.

So why couldn't the Diamondbacks just throw the ball to third during Joe Torre's argument with the umpires? Keep reading...

Any appeal under this rule must be made before the next pitch, or any play or attempted play. If the violation occurs during a play which ends a half-inning, the appeal must be made before the defensive team leaves the field.

Ok, the defensive team has to appeal before they left the field. They are clearly in the dugout while Torre is arguing this point, so they have left the field. But have they? What if a coach is still on the field. And is it really fair to require them to basically record four outs? Yes, it is. Keep reading:

Appeal plays may require an umpire to recognize an apparent “fourth out.” If the third out is made during a play in which an appeal play is sustained on another runner, the appeal play decision takes precedence in determining the out. If there is more than one appeal during a play that ends a half-inning, the defense may elect to take the out that gives it the advantage. For the purpose of this rule, the defensive team has “left the field” when the pitcher and all infielders have left fair territory on their way to the bench or clubhouse.

So there it is. In cases like this, the team really has to make a fourth out to end the inning. Thus, if Arizona had thrown the ball to third and appealed to the umpire, the run would not have counted and there would have essentially been four outs in the inning. But because the infielders and the pitcher had all crossed into foul territory, and they did not appeal for the out at third, the runner is considered safe, the run scores, and the Dodgers tied the game up 1-1.

Amazing stuff, and for a geek like me, very cool. Reading the rules of baseball is a bit like studying scripture. You have to read carefully and pay attention to the details. At least I don't have to work as hard to read the original languages with this stuff!

In the end, the Dodgers won 3-1.


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