Monday, October 19, 2009

Call Was Correct, But Layne Was Wrong

The call, according to the rule book, was right. The problem is it's not a rule a umpires normally enforce that strictly on double plays.

With Melky Cabrera on first and no outs in the 10th inning of the Yankees' 4-3, 13-inning victory in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series Saturday, Jorge Posada hit what look for all the world to be a sure-fire double play grounder.

Second baseman Macier Izturis fielded the ball, tossed to shortstop Erick Aybar at second, who then made the relay back to first in time to get Posada.

It sure looked like a double play, except second base umpire Jerry Layne ruled Cabrera safe because Aybar didn't touch second.

Layne was right, according to the rulebook. Aybar in fact did not touch second.

The problem is that 99 percent of the time, umpires don't enforce that rule that strictly on double plays. It's called the neighborhood play.

Since Little League, middle infielders are taught that if they straddle the bag or are very close to it on double plays, umpires will call the runner out. It's not because umpires, players and coaches don't believe middle infielders don't have to touch the base, rather it's because of safety.

Turning the double play is one of the most dangerous plays in the game. Middle infielders are moving very quickly and usually have a runner sliding into them at full speed trying to break up the relay to first.

Knees and ankles are vulnerable. Bones can be broken. A tough fall may result in a concussion. And, unlike catchers, the middle infielder is trying to make this play without the benefit of any protection.

The last thing anyone wants and the last thing the sport needs is a rash of injuries to second basemen and shortstops.

So umpires grant the neighborhood play. We see it every day, year after year after year, and rarely, if ever, does an umpire call a runner safe. In fact this year, until Saturday, we hadn't seen that call in a Yankees game, despite seeing Robinson Cano and Derek Jeter be very close to the bag but never quite touching it on occasions too numerous to count.

Heck, we saw more egregious instances when a middle infielder wasn't close to the bag but got the call.

Aybar, in Game 2, was not outrageously far from the bad. It was not egregious. And no one would have batted an eye if Cabrera had been called out.

But that's not the call Layne made. Mike Scioscia, rightfully, argued the play and I have to agree with the point he made to Layne.

It's one thing to make that call in April or May or June, but to make that call in the 10th inning of Game 2 of the ALCS, I'm sorry, but that's just poor judgment on Layne's part.

The playoffs are not the time to suddenly get very strict or very lax in enforcing rules. Umpires should be officiating games exactly the same way they had been throughout the regular season.

Layne's call was outside the norm, but fortunately, it did not affect to outcome. The Angels escaped the inning without allowing a run.

Now I expect a significant number of Yankees fans to disagree with me. The Yankees got the benefit of the call, and it was, after all, correct by the rulebook.

But I have to ask this, what if the roles were reversed? What if it was Jeter or Cano making the turn and Layne didn't grant them the neighborhood play? Would those fans honestly say with all integrity that they would be supporting Layne in that spot?

My gut tells me they would have been screaming or Tweeting at the top of their lungs about the audacity of Layne suddenly not granting the neighborhood play.

And at the end of the day, in addition to getting the calls right (which has been a huge challenge this postseason) all we want from our umpires is to be fair and officiate the game exactly the same way for each team with consistency throughout the season and playoffs.

Layne failed to do that. That's why his call was wrong.

Of Note
Joe Girardi made it official Sunday. CC Sabathia will start Game 4 on three days' rest against Scott Kazmir. Sabathia on three days' rest is still better than Chad Gaudin. It's a good move and I hope after that game the Yankees will be dancing the Rally Monkey's grave.

10 comments:

HeartyLarry said...

I don't think it was a coincidence that Layne made this call after several games in which technology showed the world umpiring mistakes that were incontrovertible. I think Layne wasn't going to see himself become the next ESPN failure to execute. Of course he did become an issue and the call was seen millions of times, but because he was right, not wrong. I'm not suggesting he was looking to make himself look good or his colleagues look bad; he just did what he should. Increasingly, we're going to see umpires do this. Weather or not MLB moves to a quick system of review on more types of plays or not, the media has the technology and uses it. Enough mistakes are real; guys like Layne are smart and, in my view, correct to make the calls as the should be. Technology will trump custom. In the end, the game will be better for it....

Anonymous said...

I'm a Yankee fan, but I agree with you. The double play should have stood. It may have been karma, because instant replay clearly showed that Jeter beat out the throw to first on one of the double plays. What was interesting was that the call wasn't argued to the point of ejection as I expected at the time. I'd rather beat a team fair and square than through an inappropropriate call. Lucikly this call did not directly affect the outcome of the game.

Anonymous said...

The issue in the "neighborhood" play is whether the fielder is in some sort of danger from the sliding runner. If you were to review a hundred or a thousand plays, you'd see that on plays that aren't very close at 2nd - namely when the fielder is not facing injury - he steps on the base. When faced with danger, he doesn't, or isn't called for not doing so by the ump. Izturis played sloppily and he paid the price. Even old corned beef and cabbage Tim McCarver caved on this one when he heard how the other DPs of the game had played out.

Aviv said...

Larry, you are absolutely right that technology is changing the game for the better, but if we're going to give Layne credit for realizing the impact of TV, then he also needs to be smart enough to realize how incredibly unfair it is to start making that call in October.

For six months in the regular season and through the first round of the playoff, Layne and his fellow umpires had called that play one way: as an out. And that's how all major league infielders have come to expect that play to be called. To suddenly start calling that play differently in extra innings of an ALCS game is just wrong. It's like Lucy take the football away as Charlie Brown is about to kick it.

The right thing for Layne to have done is to continue calling the neighborhood play through this postseason, maintaining the consistency from the regular season. The out call would have received no notice. It took Fox three plays just to find a replay angle that showed Aybar didn't touch. Then once the new season began, he could start enforcing the rule differently, calling the runner safe, calling it consistently throughout that season and the playoffs.

As for the anonymous poster questioning just how dangerous this particular play really was, did you watch the play? Here is the replay . It was Melky Cabrera running to second, not Jorge Posada. Melky was right on top of Aybar, even upending him as he made the through. This is precisely the play the neighborhood play was created for.

Here's the bottom line for the umps. Be consistent. Either call the neighborhood play throughout the regular season and playoff or don't call it all. This selective stuff doesn't hold water.

Anonymous said...

Anyone who watched the game heard the announcers question this call immediately. They both seemed to recall an earlier double-play where Aybar failed to physically touch 2nd base, yet Layne called the runner out that time. After a commercial break, the announcers claimed "we checked all the prior double-plays and it turns out Aybar did, in fact, touch 2nd base on ALL of them." Why did they fail to show us these replays? I really wanted to see the replays because I remembered thinking to myself that Aybar hadn't touched the base on the previous double-play. Did anyone go back and take a look? I think if Layne let it slide earlier in the game that makes the call exponentially worse.

Aviv said...

Consistency is the keyword. Either call it and call it all the time, or don't call it all, both within games and from game to game. The players and fans deserve have a clear understanding of this play will be interpreted. Layne's decision violated that.

Dave said...

Aviv is right here (and not just b/c the call went for the Yanks). Players count on consistency in the calls from umpires. When that is randomly changed, it's bad enough. To do so in extra innings in a LCS is flat-out ridiculous.

Besides, the Yankees are already over their quota for ridiculous calls in their favor (Mauer's bogus "foul ball" in the ALDS).

PlaybytheRules said...

"The call, according to the rule book, was right." Seems to me that everyone has forgotten the basic principle that the rulebook exists - not as a set of "guidelines," but the way the sport is designed to work and be fair. To me, this game, being a Championship game, would be the one where I would MOST want to follow every rule "by the book." The sport of baseball has always been at the whim of the perspective and perception of the umpires, so for heaven's sake why take a chance not agging a bag? By not tagging, you are opening yourself up to an interpretation of the rules. Tag every time, there will be no question in the call. This video shows a player straddling, readjusting his stance, landing, STILL straddling, and still with ample time to get off a throw to first AND get out of the way. I can see how he could want to see a base tag. THe bottom line, however, we see by looking at the first statement one more time: "The call, according to the rule book, was right." Don't get sloppy in the post season.

Aviv said...

PlaybytheRules, you missed the larger point. If umpires want to call that play stictly, then need to do it throughout the season, not just the postseason. There shouldn't be any of this "MOST want to follow every rule 'by the book.'" To change how they interpret that play is similar to changing the rules without telling anyone. It's just wrong. I have no problem with the umps abandoning the neighborhood play, but start doing in April, not October.

BTW, everything that Aybar did in making that turn happened in less than a second with Melky baring down on him. It is the quinessential situation that umpires began allowing for the neighborhood play.

And, I'm wondering why no one supporting Layne's call has answered my question about whether they'd feel the same way had it been Cano or Jeter making the turn.

Dave said...

Hmmm, yes...can't imagine why Yankee fans aren't answering that question at all. :)