- Jayson Stark, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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Controversy is swirling around umpire Joe West, but ESPN umpiring consultant Jim McKean says he believes West used the replay rule properly when he called Philadelphia Phillies right fielder Hunter Pence out Sunday because of fan interference.
McKean told ESPN.com on Monday that the Phillies are "not going to win" their formal protest of Sunday's 5-4 loss in Florida because "fan interference is part of the replay rule" and because West, as the crew chief, "has the right to look at the replay any time he wants if it concerns a possible home run."
The play that attracted this furor occurred in the sixth inning Sunday. Pence hit a long fly to deep right field. Florida Marlins right fielder Bryan Petersen sprinted back to the fence, leaped but had his glove collide with the outstretched hands of a Phillies fan in the front row.
The ball bounced off the cap of another fan for what was originally called a double. But Petersen pointed immediately toward the two fans. And Marlins manager Jack McKeon charged out to argue for a fan-interference call.
It was then that West decided to check the replays. After a lengthy delay, he ultimately overturned Pence's double and called him out because of fan interference. Whereupon the Phillies protested the game, claiming that West didn't have the right to use replay to determine whether there was fan interference on a double, because replay rules govern only home run calls.
However, McKean said the Phillies' protest appears to be based on an incorrect assumption. The umpires never "ruled" a double, he said. They just allowed the play to play out as if the ball was in play.
At that point, McKean said, West had complete authority to review whether the ball was a home run or not. Phillies manager Charlie Manuel told reporters after the game he never asked West to use replay to see if the ball was over the fence, although West claimed otherwise. But McKean said it doesn't matter if West was asked to review a potential homer or not.
"He does not have to be asked," said McKean, a former umpiring supervisor who spent 27 seasons umpiring in the big leagues. "He has the right to go in and look at the replay at any time if he believes a ball was a possible home run, and that was definitely a possible home run."
Once the umpires determine there is enough reason to use replays to determine whether a ball was a home run or not, they have three areas they're allowed to look for, McKean said:
• Was the ball fair or foul? (Not an issue in this case.)
• Was the ball over the fence when it was touched? (West ruled, correctly, that it was not.)
• Was there fan interference? (West eventually decided there was.)
What created "this so-called controversy," McKean said, is that few people, even inside the game, understand that fan interference is part of the home run replay rules. So once the umpires decide to review a call to determine if there was a home run, they have the right to rule there was fan interference, even if the original call was neither a home run nor fan interference.
Manuel also expressed unhappiness Monday that West had "assumed" Petersen was going to catch a hard-hit ball off the top of the fence. But McKean said that, by ruling fan interference, West was not assuming the ball was going to be caught. He was only ruling the ball was catchable, and the fan interfered with the fielder on a catchable ball.
Even the Marlins weren't certain afterward if the rules were applied correctly. McKeon told reporters that while the umpires got the call right, they also made "a mistake in how they went about getting it right." But McKean said the Marlins' manager was also mistaken.
"No matter what Jack said and no matter what Charlie said, Joe has the right to go look at it if there's a possibility it was a home run," McKean said. "And when he goes to look at it, he has the right to see fan interference as part of the call -- and he has the right to correct it."
Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
41mRandy Jennings, Special to ESPN.com