- Jim Caple, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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Recent umpiring controversies are a clear sign that not everyone is on the same page of baseball's rule book. Fortunately, future misunderstandings and misconceptions about baseball's intricate and evolving rules will be easily remedied with the debut of this new question-and-answer column from the office of Major League Baseball umpires.
There is no longer any need to curse, kick dirt or tweet a nasty message. When in doubt about a call, simply send in your question to "Ask the Ump!"
Dear Mr. Umpire,
What is the rule regarding instant replay? I was under the impression replay could be used to determine whether a fly ball was a home run. For instance, suppose an umpire rules a fly ball bounced off the top of the outfield fence for a double, when in fact it clearly was a home run that everyone could plainly see bounced off a railing in the stands and then back on the field of play. Can't replay be used to get the home run call right? Just curious.
-- Bob M., Oakland
Good question, Bob! Umpiring is never as easy as it looks, especially when you are trying to make a call from more than a hundred feet away in a stadium with confusing architectural features and/or poorly marked boundaries. In the old days, if an umpire lost track of the ball, the call would stand and he would bear the blame for years for mistakenly ruling it a home run. Just ask our friend Richie Garcia!
Fortunately, with the use of replay, we can now look back at the play from several broadcast feeds and multiple camera angles. We can slow down the play and also zoom in to figure out what actually happened. We can take as long as necessary to make absolutely certain what the call should have been.
Note: If by some remote chance we discover we did get the original call wrong, the replay rule does not require that we admit it by actually changing the call. So the best advice I can give someone who might not agree with the decision is to just accept it and quit your bitching. Don't scream at the umpire about turning a home run into a double -- yell at the subsequent batters who left your runner stranded at second.
Dear Mr. Umpire,
I'm confused. When can I make a pitching change? I know that when the opposing team changes pitchers, you can change batters whether the original hitter batted or not. But if I change pitchers and the opponent changes batters, can I bring in another pitcher if the first guy I brought into the game hasn't thrown a pitch yet?
-- Bo P., Houston
Glad you asked, Bo! There seems to be a lot of confusion on this even though Rule 3.05 (b) is quite clear. A pitcher must face at least one batter or retire the opposing side before he can be replaced.
There are, however, exceptions. Rule 3.05 (d) states the pitcher can be replaced if he suffers an injury or becomes ill. Then there is little known Rule 3.05 (f), which allows the pitcher to be replaced if the manager insists in a convincing enough fashion that the rule was changed last year but the rule book hasn't been updated yet and the crew chief doesn't challenge him because he is too busy daydreaming about his postgame meal. So you might as well try. Just be sure to say, "pretty please."
Aren't umpires supposed to be seen and not heard? Isn't it the mark of a good umpire when no one even notices him on the field?
-- David P., Tampa
David, you are correct. Umpires should not draw attention to themselves. Umpires should be virtually invisible compared to the players. And frankly, the best way to assure the focus remains on the players rather than the umpire is for a pitcher to just throw the ball over the f------ plate.
Say I'm the manager of the New York Yankees, and while looking through my binder this week, I was reminded that last October, an umpire made a call that clearly went against us and might have cost us the game, and perhaps a postseason series as well. Isn't that a violation of the rules?
-- Joe G., New York
My apologies, Joe. You are quite correct. That should never have happened. The unwritten rules clearly state that mistaken calls are to always favor the Yankees, never go against them. Rest assured that in the future, major league umpires will enforce the policy established and maintained by Richie Garcia in the 1996 ALCS and the 1998 World Series, Tim Tschida in the 1999 ALCS, and Phil Cuzzi in the 2009 AL Division Series.
CSI: Box Score
Each week, I provide a fragment from an old box score and challenge you to determine what game it is from and why it's significant. I give this one a difficulty rating of 4. Answer below:
Baseball Card of the Week
Taking a break from my retrospective of the 1988 Topps set, I give you this delightful card of Mike Armstrong (1983 Topps, No. 219).
You occasionally see this card included among collections of goofy/ugly cards -- for obvious reasons. But if you paid close attention to last week's CSI: Box Score, you might have noticed that Armstrong had the last laugh: He was the winning pitcher in the famous Pine Tar game.
Box Score Line of the Week
Texas shortstop Elvis Andrus had a five-hit game (5 AB, 3 R, 5 H, 2 RBI), and the player with the most welcome line of the week was Arizona's Brandon McCarthy, who threw a shutout for his first victory since being hit in the head with a line drive last summer (9 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 H, 5 K). It's great to see McCarthy back healthy and in the winning column. By the way, if you wanted to see the winning run in that game, you needed to be there on time because Gerardo Parra homered on the first pitch of the game. According to Elias, Parra was the first player to homer on the first pitch of a 1-0 game since Pete Rose nearly 40 years ago (Sept. 2, 1963).
But this week's award goes to New York's Jayson Nix, who produced this odd line despite playing the entire game on Thursday:
0 AB, 0 H, 0 R, 2 RBI
How did he do it? Nix walked twice and also had two sacrifice flies to become just the 15th player in major league history to have two RBIs in a game without an official at-bat.
CSI: Box Score Answer
The big clue in the fragment was the line "Puckett cf 5 AB 1 R, 4 H, 0 RBI." The other clue was the name "Carew" for the Angels, which means this game was played before Rod retired. Put the two together and you get a merging of two of the greats in Minnesota Twins history. This was the May 8, 1984, game in which the Twins called up Kirby Puckett and put him in center field -- and man, was he ready to play. Puck flew into Anaheim that afternoon, took a cab to the ballpark, donned his uniform and had the first four hits of what became a Hall of Fame career.
When is a home run not a home run? How many pitching changes can you fit on the head of a pin? For answers to these and other baseball rules questions, just 'Ask The Ump!'